What’s the point of school?

Comfort_logo2This is me re-entering the bloggersphere after a few years in the wild.  I’m hoping for a reasonably soft landing.  Last time I blogged it was about working from home.  You know the kind of thing: sitting in a shed at the bottom of the garden, procrastinating (the washing up was never so exciting as then), keeping the cats off the keyboard and naked typing.  (Well, there’s no need to dress if you’re not going to the office, is there?).

Now, having given up naked typing (the faux leatherette of the command post really sticks to your bum) I’m into reflecting on issues around work, why we do it, what it can do to us, what we can do for the world through our work and other existential questions.  Having gone (rather dramatically) through my midlife crisis and missed my quarter life one (it hadn’t been invented then) I’m quite looking forward to the three quarter life version (the latest lifestyle must-have I’m told, along with work:life imbalance and Pilates).  I’m not exactly sure what it will entail but I’m determined to make the most of it when it arrives.  I’m pretty certain it will include some wrath on my part as there is actually quite a lot to be wrathful about.

We could start with education.  And the fundamental question: what’s it for?  Is it designed to mould young people into shapes that fit the mass-consumerism based, image-fixated, corporately manipulated and technologically wound up way of life we’ve allowed to expand exponentially and envelop us?   Is it intended to equip them for the battle for the “good life” we’ve been told to aspire to, to help them get ahead of others in the great race to…who knows where?  Or is it to give them the confidence to be who they are, charting their own course, following their passion, their integrity and their innate sense of morality?

I’m really glad I went to a school where the individuality of the child was paramount, where the teachers’ energy went into growing my talents rather than shaping me for some pre-ordained structure.   I’m also hugely indebted to my parents who, although both committed non-conformists and resolutely in agreement on the education they wanted for me, could never see eye to eye on anything much else not to conform to.  Thus I was also well schooled in the art of hearing both sides of an argument, exercising diplomacy and dispensing large quantities of oil.

So I’m increasingly struck by the thought: what is my responsibility to young people?  Having seen huge changes in the way we organise ourselves in society, but also witnessed how often familiar attitudes and their concomitant mantras come round again over the years (the NHS is a great example of this constant recycling of temporary “wisdom” and fleeting orthodoxy), I feel challenged to find a way of tempering the excitement of the new and its rapidly evolving toy box with experiences from the past and the many lessons that can be learned from what we tend to call mistakes.   And mistakes that we rarely seem to have time to fully understand, losing in the rush to the new the opportunity to apply the insights and realisations they bring   Such is this scramble for novelty, our conviction is that progress can only happen in forward gear.  One of my more sensible crazy ideas is the establishment of a University of Unintended Consequences where, for perhaps a year, we would give time to learning about ours and other peoples’ supposed screw-ups, we would test the current definition of success and find ways of using “failures” to help in the fight against conformity and the bullying of the markets.  (Don’t get me started on branding babies – that’s for later!).

Anyway, before I begin to either bore you rigid or annoy you, I’ll stop and just say I hope you’ll give me feedback on the above.  I hope too that you will disagree as well as agree.  I believe that it’s increasingly essential to debate honestly and robustly what we intend with our education systems, what kind of people we want to welcome into the complex and challenging adult world, so I’d really welcome your ideas.

More in early September.

Take Care!