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The education of children is the most important task parents, or a nation, have to undertake; on them the future well-being of the world depends. Through the combined influence of home, community and school, education has to create men and women capable of doing new things well, not simply repeating what earlier generations have done; people who are insightful, creative, inventive and who accept a responsibility for the well-being of others.
Education has always involved giving youngsters both roots and wings; roots to understand where they have come from, and wings to fly to where they need to go. To do this they need, like the pilot of a trawler in rough and distant waters, or a soldier lost in no-man’s land, accurate back bearings to where they have come from. Equally they need accurate front bearings to their ultimate destinations. On the intersection of these two bearings the sailor, or soldier, is totally dependent to calculate their exact position, similarly today’s parents and politicians, need to plot what needs to be the next step for an effective education.
These theses have been constructed at a particular moment in time when the seas seem to be running very wild, and the sky so full of colour and fast moving clouds that it’s impossible to tell whether this heralds the arrival of beautiful weather, or a terrible storm. As with Martin Luther five hundred years ago ordinary people now, every bit as those in distantWittenberg, need the confidence of having good bearings. Because all of us, individually and collectively, are on a journey, a journey that can open up multiple possibilities at every twist and turn, we are having to learn as we go along. We don’t all start by knowing the same things, and inevitably we learn in different ways. We don’t travel in a boat especially designed for this voyage. In reality we sail into a future with all the baggage of past generations, and all the decisions made in distant times that have given us a ship ‘designed by a committee of ancients’.
The past ten or twenty years have seen the ordinary man’s knowledge of how human life has evolved, and continues to evolve, increase enormously, yet it is important to realise that new ideas take a very long time to change the behaviour of institutions. The theory of Behaviourism, based as it was on the belief that there was nothing in the human brain that was not directly put there by teaching, still dominates most formal education systems. Indeed, dependence on institutional solutions has become almost as much of a reflex action, as was the dependence of thePre-ReformationChurchon the authority of the higher clergy. In considering future structures for educating our children we need to be reminded of these mental assumptions every bit as much as we need to explore the possibilities of genetic mutations in the brain that have created preferred learning strategies ─ strategies that go with the grain of the brain ─ which we ignore at our peril. We are as we are, research constantly reiterates, because of the way in which our human natures are activated, or deactivated, by the culture in which we live.
Each of these theses is merely an icon, a window into a set of possibilities. A starting point, a place to pause and reflect. Their significance lies in their totality to open up such a broad perspective into the future so broad that we are not distracted by so much detail that we any longer fail to see the Big Picture. In the order in which the theses are set out they move through four phases: the wonder of human learning as currently and generally understood; the cultural factors that account for who we, the English now are; the most recent research into aspects of the learning process, and the possible implications this could have on how parents, communities and schools respond to equipping the next generation of civilisation’s navigators to face an unpredictable and possibly stormy, future. “It’s not people’s ignorance you need to fear”, wrote a nineteenth century American journalist, “it’s what they know which darn well ain’t true any longer that causes all the problems!”1
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Thesis 1: 24th August 2006