As 2006 ended I recognised the need to collect all the ideas and experiences I had gathered from research, and everything I had learnt from discussions around the world since publishing the Policy Paper (1998), by explaining what I meant by ‘overschooled but undereducated’. This new book would use the various Papers produced between 2000 and 2007 including, ‘Faith in the Future’; ‘Terrorism, Tolerance and the Human spirit’; ‘Adolescence – a critical evolutionary adaptation’; ‘When will We ever Learn’; ‘Can the Learning Species fit into schools’; ‘Lost in Translation,’ and roll all this thinking into just a single piece under the title I had earlier been given by Irish Radio of ‘Overschooled but Undereducated’(2002). This had to be written in such a way that a publisher would surely see its significance, and market it accordingly. Note that I use the word ‘see’, for I wanted to construct this very much as a mega-narrative in the way Jacob Bronowski had 30 years earlier with ‘The Ascent of Man’ – both the book and, even more importantly, his 13 part TV documentary series.
It started with a conversation with Heather MacTaggart, my Canadian deputy, while on a lecture tour in New Brunswick in January 2007. As I expressed my frustration with the potential publisher (Quercus) for suggesting yet another rewrite of ‘The 99 Theses’ (by this stage called ‘Towards Finding a New Order in Education’ – now available as The 99 Theses on the timeline), Heather reminded me that in many of the countries where I had been working there was an obvious need for a book that unpacked the argument that I used in my presentations. Such a book should be colloquial, draw heavily on personal experience, and handle the research in ways comfortable to a lay readership.
We started talking about the need for a good visual image, and within the day came up with that of the deer being knocked over by the car. “Like the deer, humans too are the result of an incredibly long saga of evolutionary adaptations that have taken us to the point where wee have the intelligence and motor skills to build a car… unlike the fawn, human babies are born with incredibly premature brains… so most human brain growth is shaped, not simply by instincts in the womb, but by the lessons we draw from real life experience” (Chapter 1). By the end of the weekend we had sketched out the main chapter headings, and the nature of the concluding message. Joining the two ‘book-ends’ together took the better part of the next year in between more extensive lecture tours in Canada and one in Australia… much of the book was written ‘on the hoof’.
We left the writing of the Foreword and Introduction until later, and then polished up Chapter One. Having a co-writer to work with helped me enormously, as did the new colloquial style we had agreed upon. Although there was much hard work in front of us I had a growing sense of excitement.
The writing of the chapter ‘The Wonder of Learning’ came so easily as to be almost cathartic. I drew upon material that had fascinated me for years, and had lectured on so widely. It was Heather’s suggestion to use the heart-rending story of the once 14 year-old William who had left his widowed mother in Staffordshire in the 1930s to emigrate to Canada as a ditch-digger, and through his determination to improve himself had become a highly successful head teacher in his later years. I drew upon my experiences in Iran and earlier studying for a PGCE in Dublin, and Heather on how a chance criticism by a fellow pupil when very young made her feel not quite normal. Easy writing I believe results in interesting reading.
The chapter on ‘Human Nature; a Brain for All Times’ was also great fun to write, for it drew upon ideas that had fascinated me for years. I used the work of many recent writers, such as Nicholas Wade (‘Before the Dawn’), Barbara Strauch (‘Crazy by Design’), Henry Plotkin (‘Evolution in Mind’), as well as the works of people like Howard Gardener and David Perkins, the prolific Stephen Pinker, Susan Greenfield and Spencer Wells. Much of this was drawn from my earlier book ‘Master and Apprentice’, and the thinking that had centred on Peter Puget (Paper on Adolescence), as well as my time in Africa with the Hadza, and the thinking stimulated by the Stirkfontein Caves, interestingly now defined by UNESCO as the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’.
Chapter Four on ‘Nurture and Culture’ was similarly fascinating to write. I showed how by looking at both the origins of the Industrial Revolution, and how this had fundamentally changed social structures, and led to an increasing uncertainty about the process of learning, and the limitations of the classroom. ‘Hands-On Apprentices to Hands-Off Pupils’ (Chapter five), was also straight forward, and fun to write (though I had to be careful about revealing too much of the early saga of the Public schools as, not properly understood in the context of its own time, this could too easily stir up in today’s highly-polarised world a most counter-productive argument).
At this stage I became aware of how difficult it was to hold a wide audience together. Up to this point I was able to keep everything within the scope of what a reader’s personal experience should have enabled them to perceive, and appreciate. But moving into Chapters Six, Seven and Eight this became increasingly more difficult. That was not necessarily my fault; “I am not very interested in history,” several well-meaning friends said, “so I skipped through to the last chapter, but then couldn’t quite pick up where it was going”. More people than I had appreciated were stuck with the prejudices they had developed as schoolchildren that history was just not their thing. Yet without an understanding about cultural change, readers would never be able to understand the emergence of the ever-deepening conflict with political dogma. People not able to hold such a range of ideas together in their minds panicked; “I am not sure about all this – too many variables become too confusing, and all that stuff about the Brain means little to me, as I am not a scientist – never was, never will be”. Many English over the age of 50 had so little knowledge of science in their own education that they remain to this day doubtful of its value.
Dealing with ‘The Challenge for the Comprehensive’ (Chapter Six) was difficult. It required drawing upon abstract ideas about human learning and cognitive theory, and reminded me that the English just don’t take kindly to abstract thought, possibly because of the limitations in their own education years before. It was here that I picked out the four key Turning Points in English education that occurred before the end of the 20th Century – namely the Education Acts of 1870, 1902, 1944, and the Circular of 1965. For reasons I can now well appreciate, historians moving into contemporary times risk treading on many toes, so do scientists. Writing from personal experience I said, “With the repeal of censorship and abortion laws, and the easing of the law on divorce, the average English man or woman, never having thought of themselves as abstract thinkers, now found themselves confused by having to work out the niceties of moral distinctions, which inevitably appeared not as black or white, but in shades of indeterminable grey”. Here was the story of the loss of post-war idealism.
“All four of these issues – the justification for greed; sex, marriage and the rearing of children; the move to a service economy; and the collapse of communities – are changing what we think about ourselves. By the mid-1980s we were not the same people when the welfare state had been set up… each of the legs of that three-legged stool was becoming ever more unsure of itself. And it was democracy that was suffering…” The extent of the change was made especially clear to me when I was asked in Estonia, “Who are you? When we helped to tear down the Berlin Wall, we wanted to be free to make decisions for ourselves. But you thought we did this because we wished to replace Communism with Capitalism. Now it looks as if we are replacing one tyranny with another. Surely you in the West are about more than just money?”
In Chapter Seven, ‘Adolescents Left Out’, I think I gave an accurate critique of our current educational dilemma. But this called for much careful reflection on the part of readers if they were to move away from the present infatuation with extending the role of the school, to appreciate why, “successful adolescents are more in need of space to be themselves than they are of more classrooms to sit in and more exams to take”.
In ‘What kind of Education for what kind of world’ (Chapter eight), Heather and I wrote, “That same reductionist thinking that has wrought havoc on the physical environment has largely impeded the transfer of findings from bio-medical research on human learning from being utilised within formal educational structures and practices” (page 195). We then went on to set out 15 principles to show why “the traditional factory model of education is therefore incompatible with the idea that students are workers – that learning must be active, and that children learn in different ways and at different rates”(page 197). “Apprenticeship was an education for an intelligent way of life, a mechanism by which adolescents could model themselves on socially-approved adults, so providing a safe passage from childhood to adulthood in psychological, social and economic ways”(page 210).
The last chapter, ‘Knowing What We Know…What’s to be Done’ remains so important that I feared that some people – often those whose lifestyles are so busy that they don’t have time to stop and think – just would not find the space to pull all these ideas together. “Society has to remind itself that society is ‘an aggregate (something formed from a mass of loosely-connected fragments) of people living together in more or less orderly communities’. To learn that lesson well is the social justification for investing in schools. It holds together through its own natural procedures, and is impossible to manage in a logical and legalistic way. Being an aggregate is society’s strength, or put another way, society is the aggregate of what people think for themselves.
“Civil society is about the quality of human relationships implied by covenant; it is where people have to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and it’s where the small-scale meets the mega-issues. Civil society is where one can find the human face – not in the laws, and not in the operation of economic theories of life, nor in nebulous philosophies. Civil society is essentially down-to-earth. It is the seat of our greatest ambitions, and it inevitably has to balance on a three-legged stool. Civil society is comfortable; it’s where we want to be, because it feels right. Civil society has become a greatly weakened concept, and because education has now become micro-managed by the state so as essentially fitting ‘with a new economic imperative of supply-side investment for national prosperity,’ the revitalisation of education has to proceed in sequence with the recovery of civil society. We are driven to think for ourselves; it’s how we survive. Remember that, and we have everything that we need to deal with the problems facing world society.”
* * *
Heather and I suggested that if this book were to do its job properly, the final paragraph had to become the opening for the story to be told by those who, daring all, will shape education out of its two-centuries’ old inertia. It was the clarion call for Responsible Subversives, those people from all walks of life ready to face up to the tragic consequences of society’s failure to recognise that by selling adolescents short we are actually screwing-up the future of the human race.
Yet this book, too, was nearly not published. As is common practice amongst publishers, two references were sought by them from people whom they respected. Later we learnt that one referee, someone whose own book was already a great success, responded most enthusiastically, urging that the book should be got out as soon as possible, but another – a Professor of Education at an English University – wrote, “… this book is a disappointment. It does not work on a number of levels. The tone of the book is polemical and often very personal – too many anecdotes and personal diversions… I am not sure about the intended readership – it is too simplistic for most professional audiences… As it stands I am not sure that the text is publishable – it requires too much editing and development”.
‘15-all’ was not good enough for the publisher, who left me to collect more supportive statements. Many of these are included in the articles in this part of the timeline. The clincher was the reference from Professor Sir Gustav Nossall from the University of Melbourne, Australia, former President of the World Immunology Association, the Australian Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the Royal Society… but all this delayed its publication by a critical nine months.
So concerned was I at this delay, and my mounting concern that the English were about to make grave errors in reducing the power of local democratic control over schools, that the Initiative published two papers, ‘A Question of Democracy…or why the problem of bringing up young people will never be solved by school-based solutions’ (delivered in Birmingham, England in June and Sydney Australia in July 2008) and ‘The Initiative in Changing Times’.
|JAN||European League for Middle level Education, Zurich||Switzerland|
|Manchester 14-19 1st Residential||Cumbria|
|FEB||AMEC meetings with Richard Oldfield||Bath|
|St Mark’s School||Bath|
|Manchester 2nd Residential||Lake District|
|Meeting with Danny Kruger, Shadow Government||Ho of Commons|
|MAR||EM Direct Teaching and Learning Conference||Doncaster|
|APR||Beccles’ Professional Development Day||Beccles|
|JUNE||Swansea LEA Secondary Leadership Learning Conference, Vale of Glamorgan||Wales|
|City Learning Centre Managers’ National Conference||Manchester|
|Cumbria Assoc. Of Secondary Heads’ Conference||Cumbria|
|West Wiltshire Federation of Secondary Schools’ Conf||Bath|
|St Stephens’ School Meeting||Bath|
|JULY||Education Development Assoc. International Summer Conference||Cambridge|
|SEPT||Essex Learning for Sustainability Conference||Essex|
|OCT||Cambridgeshire Primary Head Teachers’ Conference||Cambridge|
|International Baccalaureate Chief Examiners’ Meeting, Cardiff||Wales|
|JAN||Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society||Manchester|
|Hillingdon Heads’ Winter Conference||Poole|
|Northampton Annual Deputy Heads’ Residential||Collingtree|
|FEB||BANES Annual Head Teachers’ Conference||Bath|
|University of the West of England Early Years Conf||Bristol|
|APR||ACS Egham International School Conference||Surrey|
|NAHT Conference Yorkshire Region||Wakefield|
|MAY||EM Direct Teaching & Learning Conference||Lincolnshire|
|JUNE||BASS Secondary Deputy Head Teachers’ Conference||Sutton Coldfield|
|Bath Abbey Lectures||Bath|
|West Wiltshire Able Student Partnership Conference||Bath|
|JULY||Wesley College Institute Advisory Committee, Melbourne||Australia|
|SHORE Church of England School Conference, Sydney||Australia|
|SEPT||Bath & Wells Diocesan Clergy Conference||Derbyshire|
|Atlantic College Workshop||Wales|
|NOV||Bradford Head Teachers’ conference||Harrogate|
|First meeting with Dominic Cummings|