Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 4)

Are we really having this conversation?

I really do not know where to start this post and it seems strange to have to write it. There are too many issues to go into in one blog so I will keep this one focussed on what I see to be a highly problematic statement from an influential educator.

David seems to have become an expert on genetics of late and a few of his blog posts have sought to bring this knowledge directly to bear on his views on education. In a recent post, David suggested that parenting has little effect on adult behaviour. He was asked the following question and responded to it in the comments section.


The key thing here is what the comment does not say. The statement does not mention why there is a difference in observed IQ scores and as a result, it transmits a view, intended or not, that ‘race’, with all the negative and historical associations with the term, is the key determinant of IQ.

There was one other issue and it was the use of ‘racial difference’. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Genetically, ‘race’ has no basis. The observed characteristics, the phenotype, that seem to signify ‘race’ are selective. We usually associate skin colour with this but it could easily be on the size of feet or the length of the nose. However, a phenotype is an expression of the genetic code (genotype) and environment. To give you one example of how fluid the notion of ‘race’ is, since adulthood I have been allocated to a variety of groups based on my physical appearance (and funnily enough, my geographic location at the time):

  • Egyptian/North African
  • Maori
  • Brazilian
  • Puerto Rican
  • Indian
  • Spanish
  • Turkish
  • Black/African-American
  • Mixed
  • A Moor

If you want more historical examples of the fluidity of ‘race’ (before the advent of genetics), please see some of the suggested reading below.  The point is that the term ‘race’ is a social construction (which does not mean that there is no social power to the term). What about the genetic code or genotype? This passage explains it better than I can:

Accumulating evidence since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 suggests that genetically determined race differences in IQ are a priori unlikely, rather than likely. We now know that there are approximately three billion nucleotide base pairs in the haploid human genome, and direct assessment of genetic variation has revealed that the average proportion of these bases that differ between a human being and a chimpanzee is less than 2%; that the difference between a randomly chosen pair of human beings is approximately 0.1%; and that only 10% of that 0.1%, hence 0.01% of human DNA, differs between European, African, and Asian populations—far less than had previously been assumed. Race differences in IQ: Hans Eysenck’s contribution to the debate in the light of subsequent research, 2016.

The paper is also interesting in that it covers other research which contrasts the view of ‘race’= IQ (see the reference below).

The statement made by David organised people into ‘races’, making those categories seem real and associating particular social/intellectual/genetic characteristics to groups. That is why I said it was scientific racism; a pseudoscientific belief that evidence exists to classify groups into races and denote superior/inferior performance based on the classification.  How does this translate into a classroom? Well, at its worst, it reinforces and creates stereotypes which can limit children. Watching older family members being pushed into sports rather than being encouraged to focus on academic courses due to the colour of their skin has left a lasting impression. And ultimately, it is precisely this sort of worst case scenario that this sort of thinking can lead to.

Is David a racist? I don’t know and I was deliberate in saying that the comment was an example of scientific racism. What I do know is that the reply smacks of arrogance and laziness. It is lazy because David has not simply done the work on the subject. If he had, I like to believe that he would have not written the statement and would have couched it much more carefully. It is arrogant because David appears to be an expert on ‘race’, IQ and the history behind it, which he is clearly not. David’s ‘expertise’ seems to change on a monthly basis. I worry what September will bring.

I’m not interested in punishing David or removing him from positions; that is not my style at all. What I would ask anyone interested in this issue is to read as much as you can, question as much as you can and support the young people in front of you as much as you can. Knowledge is a liberator but you have to seek it out.

Some reading to get you started.

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Multi-Academy Trusts and Independent Schools

Independent schools come under periodic attack for being ‘separate’ from the state school system despite the fact that many of these schools already sponsor academies and maintain a growing network of links (see the Schools Together website for detailed examples).

The proposal that all schools in England should become academies creates a unique opportunity for independent schools. The fall in actual budgets available to state schools has propelled the movement towards new ways of organising schools to tap into the advantages economies of scale can bring.  By forming multi-academy trusts, independent schools can help by centralising a host of the services needed by schools (HR, finance, catering, cleaning) and help formalise the CPD, sporting and governance links that already exist. There would be no barrier between the sectors and it offers the tantalising prospect that there really could be ‘educational excellence everywhere’ by merging the best aspects from the schools involved.


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Why I did not go to the Sunday Times Festival of Education last year

I did not go to the Sunday Times Festival of Education last year. Colleagues and friends attended and I even encouraged other people to go to experience the educational substance and froth alike. I was invited to speak but I turned the invitation down.

Why? The main reason was The Times nominating Nigel Farage as ‘Briton of the Year’.

It should be pretty clear that I don’t agree with his politics on race/identity and I thought it pretty insensitive (if I am being generous) for him to be given the title on that basis. At the time, I tried to find the criteria used for selection but I could not find a published rationale (I would be very interested in it if it does exist). It may be that the title ‘Briton of the Year’ is awarded based on notoriety or impact, but as any teacher knows, highlighting the impact of someone’s poor behaviour usually confers legitimacy and creates a social norm where it is acceptable to act in the way identified. There is even some research on this problematic effect in society. See this from the ‘Nudge’ unit on page 31.

But what does the The Times have to do with the conference? Well, The Times is not The Sunday Times but there is a little more to it:

  • The registered offices are the same address in London;
  • They are owned/published by the same company (News Corp & News UK)
  • You pay one subscription for access to both papers (I pay the student cost as I like to read very different views to my own. I knew my university card would come in handy).

If an organisation (News Corp/News UK) wants to support such views through one of its publications, no problem.  However, I did not feel it was appropriate to attend/speak at an educational conference (focussed on inclusion and human betterment) when it was sponsored by another publication of the same company that unthinkingly (being generous again) supports such divisive politics. The reasoning is simple. If one department in a company had acted inappropriately, would the department be the focus of concern or the company itself? Out of respect for the organisers on the ground, I decided not to publish my withdrawal.

I only mention not attending/speaking now because I referred to it on social media over the weekend when commenting on equality and diversity (see my last post) and was challenged about it. I apparently ‘glommed’ the two publications together (despite the fact that they are owned by the same company etc).

The conference has a new sponsor this year and I might actually attend so I can listen to a few select people talk about the great work they are doing in schools. Of course, it does depend on whether the Telegraph writes something incredibly daft.





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The Blind Men and the Elephant – the role of research in the history classroom

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.


The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a WALL!”


The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, “Ho, what have we here,

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a SPEAR!”


The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a SNAKE!”


The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he:

“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a TREE!”


The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a FAN!”


The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a ROPE!”



And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

As teachers, we have a tendency to be on a ‘Grail Quest’. One approach or activity that will make such a difference that it everyone else will think, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ when they see it (or hear about it). A new spin on analysing sources. A novel approach to significance. Technology as the saviour. The forces pushing and prompting us to go searching are immense, and the appeal is great, yet in our pursuit of teaching and learning salvation we can forget what caused us to start the search in the first place – our students and our context – and focus instead on the quest itself.

The latest ‘Grail Quest’ in education is the role of research and how it can guide us to the most efficient and effective practises. John Hattie’s analysis of educational research has gathered a lot of attention in part due to the emphasis on feedback in lessons and also because of his advocacy of ‘visible learning’. Psychologists such Carol Dweck on ‘Growth Mindsets’ and Cognitive Psychologists such as Robert Bjork on ‘Desirable Difficulties’ have indicated new ways to think about learning and student motivation. Other educators are focusing on the role of knowledge and using the work of E D Hirsch to justify a particular style of teaching (and sometimes to show that other forms are really damaging to our students).

Using these authors and the wealth of research is undoubtedly useful. It makes you reflect carefully on your own assumptions and what you are doing with your Y9 lesson on the Corn Laws on a Thursday morning. The danger however, with drawing upon these sources is that many of us appear to become nothing more than advocates for a particular approach. Armed with this new knowledge and the courage of our convictions, there is a danger of falling into the trap that the particular adopted approach is now the answer for all historical learning and educational problems. We seem to forget that it was a particular contextual problem that led us to wondering (and wandering).

One way to avoid the practise of groping around, seizing what is in front of you and using it as the basis for claims about teaching and learning is to do some research yourself. The academic Stuart Hall talks about comprehending the complexity of a situation so that you can make an effective change, and it is this desire for wisdom, rather than knowledge, that has made me by become a MSc student again (part-time). The desire for wisdom is practical (phronesis); comprehending the issue at stake will allow me to make an effective change for my students and the school. This is rather different to the argument that knowledge by itself can make a difference because as we can see from the blind men, poor choices can be made when based on (limited) knowledge.

Aside from all the reading, the best part of this process is getting to really think about Learning and Teaching with a group of other History teachers. The fact that we all come from different types of school and face unique challenges is fascinating and humbling at the same time. It offers a clear reminder that a particular approach is just that and does not speak truth to all contexts.

This post in its original form was on the ThinkingHistory site in January but commitments over the year meant that the following posts I hoped to write did not materialise. However, I’ll be picking up issues of research sporadically over the next academic year as I complete my fieldwork. I hope you’ll join me as I study my elephant carefully and deliberately.

The MSc in Learning and Teaching at the University of Oxford is designed for currently serving teachers. For more information about the course and how you can apply, please click the link:

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The 140 character problem

In a post a few months ago, I discussed the growing issue of ‘silence’ in the education debate on Twitter. People keep their views private (but use Direct Messages to share concerns) for fear of reprisal and exclusion if they deviated from a fashionable idea or use of terminology.

Last week, TED released Jon Ronson’s talk on public shaming via Twitter. For him, using Twitter at the start was a vehicle for emancipation:

Voiceless people realised that they had a voice, and it was powerful and eloquent. If a newspaper ran some racist or homophobic column, we realised we could do something about it. We could get them. We could hit them with a weapon that we understood but they didn’t — a social media shaming. Advertisers would withdraw their advertising. When powerful people misused their privilege, we were going to get them.This was like the democratisation of justice. Hierarchies were being levelled out. We were going to do things better.

However, use of the service also has its drawbacks:

Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine. We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out. And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.

Where it really becomes problematic is when poor phrasing and the lack of context around the 140 characters becomes a mechanism of damnation:

You can lead a good, ethical life, but some bad phraseology in a Tweet can overwhelm it all, become a clue to your secret inner evil. Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favour humans over ideology, and those people who favour ideology over humans. I favour humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans. What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

I remember running training sessions urging teachers to use Twitter as a professional development tool with Doug Belshaw in 2008. The sense of idealism driving the workshop has since been dulled because there seems to be more of a ‘surveillance society’ in the use of Twitter in education circles.  If you have a few minutes, I recommend watching the clip below.

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Beyond the ‘Berlin Wall’ and the ‘7% Problem’

‘In a society where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means. The more money can buy, the more affluence (or lack of it) matters…as money comes to buy more and more – political influence, good medical care, a home in a safe neighbourhood rather than a crime-ridden one, access to elite schools rather than failing ones, the distribution of income and wealth looms larger than ever.’ Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

I was intrigued to read the essay ‘The 7% Problem’ by the Kynastons in the New Statesman a few weeks ago because not only do I work in an independent school but I am a child of the comprehensive system in London. In the article, the Kynastons identify a weakness of the Left to deal with what they term the ‘7% Problem’. Independent schools educate 7% of the population yet their former students occupy at least 50% of the places at Oxbridge and their students have an enormous impact on public life. They identify two reasons for the Left’s unwillingness to grapple with independent schools. The first is that to concentrate on private schools with their ‘superior’ academic results is to implicitly denigrate state schools. The second reason is that many on the left went to private schools or send their children to them and feel inhibited in using their powers of critique.

I find the first of these reasons hard to accept because asking meaningful questions about the society we live in and how we can improve it does not automatically imply that the critique is unfair. I find this puzzling because many of the excellent institutions that are funded by government are already asked to do this every single year through a development plan and by the visits of the school inspectorate. However, it is the second explanation that demands more of an investigation because it points to something wider and more fundamental than attending an independent school.

Clause Four as a symptom

As a student of political change, I find the revision of Labour’s Clause Four in 1995 to be fascinating. For those not aware, Clause Four was part of the original Labour Party constitution and set out the aims of the party. In its original form in 1918, it stated:

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

The latest version amended in 2005 states:

A DYNAMIC ECONOMY, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper with a thriving private sector and high-quality public services where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them.

The shift to the ‘Third Way’, built on the legacy of Thatcherism and accepted, for all intents and purposes, the logic of capitalism including the reality that there are always losers. In one sense, this is not really surprising because to be a successful political party in an era dominated by capitalism, it would be political suicide to suggest anything else (see the Labour Party manifesto of 1983). The successful acceptance of the market marks a shift from, as Sandel points out, having a market economy to being a market society. The effect is profound because a ‘market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavour’. Market based thinking does not pass judgement on the preferences its satisfies. As a result it has, according to Sandel, ‘drained public discourse of moral and civic energy’.

Why is this relevant to the debate about private schools and solving the ‘7% problem’ for the Left? It shows that the even a party supposedly dedicated to social justice has become liberal in its approach to the market and accepts that inequality is an existing condition. It is accepted because the market brings social goods and the easiest way to demonstrate this is by looking at house prices/locations and access to schools. Take Fortismere School for example. It is is a very successful school based in Muswell Hill, London. It is funded by the government yet its intake reveals how far we have become a market based society by endorsing the unequal access to common resources by owning a home and making a profit through selling. An article from 2008 indicates that housing within the catchment area of the school had a 30% premium compared to those outside it. Unfortunately, this particular trend is not limited to this particular area of North London. Figures from Lloyds Bank indicate that:

The average house price of £303,902 in the postal districts of the 30 best performing state schools is almost nine (8.9) times average gross annual earnings. This is significantly higher than the average across England (£236,321) of 6.9 times average gross annual earnings.

Access to these high performing schools is not equal by any means but to question this in the name of fairness would raise the spectre of the defeat of 1983 and the thorny issue of equality of outcome. The Kynastons suggest that:

Education is not just another item or service to be bought or sold. It is the most formative part part of any child’s upbringing and simultaneously the most powerful engine of cohesion we have. In a society in danger of being torn apart by rapidly increasing divisions of wealth and privilege, education is the one place where all parents and children can be brought together with a common purpose.

I agree with the sentiment yet the figures prove that education is a good that can be bought and sold via your house.

The point of raising this issue is that privilege, easily tacked onto the independent sector, is thriving in the maintained sector and if we aim to be serious about providing the best formative environment for children, some tough questions must be asked. The easy way out is to point to independent schools. There is unequal access to great schools and this is not acceptable (through house price or fees). As a teacher, I want the best for all students including the ones outside my immediate care. It is not right that only a few are able to access the education provided by fees or house prices and get the benefit of:

  • Weekly talks are given to sixth formers by people from all walks of life to open their minds about the variety of possibilities;
  •  Organised debates between the teaching staff about issues such as globalisation so students can see that their teachers are passionate, knowledgeable and are able to disagree with each other in a most agreeable way;
  •  Play a variety of sports with (and against) their friends at an appropriate level so they able to experience the joys of winning, the pain of defeat and learn the capacity to keep striving;
  •  Experience the arts (drama, music, art and design technology in all its forms) and choose one through to GCSE so they have an education for life in all its forms;
  • Teachers to be more than subject teachers by coaching sports or taking co-curricular activities;
  • Young people experiencing the managed risk of outdoor activities to help their appreciation of the physical spaces around them (through activities such as rock climbing or learning to acquire a powerboat licence when you are in Year 11 and not able to drive).
  • Taking part in activities where they are part of the community such as providing support for many of the elderly and the very young.

Although these examples are taken from my current place of work they also occur in many other maintained schools. Where does the ‘Berlin Wall’ exist in these areas? A more complicated question would be why the most successful maintained schools can do this and others do not.

Possible solutions?

If the Left is indeed hampered by market values, what can be done in the interim? Andrew Adonis suggests that one way forward is for independent schools to become academies. This already happens yet I fear that with a relentless focus on ‘schooling’ (spurious league tables of examination results) and not on ‘education’, this will not seem attractive to many unless they are in dire financial circumstances. His other suggestion is for independent schools to sponsor academies. The school I am currently part of sponsors of the Wren Academy in Barnet and I am looking forward to teaching at the Wren for a week once our summer holiday begins. However, this is just a start and more must be done.

Laura McInerney offers a more involved solution in her response to the original piece by the Kynastons. She suggests that following India, the government should make independent schools accept 25% of their intake from a poor area. In principle, I would have no issue with this and look forward to the model also being extended to schools where house prices exclude the majority of the population because privileged access to education is not limited to those who pay school fees.  What I am more cautious about is the wholesale adoption of an idea that if not carefully removed from its historical and concrete environment and cultivated sensitively in relation to its new destination, it will wither and cause a huge drain on time and resources.

My personal view is that if the government, or the Left, are serious about removing educational equality across our society, they should move toward the following policies:

  • Increase school funding levels to match the levels of average fees for private (day) schools;
  • Remove education policy from the hands of political parties that are more interested in seeking election (and once there, retaining power) and place it under the stewardship of an independent body;
  • Move away from the narrow focus on examination results in the league tables (Schooling) to Key Performance Indicators that include exam results and other issues such as the number of students taking part in drama/art/sports, numbers taking the DoE Award, CPD activities undertaken by teachers and how many students are involved in the local community (Education).

This list is not exhaustive by any means but it would show that by removing the current strictures, there would be very little excuse to point to the supposed structural inequalities that exist between the maintained and independent sectors. Yet this would only get us part of the way.

Stuart Hall commentated that in striving for a new way of looking at the world through Cultural Studies, he and his colleagues hoped to model their work on Gramsci’s notion of ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’.  That is not a terrible way to approach this issue because when framed as a polarising debate instead of a situation where there is a great deal of fluidity between maintained and independent schools in terms of privilege, we are likely to stay exactly where we are.

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Contemporary Learning Conference, October 19th 2013

One thing that has really pleased me over the last year or so is the growth of teacher-led conferences and I am thrilled to have been asked to lead a workshop  at the Contemporary Learning Conference. I get to hear Sugata Mitra, learn a great deal from former England Rugby Coach and development guru Brian Ashton and hopefully ask Guy Claxton what 22nd century learning might look like. The fact that it also brings together an eclectic bunch of speakers to think about learning in a manner which resonates with my existential/humanistic view of education is an added bonus.

My workshop will really be a workshop where we will do the hard thinking about the use of technology to aid learning. Tickets are a very reasonable £50 (including breakfast and lunch) and I hope you are able to join me for what promises to be a stimulating day.




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This is how I work

Dai Barnes contacted me yesterday about an idea to get educators talking about their working lives (similar to Lifehacker and The Verge). My responses are now on Dai’s blog. If you would like to join in and find out a little more about what people do or recommend other people, please contact Dai.

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Berkhamsted Walk

My charity activity this year (last year I raised money for another charity by walking along Hadrian’s Wall)  is to raise money for the Children’s Society by taking part in the Berkhamsted Walk on the 12th May. The charity helps young people in a variety of forms and I intend to do the 18 mile ‘challenge walk’ (with my friend Iain keeping the pace). Updates will be through twitter and I hope to take some great pictures of  Berkhamsted and the National Trust Ashridge Estate as I go. If you feel you can contribute via a donation, then please do via my JustGiving Page. Otherwise, moral support is very welcome – you could also join me!

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The End of Education and ‘Halbbildung’

Last month I made my way to Wellington College to deliver a short presentation at the ‘eLearning, eLibraries‘ conference. Below is a summary of the talk I gave which was a little different because it was more downbeat and challenging than my usual style. I have become increasingly weary (and wary) about debates on education, the role of ‘elearning’ as opposed to ‘learning’ and the use of Twitter to propagate these views due to flimsy thinking and this was a polite way of addressing some of my despondency about where we seemed to be going.

The title really refers to two things. The first meaning relates to the ‘end’ or ‘purpose’ of education. I was struck by the issues around the GCSE results this summer and the assumption that the purpose of education is to create passes at GCSE. The second meaning really is an attempt to think about a more expansive notion of education that goes beyond the narrow conception that appears to be used in public discourse.

My current thinking on this has been heavily influenced by Theodor AdornoAdorno suggested that the purpose of education was to prevent another Holocaust but this was very hard for us to do as we existed in a world where ‘Bildung’ (education) is limited by market based, and market affected, thinking. As a result, we live in a culture of ‘Halbbildung’ (half education or Pseudo-Culture) which creates ambiguities that are used to serve particular and narrow interests (English translation can be found in Telos, No. 95, Spring 1993, pp. 15-38).

Clay tablet

This is what a tablet looked like before an iPad. Pretty solid.

One symptom/issue/ambiguity as a result of ‘Halbbildung’ lies within the notion of what a library is and what it should hold. The earliest libraries (such as Mesopotamia 4th millenia BCE) held accounting records on clay tablets and diverse materials were used to record information such as turtle plastrons, papyrus, parchment and eventually paper from China. The adoption of the codex format has become the ‘common sense’ for what a library should hold and it is this idea that we currently labour under. In essence, it is the text, not the format, which is the most important aspect but this is a struggle for so called ‘traditionalists’ (I do wonder how far back in History these traditionalists go). Wikipedia in libraries or ebooks/computers/tablets are not the end of the library but the continuing development of the idea. If you really want to look at the merging of the old and the new, look no further than the Expresso Book Machine as a way of the digital and the physical working together to reproduce print books in around 7 minutes.

The second issue/ambiguity surrounds the idea of elearning/teaching. I have always had a deep-seated unease with ‘elearning’ because I believe that the ‘learning’ is more important than any device used to help support it. Gustave Flaubert’s quote on History has been my ally in illustrating the relationship between technology and education. Flaubert said that ‘Writing History is like drinking an ocean and pissing a cupful’. In educational terms, we have an ocean of technology but seem to piss a cupful of tepid learning (put in more genteel terms in Nesta’s ‘Decoding Learning‘ report which I recommend you read if you have not done so already). I went through some educational technologies to illustrate the promises of huge gains (but limited outcomes) such as the Banda Machine and Overhead Projectors. Part of the reason why these technologies have not been as successful as promised stems from a lack of focus on the purpose driving their use and effort placed on the technology itself and how it could be used. I suggested that using something like Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ would help us focus on the purpose and help maximise our chances of technology being used more effectively in schools.

Banda Machine

A Banda Machine. if you have no idea what it is, ask someone in their late 30s.

The third issue or ambiguity that I identified under the condition of ‘Halbbildung’ is the propensity to see our present situation as having no relationship with the past. This is embodied in conferences, justifications and almost daily use of the term ’21st century…’ to explain or attract debate on education. Of course, our particular historical circumstances are unique but they also rest on previously held ideas that we have sometimes forgotten. For example, learning through the use of games was advocated by Vittorino da Feltre  in the 15th Century CE and as for the modern ‘progressive’ idea of ‘child centred learning’, da Feltre thought this was an excellent way to educate young people. Before Sir Ken Robinson’s desire for more creativity in the curriculum, Richard Mulcaster (16th Century CE) suggested that a rounded curriculum should not only include an appreciation of music but that students should also perform it too. Locked into the logic of ’21st Century education’, we are in danger of forgetting ideas that may guide us and help us overcome ‘Halbbildung’.

Finally, I suggested that living under the culture of ‘halbildung’ means the scope of education as discussed generally is one that is severely constrained. It seems to serve the purpose of building workers for the 21st century rather than helping students ‘become’. It is, in the words of another famous 20th century thinker, Stevie Wonder, a case of ‘Living (just enough) for the city‘. Going beyond the ‘logic of the market’ and standing apart and critiquing the educational/social order is necessary if we are to move achieve a more expansive idea of education.

I want to thank the staff at Wellington (Alastair, Nic, & Tarla) for their hospitality and their understanding that I needed to return to Berkhamsted to teach my Year 7 History class in the afternoon. My class, of course, were thrilled.

Tablet image from Jonhurlock on Flickr

Banda Machine image from here.

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