This Sussex Life. Dr Marcelo Staricoff: 'Being back on campus is fabulous.'
By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Wednesday, 9 February 2022
Dr Marcelo Staricoff, lecturer in Early Years and Primary Education, remembers his student days at Sussex (1984-1987) and is celebrating the success of his new education book, The Joy of Not Knowing (Routledge, 2021).
I arrived with my family in England from Buenos Aires in the very hot summer of 1976. We came with my Mum’s one year fellowship as an immunologist. Being 11 at the time, I went straight into secondary school in North London, even though I hadn’t finished my primary school in Argentina and without being able to speak a word of English. I stayed at the school for the sixth form and then worked there as a science technician for three months during my year off. The rest of my year off was spent in Boston as a nanny for a family who were both lecturers at Sussex.
I came to Sussex in 1984, following in my brother’s footsteps. He was then a final year maths student. I joined the first ever cohort of students taking the Environmental Science degree, in the School of Molecular Sciences (MOLS). With hindsight, it is amazing to think how progressive and visionary this course was. I feel so privileged to have been taught and inspired by so many wonderful lecturers. I remember my tutorials with Professor Harry Kroto, later a Nobel Prize winner, with great affection. I was sad to hear that the degree is no longer being taught.
I vividly remember arriving with my family on the first day and trying to find Flat 1, East Slope, which later became the name of the radio show I hosted for Falmer Radio on Monday evenings from Norwich House. I loved living in Flat 1, with twelve of us sharing one shower and one bathroom. Lifetime friendships were formed.
Sussex was very politically active at the time, which I really liked. I became the president of the Central American Solidarity Campaign Society and couldn’t believe it when I was elected to represent the University at the National Union of Students conference in Blackpool. I loved the weekly Student Union meetings in Mandela Hall. It was such a treat to listen to the union’s president, Ty Goddard, address the floor so passionately. I will never forget going on a student march in London, getting trapped by the police cordons just by the Thames, and escaping into Somerset House as people were letting us in through the windows.
Another pertinent memory now is the time I was thrown out of a Meatloaf concert and banned for life from the Brighton Centre for climbing over a side railing to get to the front. My biggest worry was that I was due to graduate there a few months later.
Sport also featured very prominently for me at Sussex. I became very involved with the tennis, football and cricket teams. As a passionate ‘biceleste’ football supporter, it was quite an experience arriving on campus the day after the infamous match of 1986 between our two countries [Argentina and England]. I had previously experienced the occasion of the Falklands War in 1982, but I think that 1986 and Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’goal proved a little bit more tricky in terms of friendships.
I enjoyed my degree enormously and then embarked on a scientific career, working first for the Pesticides Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and then going on to do a PhD in Biochemistry at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, where I met my wife, Anna, who was working as a doctor. We then moved to Bristol when I got a post-doctoral position at the University and where Emily and Thomas were born.
At the age of 30 I took the plunge and changed careers, embarking on a PGCE Course in Primary Education at the University of West of England. It was such a great decision career-wise, and I have loved every minute of it. Having worked as a research scientist, I became fascinated by how one could present the curriculum to children so that the learning was perceived as open-ended, investigative and driven by curiosity and enquiry.
I started to experiment with ways in which children’s creative, critical and philosophical thinking and lifelong learning dispositions could be nurtured in the classroom. I developed the idea of welcoming them with an open-ended creative thinking challenge, for example what would you ask a spoon? Or if the answer is six, what would the question be? This idea became my first book, entitled Start Thinking (published by Imaginative Minds in 2005).
The key to children developing a real love of learning is to make them feel comfortable with uncertainty and with not knowing, which is why my latest book is called The Joy of Not Knowing. The book offers teachers and headteachers a practical guide, using lots of real-life examples from children and teachers. It proposes the idea of schools launching the academic year with a Learning to Learn Week, during which the children are equipped with all the tools, cultures and dispositions that will enable them to thrive as learners and individuals throughout the year.
I returned to Brighton when my wife became a consultant at the Royal Sussex County Hospital and used the opportunity of the move to enter senior leadership and until recently headships of two local schools. Little did I know that, when leaving headship and embarking on writing the book, I would be given the space and time to finish writing it by a national pandemic lockdown!
In August 2020 joined the Sussex’s School of Education and Social Work (ESW) as a tutor on the BA in Early Years and Primary Education (BAPEYE) Course, which I’m enjoying enormously. Being back on campus is so fabulous. I have many wonderful memories and I’m so pleased that, despite all the changes and new builds, the campus and the people all still feel so special.
The publication of The Joy of Not Knowing - or the JONK approach as it has become known- has led to exciting opportunities. I’m working with schools, local authorities, the All Party Parliamentary Group in Education, Coram and really interestingly with UNICEF as a consultant to the Education Department of Uzbekistan. I am also enjoying being a Trustee of local charity, The Michael Aldrich Foundation, and was thrilled when the JONK book made one of the shortlists for the best of book in education for 2021.
I am really excited with the role at Sussex and to being able to keep working alongside so many amazing colleagues and great students to help train many more generations of teachers and contribute in the best possible way to the future of education and of the profession. I never imagined all those years ago that I would one day become a member of staff at Sussex and have a book displayed in the Foyer of the School of Education!
This profile is part of our This Sussex Life series.