The implications of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001 were to be felt by the Initiative in ways as profound as the political and strategic considerations that have shaped the international agenda ever since. Quite literally, this was an epoch-shaping event. Our assumptions were being turned upside down. Almost farcically I and one of my sons had to pass through Miami airport only four weeks later on our way to Medellin in Colombia, where the chaotic presence of an excessive number of emergency-trained military seemed almost as much a threat to our own physical security as that of distant terrorists.
Weeks later, on my way back to England from Adelaide in December 2001, I came across a pre-publication copy of the book ‘Driven; how human nature shapes our choices’, written by Lawrence and Nohria of the Harvard Business School. This book came about as a result of the shock experienced by two American economists who had been called into Russia in 1989 to help establish a market economy which, they and others had assumed, would provide such a prosperous society that other problems would disappear. The writers had returned 10 years later and were shocked to discover that while a few Russians had become enormously wealthy, a far larger proportion were poorer than they had ever been. The two men set out to analyse what were the innate ‘drivers’ of human behaviour. They carried out an extensive literature search into a whole range of research programmes, and concluded that there were essentially four drivers of human behaviour – the drive to acquire, to bond, to learn, and to defend. They concluded that all human behaviour is a result of endless balances being made between such drivers. They likened these drivers to four horses who, if they were to pull a carriage safely and quickly to its destination, needed to have an expert driver to balance the idiosyncrasies of each horse. Should one of these drivers be proportionately strong then the coach or wagon would end up on its side in the ditch. Their book analyses what this means both in economic, social and spiritual terms (see Master and Apprentice, chapter 16 for a fuller description).
Capitalising on my son Peter’s last year of his English degree at Cambridge, and knowing that he had followed so much of the work I had been doing over recent years, I got him to write three reviews for the Initiative. The first of these (January 2002) related the ideas in ‘Driven’ with Richard Holloway’s (recently retired Bishop of Edinburgh and most influential Scottish theologian) ‘Doubts and Loves’. Peter wrote, “As we exert our energies to the limit in the pursuit of material possessions, we isolate ourselves, not only from our fellow man but from the kinds of inclusive narratives that are so vital to our development as individuals, and our continual development as a species. With societies becoming increasingly heterogeneous, competing narratives jostle each other for space… Yet with their four-drive theory, Lawrence and Nohria appear to have come incredibly close. It is a theory that cannot be assailed with charges of racism, or national imperialism, or with any of the other accusations that continue to be hurled against great theories of unification… The four drivers are so evident in everyday life that to dismiss them out of hand is facile and ignorant.”
The second review compared the writing of Matthew Fox on ‘The Reinvention of Work’ with Fritjof Capra’s ‘The Hidden Connections’ and E O Wilson’s ‘The Future of Life’. Fox points out that the working conditions of the average, suburban American needs perhaps just as much radical rethinking as does the Global Justice Movement. “There can be no joy in living without joy in work” claimed Fox for work is not only the means by which we feed ourselves and our families, but it is also “a metaphor and symbol for what we cherish”. Fox reminds us that Dr Johnson defined work as “petty, piddling activity; a piece of chance work”, whereas in evolutionary terms, work is an expression of who we believe ourselves to be. For vast numbers of people, however, this is rarely the case. The damage that this does to the human spirit is enormous. As a theologian he concludes, “a civilisation able to envisage God will surely find the way to save the integrity of this planet and the magnificent life it harbours.”
A month later Peter produced a third review ‘Towards a Common Ethic’ in which he reviewed Robert Wright’s two books ‘The Moral Animal’ and ‘The Logic of Human Destiny’ with an earlier book by Richard Holloway ‘Godless Morality: Keeping religion out of ethics’. The review concluded, “The implications of the new evolutionary synthesis are deeply, deeply profound, requiring what Wright acknowledges to be a great test of ‘moral imagination’ to appreciate in all their magnitude. Whether or not they can be woven successfully into the new fabric of a common ethic, one that combined the long, laborious and inevitably painful struggle towards rejuvenation, remains to be seen.”
Comparable to Peter’s thinking was the piece five years previously by Neil Postman of ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ fame, in his most significant paper ‘Science and the Story that We Need’.
With these ideas in mind I delivered the paper ‘Faith in the Future’ to the head-teachers of the Westminster Diocese in March 2002. The Paper was well received and published in a number of places which initially surprised me and then excited me as I remembered the statement made by the school psychologist a year or so before at the Jakarta international School in Indonesia. It had read,
“The biggest crisis we are facing is a Crisis of Meaning. The tremendous social changes of the last 100 years have stripped modern society of that which gives us meaning” be it in our roots to our ancestors, religions, spirituality, our relationship to nature… Within this Crisis of Meaning our young people are facing a MORAL crisis ─ a crisis of values.
Without these anchors young people no longer understand the value of perseverance, learning for learning’s sake etc. Instead our daily lives are filled with a pursuit of money and temporary ecstasy. Both of these goals are unfulfillable and result in a misguided frenzy in the pursuit of the next thrill, or in depression.”
I sub-entitled that lecture ‘Prophets of a future not our own’ (with apologies to Archbishop Oscar Romero). I joined this with what Professor John Barrow had written about an evolutionary psychologist’s comment on spirituality; “mystical, symbolic and religious thinking – all those ways of thinking that the rationalist would condemn as irrational – seemed to characterise human thinking everywhere and at every time… perhaps the advantages of irrational, speculative and religious beliefs offer through their ability to spur us to actions with positive consequences, are significant enough to account for our propensity towards their adaptation”.
I went on to recall a meeting I had had recently in San Diego with Gerald Edelman, the famous neurobiologist and Nobel prize-winner. A man of enormous, direct, single-purpose energy who assured me that he and his laboratory would within five years have solved the riddle of consciousness and “once we have done this, what is the BIG IDEA around which we will then organise ourselves?”
I concluded by returning to the thinking of Richard Holloway. If our planet is such a puny object, then where does humanity fit, and what happens to our best hopes and fears for all that we hold dear? Holloway more successfully than anyone I know seemed able to draw together the magnificence of our scientific explanation with the equally magnificent grasp of our spiritual natures. He wrote, “we are a sub-microscopic dot in a tiny corner of a small galaxy, in a universe containing billions of galaxies, but in us the universe has become conscious, has started thinking about itself. The sun is not thinking about itself as it burns; the universe is not thinking about, is not conscious of, itself as it explodes through space; but we are. Something is going on in us that is as wonderful and extraordinary as the universe itself.”
* * *
These ideas reverberated through all the lectures I was to give that year, often tailored to meet the specific needs of different audiences. One of these was ‘Richness and Diversity: reconstructing civil society’, held at the Dundalk Institute of Technology at the end of May, and another was in the most interesting four-part series I did for the International Baccalaureate Organisation at its first worldwide electronic conference of its member schools, entitled ‘Individualism, Community and Learning’. I based this on the philosopher John MacMurray’s statement, “Since individualism misrepresents our nature, it follows that communal life is the normal state for human beings. But human life is not organic; a shared existence is a matter of intention, not of fact. Community has to be created and sustained by conscious purpose, and the more successfully this is done, the more we fulfil our personal nature.”
A more difficult audience to address was the summer conference of the old Society of Education Officers (SEO), recently restructured as ConFed to be less elite, and reflecting the increasing loss of confidence in the old educational CEOs as a result of increasing central government interference in their work. I had prepared my lecture most carefully so as to say, “Your people – the up to 1 million or so living in your authority – assume (at a quite basic level) that if you are a Director of Education or Chief Inspector, you are the ultimate authority on education. Intuitively they may sense difficulties; they may see that some things are not as they should be, but they don’t quite know what to make of it all. They think you know what you are doing and why. That lets them off the hook. They trust you to understand how all the bits come together”.
That statement went down like a lead balloon. The difference in morale, confidence and self-esteem, between when I had addressed them at the North of England conference in 1999 and now, three-and-a-half years later, was staggering. My thinking, as I hope exemplified by what I have said in the three recent folders (5-7), had continued to develop along ever more inclusive lines, but their thinking, it appeared, had become increasingly restricted to the mechanistic expectations of a Prime Minister who had an uncritical belief in the concept of ‘performability’.
I tried desperately to stir their imaginations by unpacking what is now known about the potential in the human brain. I said,
“Countless thousands of previous generations would, I am sure, have given their right arms to be where we are now. But what an awesome responsibility. If you are the visionary leader I imagine you wish to be, a person who enables your community to articulate its future, then I have no doubt that your community will ensure that you have a substantial future. Such communities will know that one size never did fit all, and will recognise that it is in their ability to self-organise that the creativity of children will be released.
However, if you see yourselves as managers then you r jobs are only as secure as the next re-organisation. And the children – the nation’s future – will be leaderless .It is you who have the responsibility to share the Big Story. ”
I remember that afternoon well. Few questions were asked and then I saw that an increasing number of people had come into the room because they were then expecting the Minister of Education to come and tell them what next to do. Literally, and metaphorically, they were sharpening their pencils ready to take down the latest round of instructions.
* * *
A few days later I went to a hotel in Venice at the invitation of the Young Presidents Organisation (YPO). I used this as the starting point for the book I had considered writing at the time of 9/11, and which was to eventually emerge two years later as ‘Master and Apprentice: reuniting thinking with doing’. “Hidden amongst mature Maple trees in a Venetian side street, the Quattro Fontane is an idyllic location for a conference. For a week in the late Summer of 2002, the hotel was to play host to a small conference of highly successful business people, members of the YPO, people it would be easy to classify as outstanding examples of the entrepreneurial culture fostered by the free market policies of the past 20 years .”
The folk in YPO were an energetic, delightful and most inquisitive group of people. And I personally needed my enthusiasm rekindling, because working with the increasingly demoralised teachers in England was making it difficult for me to be positive. Libby Purvis, sensing these tensions, wrote in the Times, subconsciously but graphically describing how a continuous ‘noses to the grindstone’ approach to education inhibits the proper growth of children’s’ minds, the unspoken cloud that had hung over the ConFed Conference the month previously. “If you are forever doing formal tests and waiting for someone to give you marks, then you never learn the skills for assessing yourself and measuring your own knowledge… the constant neurotic focus on grades stops teachers from encouraging connections and fostering creativity.” All this was graphically described in chapter one of the book I had started to write.
On one of the afternoons my wife and I escaped from the conference and visited one of the least well-known islands of the lagoon, Torcello. Until the beginning of the 14th Century Torcello had been the centre of the Venetian empire, but the silting up of the canals led the early merchants to forsake the island and start building modern Venice on the other islands alongside the Grand Canal. Torcello was largely abandoned, and is now dominated by one enormous brick-built Church dating from AD639. Within it, at the east end, above the alter, and above the Priest’s head standing in the pulpit would have appeared to a worshipper, the successful writer Jan Morris continues, “there stands something infinitely more magnificent; for there against a dim gold background, tall, slender and terribly sad is the Teotoca Madonna – the God Bearer. There are tears on her mosaic cheeks and she gazes down the ancient church with an expression of timeless reproach, cherishing the child in her arms as though she had foreseen all the years that are to come, and holds each one of us responsible”. Some think that the Venetians through all their epochs of splendour and success never created anything quite so beautiful.
Entranced as I was by all that history, the conscious part of my mind was struggling “to perceive the hidden connections between phenomena”. To this day I am haunted by that expression of timeless reproach on that young girl’s face – a face which, to a believer, is surely that of ‘the God Bearer’, and to many of us – whether religious or not – is the hope and perfection of eternal youth, “as though (indeed) she had foreseen all the years that are to come, and holds each one of us responsibility”. In that experience, much of the energy to continue with the mission of the Initiative was founded.
A month later at a small conference in Lorne in Australia, then in September to several conferences in England, and then to Association of International Schools of Africa (AISA) in Johannesburg, I spoke about ‘Subsidiarity or, in other words, Doing it for Yourself’. Doing-it-for-yourself, it seems, is a deeply engrained human instinct. Indeed, when linked to our sense of inquisitiveness and the need to survive, I would place it alongside the four drivers of human behaviour that Lawrence and Nohria identify. We have inherited it through evolution from our ancestors over millions of years. It is part of what makes the human race exactly what it is. If you can do something for yourself, you don’t feel as powerless as the person who has to go out and get somebody else to do it for them. The more you can do for yourself, the more in control of your future you know yourself to be.
It was Frederick Winslow Taylor who advocated treating workers as if they were machines. “Technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgement, which can’t be trusted because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity and unnecessary complexity”. In came the stopwatch and rulebook, and out went imagination and innovation. It is ironic that at the very point when, for the first time in history, we have the biomedical technologies to understand the inherited predispositions to learn in ways which our ancestors practiced and passed on to future generations, we are confusing an excess of information and ‘standard operating procedures’ with knowledge and the skills of adaptability and flexibility. This has wrought havoc across the industrial world. But it also brought the ideals of Communism into direct conflict with the Vatican, not overtly renowned for being the champion of decentralised thinking, certainly not in the early 1930s. Oppressed Catholics in eastern Europe, especially priests, needed a theological rebuttal to the demand for uniform materialistic thinking . It came in 1931 in the form of the Doctrine of Subsidiarity. Set out by Pope Pious XI in the encyclical, ‘Quadragessima Anno’; this stated simply and unequivocally, that ‘it is wrong for a superior body to hold to itself the right to make decisions which an inferior is always qualified enough to make for itself’.
All these themes were taken up at two separate conferences in Ireland in November: ‘Values and Ethics – can I make a difference’ at the Ceifin Institute in County Clare, at which both Peter and I spoke, and then at the Irish National Teachers Organisation annual conference in Mullingar on ‘Developing the Potential of All Pupils’. At that conference I challenged the way in which education was being trivialised simply as a preparation for the economic life of the country, and the damage which this does to children.
“Currently we are being told on all sides that our lives have to be organised around economic imperatives… everything has become subservient to economic goals. It is, of course, the battery hens model. From my understanding of the research, there can be no cutting of corners as far as the growth of human intelligence is concerned. It is not a linear process. It’s messy. You cannot work it all out in advance. It is to do with a multiplicity of little inputs. If I hear another family say that it doesn’t matter ‘as we have one hour of quality time every evening with the children’, I am going to scream. Children don’t need your quality time; they need you to be around all of the time, so that they experience a range of adult emotions – when adults are happy, and when they are frustrated; when they are energetic, and when they are tired; when they are in good moods or bad. Kids just need to be there, and need to know when to get out of the way as well! That’s the way children have learnt since the beginning of time. The best format for children to grow up in is to be around adults who are just doing ordinary things.”
As the year came to an end, I attended the Technology Colleges Conference in Birmingham (see Master and Apprentice, Chapter 17, ‘Pilgrim or Customer’). My paper, and those of several other presenters, had to be cut down the night before when it was known that the Prime Minister was to address the conference. As my letter of the 6th December shows, I was moved to write to him urging that the emphasis he and other politicians were currently placing on encouraging parents to hold schools accountable for the education of their children should shift to a recognition that, however good schools might be, alone they could never be good enough to provide youngsters with everything that they needed.
Fearing that my letter could all too easily be pigeonholed and passed to a conventional department source for an answer, I concluded by saying, “in seeking any cross-referencing to such ideas as these might I suggest you consult practicing teachers (especially at the Primary level), parents and community leaders – people who see children ‘in the round’, and whose agendas are not confined to solutions which perpetuate an institutional approach to learning that does not reflect the socially responsible knowledge society in which both you and I believe our future lies.”
2002 in conference:
|FEB||Westminster Primary Deputy Heads’ Conference||London|
|Chichester Primary Schools Conference||Chichester|
|Real Time Club – Foresight Conference||London|
|Institute for Public Policy Research||London|
|Cheshire Heads’ Conference||Cheshire|
|Berkshire Heads’ Conference (First Dudley 7-day training programme)||Dudley|
|MAR||Halton Head Teachers’ Conference||Lake District|
|Westminster Catholic Primary Heads of London||Poole|
|Ceifin Institute, Co Clare||Ireland|
|State of the World Forum, San Francisco||US|
|Hewlett Packard Education Foundation, San Francisco||US|
|National Association of Head Teachers’ Conference||Isle of Wight|
|Association of Community College in Seattle, Washington||US|
|Albert College, Belleville, Ontario||Canada|
|Creating Successful Schools||Suffolk|
|Birmingham Heads’ Conference||Birmingham|
|Tuckswood 1st School||Norwich|
|MAY||National Youth Institute, Nova Scotia||Canada|
|Suffolk Head Teachers’ Conference||Ipswich|
|Canadian Government, Ottawa||Canada|
|Slough Heads’ Conference and 5-day training programme||Slough|
|Macclesfield Secondary Schools’ Conference||Macclesfield|
|Young Presidents’ Organisation||Geneva|
|Presentation Sisters, Cork||Ireland|
|The Atlantic Philanthropies, New York||US|
|Dundalk Institute of Technology||N Ireland|
|JUNE||Henbury High School Technical College||Macclesfield|
|I.A.P.S. Deputy Heads’ Conference||Kenilworth|
|Cardiff Primary Heads’ Conference||Cardiff|
|Hampshire Heads’ Conference||Hampshire|
|Harrow 5-day training programme||Harrow|
|JULY||West Sussex Primary Heads’ Conference||Chichester|
|Young Presidents’ Organisation, Venice||Italy|
|Society of Education Officers||London|
|Wisdom Board Meeting||Croatia|
|Kathy and Greg Jones||Jakarta|
|AUG||Australian Video Conference||Australia|
|ELH 2002 Conference, Melbourne||Australia|
|EAZ South Humberside||Hull|
|Norfolk Training Programme||Norfolk|
|OCT||Cheshire Heads’ Conference||Cheshire|
|A.I.S.A., Johannesburg||South Africa|
|Brighton Primary Heads’ Conference||Brighton|
|Slough Heads’ Conference and Training Programme||Slough|
|NOV||Technology Colleges Trust Annual Conference||Birmingham|
|YokohamaIrish National Teachers Organisation||YokahamaMullingar|
|Monkton Combe School||Bath|