Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A starry night leads to New Year Resolutions



Cogito Ergo Sum - I think therefore I am?

I came home late the other night beneath a wonderful, clear and star-bright night.  I stood there and had a sudden sense of seeing it all anew. It was immensely spiritual but it was also cold, so shrugging off the thought, I made my way to bed.  About two hours later I awoke to ideas, swirling, like that universe of stars.  Trying to sort these sparks of ideas, in the silent dark, it was as though, if I could just focus, I might organise my world, life and purpose and make sense of it all - at last!   But how?   I had to get these separate little light bulbs of sense down on paper.  I thought of a writer friend who, above all, would understand and be able to help me make sense of it.  At least I dare write it down for him and he would reply.


So, I got out of bed went downstairs and switched on the computer.  It was 3.42am.  As it was warming up I wrote a page of notes.  All were perfectly clear and sequenced as they had appeared earlier.  They seemed logical and reasoned, if unlinked and it was good to have them, ready to be assembled into the sense I was hoping for.  Then, rather than write an email to just one friend, I resolved to write to the people who had responded to something I had said, or done in 2011, as a kind of thank you for noticing.  This would double as my end of year e-card to the inner circle of what I call my soul mates - kindred spirits - those who seem to understand. 

I began writing up the notes…and it flowed.  The piece was about the spark of life….like those stars….mirroring the shine in some peoples’ eyes…. and this being the life force of the positive thinkers….. I mused on the universe within.  The Higgs Boson and God Particle were going to be in there somewhere… as was our imminent grandchild inside his, or her, universe of mother, soon to be born into ours.  I wrote about the essence of life being in us all but only for some of the time and that it can just die out… in depression, recession and times of strife…. and then how some manage to keep it alight…even in demanding circumstances and others let it die so easily.  I rallied at, "Keeping it alight is so crucial!"  and went on about. "Why soul mates are critical because they keep the chain of our hopes connected."  Then I wrote about the cynical others.... those who just moan, make claims, or protest and expect life and good things to appear, getting angry and aggressive when they don’t...the drainers of enthusiasm, the breakers of hope and then back to those that DO things and make things happen…. or just quietly get on with life, uncomplaining… the salt of the earth,  workers, thinkers, philanthropists… the common good folk!.  Then I banged on about how we must harness those who add energy by pulling them together…yes interdependence cropped up too and then….and then…..just when the action element was about to emerge as a crescendo…just when the point of it all seemed to be coming together... the ideas sort of petered out…bugger!


It was now 5.23am ….. I looked back at the four “tight” paragraphs I had written, re-read them and saw that it was drivel, pure sentimental drivel.   I was embarrassed about the derivative approach,  references to, “Yes we can!”and the  “Good Samaritan”, “The Boy in the Emperor’s Clothes became the Good Samaritan”.  I despaired at the wasted effort -  It was a rant – a broadcast with no end.  My great thoughts of the night had become a poor thought for the day.  Maybe dawn was making me the very cynic I had berated.  The beautiful night construction had fallen apart on the touch of the very light I had been eulogising.  I reviewed the draft for anything worth preserving……I found nothing, so I deleted it and went to bed……

I sent no emails that morning.

One slim idea survives today, two days later, as I think back, in an effort to justify why I try to write.  I have to salvage something.  And yes, there was a notion that had figured when I looked up at the sky that night.  Suddenly it had seemed, I was looking down at the sky, as though I had turned round, having journeyed past some kind of light-year marker…a spacial milestone.  I had always thought of looking up at the sky, as though hurtling towards what is to come…at the prow of the Earthship journeying, outwards into space.... boldly going even.  But that night it was as if I was seeing down, below and into the past, where we have been.  This awareness was of travelling on the earth away from, not towards anything.  The vertigo was palpable but not unpleasant - looking down and backwards at what had gone before…at our huge past

Earth from Mars

Thinking about my wasted effort and stumbling towards the essence of life reminded me, of all those occasions when I have had similar powerful experiences - many at night.  Do you have these moments of tantalising insight too?  I must describe one. It is a comedy sketch the writer friend, the one I was going to email, and I wrote at Drama College in 1968.  It comprised Two Clowns and their struggling to explain the meaning of life.  They were dressed in long, old overcoats and had a kind of simplistic stupidity that allowed them to see things, or so they thought.  

Clown 1 - Lookalike
They had created a sculpture called, “In-canned essence” of life and had written poems and a song to explain it.  They had even invented a new religion based on the worship of leaves.  One was loud, sure, bombastic and evangelical, the other was reticent, calm and less sure.  (Guess which one  I was).  I remember standing at the front of the stage, at one point, declaring, “I am the way, the truth and the leaf… “And being “surprised” at dried peas appearing in my mouth and how they popped out during my soliloquies and tapped across the stage.  This clown was passionate about his new thinking - the humour was in his pathetic surety.  The clowns talked of “dis-tree-buting” leaflets and the “Holly Trini-tree” - all in great solemnity.   We had never heard an audience cry with laughter so much before and never since.  I look back at that and see, for the first time the beginnings of my Leafman – the fool who stumbles on a kind of truth  (see story on a separate page in this BLOG)  Here was the idiot facing the crowd.  


So, was this, the same inklings, the beginnings of an imagined wisdom in our heads all those years ago?  My nightmare is that I have just been recycling those old ideas over and over again... and at length.  Ouch! an awful reflection.  So why carry on baying at the moon?  Because it is there and the universe is behind, above and all around it!

How does all this barren thinking translate into life and purpose?  What is point?  I need some kind of turn to action, for what is the purpose of thought if it just leads to more thought and inaction.  Well, part of me would love to become a recluse and go to a monk’s cell somewhere… a cool stone room with just a bed, table, chair, candle, pencil and paper and muse on this… alone… for as long as it would take....to really get it clear and written down! 




I'd  be a Henry Thoreau, writing, thinking to make sense of it all.  I must go to my shed in the woods! I should write up that script, create a philosophy based on the Pedagogical Oath or finish "The Tower" even.  realised that there was time now, before New Year, to ponder this and the resolutions I could make…I never seem to make resolutions properly.  So, what might they be? 






I could try and concentrate, even more, on my soul mates and not try to touch everyone and anyone, any more.   So, one temptation is to junk this BLOG, the website, all the other technical crap..... the twitter, the smartphone and even the word processor and emails that toss up thoughts into the ether.  Only then could I concentrate on DOING things, making things happen at home, at work and for pleasure…So, what will I do - I must surely resolve to do more and ponder, or worry about big issues less.  A new workshop project maybe?  A children's book?


John's workshop


And what about work? Getting the iABACUS project to completion with my new work soul-mate? Yes!  More local work? Yes!  What will I do for pleasure?  More gallivanting definitely!  


And one resolution I have already decided is to get even fitter and climb more mountains. So, this week, I've signed up for a proper, real, strenuous trek in Nepal next November with my climbing soul mate - ice axe and crampons will soon be on order.  That's about DOING not thinking!




Well, that’s my starter of a list of resolutions for 2012 - rebalanced to action rather than thinking about thinking. 


How will you use the energy from the spark, or embers, in your incandescence?  Our college motto was, Gogito Ergo Sum (I think therefore I am).  We used to joke, "Cogito cogito ergo, cogito cogito sum!  (I think I think therefore I think I am!)  After this recent sleepless night.. does anyone out there, soulmate or not,  know the Latin for,  "I think., I think in order that I will be"




Who shattered the glass?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Autonomy - Mastery and Purpose - and the greatest of these is purpose...

Research shows that financial rewards do not work under all circumstances - indeed they can be counterproductive....  I read into this, as you would expect, that PURPOSE conquers all.


Click the animation to start....


Thanks to Bob Harding of ICT Nuggets for this... http://ictnuggets.wordpress.com/author/bobharding/






Tuesday, 6 September 2011

SILENCE IS GOLDEN


We were really enjoying our second trip in our new caravan on a wonderfully maintained Caravan Club 5 van site in lovely woodland near Leicester last week-end.  Our first trip, a few weeks before, had been to check all worked well – it did and so, at last, this was the real thing!  Here we were, returned to caravanning after 20 years, away from it all, beginning a calm and relaxing break after a difficult and stressful year, especially for my wife.  We both sighed with relief as we wound down the stays.  Just what we needed.  Even better, the site owners were really helpful and we met some friendly people in their vans, smiling and going about their business.  Even the late August weather was behaving, dappled sunlight through leafy branches.  All seemed idyllic. It was as though we were in an advert… Then, unexpectedly, we were faced with a dilemma… a difficult moral choice.  What would you have done in this situation? 

It was day three, we had just returned from a walk, with our two well behaved, tethered dogs, and had put the kettle on for a brew.  We sat outside in our chairs chatting quietly together.  Then, we slowly became aware that, not far away, out of our site, a discussion was taking place between four of our caravanning neighbours.  One voice dominated but three more were chiming in.  All were in strong agreement and the volume increased.  So, there we were, unwilling eavesdroppers on a hearty discussion.  They clearly had no idea we could hear them.   Their chosen topic was immigration and it was covered, from the need to rid the country of undesirables, through blowing up the channel tunnel, to  “What I’d do with Muslims if I were Prime Minister…”.  It got worse and then quieter and there were bursts of raucous  laughter.  We had sat through this, at turns amused, aghast and finally deeply, deeply upset.  This whole experience was hurtful and ruined our few days away.  Two things stand out: that they had been so pleasant to us and that there was such agreement.  This was no discussion, it was a group rant.  We discussed what to do.  What would you have done?

Well, in my professional life I write and argue for strong moral purpose and fairness.  I challenge racism, injustice and weak argument and often do so without hesitation and I do it calmly and confidently.  But here we were, deliberately away from “all that” to relax and enjoy some unstressed holiday time together.  So, in the end, to my shame, I did nothing.  The moral?  Silence is not always golden.  I now really wish I’d said something, very politely,  like, “Excuse me, do you know that your views can be heard across the site?”  I could have added if I’d felt bold enough, “and not all of us who hear you, agree with you?”

(My nationality and religion are withheld)

Monday, 8 August 2011

Riots - sticks and stones and words and phrases



It has been a long time since I went to bed so frightened....   This picture did it. The woman jumping from her home in Croydon, Surrey, a few feet away from the burning furniture store. It sums up the unintended horror brought about by a complex mix of factors happening as I write.  I don't believe rioters intended this woman to be burnt alive but, in a way, that is why it is so frightening.  It is the lack of understanding of consequence.  When human emotions fuse  into a frenzy searching for an outlet and looks for an enemy - something tribal happens and that is when consequences burst out of control.  Add in bravado,  bloodrush and the bragging of those who think the same and aggression builds.  But It is not just the rioters.  


Watching the facial expressions of the pundits on TV tonight and listening to the barely concealed contempt from factions arguing and pointing and then reading through the social media I have seen the very same frenzy and build up of tension. What are we throwing tonight?  Sticks and stones or words and phrases?


We are too close - too frightened and angry - it is not yet the best time for public debate and reasoning.  This is the time for those involved to look at the picture and consider the consequences of what they planned.  This is the time for those of us who, like the woman in the picture, thought we were not involved to realise we have always been involved. We should talk with our family, neighbours and friends and try ask not only "Why this is happening?"  but also, "What was my part in it?" and then to answer "So, what needs doing now?" and more importantly, "What can I do?"


Starter for 10  Added on 15.8.11


It is heartening that most of the conversations and comments about "The Riots" in my social life and the social media (including my Facebook Page) has been thoughtful and considered.  I have been struck, most forcibly by the response of some victims who have spoken of forgiveness.  I admire that, so much, and hope I would feel the same - if personally touched by the horror of what has happened.   However, there has been an air of the labelling, and retribution in some comments I have heard and read.  But how big is this constituency?  It has been typified by the knee jerk, angry and often plain rude  "them and us" that I was concerned about when I wrote the earlier post.. So, I repeat, "What can I do?"  But I have been challnged to answer that - Well here's my starter for 10.


1.  Encourage reasoned debate amongst family and friends.
2. Try to understand "Why?" it happened by talking to those who really know how young people think and behave (not those who have an idealised view - or a demonising view of the young)
3. Try to "walk in the shoes" (maybe stolen trainers?) of those who committed the crimes.  What circumstances, background, education, values and beliefs could lead an individual, or gang to do those things?


Then


4. Work out how we can better educate this and future generations so there is a Moral Purpose as well as a Functionality in growing up (NOTE: I'm not just talking school and curriculum here although that is part of it - I include family, friends and yes, community/society as educationalists) 


My answers  (You'll get more detail in the BLOG and on my main website) I think we educate best by:


5. Discussing morality, ethics, philosophy and beliefs much, much more and especially when we search for those values most people would agree with (I call these the "Common Goods").  These, by definition, can bind us all together irrespective of age, class, race and religion.
6. Teaching about and finding ways youngsters can experience the critcial link between action and consequence and understand not just their "independence" but our "interdependence"
7. Looking at how we can, increasingly, give and demonstrate the fragility, risk and inspiration of real responsibility to our young, as they grow into educated adults.
8. Create a sequential, stepped, behaviour and control system that rewards "common goods" behaviour.
9. Create a parallel sequential, stepped, behaviour and control system that first teaches the consequences of "common bad" behaviour and then increasingly sanctions -  disciplines and punishes the breaking of the agreed common goods.
10. Accept  that we are all role models for the eager eyed young who are ALWAYS looking for examplar peers and adults they want to emulate...(be we bankers, politicians, teachers, parents, bloggers, drunks)


Any thoughts?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Public Services What you believe is what you get



The Welfare State is being atomised into a virtual free market


This BLOG has just been published in "IMPROVEMENT" the magazine of ASPECT www.aspect.org.uk

The original structure of the welfare state is breaking up. The public is faced with a confusing list of school designations and once straightforward medical provision is complex.  The Welfare State is being atomised into a virtual free market of providers. Many within the system are perplexed. No wonder the general public is bewildered.
In these circumstances, doctors, teachers, welfare workers and all are being tempted to operate as individuals and organisations in competition.  Many are making businesses out of services and there is a real risk of losing a sense of communal purpose as thousands are forced out of salaried posts to seek financial support, or success elsewhere.  When established, known and respected providers of services disappear we are in danger of proving there is no such thing as society.

Replacing known knowns with known unknowns!
This is not an argument to go back to good old days or that Public Service is good and Private Industry bad.  It is about the danger of replacing “known knowns” with “Known unknowns”!  More seriously, it is a warning about apparent disarray and a hopeful suggestion.
Faced with these circumstances -  atomised public services - we have to find a new coherence to make sense of what was once a fairly straightforward Welfare State. Whilst many argue for a slower pace of change, and I do, most will accept that the bulk of the old structures have gone and many will accept they were no longer fit for purpose anyway.  But we also know that market forces are difficult to order and systematise.  So, I think it is reasonable to argue that any new coherence cannot be structural. So where can coherence be found?

The key to coherence will be in what we believe
I think a new coherence might well be found in the shared values and ethics of those who provide the services. If the professionals, the providers, the workers can display a unity of purpose, there may be more clarity for the public they meet.  (should that be client, or customer? See how the language changes). If those working in the new service structures can agree the WHY? the WHAT? and the HOW? will maybe make more sense.  So, the key to coherence might well be in what we believe…
I would go further, I see a lot of real confusion around belief, vision and purpose.  It is as though we have lost a sense of common purpose because the known structures are going and they stood for stuff.  I do not believe that workers change their beliefs because they move from a public service post to one in a private enterprise but I have witnessed many who have been forced to make such a move, who have gone silent about their original motivations for being a public servant.
Some even feel these beliefs are incompatible with a company structure and purpose.  Even further?  Yes! Some who have crossed the public servant – company worker Rubicon have been all too quick to assume an imagined new purpose and interpreted this is as a freedom from public responsibility.  They have gorged on the profit motive.  It is just stupid to believe that those in a commercial set up are incapable of caring and philanthropy, or those in state services are, by their nature, inefficient and lazy.  We must not use exceptions as rules but there is vigorous condemnation of the fat cat, bonus awarding, banker who is almost universally derided as a selfish, egotist.  Maybe this review of moral purpose I suggest is not confined to the public services…Whatever, your view of these last thoughts I hope you will accept there is a need to rethink and reaffirm shared values.  So, how do we do this?

What are your fundamental beliefs, your go to the wall values? 
This is about refreshing moral purpose. First, we would do well to refresh, or develop, our personal philosophies.  This will mean making time to take stock. What are your fundamental beliefs, your go to the wall values?  Then it will be about talking in families, organisations, communities and even globally via the internet, for any agreed beliefs or shared “common goods”.  Some will revisit their professional ethics where care and support for individuals in communities involves building their capacity for self help and sustainability. Others may recall the morals of stories from their education, faith, politics, family and life experience.  All should review the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and Rights of the Child, arguably the best non-sectarian set of ethics and it is enshrined in law.



It will take time to remember, discuss and reform these philosophies.  Even then the hardest part will still be ahead.  Translating these strengthened beliefs into new, or different, daily professional behaviours will be tough.  Nevertheless, if enough of us invest the time there will be an inevitable, simple and hopeful dividend in this search for a shared moral purpose.

The common goods are not owned by anyone – they are owned by everyone.
Initially, it will mean challenge, support, heartache and joy when we find common threads and ideas.  These shared beliefs, ideas, ethics and philosophies cannot by definition be of one code, religion or politics, although some will argue they have the perfect set in their sacred, or commonplace book.  The source of the beliefs is actually unimportant – the power of these “common goods” is that they are not owned by anyone – they are owned by everyone.
Having said that I dare to hypothesise about a central truth.  I think this search for what most of us believe will lead us to understand and remember that it is our interdependence that sustains us – not our independence.  The great religions, beliefs and political movements all extol some notion of interconnectedness, togetherness, equality, regard.  The great stories, mores and maxims all support the view that personal success in political, business, or public life, does not have to be at the expense of others. All value care, compassion and due regard of others.
 If I am right and this “common good” is seen to be a truth and worth upholding, professionals working the system will be motivated to realign their personal, public, business and commercial lives accordingly.  They will be more likely to act in this way and be cooperative for the mutual benefit.  Then, no matter what the structures, their services are likely to be more focused on the good of all, not just the few.  Moreover, the competitive implications of independence, “for me and for our benefit alone”  might be curbed.  Ways of working will be challenged, or supported and the silent minority, or majority will begin to speak up and stand up for what they know others believe.

A global perspective
Ironically, this is exactly what is happening in the emerging democracies in North Africa and the Middle East and how small the focus of this piece in comparison!  But an emerging coherent philosophy in English public and private services may well have a powerful effect on their structural arrangements.  There is already a perceptible move towards less egocentric structures for businesses, where, traditionally enterprises have existed, legally if not morally, for the benefit of a few directors. New enterprises and businesses are being established as not for profit charities, cooperatives or mutuals and they are designed and set up for the benefit and support of wider groups: stakeholders, members or the wider community.  There is huge potential for change – if individuals speak up about what they believe.

So what do I do?
The start has be a growing understanding that there is real potential for a new coherence here and that it will coming from a reinvigorated, shared and open moral purpose.  What you believe is what you get, will lead to, what we believe is what we provide.  So, what you do is simple.  You think hard about what you believe – the WHY? you do things – your moral purpose.  You then talk to others and try to find common ground.  Most importantly, you let these shared beliefs influence the way you work, behave and relate to people around you.  Then, no matter what the structures, what the surface changes are, we will maintain, establish and sustain a coherent and caring approach to what we do.


Monday, 28 February 2011

Under a Kenyan Moon II



Further updated 11.3.11

I am a 62 year old man, sitting on a Mombassa beach in very hot sun, shaded by giant palm trees. I am supposed to be retired, they tell me, and I am surely on holiday, but I am beginning to believe that now, only now, am I coming to understand what my real work could be.  Someone, will tell me I am off centre but a stronger muse will no doubt urge me on.  The poem "Under a Kenyan Moon" (see earlier post) tries to capture the emotion of our visit to Nakuru, north of Nairobi, where we met some fine people, dedicated, visionary people, who refired my passion for what too many, in England, seem to have lost the excitement for.  But the Nakuru experience is now just a starter for a big idea about the philosophy and practice of education...

I will write a more traditional, even academic record of all this soon, with the obligatory references.  But first I have to log it simply and urgently here, as a record of teeming thoughts at this time.  Forgive the tumble of words and the typos.... it is expensive to use this hotel computer!

Simon, Nicky, Dodo and I were hosted by Joseph, Lydia and their children in Nairobi and later Nakuru last week.  We visited the two year old school (Bahati Division Academy) Joseph and Lydia had built in their community and met the children, from 4 -14years, who welcomed us with warm and loving smiles.  As sponsors, for some of them, we visited their homes, met their families and saw, for the first time, the subsistence, hand to mouth livelihood their communities are forced to rely on.



 They were inspirational in their joy, hope and excitement for education, learning and all it can mean.  We were fed and sung to, we listened to their stories and we laughed and cried.  We told our stories and sang English and Kenyan songs.  The "Old Lady who swallowed a fly" was a great hit!  My lasting impression is of a developing deep, deep respect for these warm people, their integrity, humour and some nostalgia for the community spirit that exuded from all we met in Nakuru.

I was lucky enough to work with the nine teachers in the school one morning, as requested, and we discussed their reasons for being teachers - the WHY?  WHAT? and HOW? of teaching and learning.  I must be careful, so careful, not to romanticise, or worse still patronise, in what follows....but I learnt so much in those all too brief hours we had. It had something to do with the obvious simplicity and cruel reality of the life there.  It had much to do with peeling back my unnecessary words and diagrams to their basic message - to the crucial precis of what I wanted to say in response to their critical questions - by email before and whispered, too respectfully, on the day itself.   "How do you bring back the self-reliance of children who have been dominated in an autocratic government system?"  "How do you work with a range of abilities in one class?"  "What is your view of discipline and corporal punishment, as some here believe it to be necessary?"   There were many other questions too and there will be more for next time... Rarely have I been so nervous before a session with teachers and I sensed they were too!  We got the heart of so much so quickly.


In the end my chalk board notes chartered our discussion of their answers to WHY? they are teachers, We skipped the WHAT? they teach,  for that is clearly laid down by the Kenyan government.  We then moved on to the HOW? of teaching.  And suddenly, in that classroom, with those teachers, it all became clear!   The HOW? behind each of their questions -  the pedagogy, the methodology, has to be borne from the WHY?  Is it really that simple?  Is it too simple to say that getting right the WHY for education, leads logically to the HOW we educate? Is it too simplistic to say that the WHAT? is already, to a large extent, there in most of our systems? On deep and long reflection I believe it is, it is that simple.  This experience merely brought to the surface what I have been trying to say for so long (a good deal in this, largely unread, and cumbersome BLOG).

Put simply - If teachers want to teach to: "make the world a better place;  allow children to find and achieve their goals; make the country more cohesive; bring unity to tribal conflict; to build peace; educate the citizens of tomorrow;  teach moral purpose (all their words not mine!) Then it is simple - each classroom must be a country in itself.  The teacher must be the leader of a nation - the ruler of a community, a society in the style and purpose of the country s/he wishes to build.  How else will the children know how to be leaders and rulers as they grow? 

If the overwhelming and predominant, if not oppressive, force in their classroom is the teacher's views and is dominated by what s/he thinks and says and does - then the future leaders will be predominantly dictatorial...  (My "Judging the point and nature of intervention diagram fits so neatly here).  If classrooms are led by leaders who have a vision, a purpose and they predominantly want to inspire, involve, motivate and work with and alongside their "citizens" and eventually accord them the trust of delegation, sharing and responsibility, then the future leaders in their wider country will be democratic, responsive and enlightened.... (The hierarchies of Maslow, Kohlberg and Gilligan and my "For me, for us. for everyone, for everything" Tower slots in easily too).  We covered a lot in three hours.  Too little?  Too much?  Maybe the teachers will write and email and say.  Early messages suggest a good part of it did strike home.  I am buoyed because ideas are all the better when they can transcend boundaries.  The teachers understood and took the notion of interdependence to heart.  I was not surprised, for the whole of their community exudes it!

Too soon, we left - after a plaque was unveiled to my good  friend Simon whose original sponsoring, some 33 years ago, began the chain of events that led to this school being built. His emotion, so understandable as they cheered and sang, was embarrassing for him but for no one else.  What he, Lydia and Joseph had achieved was tangible. 



One teacher, Kevin, said, "You can count the seeds is an orange but not the oranges in a seed".  The responsibility on those children is huge. We had planted four trees, one for each of us, with promises that each would be looked after by a child. (The leaf image was not lost on me!)  We spent one more night camping and singing around a bright campfire under a massive spread of stars, in a Garden of Eden, a haven, built by Charles Mwai, a giant visionary Kenyan and friend of Joseph and we left, overwhelmed, humbled, muttering of somehow doing more, coming back, keeping the links.....

Here in Mombassa, on the holiday part of this visit, in a great hotel we are relaxing accompanied by a backdrop of flickering  television screens reminding us of the wider world, out there, showing the spread of public uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.  Dictators are falling, threatened and frightened.  Their bluff of power is being blown away in a few days of street protests, fuelled by the horror of deaths in city squares. Gaddaffi, the ultimate dictator, holds out in desperation as I write.  Ordinary people are fired up demanding more involvement, a greater stake in their community's, society's and country's affairs.  Now it has started, it cannot be put back easily...although history tells regime change can lead to alternative evil powers and further corruption...  It takes weeks to bring down a regime.  It will take months and years to build a stronger and better one.  I cannot now help make an obvious link.

It will take decades to educate these new nations....  My overwhelming thoughts, here on this unreal beach, away from it all, is yet another simple thought.  It will be the educational structures, systems and teachers that lay the real foundations for the future of these countries.  Teachers hold the keys to the future.  In all our countries, not just Kenya, not just Egypt ,or even England, it will be the vision and work of individual teachers in their classrooms that will create the sustainable foundations for democracies, or dictatorships.  The medium really is the message.

So, I am now more sure than ever that, all that I am banging on about in this BLOG -  "Leading learning for interdependence" is an idea stronger, more viable and of the moment than I could ever have thought before this visit..  There is a real task in all this simplicity for those of us who ask and answer WHY? - the philosophers of education.  We must strengthen our resolve about purpose, common goods and the UN Charter for the Rights of the Child.  We must step up and offer to help these new regimes and some old ones too!  The curriculum developers will be important too but I guess, as always, that the WHAT? we teach will be more obvious and easier to sort...indeed it is probably already there in many of these places, if my recent experience of global curriculum work is anything to go by...  And what of the HOW? - the methodology?  A new pedagogy is the key and here will be our most crucial work....  If newly established democracies want their citizens to be empowered, responsible, functional and with moral purpose then the classrooms in their schools must be microcosms of this...  There is surely a critical place for my Pedagogical Oath.  The new governments will do well to think and plan early and hard with their teachers about HOW? their classrooms and schools will reflect their new vision.   I could go on...I do go on,.... I will go on!  Suffice to say, at this early juncture, that this has to be a new focus for my work - no not new, or even a wider focus, but a tighter focus...




So, what next?  Well, if you have read this far - take this as a first and early signalling of an intention - I want to work with "more powerful others"*, "keen supporters" and "the interested" to motivate and inspire this development of educational systems to build interdependent learners and leaders...  I want to pull together this thinking and, most importantly, the practical pedagogy in all this.  I want to signpost the HOW? of teaching.  Asking the question, "What do teachers say and do to build interdependency in their classrooms (and countries)?" Is anyone out there interested i  this deceptively simple idea?  Indeed is there anyone out there? I now need honest, tough challenge and support for this.

In particular, I'd like to think this piece will be twittered, blogged, copied and built on.  For this we need the technologically literate to "pass it on".  If this idea has any value - it will snowball into something.

Back at home I will continue to write up the materials mentioned above and, in particular collect those simple classroom techniques that embody empowerment, self-assessment, action research and democracy building.  This is not to replace the traditional, functional curriculum but rather to give it a real moral purpose.

So, thank you Kenya, thank you BDA students and most importantly thank you BDA teachers for helping me surface this insight....

John updated 11.3.11

*  This could be Joseph, Lydia, Charles, Simon and Nicky in and for Kenya.  It could be my Moroccan friends in Taroudant (and the British Council).  John in Kuwait.  It could be Brian, John, and others in the Curriculum Foundation England, Pippa, Jill, Illy, Alan, Phil, John, Kevin, Dave and Jennie and a host of others. Please make contact if this makes any sense to you....

Sunday, 20 February 2011


Under a full Kenyan moon


Under a full Kenyan moon,
Lit by fires of Bushmen cooking meat
Warm hands clasp. White eyes flash
We whisper then shout smiling words
Over deafening drumbeats.

We talk of names and some meanings
And how places, people, journeys
Always connect on the trail to here and now.

Listening, I come to understand
Why I can never remember names, nouns and numbers.
I know now, suddenly, in this cool Nairobi night, that
Wisdom is not names, nouns and numbers,
But deeper, dark and warm blooded things,
From the born, the dead and unborn people.
Knowing is in the verbs, voices and visions
Captured in these firelight noddings of sadness and joy.
In the hush of families and friends.

And I see all the others’ stories and my little poems,
(To strangers, of enemies and over time)
As specks of light from these fires
Sprinkled over the black earth.
Pin prick mirrors of stars in this black African sky.
And, as each fire dies, it marks a charcoal trail
Under this Kenyan moon.

I see suddenly, truly, that our future was made there
And know that it is being made here, now in this ash and am 
Happy in this place.
This place that needs no name.



 Note:  In penultimate line:  ash = Ashley; and = Andrew, am = Amy


Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Baying at the moon...


Is this too strong?  Am I getting too edgy, frustrated and annoyed when I see and hear colleagues and friends just shouting "Stop the Cuts!" as though, Canute like, they will stop?

I've just driven home from Somerset (working for another positive group of colleagues trying to work out what they will do if/when made redundant - amazing folk).  A lovely dark night with full moon and it reminded of being stopped in my tracks by an adviser when, as a young agitating teacher, she said,  "John, you are baying at the moon!   What would YOU do?"

So, what am I'm saying?  No, I don't like the cuts either.  I don't want the cuts at all.  In that sense everyone is against the cuts (except a very few extremists)  I accept and believe that some levels of cuts are clearly needed  (even Labour would have cut)  So, given the cuts are needed.  The critical questions are when and how we cut.  But we have to be realistic....  I know people in County and City Halls and Health Trusts who are charged with making them now - in the next weeks.  These officers and councillors and managers are, at this minute, pouring over the detail and making tough decisions.  It does not help them, at all, to be hectored.  We need to help them by arguing for a reasoned approach.  Let me explain....

We were going to our local post office last week.  Outside three folks were asking everyone to sign their petition against cuts to Library opening hours.... most people were signing...  My reaction?  What if the Library hours were being cut to fund a Nursery? A youth club? Meals on wheels?  How can we just be against all cuts?  How can anyone decide on each separate cut without knowing consequences?  We need to see the whole piece....

Before you start - of course it would be lovely if all those nasty bankers gave up their bonuses to fund the cuts.  It would be great if Cameron, Gove, Langsley had a change of heart but (by my judgement is) it is is not going to happen, in the short term at least.  We need to be much more subtle and argue....

1. Hold back/Cut later because (as many Labs. and some Libs. and even some Cons. said) that will keep the economy going stronger and bring in income from tax and spend of those in work.  But cuts would have come later.... so when they do come (as they are now)

2. Look for efficiency savings first - to offset cuts.....
3. Beware of Salami slicing (it doesn't work beyond about 5%)
4. Take a strategic view and look to combine/link/co-locate services and provision
5. Beware of cutting where provision cannot be replaced when funds come back on stream

Just baying at the Moon feels so naive.. was it Brer Fox?

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Answers on a postcard please

Maurice-glasman-peer-labour

Lord Maurice Glasman


Good stuff in this piece about BIG SOCIETY and some evidence about it working…  (I am depressed by the majority negative comments following it)  Big Society  is a socialist/christian/humanist/Islamic/Hindu/Buddist etc etc concept.  So, Let’s discuss the ideas and not the person, or the origin of the belief.   The way we all work together as citizens and our ethics in all this is critical.    So, (again) what are our Common Goods?  What do we all believe in?  And most importantly – What will each of us be doing this coming week to help build a more interdependent society?  Answers on a postcard…by twitter….by email….by BLOG…