The exciting pace of 2002, 2003 and 2004 seemed all set to continue into 2005. The year opened in an extraordinary way when I found that within 24 hours of my landing in Nigeria as a guest to the British Council, to address a major conference in Lagos, all foreigners were confined to their hotels for their security in the light of recent political disturbances. Never before had this happened to me and being equipped only with the Fodor Guide to West Africa I found it incredibly tedious reading on the third pass! Three days later I was in Manchester for the first two days of the Manchester LEA conference which was attended by some 70 head teachers, deputy heads and senior officers. This was exciting, and it was directly linked to preparation for up to 200 teachers from Manchester to come to our new officers in Bath for week-long study breaks.
Then the first of the shocks about the difficulty of getting our ideas accepted by a publisher. Having put so much time and effort into the preparation of ‘Master and Apprentice: Reuniting thinking with doing’, it was a shock to receive a rejection within four weeks from the very publisher who had urged us to write this three years before. This was based on a single review they had commissioned from an LEA officer (2/2/05) which, while actually concluding that this was an important book and one that should be published, they actually subsequently explained themselves as wanting to have the book into three separate texts – one dealing with the past, one with the present, and one on what could be the impact of research in human learning for the strategy of schools. Trying to come to terms with the horrible sense of anti-climax it quickly emerged that the company, Network Education Press, were in the process of being taken over by Continuum.
On the rebound, one of my trustees suggested a meeting with Anthony Cheetham who had recently established a new company, Quercus, and arranged a lunch for Cheetham and myself to meet in mid-April. The discussion at lunch was exciting. As a publisher he suggested that a suitable model to bring about such radical change, a paradigm shift, was to create a modern version of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. This immediate plan fascinated me. He suggested that I produce 95 separate Theses each of no more than 50 or 60 words, supported by a short essay of some 4-500 words. To bring about the kinds of change that this would imply meant that the book should be published in two, rather different, forms. The first should be a lavish coffee-table book which, by looking good and glossy, would attract the higher range of readers, while a second form of publication should be strictly utilitarian, paperback, and aimed to be sold at supermarket checkout points – at £4-5 a copy as opposed to £25-30 for the lavish, coffee-table version. Such a two-pronged strategy, Cheetham said, he would be delighted to market. In mid-April I started the writing again within a matter of days.
Looking back on the Initiative’s diaries and day-sheets it is all too obvious that the impact of government limitations on the role of Local Education Authorities, was already having a dramatic, and devastating, impact on the number of conferences and training programmes we were asked to address. On the other hand the international aspect of our work continued to grow – Nigeria in January, Vancouver and Toronto in March, Ohrid, Macedonia in May, and also in Budapest. In June it was to Seoul and South Korea, and Yokahama in Japan, and again in Budapest in July. Only the Manchester LEA seemed still able to organise local conferences, but it became all too apparent that they would never be able to release anything like the numbers of teachers to come and study in the library we had now established in Bath. In October there was a major conference in Luanda, Angola, in Ireland in early November and then back in Australia in December.
The British General Election of May 9th returned a new Labour government who gained only 35.2 per cent of the popular vote. An important meeting of the Campaign for Learning was held in the Kensington Town Hall on June 10th at which I delivered the subsequently much quoted paper, ‘Can the Learning Species fit into Schools?’ *****. It is worth quoting the opening paragraph for the directness with which I advance the argument.
“So, What do you think? Can the Learning Species fit into schools? The obvious answer to such a question – the answer given by educational policy makers from London to New Zealand, from Mongolia to Patagonia – is, of course, a resounding “yes”. If we humans are the planet’s pre-eminent learning species surely none but the most obdurate of young people should readily accept the benign conditions of the classroom? They should welcome the way in which the curriculum designers have delivered to them, on a plate, all they need to get good grades.”
Local communities’ determination to press ahead with a total re-design of their school systems, whilst disappearing incredibly rapidly from most parts of the country as government grants were seen to be withering, was kept alive in some of the largest urban areas like Manchester and its somewhat diminutive counterpart to the East, namely Tameside. I was asked to address their ‘Building Schools for the Future’ conference **** at which they adopted the rainforest as a metaphor for children’s learning.
It’s a good one. Education, as a rainforest, is an ecosystem where everything connects to everything: a healthy and safe environment ─ to quote, ‘Excellency’ and ‘Enjoyment’ ─ is to be found in the conditions on the forest floor, ‘Enjoying’ and ‘Achieving’ in the understorey and ‘Economic Wellbeing’ and Positive Contributions’ in the forest canopy. The humblest insects on the forest floor devour the rotting vegetation, and so create the nutrients for new life. It’s the understorey that teams with life, and which gives the rainforest its variety and extravagance; but it is largely invisible. It is the canopy (the young adolescent) that demonstrates the value of everything that has gone on before, and it’s the emergents – the tallest trees that break through the canopy in their hunger to get to the sunlight ─ that are the pride of the forest. They, in turn, fall and rot away, and the whole process is repeated. There is more biological diversity in an acre of rainforest than in any zoo or biological laboratory.
One of the world’s leading biologists, Gerald Edelman, who got his first Nobel prize for describing the human immune system, now talks about human learning proceeding in a similar fashion. Just as the human immune system operates through the body, responding to any new virus by searching through its naturally constructed set of antibodies, so the new brain grows through responding to a variety of different kinds of challenges. No tree starts off with a genetic imperative to grow to three hundred feet… it’s only those trees that have the opportunity to break through the rainforest cover which then attract still more energy both from the sun and from the forest floor to grow to such a great height. Learning is like that.
By July I was already beginning to collect thoughts, and relevant information, to respond to Anthony Cheetham’s challenge of basing my argument around the 95 Theses of Education. This was an interesting but often difficult challenge. In my lectures, and the way I had earlier written Master and Apprentice, I had concentrated on constructing an All-through narrative. What Cheetham was asking me to do was to break this down into 95 (ultimately 99) self-contained pieces which, with 6-800 words, almost resembled the BBC ‘Thought for the Day’. Finding my voice was difficult as anyone scouring through how these had come together later in the story will see – from ‘Roots and Wings’ through ‘Excitement of Learning’ to where I had got to that Christmas – ‘Natural Talent’ (34) to ‘Landscapes of our Minds’ (37). The closer the issues came to the present day the more difficult it was to compress the ideas into a single lead paragraph of 50 or 60 words, and supporting argument at 5 or 600 words. But I did enjoy it, and for the first three quarters of the theses Anthony Cheetham expressed great interest and enthusiasm. But (and this becomes the concern of 2006) the closer I got to the last theses, the more difficult it became to ensure that each on its own maintained people’s interest, and together told, as thesis 99 said, ‘the Story now to be Told’.
During the writing of the 99 Theses the Initiative also published, ‘The Future is ours to Make; Ensuring that the energy of adolescents is used to benefit society’ **. Shortly after we published a more substantial document, ‘Using the Grain of the Brain’ **** to which was appended a most useful bibliography.
|JAN||Nigerian British Council, Lagos||Nigeria|
|Manchester LEA Residential Conference (first of two 7-day training programmes organised for Manchester LEA||Lake District|
|Breakfast of Champions, Vancouver||Canada|
|FEB||Central Collegiate Academy||Birmingham|
|Afro-Caribbean & Asian Achievement Group Conference||Birmingham|
|Birmingham Schools Study Group||Bath|
|FEB||Kathleen Wynne MP Toronto – Meeting||Canada|
|Halton School Board, Toronto||Canada|
|Delta Superintendents’ Conference, Vancouver||Canada|
|Education Walsall Head Teachers’ Conference||Walsall|
|MAR||Birmingham LEA Inset Day||Birmingham|
|Canadian Council on Learning, Vancouver||Canada|
|BC School Board Superintendents’ Assoc. Conference, Vancouver||Canada|
|Manchester Study Group (first of many 3-day study periods)||Bath|
|Don Foster MP – Meeting||Somerset|
|New York ASSET Conference||USA|
|Delta BC Superintendents’ Conference, Vancouver||Canada|
|EM Direct Conference||Doncaster|
|Melton Mowbray Rotarians Charter Night Conference||Melton Mowbray|
|Tyne & Wear Partnerships Conference||Newcastle|
|Braintree Annual Conference||Braintree|
|APR||Manchester LEA Residential Conference||Lake District|
|Young Writers’ Competition||West Sussex|
|BANES Annual Head Teachers’ Conference||Somerset|
|TOL/Open Society Institute Conference, Budapest||Hungary|
|Seoul Foreign School||Korea|
|JUNE||Yokohama International School||Japan|
|British School in Tokyo||Japan|
|Campaign for Learning||London|
|Tom Healy Meeting, Dublin||Ireland|
|Manchester LEA Residential Conference||Lake District|
|St Kentigern’s Primary School Study Group||Bath|
|JULY||Open Society Institute Education Conference, Budapest||Hungary|
|West Wiltshire Able Students’ Partnership||Bath|
|Manchester High School Heads’ Conference||Knutsford|
|Freshford Inset Day||Bath|
|SEPT||Formal launch of Building Schools for the Future and Manchester Message Day Conference||Manchester|
|Manchester Residential Conference||Lake District|
|OCT||Luanda International School Assoc. Conference, Luanda||Angola|
|St Patrick’s College, Thurles||Ireland|
|NTVEC Steering Group, North Tipperary||Ireland|
|Liverpool Leadership Group Residential Conference||Wirrall|
|NOV||Manchester EiC Schools Study Groups||Manchester|
|Tameside Building Schools for the Future Launch||Ashton-u-Lyne|
|Manchester Knowledge Capital Conference||Manchester|
|DEC||Channel 4 Policy Unplugged Online Conference||London|
|Pauline Newman, Director of Children’s Services||Manchester|
|Wesley College Advisory Committee, Melbourne||Australia|