He expounds on the origins of his thesis in his TED talk above. He has one or two interesting things to say about education, mainly in the American context (although undoubtedly with meaningful echoes elsewhere). For instance:
For 30 years I’ve been covering school reform and we’ve basically reorganised the bureaucratic boxes — charters, private schools, vouchers — but we’ve had disappointing results year after year. The fact is, that people learn from people they love, and if you’re not talking about the individual relationship between the teacher and the student, then you’re not talking about reality.
But that reality is expunged from our policy-making process.
Of course, it is about so much more than ‘…the individual relationship between the teacher and the student…’, and to be fair, his book does dig deeper than that in places. And whether or not you have to love someone to learn from them is, at least, debatable.
I’m not convinced any more by the absolute centrality of that relationship between teacher and learner (beyond the undoubted centrality of the relationship between the very youngest learners in school and their teachers). It is, and always will be, a critical relationship, but the connected nature of our world today means that a number of other relationships can be defined as central to successful learning: the relationship between learner and learner, the relationship between the teacher-as-learner and the learner (and sometimes between the teacher-as-learner and the learner-as-teacher), the relationship between the learner and the prodigious mountains of information available at a keystroke, the relationship between the learner and their own understanding of the world we live in.….and there are so many more.
Nonetheless, Brooks’ book is an interesting read, an odd mixture of fact and fable. His core thesis, that we are driven far more by our instincts, by our unconscious, than by rational thought, is one I have some sympathy for, although it is not an argument that in any way negates the centrality of the scientific method, of course. I still lean towards David Hume’s notion of the primacy of experience over logic, when he wrote:
We abandon ourselves to the natural undisciplined suggestions of our timid and anxious hearts.…
Brooks’ thesis is not a million miles away from a philosophy uncovered by this great Enlightenment thinker a quarter of a millenium ago.
One omnipresent media lawyer is quoted in The Independent, and probably elsewhere, as saying; “the emails being used to upload this information are be traced, I imagine, as we speak”. What? What emails exactly? It seems remarkable that quite a few people prepared to comment have yet to grasp how Twitter works. An internet cafe paid in cash, a new Twitter account and a hashtagged post - it’s wholly anonymous if that’s how folk choose to use it.
Eric Joyce MP telling it like it is, and in very short order illustrating both the naivety of large swathes of the establishment regarding social media and the complete impossibility of stopping information spreading once it is has been released onto the likes of Twitter.
He goes on:
I wouldn’t argue with the notion that there is information in the public and private sector which deserves to be allowed to be kept secret. But we are where we are now and the simple fact is that if information moves beyond a tiny group of identifiable people and onto the internet, there’s nothing governments, or anyone else, can do to keep it private. That’s just the way it is.
.…what of Schillings, the famous law company, prostituting themselves by advising a footballer to make himself their fool by paying them to acquire massive publicity by otherwise pointlessly pursuing Twitter? I’d toss them a sixpence and head on to a proper lawyer.
The ABE Books site has an interesting, and short, piece on the plethora of ‘colon:how’ books that have filled the physical and virtual shelves of bookshops in recent years:
The insertion of ‘: How’ into non-fiction book titles is so frequent now that it’s gone beyond cliché. It’s almost standard industry practice. Colon how was widely used before The Tipping Point but The Tipping Point became a tipping point for this style of book title (are you still with me?). There were a good number of these books that explained life and history before Gladwell’s huge bestseller, but since 2000 there has been an avalanche of them.
Books revealing how something or somebody specifically ‘Changed America’ are also commonplace – apparently rock music, stand-up comedy and garden plants have all changed America. Somebody should write a book called The Gladwell Effect: How The Tipping Point Changed America.
They were desperately poor; the available lands near the coast were already pre-empted; so armed with axes, their seed potatoes, and the newly invented rifle, they plunged into the backwoods to become our great pioneering race. Scattered thinly through a long frontier, they constituted the outposts and buffer settlements of civilisation. A vigorous breed, hardy, assertive, individualistic, thrifty, trained in the democracy of the Scottish kirk, they were the material out of which later Jacksonian democracy was to be fashioned, the creators of that western type which in politics and industry became ultimately the American type.
Today, more than 27 million Americans today can trace their lineage to the Scots and the Scots-Irish.
Take a look at the ABE Books piece to view the other ‘colon how’ books illustrated above.
.…plans at De Montfort University may give students pause for thought about the virtues of an ever-present internet connection: the institution is considering using its network to monitor attendance via electronic chips in students’ ID cards.
Other universities have introduced electronic attendance monitoring, but an automated system using wi-fi would be unusual, and the National Union of Students warned that members would “baulk at the prospect of being treated like inmates under surveillance”.
Proof, if proof were needed, that the current university model is surely dying on its feet.
Those who, like me, retain a fondness for the life and works of RF Mackenzie will probably have some well-worn copies of his books on their shelves. What his admirers are unlikely to have is a copy of his final work The Manifesto for the Educational Revolution, as this is a book for which he could find no publisher before he died. Were RF Mackenzie still around today, I am sure he would be a strong advocate of open publishing — so, with the kind permission of his family, and in the interests of adding a valuable work by a thoughtful and radical educationist to the world’s education canon, I have taken the opportunity to turn his final work into an eBook. I have tested it for iBooks on the iPad and on the Color Nook — it worked perfectly in both environments.
I had hoped also to publish it as a free book for the Kindle — but it seems that Amazon require a minimum set price of £0.99 for any book published there. All those free books available for the Kindle were published to draw early users in — they no longer permit free books to be published. What a shame.
You can download the ePub version — you can also download the PDF version, which his family made freely available many years ago. I offer some guidance below on how to transfer the ePub file to the iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch) for use with iBooks, and also for the Color Nook.
Reading through the text, I have to be honest and say that I can see why no publisher chose to take it on at the time: it is variable in the quality of the writing; it drifts in voice from the universal to the parochial, from the cosmopolitan to the couthy; it is poorly structured, is in need of a good editor, and it is, in any case, unfinished. The last point is the important one: a publisher could have worked with RF Mackenzie to turn this into a very interesting book indeed, and it is a shame that it has been left on the virtual slush pile since. Even the title has the air of a temporary marker that never quite developed into something better. But as an indicator, a handbook almost, to the development of one of the most compassionate, erudite and radical educational thinkers of the last century, it is an unsurpassed resource.
It is a book very much of its time and place. It is, of course, mainly about education, but it ranges far and wide across the firmament of issues that RF Mackenzie considered important to him at the time.
For me, as an atheist with an enduring interest in the religious mind and the nature of religious behaviour, I particularly enjoy RF Mackenzie’s use here (as in his other books) of biblical quotes and religious imagery to illustrate his avowedly secular view of the world. He turns the vague and contradictory texts of the faithful against them with great effect, although often with more than a hint of affection.
But it is by no means only — even mainly — the religious preisthood that is in his sights here. The ‘priesthood’ in the title quote above refers, of course, to the educational priesthood, by which he means those teachers who have chosen through the centuries to collude with the elite, those who have been, and are, happy to take on the honoured status of ‘teacher’ but who demean that noble title by serving a narrow and self-serving establishment at the expense of those who are deemed, on whatever spurious basis, unworthy of an education. The ‘teacher’ who ought to serve the interests of all, and not merely the narrow economic and social interests of those who would see themselves as our leaders, our betters, is very much in Mackenzie’s sights here.
As a little taster of what you can expect from The Manifesto I offer here a smattering of quotations from the text to whet your appetite.
Mackenzie, quoted in the Foreward, on the Manifesto itself:
This is the story of how a child in a Scottish rural community saw the world, the picture of earth-life presented by school and church and received folklore; the widening horizons illumined by questing amateurs and clouded by defensive professionals; a teenager’s innate and continuing belief that things should make sense confronted with the forbidding incomprehensibility of his mentors in school and university; the sense of wonder and enquiry and hope re-emerging under the stimulus of people throughout the world who this century tried to alter their society’s set pattern of ideas and to make education intelligible; their widescale failure, in the USSR and the USA and western Europe, to make any appreciable difference to the way children are still everywhere herded and controlled and puzzled and disheartened.
On that highly educated failure known as the classicist:
In a past generation the man who had studied Euripides and Vergil at Oxford was considered qualified to govern the Sudan. In the present generation he is considered qualified to advise the ministers on monetarism and nuclear policy. It’s beautiful magic, but alas, it doesn’t work. The problems of society are not clearly analysed. They are wrapped in high-priestly terms and, when the answers don’t work out, the cultural priests don’t blame themselves, they blame the recalcitrance of ordinary people.
On the ruling minority:
For centuries this climate of thought and feeling was ubiquitous and there was no escaping its influence. The ruling minority devoted all the available resources of literature and religion, schools and universities and law-courts, political parties, the media to deny or submerge the ability of the many, and to present themselves as the heroes of a noble epic. We did believe that cabinet ministers cared for us, that judges were just and journalists independent, that scientists were fearless in pursuit of the truth, that literature and philosophy and what was called our cultural heritage were about helping the whole human race to find its way through the darkling wood, and that school and university education existed to make this wisdom available to all.
On freeing teachers:
When teachers are freed from the task of making pupils accumulate information and memorise accepted opinions, the school ceases to be a punitive institution and the teachers will take their place among the research workers of our society, enquiring into the making of a real democracy. They will respond. Teachers, drudging through the examination syllabus, become changed people when presented with the opportunity to do original work.
On those who demean the noble title of ‘teacher’:
The [educational] priests are the minority’s officers whose function is to contain revolt and inhibit change. They have been remarkably successful for millennia. They have, for the most part, contained the majority, keeping them in a state of physical and intellectual subjection. There are some indications that that era in human history, the era of ruthless division of humanity into controlling minority and subjected majority, may be moving to its close. It will be a major event in what Heine called the Liberation War of Humanity when the thought-control, which the minority’s educational priests exercise over the majority, is overthrown.
As mentioned above, the Manifesto ePub file has been used successfully both on the iPad, in iBooks, and on the Color Nook. To transfer the downloaded ePub file to your iBooks app, simply drag the file into the Books folder on iTunes and then synch to your iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch).
Jeremy Hunt, Culture secretary in the UK Government, says that Twitter and other social networking sites are:
…making an ass of the law…
When the law serves to ‘protect’ only those who can afford the 6-figure sums required to take out one of these utterly ridiculous and anti-freedom-of-speech super-injunctions, it of course makes a complete ass of itself. It is censorship pure and simple, and should be combatted with every means at our disposal.
Anyone who wants to know the name of the footballer who has taken out the particular injunction in question can find out who the pratt is with less than 30 seconds of ‘research’ on the Web. We all know, so why all the fuss?
And James Naughtie got it just about right on our Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.
The coffeehouse was a place for like-minded scholars to congregate, to read, as well as to learn from and to debate with each other, but it was emphatically not a university institution, and the discourse there was of a far different order than any university tutorial. The coffeehouse thus occupied a social space distinct from those older centres of learning which were constrained by their dependence on church or state patronage as well as their stubborn ‘scholastic’ refusal to accept the methods and supplements offered by Bacon’s “new learning,” which were so dear to the virtuosi. By contrast, the coffeehouse offered an alternative space for the promotion of virtuosic interests.
That ‘alternative space’ has always been important to those seeking an education beyond the narrowly scholastic. And of course, there have always been those, as there are today, who have sought to denigrate the value of such alternative spaces. Anthony Wood, an Oxford scholar in the late 17th Century wrote that the discourse in the coffeehouses was:
.…fluently romantick nonsense, unintelligible gibberish, florishing lyes and nonsense.…
Today we have no shortage of idiots willing to shout from the rooftops about the ‘unintelligible gibberish’ that social media generate on a second-by-second basis, those small-minded and short-sighted people who are just as unwilling as Anthony Wood was more than 300 years ago to recognize the truly enlightening and transformative aspects of this technology we have today.
The English coffee houses of the 17th and 18th centuries show us how important ‘alternative space’ can be in permitting and encouraging dialogue and learning beyond the formal and the institutional. Today we are building countless such alternative spaces on the Web and beyond, and I for one hope and believe that in education as in so many other spheres of life these alternative spaces will eventually subvert and then displace the fossilized and inflexible institutions of formal education across the world.
As a learner, with María Cruz as my tutor, I found myself in an unusual situation. It was clear that I was engaged with someone who had mastered a practice. She was not bashful about stopping me when I moved from one step of the problem to another to ask for a clarification of why I made the decision I had made. Her manner was polite, respectful, but not overly impressed by my knowledge of geometry and every-vigilant for weak logic and ambiguous terminology. Her questions were clear and highly-focused. She did not share my enthusiasm for having gotten the “right” answer. She was more interested in what I didn’t know, or couldn’t readily recover from my prior knowledge. More importantly, she didn’t “teach” me a method for solving the problem, she coached me through a process of thinking about the problem, and diagnosed a critical weakness in my background knowledge. I felt that I was in the hands of an expert.
Marie Cruz is 13 years old and a student at a tiny rural school in Santa Rosa, 60 miles west of Zacatecas, in Mexico, and she is part of a quite extraordinary experiment that is happening across the rural areas of her country.
A wonderful initiative such as this one in Mexico offers so much to all those parts of the world where teachers are a scant resource and where alternative models for education desperately need to be found and implemented. But even more than a model for places where high quality teachers are few and far between, this initiative also shows the power and the potential of real community learning models — and that is relevant to every part of the world!
Good intentions, as we know, are just never enough. Too often, those good intentions are ruined by poor execution. Sometimes, what appears on the face of it to be well intended is just a bad idea from the outset.
OLPC — the one laptop per child initiative, championed by Nicholas Negroponte — is a case in point. Putting a laptop of sorts in the hands of young learners across the developing world does seem, on the face of it, to be ‘a good thing!’ However, it is clear that, for a variety of reasons — the focus on the device rather than on the network, the strange design of the machine itself, the political and industry machinations around the project, the apparent lack of concern for support for the machine’s users — the project has not been a resounding success.
Rather than ‘one laptop per child’, I believe we should be working in education for ‘one megabit per child’ — OMPC.
Let’s focus on the network, on the Web, and let’s work to ensure that every child, indeed every learner of any age, has access to the high levels of connectivity required to be the truly connected learner that they can be.
So, let’s go no further down the sidetrack of OLPC — OMPC just makes so much more sense for learners across the world today.
Thank you to my former colleague, Selim Edde, now a VP with SAP, for suggesting this idea.