“Is there a great disconnect,” asked Frank Newman, the President of the Education Commission of the States, at a meeting of the Initiative in Washington in 1998, “between what we know we should be doing from the research, and what actually happens in schools?”
“Yes, indeed; the disconnect is huge,” responded Rod Cocking, Executive Officer of the National Academy of Sciences Neurological and Cognitive Science Research Committee.
“So it seems to me”, Newman Responded, “that if we really understood the nature of young children’s learning and the real nature of adolescence then we would have every reason to reverse the present system as being upside down. If that is true, or even only half true, then we have to take this research enormously seriously. This issue may be described as being too broad by many, but that must not frighten us”.
* * *
The start of 2001 was a time of excitement, a pivotal point. After the traumas of 1999 the Initiative was building a firm base on which to push these ideas across the UK, and maybe elsewhere. A few months before, largely due to the unflagging energy of my colleague Terry Ryan, we published ‘The Unfinished Revolution; learning, human behaviour, community and political paradox” (***). This argued that the cumbersome industrial model of education still followed in the West was out of step with the needs of modern business and society. This book drew on a vast body of evidence and relevant research to show that a radical rethink of schooling is required which should be based on evidence of how children actually learn.
* * *
Grabbing time from a very busy schedule in April, I wrote one of the most interesting internal memos in the Initiative’s annals – ‘The Messiness of Human Learning’. In retrospect this seems like a State of the Union address and touched upon so many critical issues that it forms the substance of this folder. It is quoted in full, and goes as follows; – During that year l made many presentations about the Initiative, in Canada and the United States, in Malaysia and Indonesia, in Europe and many times in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Mainly these were presentations to academics, school administrators, teachers and governors. A smaller number were to groups with very specific interests. One stands out most clearly in my mind… the IEA.
The Institute for Economic Affairs is a prestigious British group that in recent years has done much to promote the idea of a market economy. It was a presentation I’d been looking forward to making as I am fascinated by the relationship of a dynamic, and purposeful, economy to the nature of education.
I thought I’d done a reasonable job and the first few questions following the presentation showed that I’d certainly gained many people’s interest. Then, to my surprise, a senior officer of the IEA entered the discussion and claimed that my presentation had been “highly messy”.
Teachers, he explained, lacked sufficient focus in their work for anyone to really understand what learning involved. Greater specificity and less attention to the peripheries would be essential if educationalists were to gain the confidence of the public. Education, he claimed, was about what happened in school, all else was largely immaterial. “By setting out such a range of factors, you make education seem very messy, and you teachers practitioners of a craft, not a science.”
Meant in good spirit, nevertheless he did not intend his comments to be anything other than a criticism. Unless teachers “cleaned up their act” they would not be taken seriously… at least not by him and all those others who would write under the title of ‘policymakers’.
There was a primary school headteacher from London present. She tried to argue with him that a recognition that learning was “messy” was an essential first step in appreciating how complicated is the relationship between emotion and intellect, formal and informal learning, and the role of different forms of motivation. The economist was unmoved. Schools needed to be held accountable, he argued dogmatically, within a clearly defined set of criteria; each teacher should be evaluated in terms of their pupils’ progress (if we had known it this was surely a taste of what politicians were shortly to bring upon the whole country).
Both the headteacher and the economist were deeply frustrated. The economist, the headteacher knew, had the ear of senior civil servants and ministers. The headteacher had 30 years experience; her school was remarkably successful in difficult circumstances. She knew that no two children develop in the same way. She knew that teachers following prescribed curricula all too often lose their vitality, and the creativity of children eventually suffered. She knew the proper relationship between formal disciplines and open-ended enquiry. Yet she could not explain this in ways that the economist would understand. Her frustration went even deeper. She thought that the economist was so preoccupied with his own theories that he simply dismissed anything that could not be quantified. Both went home that night in despair.
Between mid February and early April l gave nearly 30 presentations about these ideas mainly in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland but with 3 days in North America.
I usually entitled my speech “What kind of education for what kind of world? Do we want our children to grow up as battery hens or free range chickens?” Other times I entitled it “Reversing the Upside Down and Inside Out nature of western education; strategic and resource Implications of new models of learning”. Always, however, I stressed the essentially non-linear nature – the ‘messiness’ – of human learning. “Children don’t just turn their brains on when they go into a classroom and off when they leave,” I frequently said. “All too often it’s the other way round. But it’s the child who has discovered a sense of purpose and direction in their life outside school who comes to the classroom wanting to use every opportunity to learn more. It’s not the other way round. Effective learning is about much more than just good teaching.”
In every presentation there was a growing concern that an old way of doing things was finally collapsing, and a new system was experiencing a difficult birth. Many teachers, as the Spring term came towards its close, were simply worn out. “I doubt if I’ll stay in teaching very long” said a newly qualified teacher. “What I’m being required to do is sterile. This isn’t why I came into teaching. I can understand why nearly half of new teachers leave within three years – so much of it is so boring, and I don’t want to bore children.” That teacher was in her early twenties.
That this was a truly transnational problem was well demonstrated when I received an e-mail from a man just ending a lifetime’s career in teaching. Walter Raniouski was Principal of a tiny secondary school on the north West Coast of the Hudson Bay in Canada, close to the Arctic Circle. “[The problem] is all very simple,” he wrote. “What it means basically is that those educators who are actively searching for better ways of understanding children and learning, i.e. how we learn, are so tied up with bureaucrats and educational administrators that we’re too tired to keep on trying to improve the lot of children. As a principal I can see what is possible, but paperwork, apathy, discipline problems, refusal to accept responsibility for actions, seriously undermine the entire process. After 44 years I am retiring this year. Teaching Inuit children has been a joy. But I am tired and I sometimes wonder just what I have accomplished.”
“That’s exactly how I feel!” exclaimed a teacher at a conference outside Southampton. “I couldn’t have said it better. He may be on the shores of the Hudson Bay, and my school’s near Reading, England yet our feelings are identical. Why oh why are our jobs being made so difficult?”
I had a flashback to that meeting at the Institute of Economic Affairs. What sounds a logical set of prescriptions to a policymaker may well be totally incomprehensible to a practicing teacher faced with the spontaneous inquisitiveness of young minds.
Just reassuring teachers of what they already knew – namely that successful teaching really is messy, and that no one should have to apologise for this – is not enough. Unless we (whoever ‘we’ might be) can get all sectors of society to work through their differences and really understand that it is through learning that people develop their sense of self, identity, purpose and determination, then all our efforts will be marginalised. Society needs to understand better the dynamics of human learning.
Giving so many presentations in such a short time I had to be particularly alert to the moods of the different groups. It wasn’t simply geography that made a conference in Sussex different to Manchester; nor was it the gloom associated in rural communities with foot and mouth disease in Devon or the Welsh borders that gave a different feel to a conference in London or Glasgow. Every community is a product of numerous overlapping pressures, loyalties, historic priorities and concerns for the future. To be in an authority on the day they are publicly rebuked by OFSTED is to see an effect comparable to punishing the whole class because an inexperienced teacher can’t find the real culprit.
At a conference in Torquay, the senior OFSTED Inspector for Primary Education sought to complement a couple of hundred primary headteachers for the progress, revealed in a set of national statistics, for improved performance nationally in literacy and numeracy. “That’s as may be.” said a member of the audience. “But are you really sure the tests are actually measuring the right things?” There was a stunned, embarrassed silence……and then the audience showed their agreement by clapping vigorously.
“If we were to recognize what research is saying about the potential of very young children to shape their brains in active interrelationship with everything going on around them, then surely it has to be obvious that secondary education would have to change dramatically? Not having got it right for the early years it seems to me that we spend the next 11 years trying to catch up (and patch up) – it’s as if the whole system’s in remedial mode all the time,” said a headteacher in Trafford, Manchester.
“Please,” several said, “Use all your influence to focus politicians’ attention on what to them must be a very difficult issue – it’s not so much that schools are failing, it’s more to do with a crisis in childhood itself, and that reflects a still deeper crisis, namely our collapsing sense of community. It’s relatively easy for politicians to bash teachers. We are a soft target. For most of the time we’re doing the best we can.”
The real trouble is, l reflected, that far too many children come either from very disturbed home backgrounds or from homes where children’s lives have little coherence, challenge or affection. The problem affects the whole of society; just to blame it on the schools is a failure to accept an unpalatable reality. Society at large, or so it seems, appears to have given up on children.
Whilst not dodging my own responsibility, I am always at pains to remind audiences of a basic political fact. Politicians want to get re-elected. There are many issues that press for their attention. They only respond to big issues when the pressure from their constituents becomes too great to resist. Teachers are not particularly politically astute. Normally we don’t speak with both a loud and a compelling argument – unless it’s about salaries.
The challenge the Initiative passes to every teacher is twofold: each has to do the very best, within the present constraints, for their current pupils. But if that is all we are doing l believe we are failing the next generation. I believe we each have a second agenda, and that is to be ready with coherent, well thought out strategies that can with confidence be used to create a new system of education based on what is now known about human learning, at the moment when cracks in the present system become too large to paper over. “After all”, I say, conscious of the pun I’m about to make, “You each have a greater density of graduates in your staff rooms than will be found often for miles around your school! You have more opportunity to shape the way people think than you realise.”
In every presentation, whenever I lecture, I stress the need for Synthesis, and for ‘joined up’ thinking. I encourage listeners to take a careful and broadly based view of what is going on around then in terms of social and economic change, and what will be the ‘big issues’ that today’s teenagers will have to grapple with in 20 0r 30 years time. Inevitably this has led to discussion about purpose, values, and quality of life, the very ‘peripheral’ issues that the Institute of Economic Affairs warned would lead to policy makers discounting the views of teachers. The provocative question about battery hens or free-range chickens is of real concern to observers able to comprehend the big picture.
Frequently, however, ‘thinking ability’ becomes swamped by the context of what has to be learnt. What is needed, l have argued in every presentation, is to make pupils’ thinking more visible – both to themselves and to the teachers. This is called metacognition. Here however, is a problem. You can’t learn-how-to-learn in isolation from actually learning about something. All too often it is easier for people who want to find quick and effective ways of making education (and teachers in particular) accountable to measure the thing which is learnt, rather than the process of the learning. The two are not necessarily the same thing. There are short cuts to learning much about something which will get a person through an exam, but won’t give them any transferable skill to deal, maybe years later, with a very different form of content. It’s transferable skills that young people of today are going to need if they are to be properly equipped to deal with continuing change.
Every presentation aimed to equip each listener with the ability to make a better explanation of all these issues than they could have done previously. “That’s really the exciting thing about what I’ve learned today,” said a teacher in Norfolk. “I knew about everything you talked about but I never really understood how all the pieces came together. The whole is much more significant than l realised.”
“What I’d never really appreciated.” said a primary head in Dudley as she explained the significance of the 7-day training program to some of her colleagues about to start the next course, “that unless you have a clear understanding of how people learn you can’t make sense of all the different, apparently conflicting, ideas that demand out attention. Quite frankly, without this you can’t sort out what’s important and what‘s not. Much of the time people are wanting their cake and eating it – unless they understand that certain actions have inevitable consequences we’ll never do better by our children.”
During each presentation, much of the time is spent in explaining how a Synthesis has been constructed that draws on findings from a variety of forms of research. Some of this research is highly quantifiable and has been empirically tested (much of the research from neurobiology, for example, responds well to laboratory testing programs). Research from cognitive science into the processes that we humans use to learn have been subjected to careful analysis over several years and occasionally over periods as long as 10 years.
Other research findings are more deductive and in terms of ‘hard’ science are seen as being more speculative. In this category are the hypotheses being set out by studies in evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology which are themselves a synthesis across a range of subjects such as archaeology, anthropology and palaeontology. The issues raised by such studies deal with developments over hundreds of thousands of years. Such hypotheses cannot be tested in the same empirical way that can be applied to, say, the possible way the amygdala regulates emotions in the brain. But that doesn’t invalidate the possible contributions such hypotheses can make to our understanding of the way in which the brain has evolved to develop proposed ways of learning (the ‘grain of the brain’ argument). We can’t wait 10,000 years to get a laboratory-type test on how predispositions evolve in response to changing external, environmental stimuli. But that simply means we have to involve more ways of evaluating ideas than the empirical testing that is the preferred, sometimes the only, acceptable research in some disciplines. We have, I argue, to look for the Circumstantial Evidence, a term borrowed from the legal profession and defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “indirect evidence founded on circumstances that limit the number of admissible hypotheses”.
Teachers and pupils alike need bifocal vision – the ability both to look at issues in microscopic detail, and also to see the big, broad picture. To look too closely at an Impressionist painting is simply to see a confusing mass of apparently disconnected dots and strokes, but stand back and look again with a focus that blurs the dots and a beautiful picture emerges. The beautiful picture does not deny the significance of the dots; it would not have been possible without them, yet the dots alone – without the perspective of the whole – are valueless.
* * *
Within each presentation I aimed to draw together all those pieces of information about process, motivation, intelligence and memory that help give substance to the learning process known as Constructivism. Humans learn more through a process of knowledge construction than they do through any extensive process of knowledge transfer. Quite simply, everything we notice we seek to recall by linking it to something we already know. In a complicated, busy world this enables us to deepen our understanding while forcing us to disregard those possible new ideas that don’t conveniently ‘fit in’ to the organising framework we have already set up. Twenty minutes into my presentation I frequently say to the audience, “If I sent every one of you away with a blank sheet of paper, to a hundred separate rooms to write down what you’ve heard so far, not one of you would describe it in the same way. Not because you weren’t listening all of the time, but simply because each of you was automatically ‘translating’ what I had said into your own previous set of frameworks.”
The most difficult task that faces the Initiative everyday is challenging people to see the whole Synthesis and not just that part which describes their own specialism. In particular how the process of young people’s learning relates to and requires the active participation of the whole community. A metaphor is helpful. There is an old Hindu proverb about three blind men trying to describe an elephant. The first feels its trunk and leaps to the conclusion that it’s a large snake; the second feels its ear and believes it to be the leaf of a large plant; while the thirds feels its leg and thinks it’s the trunk of a young tree. As the Initiative has struggled with the writings of several thousands of people over the past five years, so we have had to accept that not only is there a deep human antipathy towards any acceptance that a new idea is, largely, a refinement of someone else’s earlier idea, but that very large research funds seduce researchers to stress the difference between their theory and anyone else’s, rather than to acknowledge the complementary nature of the ideas.
Teachers on the whole have much intuitive understanding of children, as do parents. Each sees the child in close-up and each is quick to recognize both the miraculous and the messy side of human learning. They are, rightly, reluctant to make over-simple theoretical assumptions about which influences what – nature or nurture. Economists look at investment in education in terms of its short, middle and long term payback. Philosophers ponder profound issues about the relationship of the brain to the mind, while religious people ponder the significance of life itself. Cognitive scientists seek to understand the processes of human learning, and neurobiologists explore the mechanics of the brain. Evolutionary studies explore the nature of modern man in terms of our evolutionary background, while Systems Theory, Complexity and Chaos Theory explore the nature of learning as a complex adaptive system.
* * *
Back again to the diary. Right at the end of February the second Wiltshire training programme started with 106 people participating, the course being held in the old Corn Exchange in Devizes. In mid March the Harrow training programme started, and in the last week of the month the second Dudley programme got going. Discussions were at that stage reasonably far advanced with a further 8 or 9 authorities in England, Wales and Scotland for further courses to be set up before the end of this year, with the added anticipation that a programme to roll these ideas across Canada may soon be agreed. A course in Taiwan was to be held in June. The training of an extended cadre of ‘Responsible Subversives’ seemed to be well underway.
In mid March Radio Telefis Eireann completed arrangements to broadcast the interview I had given in Dublin the previous month on two separate occasions, in a series called “Open Mind”. This was very well received by listeners and subsequently I was asked to do two further, high profile talks on Irish Radio in November. Early in April l received a tape recording of the two broadcasts. By the time this reached me it had been edited to produce a 30-minute, whole programme, interview for the regular weekly feature “Open Mind”. Quinn had kept back 10 minutes worth of material to start the programme the following week. Because I’d made such a plea in my interview (and the speech I had given earlier at the University) for university specialists to develop better methodologies for cross-discipline synthesis, John Quinn had invited Dr Tom Mitchell, the Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, to make a 20 minute response. Unfortunately the Provost was not available and so, instead, Quinn invited Professor Ian Robertson, newly appointed Professor of Psychology at Trinity, to respond.
lan Robertson had published a book in 1999 that I had found most useful and often quote from, ‘Mind Sculpture: Your Brain’s Untapped Potential’. His use of the concept of experience as ‘sculpting’ the brain nicely focuses attention on the interplay of culture on our natural predispositions. Ian has done ground-breaking work on brain rehabilitation, and his book makes fascinating reading, stressing as it does that none of us is simply trapped by our inherited mental capacities. There is much we can do, under certain circumstances, to develop our brain’s potential. In ‘Mind Sculpture’ Ian frequently stresses, as do many other researchers either side of the Atlantic, evidence from research that places a high correlation between ‘years of schooling’ and both job opportunities and – fascinatingly – the incidence of dementia (the more schooling the longer is the onslaught of dementia in subsequent old age).
In Ian’s response to my interview he commented most authoritatively on those aspects of my responses that had dealt with psychology, and cognition in particular. He spoke with obviously deep knowledge about issues of metacognition, of intelligence, and spoke of cognitive sciences ability to base its conclusions on empirical testing. Its conclusions he and the listeners following his argument found indisputable – they were scientifically ‘correct’. From this, to my surprise, Ian then launched into a defence of cognitive science by directly arguing that, so far, neurobiology has very little to contribute to the study of learning and by completely ignoring the possible influence of evolution on how the brain develops, presumably dismissed these studies out of hand. Being well aware of the turf wars that rage between cognitive science and neurobiology, and between these two subjects and evolutionary studies, I was not surprised at his line of argument, but l was surprised that he brought it up at this stage as I’d been at pains to stress the importance of synthesis and the need to understand the ‘circumstantial evidence’.
Here, and not for the last time, Prof. Robertson embarked with all the confidence of dealing with objective numbers that is the stock-in-hand of cognitive scientists. He moved onto matters of personal observation and anecdote. He took strong exception to my argument that the present system of schooling is ‘upside down and inside out’ in both its use of resources and, in my words, its over emphasis on schooling. “John is wrong,” Ian argued, “to say we are an over-schooled and undereducated society. What we need is more schooling not less”; an argument that was to come up depressingly frequently in later years. He cited the steady rise in IQ scores worldwide during the past century “as evidence that in fact schools have done very well. The last thing we need is further experimentation for we are all suffering from the ill effects of educational experiments of the past 20 or 30 years that have never been scientifically evaluated. The suggestion that the community should be more involved is a pious aspiration – in modern times we are all too busy for that to be possible” (a most dangerous and misleading assumption).
* * *
Replaying the tape of this interview I was amazed at the extent to which this sounded like a justification for the status quo. “What was needed,” Ian appeared to be saying, “was more rigorous application of disciplined skills within the present structure.”
I thought of the anguish of teachers in many countries. Of the Welsh Director of Education who, bravely, got up in front of a large group of Headteachers and said “You’re working extremely hard, you’ve tried all the tricks you know, but still, deep down, you know it’s not working. There is still a hard core of youngsters who are just not responding to what we are offering. And many of those who do get their qualifications often seem unable to acquit themselves with any confidence once they go into employment. I think we all know that the system is flawed and many of its cracks are terminal.” The audience nodded in agreement.
“Just how much better could we do,” the man in Merthyr Tydfil concluded “if we applied all we knew about learning to children when they were very young? lf we had classes of 10 or 12 at the age 5 and 6 we could give children such a good start that secondary education, designed on the basis that 11 year olds don’t know how to learn, would really have to change.” The audience nodded their approval. “So, John,” said the Director. “Tell us what this synthesis of the thinking of all these great specialists actually means for us.”
I thought of Ian Robertson and many other extremely knowledgeable people whom I’ve met and whose writings I have carefully studied. I know that Ian was not the only such person who could move from being the absolute authority in his own area to quickly making generalized statements of doubtful significance in areas where he spoke purely as a member of the public. I thought how infrequently highly knowledgeable ‘authorities’ who believe they have the courage to listen to all kinds of evidence, be it statistical and qualitative, intuitive or speculative, are actually unable to look at their discipline from an external perspective. I thought of the three blind men trying to describe the elephant.
And l remembered the warning given the previous year in Kenan Malik’s book ‘Man, Beast or Zombie: what science can and can’t tell us about human nature’. “Our very success in understanding nature has generated deep problems for understanding human nature……. [Evolutionary Psychology] views man as a sophisticated animal governed, as any animal is, by its evolutionary past. [Cognitive Science] treats the human mind as a machine (or as a Zombie as contemporary philosophy refers to entities that behave like humans but possess no consciousness). Man as Beast, and Man as Zombie. To many, the triumph of Darwinism and of Artificial Intelligence seems to have solved the age-old problem of how to understand human beings in a materialistic universe. But that, I suggest, is an illusion fostered by the abandonment of any attachment to a humanistic vision. The triumph of mechanistic explanation of human nature is as much a consequence of our cultural loss of nerve as it is of scientific advance.”
Hold fast to the multiple ways of seeing all this, I said to the teachers in Wales as I did elsewhere. No one discipline, seeing human learning within only its own parameters can give you the guidance you need. There’s nothing simple and straightforward about how our brain develops.
Enjoy the messiness of being a thinking human. That is no excuse for not doing anything. On the contrary, it is the ultimate challenge to see how we can help all these aspects of our humanity to come together.
You see, there was one final thing Ian Robertson had said in his response on Irish radio that really frightened me. “We should regard the education system as a vast experiment in neurosurgery.”
Surely we should have a bigger view for our children than that? Cognitive science or neurobiology are ways – important ways – of knowing what it means to be human. But they are not the only ways. Learning is messy, that’s why to be an educator is so exciting.
* * * * *
These ideas reflected five or six years of the previous work, and I thought would set the pace for at least a few years to come. The pace of lecturing in 2001 led to an even faster rate of lectures in 2002 and 2003 (see schedule of lectures for 2001).
On the basis of ‘The Unfinished Revolution’ we sent an Aide Memoire(***) to the Downing Street Policy Unit in January – a Paper that I still look back on with real satisfaction for, within only ten key statements, it expressed the implications of the Policy Paper very well. The Downing Street Policy Unit seemed unable to deal with such a level of thinking; the newly appointed official deputed to discuss this with me could only conclude by remarking how much our reasoning seemed to coincide with what he often heard from his own mother, a primary school headmistress. There was no further follow up from them.
There was no follow up either to the highly unsatisfactory debate between myself and Chris Woodhead organised by the heads in Warrington later in January in which Woodhead brazenly dismissed all recent research “as a distraction from the school’s essential teaching responsibility”, he having defined me as part of the educational ‘blob’ which he dismissed as being totally responsible for preventing his administrative reforms from having the effect he intended. His argument was very similar to Ian Robertson’s. See also reference to Trinity College, Dublin, and the paper calling for the setting-up of a Centre for the Study of Human Learning (**), together with a meeting of the All Souls Group in Oxford.
In February the Wiltshire Training Programme (TP) had started, and ran through to mid-Summer. One of the participants, Pete Mountstephen, has gone on to become Headmaster of St Stephen’s Primary School in Bath, as well as being Chairman of the National Primary Heads. The first of the Dudley TP started in April. Lectures were given between January and the end of April 2001 in West Sussex, the Local Government Association in York, Clackmannanshire, Torfaen, Norfolk governors, Hampshire governors, Cardiff Secondary Heads, Trafford, Torquay, Westminster schools, Somerset heads, Devon and Cornwall heads, Harrow, Norfolk, and the East Riding of Yorkshire. In June it was the Cheltenham head teachers, the early-years conference in Devon, Swansea head teachers, Trafford again, Dublin, Birmingham, Johannesburg, the Channel Islands, Loughborough, several places in Ireland, and then an intensive week in Medellin, Colombia.
In early September, I was starting to consider how to wrote a book that would take all these further ideas and extend them beyond anything Terry or I had written in either ‘The Child is Father of the Man’, or ‘The Unfinished Revolution’. I was sitting at my desk, between whiles watching a digger further down in our garden, when the BBC interrupted the early afternoon programme to announce the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (9/11). Like everyone else I was stunned and it was ages before I began to see how this came together with the possible work of the Initiative.
Only two years after the debacle with Atlantic Philanthropic Society and our £100,000 annual grant, I was invited to give the Irish equivalent of the Reith Lecture on Irish radio (Dublin RTE) 5th October 2001 (***), which was when I first used what I knew would be the provocative title of ‘Overschooled but Undereducated’. I concluded that important broadcast by saying, “in all societies since the beginning of time adolescents have learned to become adults by observing, imitating, and interacting with adults around them. The self is shaped and honed by feedback from men and women who already know who they are, and can help the young person find out who he or she is going to be”. It was in that speech that I began to open up my concern that, because formal education was so detached from a real understanding of how the brain works, and human maturation develops, secondary schooling was in danger of trivialising the nature of adolescence. Feeling increasingly jaded by the slowness at which administrators and politicians were dealing with such matters, I ended my talk by quoting something I had just heard from Jordan where a young man had, in extreme frustration with that countries politicians, shouted, “There is just one thing we could all do. We can each put up posters in every village in our different lands stating ‘Education is too important to be left simply to the Ministry of Education’”. (It is interesting to speculate where a today’s audience would suggest the putting up of such posters)
In mid November I addressed the European Council of International Schools at their annual conference in The Hague (attended by over 3000 people) (****). With the recent evidence of 9/11 so fresh in our minds I spoke about ‘Empathy’. “We humans are born with a whole range of little techniques that enable us to get on with each other. It even seems that we were born with the pre-disposition to give the benefit of the doubt to close relatives. Watch children in an infant school playground, they know all about forming teams, they collaborate a well as compete. They pick each other up as well as knock each other down. Their eyes speak volumes. So do yours! It’s lonely up here on the stage. I am energised by the eye to eye contact of the enthusiastic listeners in the front row. Freud said it was simply to do with sex and survival… I think it is slightly more complicated than that! We are very good at supporting each other. Think of the bio-chemistry involved in a smile, or a kiss. But there is terrible evidence from New York, Chicago and other major cities that this highly significant pre-disposition towards – let’s just say ‘getting on with each other’ – is quite capable of being re-wired into the exact opposite set of reactions. Evidence is accumulating that youngsters as young as 18 moths who grow up in extremely violent environments, lay down chemical pathways that see aggression rather than conciliation as the course of first response. Remember the quote from ‘Ghosts from the nursery’? – rage filled adolescents only seem to come out of nowhere; they come, too often, from the nursery”. This lecture was extraordinarily well received and led on to the very many invitations that I received subsequently to visit other countries.
Later that month I made the first of several visits to Northumberland, which will be picked up in a later folder. Then I was invited to speak in Adelaide, Australia where I spoke about ‘The Unfinished Revolution: the strategic, resource and political implications of new understandings about human learning’ (****). The slides that I used on that occasion set the stage for many of the presentations that were soon to follow. There was one tiny incident that was to have long term significance…. on the book shelf at the airport I saw a preproduction copy of Lawrence and Norita’s ‘Driven: how human nature shapes our actions’.
From this stage onwards I was involved in a vast amount of travel. I am pretty certain that every trip was in response to direct invitations to deliver lectures etc. The Initiative was not funding any of this from its own resources, and I was not consciously able to ‘plan’ the sequence of any of these visits. Although all this may seem to be planned, it was really an evolving sequence developed over several years. The Papers that emerged were in direct response to the issues that participants were raising; there was no pre-existing plan. Looking at these papers and presentations now, it is quite extraordinary to see how they represent a natural evolution of the big idea – culminating in the profound, and largely unanswered question, ‘Can the learning species fit into schools?’ raised in 2006.
Conferences held during 2001:
|JAN||University of East London||London|
|Public Debate with Chris Woodhead||Cheshire|
|Downing Street Policy Unit||Westminster|
|FEB||West Sussex Primary Head Teachers’ 2001 Conference||Arundel|
|Local Government Association||York|
|Clackmannanshire Deputy Head Teachers’ Conference||Edinburgh|
|Torfaen Head Teachers’ Conference||Wales|
|Norfolk Governors’ Annual Conference||Norfolk|
|Wokingham District Education Conference||Hampshire|
|Wokingham Head Teachers’ Conference||Hampshire|
|Torfaen Civic Celebration of Schools, Cwmbran||Wales|
|Cardiff Secondary Head Teachers’ Conference||Herts.|
|Annual Trafford Education Conference||Trafford|
|Devon Primary Head Teachers’ Conference||Torquay|
|Canadian Council on Learning, Ontario||Canada|
|All Souls Group||Oxford|
|West Sussex Primary Head Teachers’ Conference||Arundel|
|Westminster Primary Heads’ Catholic Schools Conference||Poole|
|Somerset Assoc. Of Primary Heads and Officers’ Conference||Somerset|
|ESIS Early Years Teachers’ Conference, Trehafod||Wales|
|South West Secondary Heads’ Conference||Torquay|
|Harrow Education Department Borough Conference||Harrow|
|Merthyr Annual Heads’ Conference||Wales|
|Hewett Cluster of Schools’ Conference||Norwich|
|MAY||East Riding Primary Head Teachers’ Conference||Yorkshire|
|Royal Bath Institute for History & Scientific Research||Bath|
|CASA Interview, Virginia||USA|
|JUNE||Torfaen Thinking Skills Conference, Cardiff||Wales|
|Cheltenham Head Teachers’ Conference||Gloucester|
|JUNE||Early Years Conference Devon County Council||Devon|
|Swansea Head Teachers’ Conference||Swansea|
|Trafford Education Department||Trafford|
|Dublin City University||Ireland|
|JULY||TIPD Technical College Conference||Birmingham|
|SEPT||London Borough of Harrow Education Training Programme||Harrow|
|Assoc . Of International Schools of Africa, Johannesburg||South Africa|
|States of Jersey Education Conference||Jersey|
|Wiltshire County Council (the beginning of a 7-day training programme)||Devizes|
|High Scope (Banardos)||London|
|Education Now Conference||Loughborough|
|Primary Heads’ National Conference||Cumbria|
|Dublin City University Presentation||Ireland|
|OCT||Dublin City University Meeting||Ireland|
|Canadian Assoc of Independent Schools Conference, Toronto||Canada|
|Dublin Broadcast with John Quinn||Ireland|
|Blackpool Primary Beacon Partnership||Lancs.|
|NOV||RAISE NE Regional 16+ Network Conference||Durham|
|European Council of International Schools in The Hague||Netherlands|
|South Australian Centre for Leaders in Education||Australia|