If not since the beginning of time, at least over the past half dozen millennia, older generations concerned about the future wellbeing of their societies have pondered the question (and the mystery) of how young people learn.
So profound was Confucius’ observation two and a half thousand years ago; “tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, let me do and I understand”, that when one of the world’s most eminent neurobiologists, was asked a few years ago to summarise the recent findings of neurological and cognitive sciences, he said that he could do no better than Confucius.
Humans survive simply because we are born to learn; we are naturally inquisitive so ensuring that we know enough about what is going on around us to avoid making bad judgements about what we should do next. Humans are predisposed to work things out for themselves, rather than being taught by somebody else. Which makes us the ‘learning species’. Unfortunately our natural inquisitiveness often brings us up against institutional barriers, and here is the inconvenient truth – can the learning species fit into schools? (as conventionally defined). This is a theme which runs right through this Archive.
There are three underlying issues. Is education about process or content? And if it is about both, how does that work? The second issue is the extent to which education is for the good of society as a whole or primarily for the good of the individual. Again, how does that work out? These issues have been raging throughout civilised time. There is now a third issue; is intelligence created or is it inherited? While long ago Plato discussed such matters, it has only been since the 1970s that biomedical technology and cognitive science enables us to better understand ‘the nature/nurture’ issue.
While ‘Nature’ can increasingly be defined with almost scientific exactness, ‘Nurture’ is far more difficult to quantify. The Initiative describes Nurture in terms of the influence of the interaction of Home (the emotions), Community (inspiration), and School (mental rigour) in shaping the growing child’s brain. The Initiative argues that a quality education is like an old fashioned three-legged stool that can balance on any surface, however rough, always providing that the legs are of the same length – if one is too short, or too long, the stool simply falls over. Three hundred or so years ago the Industrial Revolution began to undermine those age-old relationships (that neuroscience is now suggesting lie deep in our brains as innate ‘predispositions’) so moving children’s experience of learning away from that of ‘hands-on apprentices to hands-off pupils’. Under increasing pressure schools have had to take over, often reluctantly, more and more of the roles of Home and Community. This posed the question, “What Kind of Education for What kind of World? Do you want children to grow up as Battery Hens or Free Range Chickens?”
As schools have come to be seen as ever more important, so has the question of who is in control of the schools. There is a long history to this question in England which The Education Act of 1944 attempted to resolve on a democratic basis. That Act set up a balance of power between Central Government (nationally elected Members of Parliament) responsible for maintaining a structured national system, largely funded from nationally levied taxes, with locally elected Education Authorities (LEA) almost totally responsible for interpreting national policy within their local context. A careful balance of power to guard against any future overtly centralist, or totalitarian, regime. There was however, one basic mistake: the LEAs as constituted were simply too large, in most instances, to effectively engage the enthusiastic participation of the ordinary citizens.
Rather than the local Council Chamber becoming the ‘town squares’ for local issues, all too often they became forums for local activists to challenge the policies of Westminster. There was often good reasons for such challenges for many of those LEAs represented the worn-out industrial core lands of Nineteenth century England that had been bled-dry by the industrial revolution and in desperate need of preferential investment. Real as were the cases they made, such special pleading made little impact on the generality of Westminster politicians who sought to find any way of reducing government expenditure (both national and local). Steadily Parliament began to bypass the LEAs by reducing, and then micro-managing, public monies available for schools… often the largest item of expenditure in local government.
It has to be a sad reflection on English society that while individuals were normally loyal to their own schools, the public at large, often encouraged by the Media, steadily came to accept by the early years of this century, that schools – and teachers in particular – needed to be brought more into line by nationally imposed directives.
The public have become, over very many years, distracted by this tussle for ‘who controls the schools’ and by the remorseless adoption of a market dominated economy which now seeks to quantify every social transaction in terms of its monetary value. Regrettably few stand far enough back to challenge the ‘Battery Hen’ concept of education, or even further back to question whether our young people will have the confidence to act as ‘Pilgrims’ (in the sense that John Bunyan used the word to describe the man willing to take full responsibility for his own actions and always willing to help his or her neighbour), or as ‘Customers’ seeking to selectively pull off the shelf any one of 210 different kinds of cereals, but who doesn’t know how to make his, or her, porridge.
People from several English speaking countries regularly use this website (Canadians are the second largest users) and many of the issues that confront present day educationists have their origins in ideas and practises developed over many centuries as the English language and culture have developed, and shape English education in specific ways.
This website provides many insights into how that happened, and how many of these issues are still to be resolved if we are to develop better practices. This first section contains the full text of an unpublished text ‘Towards a New Order in Education’ (2006) Comprised of 99 self-contained but interrelated theses based on the model developed by Martin Luther that launched the reformation by creating a paradigm shift which went on to create the modern world.
The following is a list of conferences held between 1991-94 as Education 2000 grew beyond England into an embryonic international organisation.
|NATO Advanced Study Workshop||Brussels|
|IMTEC Conference||Soest, Germany|
|US Coalition of Education for All||Alexandria, VA|
|Puget Sound Educational Consortium||Seattle, WA|
|34th International and Comparative Education Conference||Annapolis, MD|
|UN Development Programme||New York, NY|
|1st International Partnership Conference||Birmingham|
|National Association of Inspectors and Educational Advisors||Peterborough|
|The Girls’ Schools Association Annual Conference||Bristol|
|Washington State Secondary Principals||Seattle, WA|
|Foundation for Science and Technology at the royal Society||London|
|Danish Head Teachers Conference||Copenhagen|
|Centre for the Study of Comprehensive Schools||Leicester|
|British Educational Management Society||Edinburgh|
|Scottish Consultative Committee on the Curriculum||Dundee|
|21st Century Trust||Cambridge|
|Education Development Centre||Boston, MA|
|Primary Head Teachers||Reading|
|Oxford International Education Round Table||Oxford|
|Association of Head Teachers of Independent Secondary Schools||Adelaide|
|Corporate Responsibility Group||London|
|National Association of Secondary School Principals||New Orleans, LA|
|Oxford University Department of Education||Oxford|
|2nd International partnership Conference||Paris|
|6th International Conference on Thinking||Boston, MA|