Educated Optimism

Educational futures, knowledge cultures, environmental, technological and social change

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Universities – there is another way

Growing up in the UK in the 80s under Thatcherism, an era of strikes, hostility, growing inequality and racism – not to mention stone washed denim and dodgy perms – the Soviet Union played an important role in the imagination. It was a land where things were different, it was a whole chunk of the world where society, economy, culture were organised in a completely different way.  It opened up an imaginative space, a little crack in the perception of the world that encouraged you to think that what you were living with wasn’t necessarily what you were stuck with.

We need that crack in the imagination today in relation to our universities. We need to know that there are other foundations upon which education can be built, and other forms that it might take. Such a crack exists and is growing.

A couple of years ago, the Ecoversities network held its first gathering, convened by Kelley Teamey and Udi Mandell and bringing together over 50 people from all around the world who are demonstrably building new approaches to education.

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Call for Papers: Education and The Future

We’re holding the first ever Conference on Anticipation in Trento next year, under the leadership of Professor Roberto Poli (Unesco Chair in Anticipatory Systems) and with keynotes from, amongst others, Arjun Appadurai, Erik Olin Wright, Martin Seligman and many more…

I’m working with the wonderful Sarah Amsler to curate a theme on Education and the Future. The call for proposals is available here

Deadline for proposals is 15th April. Contact me if you’d like to discuss possible ideas for the conference or just to find out more.


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A world museum for education?

I was interested to read Sean Coughlan’s recent WISE post arguing that educational journalism was under-resourced in comparison to other fields such as politics and business. I completely agree. We desperately need to create a high quality public debate about education which gets us beyond the usual familiar arguments about ‘declining standards’, ‘it was good enough for me’, and battles informed more by dogma than by careful consideration of the evidence.

Investing in and improving education journalism is one way to do this, but there are others. An important one, it seems to me, is having a public institution, open to anyone, which acts as a public resource for curating, understanding, and debating the future of education. In other words, we need a Museum.

The world has museums of industry, of transport, of buttons and even of pencils… but apart from a few museums of schooling, with their regulation reconstructions of a Victorian classroom, there is no real museum of education that I know of anywhere in the world. The nearest I can think of is the brilliant online encyclopedia of informal education that is InfEd. There’s nowhere that newly appointed Ministers of Education can visit to recognise that there is, in fact, a rich history of research in this field and that there are different histories in different countries. There’s nowhere that new parents can visit to understand the ways in which teaching works, the roles they might play, the different debates in the field and the choices that they might made. There’s nowhere the education journalist can visit, as Coughlan points out, to really get to grips with the conflicting arguments. There’s nowhere a student can visit to understand what this institution is that they are expected to spend all day in, to find out more about how they learn, or to read the usually hidden history of children’s strikes, really free schools and alternative education models.

In short, because we have no museum, we have no history and we have very little public understanding. And you know what they say about people who forget their own history…

So – we need a museum. And it would be fantastic, bringing together the psychologists, neuroscientists and tecchies of the Science Museums; bringing together the historians, geographers, anthropologists of the British Museum; bringing together the researchers from the universities, the practitioners from the schools and community education groups; and enabled by digital technologies we show education in all its rich complexity around the world and throughout history.

If civilisation really is a race between education and catastrophe, then the task of creating a public space to better understand education in all its rich complexity is an urgent global priority.