In this essay I first examine the concept of Education, second look at different views on what the world will be like in the year 2050 (when children starting school at five this year will be in the prime of life at 40), third suggest what education preparing them for 2050 in England could be, and finally look at the implications for teacher education.
[This is based on an invitation lecture I gave at the University of Brighton in the Department of Education on 27 May 2015]
I WHAT IS EDUCATION?
The party manifestoes at the 2015 election had various structural proposals for “improving” education but were limited by the inadequate understanding that most politicians have of schools and children. They tend to use what I call the “factory” model of education, in which teachers are seen as technicians in pupil factories with a government manual, regular inspection and pupil testing to ensure efficiency and measure progress.
Target culture puts on pressure
One of the Secret Teacher columns on the Guardian website in May 2015 had a harrowing tale by a Year Six teacher.
“The drive to hit targets is putting primary pupils under too much pressure. All Sats really teach them is that school is a chore. My year 6 class – and I’m sure every year 6 child across the land – have been learning and yes, they have made “progress” (lots of it for some). We know this because we’ve measured their strict diet of test, drill, repeat twice every half term for the entire year. The issue here is whether it was worth it, because in so many respects the drive for floor targets and pupil premium percentage increases have robbed students of their primary school experience. The regime is focused on spelling and grammar, reading comprehensions and mental maths – combined with extra practice tests, interventions and booster clubs fitted in anywhere between dusk and dawn.
Children can hardly remember what an art book looks like, or what a decent PE lesson feels like, or what a music lesson sounds like. They’re so confined to their desks that the process of developing the whole child has gone out of the window and their actual interests and other skills no longer have a place in school life.”
Government concern for global economy
Wow! How does government justify this? This is what Nicky Morgan, when newly appointed as Secretary of State for Education, said in November 2014:
“Other nations, outside of the west, are seeing their skills base and economies accelerate at an unprecedented rate. Now more than ever we need to ensure that more of our young people are leaving education, not just with the skills to succeed in modern Britain, but to compete in an increasingly global economy.”
So, competing in the future global economy is the justification for putting pressure on primary schools to improve SATs results and on secondary schools for better GCSE results in a narrow range of subjects. But is this right? I argue that it is the global ecology and not the global economy that should matter – and not of today but of the times when today’s children are adults.
So, what is education? Or what should it be?
It may sound pedantic, but I argue that anyone who aims to talk or plan constructively about schools should first make clear what they understand by “education”. This is my current view. I guess many others would say something similar.
The great purpose of Education is to enable individual citizens to be capable of thinking for themselves, moral beings well equipped with the many and varied attributes that they learn in their years of schooling, and able to continue to develop and learn purposefully throughout their lives in a contented pursuit of worthwhile life, liberty and happiness.
The opening words are how the Labour manifesto of 1945 described education.
It follows that Education is the totality of learning from birth to death.
Three components of Education
So, what should be the components of Education in today’s world? I see three:
(1) support the experience and nurture of personal and social development towards worthwhile living;
(2) provide abundant opportunities for the acquisition and discovery of worthwhile culture;
(3) develop worthwhile survival skills for a warming, resource depleted, chaotic, angry world.
What is 'worthwhile"?
It follows from these ‘skeleton’ statements that educational debate should focus on what is ‘worthwhile’. So, what is worthwhile in Education? Here are eleven suggestions:
· Learning how to relate to others peacefully and with mutual respect;
· Learning the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, debating, and mathematical skills;
· Developing natural talents for creative art: writing, drawing, painting, dancing, making music;
· Learning healthy use of one’s body through diet, exercise and sport;
· Learning to respect the natural world;
· Beginning to learn of the cultural wealth that one can spend one’s life exploring: science, history, geography, literature, philosophy, art, music, languages and much else;
· Becoming a moral citizen with ethical standards and a commitment to community;
· Finding how to collaborate and when to compete, when to be tolerant, when to be assertive and when to stand up for one’s rights;
· Learning how to go on learning for the rest of one’s life – and to expect to find the pleasure of it;
· Learning to know and value oneself, and
· Through all of this preparing oneself for the world of work, home and play.
So, to me, these eleven ideas define what schools and the work of teachers should be about. No doubt others could add to them or would express them differently, but, by and large, I would expect a consensus among teachers that these ideas are what education should be about.
Teachers for "the worthwhile"
It follows that teachers need to be well educated and strongly committed people who are trusted by society. And that is what I believe is true of the vast majority of teachers. But in addition they need to be professionally trained so that their commitment is focussed on handling the characteristics and development paths of young people. Sadly professional training is not considered essential by the present administration.
In all this, schools should be joyful places as they go about the business of preparing young people for the good life in terms of work, home and play. Teachers should be warm-hearted professional firebrands, inspiring the young: as philosophers have said since the time of the ancient Greeks, they should be lighting fires not filling buckets. I fear many of our politicians do not understand this since they measure the success of schools in terms of SAT results at 11, GCSE results at 16 and numbers of entrants to universities at 18 plus.
The watersheds of education: primary/secondary; secondary/tertiary
One further point I’d like to make before looking into the future. A significant feature of our school system that politicians never seem to grasp is that primary schools and secondary schools are different. There is a watershed at age eleven and another at eighteen or later.
· Primary education: one class teacher for most of the work of a year to support personal development and basic skills.
· Secondary education: several subject teachers over several years to support learning of various disciplines of the curriculum + some pastoral care staff.
· Tertiary education: specialist teachers teaching skills or academic disciplines.
Primary schools - what they do
The primary teacher is teaching children to read, write and do simple sums, opening up the culture of our times, and, crucially, promoting personal and social development. She or he is able, hour by hour, day by day, to observe and support the intellectual, personal and social development of about 30 children. It is a fantastic challenge – and enormously rewarding to see it happening. My own view is that instead of each primary teacher having a proscribed curriculum of history, geography, science, art and music to follow, each teacher should play to their academic strength while leaving the formal treatment of these subjects to the teachers in secondary school. Hopefully the primary school head will be able to recruit staff with expertise in different disciplines but with each one an effective generalist.
Primary schools need to be small so that young children are not overwhelmed by numbers, with every teacher knowing by name every child – thus giving a sense of community - and so that the head can be effective as the educational leader of the whole school and work collegially with the staff.
Secondary schools - what they do
By contrast secondary schools are engaged in teaching a range of academic disciplines while, in the later years, trying to prepare their students for further study or for work. This necessarily requires a larger staff and so departments form the collegial centres of the school. Organisationally it is necessary to have a fragmented timetable so that classes can regularly meet their subject teachers week by week. Teaching as many as 200 students, or more, every week secondary teachers rarely gain deep insight into the development of individuals although with form tutors and year tutors schools endeavour to provide effective support.
In terms of teaching their academic disciplines what secondary teachers need in their newly arriving students is not a primary school treatment of the discipline, but an enquiring mind and a desire to learn, coupled with the reading and writing skills needed to support the classwork.
Primary and secondary schools are different in intent
It can be argued that while many younger children (in primary schools) need the emotional support of teachers as they grow up, adolescents (in secondary schools) get emotional support primarily from their peers and only occasionally need to seek the support of a teacher.
It is these considerations that leads me to assert that primary and secondary education are different. Politicians should no more group them together than they would put secondary and university education together!
II WHAT WILL LIFE BE LIKE IN 2050?
Government’s tend to focus on perhaps five years in terms of their policies, but the Department of Education does seem to plan schooling for a more distant future. My worry is that the Department sees the future as an extrapolation of the economic present with nations competing for markets for their goods and services, struggling to promote economic growth and needing a technically skilled workforce to engage in this global competition.
But will the future be like that? Teachers need to focus on the next fifty years in terms of their pupils. Let’s ask what the world will look like when today’s five year-olds are forty years old, hopefully in the prime of their lives? Let’s focus on 2050 – just 35 years ahead.
Googling “Year 2050 predictions” gives a long list which when I did it in May 2015 started with this scenario:
“Future Timeline: 2050 Humanity is at a crossroads
· Nearly half of the Amazon forest has been deforested
· Wildfires have tripled in some regions
· Traditional wine industries are severely altered by climate change
· Fish body size has declined by nearly a quarter
· Hi-tech, intelligent buildings are revolutionising the urban landscape
· Automobiles are smaller, safer and high-tech
· There have been major advances in air travel comfort
· Continent-wide “supergrids” provide much of the world’s energy needs
· China completes the largest water diversion project in history”
I am sure that it will not just be the wine industries that are affected by climate change! The most significant report of recent years came from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – shortened to the IPCC.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
This is how it is described.
“The IPCC is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis. Review is an essential part of the IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information.”
What do the world’s scientists say? This is what the IPCC’s “Climate Change Synthesis Report” of 2014 says
· Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of green-house gases are the highest in history.
· Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
· The atmosphere and ocean have warmed.
The future according to science
The IPCC makes these dire predictions for the year 2050:
· Temperatures are expected to rise from somewhere between 0.8 and more than 2 degrees Celsius.
· More than one million species of plants and animals worldwide are projected to be extinct.
· Ocean waters are projected to rise one to four feet threatening the homes of 25 million to 40 million people.
Sea level rise is already happening. On 19 May 2015 an article in The Guardian by Tahmima Anam reported that:
“Already in Bangladesh 50,000 people migrate to the capital city every month because rising sea level have made their villages uninhabitable and have destroyed their arable land.”
We are responsible
The IPCC is clear that we humans are responsible. And by 2050 there will be more of us. According to the US Census Bureau, world population will grow from 7.4 billion now to 9.1 billion in 2050. And a recent United Nations report, noting the trend for populations to move to towns, expects that the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050.
But some (powerful people) deny it
An alarming feature of world politics is these combined judgements of thousands of scientists are denied by some influential people. Google “Global warming denier” and you learn in a Wikipedia article that:
“Between 2002 and 2010, nearly $120 million was anonymously donated, some by conservative billionaires … to more than 100 organizations seeking to cast doubt on the science behind climate change.”
The fossil fuel companies, with enormous investment in oil, coal and gas, are prominent deniers that mankind burning fuel is responsible. Sadly the Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch are also deniers, so a high proportion of the newspaper reading public is led to have doubts about the cause of adverse climate change!
Apart from temperature increase there are other problems; water shortage being a prominent one. A report in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences says that:
“More than one billion urban residents will face serious water shortages by 2050 as climate change worsens the effects of urbanization, with Indian cities among the worst hit. The shortage will threaten sanitation in some of the world’s fastest growing cities.”
"Life in 2050" - Ulrich Eberl
Various writers speculate about the future. One is Ulrich Eberl in his book Life in 2050 (published in 2011). Eberl is reasonably optimistic about getting sufficient energy from non-fossil fuel sources.
“By 2050 power plants in desert regions like the Sahara and the Mojave Desert in the US will generate electricity for nearby towns and cities. Wind power, in addition to solar power, hydrogen and biomass will have replaced petroleum-based products as sources of energy.”
The technology to do this exists now. The question is whether the economics and the politics match the promise.
Eberl has high hopes for computers:
“Computers will act as medical assistants, robots become household servants to the higher class as well as middle class, electric cars will have sensors enabling driverless control (traffic lights and stop signs made redundant), supercomputers will shrink down in size to the size of peas, vertical farming will allow farms on the wall. Trends in business, science and politics will lead to breath-taking innovations which we cannot imagine!”
But do we want robots to take jobs from people whose livelihood depends on the earnings from this work?
"Human brains into computers"
Some go further than even Eberl imagines. As a website called BusinessInsider.com reports:
“In the coming decades, some scientists hope to upload the contents of human brains into computers, allowing people to live forever inside a robotic body or even as a hologram. Neuroscientist Randal Koene is trying to transfer human consciousness and brain functions to an artificial body by 2045. … Even if we don't meet that goal by 2050, people alive today may still have their brains uploaded in the future. That's because other scientists are working on preserving human brains and all their contents indefinitely through immersion in chemical solutions.”
I see this as nonsense!
Self-sufficient cities - and others less fortunate
Others have hopes for hi-tech intelligent buildings that they believe will revolutionise the urban landscape. The website FutureTimeLine.Net suggests that:
“Amid worsening climate change and resource depletion, urban regions will be forced to either evolve, or die off. … Many modern skyscrapers will be complete with the internalized creation of food, water and other resources. … The outside of buildings often will be covered with vegetation. … This new, smart infrastructure will help to drastically improve the nature of urban living.”
And what happens to the people in the urban regions that “die off”? And what of those living in rural envIronments?
Trips to Mars
While ignoring the gravity of these issues, NASA has set its target to reach Mars within 15 to 20 years, and says it is relying on the expertise and efforts of thousands of engineers, scientists, administrators and astronauts working hard to make the target reachable. Andy Weir, author of a popular novel about a human colony on Mars says:
“the cost and technology required to make humans reach Mars is too big to be achieved before 2050.”
Personally I want these people working on survival of people on Earth, not on sending a few people to Mars.
It may be some comfort to learn that less warfare is predicted by 2050. Professor Håvard Hegre of the University of Oslo reckons that from 2009 to 2050, the number of countries involved in internal armed conflicts will decrease by more than 50%. He attributes this to (wait for it) education – and economics. He says (according to the International Studies Quarterly):
"It has become too expensive to kill people. Modern society is dependent on economic development. It is too expensive to use violence to destroy this network.”
Others are less sanguine
In A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century (2006), Jacques Attali suggests that by mid-century wars may be ignited over lack of drinking water or scarcity of petroleum; there may be major conflict between Islam and Christianity; and pirates may be running amok, blowing themselves up in European cities. The United States may be financially and politically exhausted through the globalization of markets and by the power of corporations; other nations will vie for economic dominance. He calls this “the future wave of planetary war”.
But Attali is eventually optimistic forseeing a further wave in the world’s history, which he calls “planetary democracy”. He thinks it will limit the power of markets and fight against what he refers to as “the madness of men, climatic upheaval, mortal disease, alienation and poverty”.
It’s a tough book, but one that teachers should read in order to reflect on speculations as to what may happen to those they teach and what, if anything, they can do about it.
A prosperous Arctic - elsewhere struggling
Laurence Smith in The New North: the World in 2050 (published in 2010) examines the global forces of population growth, resource depletion, economic globalisation and climate change over the coming years and concludes that the Arctic regions of Russia, Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia will become increasingly prosperous and powerful, while countries further south (including of course England but perhaps not north Scotland) will be grappling with water shortages, aging populations, crowded megacities and coastal flooding. Of these various predictions of the future this seems to me to be the most realistic.
"The Sixth Extinction"
There is one more book I want to refer to: but one based firmly on existing evidence, not futuristic speculation – the fossil record. Elizabeth Kolbert tells, meticulously, but with passion, of the grapholites, the trilobites, the echinoderms, the mastodons, the great auks, the ammonites, and the many kinds of dinosaurs, who did not survive the catastrophic global events known as the Big Five Extinctions. Her book is entitled The Sixth Extinction (2014). I am sure we can all imagine to what she is referring.
III RETHINKING EDUCATION IN TERMS OF A FUTURE DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT FROM TODAY
Laurence Smith’s book ends with the question: “What kind of a world do we want?” It invites all sorts of answers, but a more pertinent question is “What kind of a world will it be?” and even more pertinent “What will England be like for our children?”
Earth warming and consequent devastation inevitable
Earth warming will have continued – even if the sources of coal, oil and gas that produce greenhouse gases have been sealed off in the next ten years. As a result our climate will change leading to major droughts as well as devastating storms. Trees will be torn down, roofs will be lifted, homes will be damaged, and sea surges will flood low-level land along our coasts. Some of this is already happening.
At present 60% of the food we consume in the UK is home-grown, but with warmer and wetter winters and drier summers this may be at risk, one reason being significant changes in pests, diseases and weeds affecting our agricultural production. Maybe our wine industry will improve, but other more important crops may suffer. Likewise the 40% of our food that we import at present from other countries will be affected and it will probably become necessary for us to move towards self-sufficiency in food production and to adapt our agriculture to a changing climate.
How Britain coped in WWII
As a nation will we be ready for such a time of adversity? Being in my eighties I look back to my childhood during World War II when my family lived in Orpington, a few miles south of London. The devastation then came from bombs. Some of the time we slept in air raid shelters. Every day I carried a gas mask to school. But it is not the horrors of that time I remember but the way that people pulled together, supported each other, and, as part of the war effort, opened up allotments on waste land and grew vegetables to feed themselves. I remember my father proudly pushing our wheelbarrow home with a pile of potatoes, carrots, cabbages and a huge marrow that he had grown. Walking home from school, if there was an air raid warning, we were told to go to the nearest house and ask to go into their air raid shelter. There were no worries of “stranger danger” as there would be today. People invited strangers to take shelter with them.
Are we no longer community minded?
I fear that fewer folk today are community minded. Recent research reported on ITV’s Tonight programme reveals that more than half of the people interviewed didn’t know the people living next door to them. Many people seem to be more competitive, self-centred, acquisitive, and out for themselves and their family than was the case in the past. We have become the “me-first” society. Will Hutton in his book “How Good We Can Be: Ending the Mercenary Society and Building a Great Country” (2015) describes how in the second decade of the 21st century British society seems to be moving away from the “justice, tolerance, freedom and democratic accountability” of the earlier post-war years.
“The simple pro-market, individualistic nostrums of Thatcherism, too little qualified or challenged by New Labour, have begun to metamorphose – egged on by a destructive, vengeful centre-right press – into a mix of crude libertarianism, scepticism of all things initiated by the state and distrust of the public realm. We do not act together: we look out for ourselves as individuals. Justice, equity, tolerance and proportionality are all in retreat and a more brutal, selfish and amoral society is emerging.”
The "me-first" culture - promoted by the Education Reform Act?
This ethos has been pushed by successive governments, of left and right, by encouraging competition and market forces in business in order to promote economic growth. Since the Education Reform Act of 1988 it has also been promoted in schools. The constant testing of young people makes them – and their parents – increasingly competitive and promotes the “me-first” culture. League tables do the same with the myth that one school is better than another and so “my child should go there”. When we hear of parents moving home to be in the locality of a particular school because it is judged “the best” we realise how far society has moved in the competitive stakes. I believe there are few teachers that actually want this state of affairs, and within their own classrooms I am sure teachers treat all their pupils as equally deserving, but they are aware of the external pressures demanding competition.
Must go to the "best" school - where is it?
Parents who are obsessed with getting their child to the “best” school don’t seem to realise that in terms of primary education it is the calibre and personality of the individual teacher that matters, hardly the image and test results of the school. And, if we can accept Ofsted judgements, the current state of play (in 2015) is that 81% of primary schools have recently been judged to be “good” or “outstanding”: so why do parents get fussed? There are good reasons for every child going to the local school.
Schools for the future - away with government control!
What should schools do to prepare young people for life in the mid-century? Let’s stay with present structures: with young people in school divided into classes: with primary schools having class-teachers and secondary schools subject teachers. I hope that soon today’s instruments of government control – excessive testing, league tables, bench marks, floor standards, performance management, a detailed national curriculum and even Ofsted inspections - will be swept away. I hope that the pernicious Whitehall-based micromanagement of recent years will stop. In their place I look for a local or regional structure that co-ordinates the links between schools and has small teams of local inspectors-cum-advisers who offer challenge and support to schools in the way that the best local education authorities provided in the mid twentieth century.
Society must trust teachers
Fundamentally I want society to trust teachers to do the professional job for which they have trained and for which nearly all of them are highly committed: identifying the educational needs of young people and providing for each according to perceived need.
I hope that teachers will increasingly work collegially within their schools, meaning that they share ideas, and support each other. I hope that schools will co-operate with neighbouring schools rather than see themselves in competition. I hope teachers will interact with their local communities in devising curricula for their pupils based on simple and minimal national guidelines drawn up by a National Education Council. (I want such a Council to be set up, funded by government but independent of it, composed of teachers, parents, academics, and public figures, and with the task of offering guidance to schools – but not edicts).
In particular I hope that parents and the nation come to recognise that they can trust teachers to do their best for every child and young person without the controls and sanctions that central government impose today.
PRIMARY EDUCATION in the future
Let’s consider what primary schools should do first.
The Primary School Charter sponsored by a group of primary teachers in Lambeth sets out, in less than 700 words, a clear vision of how the present shackles that constrain primary education could be replaced by a child-centred, play-oriented and community-focused education based on democratic values. It provides an excellent and in my view sufficient base-line for any discussion of what primary education should entail. It’s what I would hope a National Education Council would suggest.
THE LAMBETH PRIMARY SCHOOL CHARTER
Children have the right to a broad and balanced curriculum that allows them to develop their talents in all areas. Primary schools should:
· develop key skills that allow children to engage with the world around them;
· promote values based on human rights, equality, democracy, diversity, environmental viability and peace; and
· relate to the lives and knowledge of their children, families and communities, while opening up wider cultural horizons through enjoyable participation and learning.
A simple curriculum statement is sufficient
I think that a statement as simple as this is the right starting point for the teachers in a primary school, led by their head, to design their school curriculum in the context of the children of the school, and the physical and human resources available.
Preparation for climate change
But also I would want it discussed in terms of coming climate change. The most important aspect of this for primary schools is in terms of community development. As was the case up till the 1990s, young people should attend their local schools and their school work should be collaborative. Young children should walk to school. This contributes to their health and to community development. Attending the local school means that their school friends can also be home friends with whom they can play in their home locality. And their parents will meet at the school gates and, like their children, can then build local friendships. Community matters since, when adversity strikes, the stronger the community the more people will be prepared to support each other.
Time in the great out-doors
Out-of-door activities like exploring nature, hiking and camping should be important ways of encouraging children to work together, individually to be resilient, and to gain awareness of the beauty and the dangers of the natural world.
SECONDARY EDUCATION in the future
When we come to secondary education it is more difficult to envisage major change.
Replace GCSE and A-Levels with end-of-schooling diplomas
I can’t see it happening soon but I would want to abolish GCSE and A-level and have, at the very end of schooling – at 18 or 19 as it has now become – diploma assessments providing routes into apprenticeship, university, or work. The Tomlinson Report of 2002 – that was commissioned and then rejected by Tony Blair’s government – should be re-examined.
What of academic subjects? Great for many but boring for some
I doubt whether the traditional academic subjects deserve the pre-eminence they get in the secondary school curriculum. Many of us who read articles like this have found much pleasure in learning history or geography or literature or one or two of the sciences, or the social sciences, or languages, or music or art or drama. But whether these have fascination for all young people in our schools is questionable. How many youngsters actually learn little more than coping with boredom?
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers in 2009 published a booklet called Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum, which advocates a skill-based curriculum focussed on communication, physical, interpersonal, thinking and learning skills, which the authors saw as essential for the educated person of the 21st century.
At about the same time Professor Richard Pring led a massive rethink of secondary education in the Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education. It based its ideas on five principles.
An education which would support:
· the intelligent management of life;
· competence to make decisions during changing economic and social conditions;
· practical capability – including preparation for employment;
· moral seriousness to help shape future choices and relationships; and
· a sense of responsibility for the community.
These studies are not throwing out the academic subjects, but challenging their dominance in the curriculum.
Preparation for climate change - building community strength
In preparing for the worst effects of coming climate change I want 16-19 year-olds to spend as much school time working in the local community as they do in the classroom or apprentice workshop. I envisage student-led or teacher-led teams supporting elderly people in their community, helping young children with their reading in primary schools, growing vegetables, tending livestock, providing street theatre, enhancing local environments, erecting solar panels, planting trees and through such team work learning democratic values and an ethos of harmony, co-operation, stewardship, self-sufficiency and self-worth.
IV TEACHER EDUCATION
What are the implications for teacher education? In my book Education for the Inevitable I have suggested substantial changes.
An 18 month PGCE after 6 months in factory, farm or wherever
I envisage all teachers taking an 18-month post-graduate course following a first degree. After graduation from the degree course I want intending teachers to spend at least a 6-month gap engaged in manual work in factory or on a farm and earning sufficient to support some travel around this country, or Europe, or the world. The importance of this is to gain some experience of the world outside school and college. The post-graduate student should spend perhaps half of the 18-month course working in a variety of schools under the guidance of both college tutors and school-teachers. In-college work should entail a strong element of pedagogic theory covering a range of subjects for intending primary teachers and on the degree subject for intending secondary teachers plus for everyone a focus on the teaching of reading, writing, talking and listening skills. There should be a good grounding in educational theory, especially child development. No doubt much of this is actually happening today, although I believe too rushed.
Study of environmentaL futures
But there is one more element that is needed in terms of the climate-changed future: theoretical and practical work on environmental futures. It is education for creating sustainable living. It is why the course needs to be 18-months long. It must embrace seminars on a range of books like Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth, Illich’s Tools for Conviviality, and Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level as well as more recent books on the future such as I have cited earlier.
A patch of land and tools for growing food
In practical terms I suggest something quite novel. I want everyone training to be a teacher to start their course in January and to be allocated a patch of land with gardening tools and seeds in order to grow sufficient food to feed a few people during the coming year. It would be a fundamental lesson in sustainable living and self-sufficiency and I would expect it to have a major impact on their own teaching in the years ahead.
They might find helpful John Seymour’s The Complete Book of Self-sufficiency (1976). He says:
“Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food which is fresh and organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings, for the health of body and peace of mind which comes with hard varied work in the open air, and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully.”
From "me-first" to community "togetherness"
I believe that rethinking primary, secondary and teacher education along the lines that I have outlined would help change us from a “me-first” society to one based on the togetherness of communities. These ideas would help develop self-reliance in communities and the recognition that communities can act to resolve problems themselves when, and if, disaster strikes. They would encourage the local growing of food – on allotments and vegetable gardens – which would help sustain families. They would boost the morale of teachers and help them to “grow tall in society”.
A preparation for climatic disaster
I am sure that these thoughts would provide a better education for our young people than the present test-driven schooling that sees the economy as the prime goal for education and fails to recognise the coming challenge from ecology. I commend them as worthwhile ideas in their own right as contributing to the all-round development of young people, but also as a preparation for whatever climatic disasters lie ahead as the Earth warms up.
Fight and fight again to win a better future for our children!
Notwithstanding the constraints put on their work I find that most teachers manage, as ever, to put enthusiasm, excitement and challenge into their teaching. I urge them to look into the future, recognise that today’s demands on schools are quite inadequate for the likely challenges of the future – and take “fire in the belly” beyond the classroom to demand change in the national system. Fight and fight again to win a better future for our children!
Posted here on 13 June 2015