“You will never solve a problem by using the same thinking that created the problem in the first place” (Albert Einstein)

The actual making, and questioning, of history.

The year 2000 opened as the crowd, “was excitingly waiting for the clock to sound out the midnight hour across the crowded market square, a space that had echoed long ago to the tramp of Roman legions, and seen the crowning of the first King of all the English a thousand years before. At the first chime a vast cheer went up; men and women, old friends and strangers, young and old, hugged each other. So many corks were pulled that a mist of champagne hung in the air. Older people looked into each others’ eyes and congratulated themselves at finally having made it to the new millennium – a day in a thousand years. Excitement hung in the air, history was being made, and for a short while all seemed well in the world. We were the privileged ones that had made it to the 21st Century.

“Then, that afternoon, the BBC conducted a radio interview with Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, later President of the Royal Society. Tell us, said the interviewer, what chance do you give the world of surviving the next thousand years, the next millennium? ‘I am not too sure about the next millennium’, he replied soberly, ‘but I think I give us a 50-50 chance of surviving the next hundred years’. The interviewer, obviously shaken, asked, ‘Why?… why do you say that?’. ‘Well’, replied Sir Martin, ‘I fear that the speed of man’s technological discoveries is outpacing our wisdom and ability to control what we have discovered… what happens here on Earth in this century, could conceivably make the difference between a near-eternity filled with evermore complex and subtle forms of life, and one filled with nothing but base matter’.” (chapter 8, Overschooled but Undereducated)

Could it really be as grim a prospect as that? Although it was to be a further four years before Ronald Wright’s ‘A Short History of Progress’ expressed all this in quite unequivocal terms, from the earliest days of the Wingspread conferences the Initiative was beginning to see it as big as just that. It was here that the macro hit the micro – our tiny Initiative, and a world-challenging agenda.

Just before the end of 1999 The Initiative published my book ‘The Child is Father of the Man’, sub-entitled ‘How Humans Learn and Why’. I had largely written this during the latter part of 1998, and early 1999 as an attempt to provide the diverse interests of the many people who attending a lecture wanted something with which to follow up the ideas. It was the first book of its kind that I had written, and I did it at a time of great excitement as we shared the initial ideas that had emerged from our work on synthesis. Some 11,000 copies were published and all but 900 had been sold within 18 months.

But the close of that year and the first months of the year 2000 were an extraordinarily fraught time for me personally and here the story becomes highly personal, but most influential on the development of the Initiative. Having to decamp from Washington at such short notice and settling into a new family home in Bath (hopefully in a house large enough, at least temporarily, to house the 5000 or so books the Initiative had acquired , together with endless boxes of other papers) meant that we were much constrained by the kind of house we needed to find. Bath is an expensive place, and most properties were far beyond our means. We eventually found an 18th century Georgian terrace house but in so much need of careful restoration (encumbered by all the regulations implied by being a ‘Classified, Grade One’ historic property), that the price was just within our means. It did however need an enormous amount of work doing to it. The trustees suggested that I work reduced hours for three months so as to start the restoration of a 210 year old property which, for the past 40 years had been used as a school – in terms of space we now had plenty, in fact 7,500 sq. feet of it, on six floors! To keep us fit we even had 101 stone steps to climb from the lower basement to the top floor. When we arrived on a dismal late October day there was no functional central heating system, no kitchen, yet we still had some 15 girls’ toilets left over from its time as a school. With floor to ceiling heights on the main reception floors of twelve and a half feet, we had to quickly become experts in putting up, and taking down, scaffolding. Within that first three months we had made enough of a start to encourage us that we would eventually produce a home which, while large and part office, would please us very much. More important still, the hard physical labour was just what I needed to restore my sagging spirits, and find me a lively interest in something far removed from the nature of the brain. It may well have lain behind why, 22 months later, I gave the subtitle of the book I was then writing ‘Reuniting Thinking with Doing’.

Far from the ideas of the Initiative being seen as irrelevant, which had been the conclusion of APS when they withdrew our grant, during the year 2000 the ideas spread like wildfire. In that single year lectures were given in Paris, Cumbria, Saskatoon, Ealing, Torfaen, Harrow, the Yukon, Kentucky, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ottawa, Teignmouth, Wiltshire, Stirling, Seattle, San Diego, Chichester, West Lothian, New York, London, Caerphilly, Dudley, Johannesburg, Dublin, Merthyr Tydfil, Morpeth, Quebec, Toronto, Southwark, Norfolk, West Sussex, State of the World Forum, Seoul, Jakarta, Borneo, the Cambridge Union debate, and the British Commonwealth Education Ministers in Nova Scotia. The cost of each of these was borne entirely by those organising the individual conferences in different parts of the world. It was an enormous reversal of fortune.

The intensity of that almost unexpected interest in the recommendations of the Policy Paper prompted several requests firstly to run extensive training programmes, similar to the five day programme we ran that summer in Quebec for the Canadian Education Association (CEA), to strengthen key people’s understanding of these ideas as a precursor to taking local leadership in their implementation. The impetus for these training programmes came from the lecture I gave on behalf of the Campaign for Learning at the spectacular venue of the Millennium Dome, ‘Learning… Seeing the Big Picture’ (***):

Humans have been using their brains to think for as long as we’ve been using our stomachs to digest food. Both are perfectly normal, uncomplicated processes. So what’s all the fuss about?

This is a good analogy but let’s think a little deeper. Over the past 30 years medical science has discovered so much about the nature of the digestive system, and the chemistry of food, that on average we’re living longer and far more healthily than our grandparents. We have, as it were, a better ‘users’ guide’ to the human stomach. The same thing is starting to happen to our knowledge about the human brain. With the discovery of the bio-medical technologies of CAT and PET scans, and functional MRI, medical science is poised to make equally spectacular discoveries about how the brain works over the next 5 or 10 years. Whether we use these discoveries is a matter of judgement. In a sense it is, like so much else, a political decision; does this information support what we want to see happen?

The initial Wiltshire training programme comprised seven components; (1) the biological roots of learning, (2) the evolving ideas about learning, (3) making connections between ICT and young people’s learning, (4) the New Economies’ impact on learning, (5) communities as the web of learning, (6) the unfinished revolution, and (7) the challenge for your community – building synthesis. The justification for the training programme was to enable the participants to use these new ideas in a cascade model to develop their own training programmes across their LEAs. This was to be linked to a network across the country working through the creation of an Advanced Institute for study of Human Learning.

Secondly, the presentations made in Saskatoon, The Yukon, Quebec , Nova Scotia, Toronto and other Canadian provinces, led to the Initiative being responsible for stimulating the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) (see their website), and the video clips which will be available here on this site.

Thirdly, the invitations I received to speak on behalf of the Initiative in various places in Africa and East Asia (Seoul, Jakarta and Borneo) led to my being able to draw together much of the emerging thought about how the present structure of the human brain had been shaped by ancient human experience (the evolution of humanity which became such a feature of the Initiative from about 2002).

Fourthly, the interest of very many LEAs in the Initiative’s Paper, “The Search for Expertise”, and issues with transferability, stimulated much of the rest of our work (and drew me into lively conflict with Chris Woodhead, England’s Chief Inspector of Schools).

Fifthly, the invitation to work with the Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO) in Venice in 2002, stimulated the writing of “Master and Apprentice; reuniting Thinking with Doing”.

As all this unwound, we were just on the point of Terry Ryan moving to England so that we could continue our highly productive working relationship, established over the four years of Wingspread, when the horror of 9-11 so shocked Terry that he felt he could not leave his country in its hour of need… so I was left almost single-handed to follow-up on all this.

Presentations during 2000

2000

JAN

26

OECD Paris
FEB

15

Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institute Bath

17

Wiltshire Primary Head Teachers’ Conference Wiltshire

18

Warrington Conference/Chris Woodhead Cumbria

22

Saskatoon Canada
MAR

9

Ealing Education Services Bournemouth

16

Torafen Head Teachers’ Conference Ireland

17

Harrow Education Department Harrow

19

Whitehorse Yukon

23

Kentucky USA

31

Hammersmith & Fulham Head Teachers’ Conference Poole
APR Hammersmith & Fulham LEA (Esmée Fairbairn Foundation Poole

26

Canadian Head Teachers’ Conference Ottawa

2000

MAY

04

Teign School Devon

05

Wiltshire Primary Head Teachers’ Conference Wiltshire

10

Stirling Head Teachers’ Conference Clackmannanshire

18

Pacific Institute Seattle

28

NAFSA Conference San Diego
JUNE

07

West Sussex Secondary Head Teachers’ Conference Chichester

08

West Lothian/South Lanarkshire Council Scotland

13

Ealing Head Teachers’ & Senior Teachers’ Conference Ealing

16

Small School Conference Chichester

17

OECD Sackler, New York

22

IEA London

*

Ben-Gordan University, Tel Aviv Israel

28

ESIS Secondary Head Teachers’ Conference Caerphilly
JULY

15

Campaign for Learning

20

Saltwells EDC Dudley

21

IEA London

29

St Stithian’s College South Africa
Dudley Metropolitan Borough Training Programme Poole
St Stithian’s College Geography Conference South Africa
Trinity College, Dublin Ireland
ESIS Secondary Head Teachers’ Conference, Merthyr Tydfil Wales
AUG The 1st Northumbria Creativity Conference Morpeth
CASA, Quebec Canada
Council of Ministers of Education in Canada, Toronto Canada
SEPT Carleton Catholic School Board, Ottawa Canada
Association for the Study of Primary Education Cumbria
I.E.A. London
Southwark Heads’ Conference London
Norfolk County Conference Norwich
West Sussex Advisory & Inspection Services Conference Arundel
State of the World Forum, New York USA
NOV East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools: Seoul, Jakarta and Borneo East Asia
Cambridgeshire Union Debate Cambridge
National Assoc. Of Teachers in Further and Higher Education Rugby
Campaign for Learning London
Hamilton Superintendents and School Trustees, Toronto Canada
City Learning Conference Hull
14th Conference of British Commonwealth Education Ministers, Nova Scotia (N.B. David Blunkett did not attend – there could have been little semblance of a link between what England was by then doing, and what other Common Wealth countries were doing) Canada

2000

NOV OECD, Paris France
Frome Community College Governors’ Conference Somerset
DEC South Lanarkshire Secondary Special Head Teachers’ Conference Hamilton
Torfaen Deputy Heads’ Conference, Cwmbran Wales
Society of Education Officers London