This is one more of those vulnerable posts, where I share something close to my heart. There is every risk that some of you will disagree violently, flame me, stop reading my blog. There is every risk that some of you will think less of me because of the things I say. I think of this blog as a community, a place where I know many of the regular readers personally, a place where I can share things like this without fear. For those of you I know less well, and for those of you I do not know, please bear with me.
I loved school. I loved the thought of going to school, of spending time there, being with friends there, working, playing. I loved everything about school. Being at school was something I really looked forward to. It was a wonderful time, and I was privileged enough to be able to spend nearly 15 years in one Jesuit institution, from primary school through to university: St Xavier’s Collegiate School, Calcutta.
It was one of those places that truly deserved being called an institution. There was something about it that was destined to transcend time; it was a living piece of history by the time I got there, at which point it was barely a hundred years old. A wonderful location, a wonderful set of building and grounds, and wonderful staff. We were privileged to have some really great teachers. [It was with some sadness that I learnt of the death of Thomas “Tommy” Vianna a few weeks ago, he was one of those greats. [Tommy Vianna, Requiescat In Pace].
During my time there, as with many others, I had some purple patches, there were times when I was first in class, times when I played well for class and school teams, times when I excelled at something or the other. Of course I remember them well. But there were many times where I did not excel, sometimes because I hadn’t worked at all; sometimes despite my working really hard; and sometimes because I just wasn’t drawn or attracted to whatever it was I was being asked to do.
I remember talking to my maths teacher when I was about fifteen, a time when my sole interest was to become a maths professor, aspiring to do all the things that someone in high school in the early seventies would want to do: grow a beard and long hair; walk around in jeans and t-shirts reading books like Godel, Escher, Bach (which hadn’t actually been published then); learn to play guitar; do something meaningful in the theory of numbers in the footsteps of Ramanujan; and of course solve Fermat’s Last Theorem. Not just solve it, but solve it elegantly, elegantly enough to fit into the margins of a book on Diophantine equations. Maybe smoke a pipe. Have some pastis. Lovingly restore a 16th century book.That sort of thing.
My “hippie maths professor” reverie was rudely interrupted by said maths teacher, who pointed out where he was living, what he was earning, how hard things were. He was adamant that I should go nowhere near teaching; instead, I was to spend time making money; money that I could then plough back into education at a later stage.
And I guess I listened to him. Which is why, when I retire, I will build a school. For sure. It’s something I think about every day. There is something about the sheer inclusiveness that a good education brings; I detest the thinking behind The Bell Curve, I believe with all my heart that everyone has potential; of course social, economic and environmental factors affect every individual’s ability to develop and reach and extend that potential, but not in the way bell-curvers think.
That belief in the power of education is the reason why I got involved in School Of Everything; there is something very fulfilling about the premise behind SoE; I’m also very excited about the possibility that we can create a mechanism to unlock trapped potential amongst people who are otherwise unable to participate, usually because of generation or gender.
That belief in the power of education is the reason why I joined BT; I have this deep-seated belief that ubiquitous, affordable connectivity is an absolute must-have as we strive to improve health, education and welfare worldwide, as we strive to make the world a better place, as we strive to become better stewards of what we have. As we strive to change ourselves.
So I spend a lot of time thinking about education, about what it really means. Not dictionary definitions, not semantic arguments. What does “education” mean to me?
It’s not about “committing to memory and vomiting to paper”.
It’s not about learning to sit tests. It’s not even about learning to pass tests.
These things are useful, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient for us to be able to be anything, do anything.
So what is it about?
I think it’s about these things:
- learning how to learn, which involves a lot of watching and listening
- learning how to love, which involves even more watching and listening
- learning how to lose, which involves quite a lot of watching and listening
- learning how to be with yourself, which also involves a lot of watching and listening
- learning how to be with other people, which also involves ….watching and listening
- learning how to solve problems, which also involves ….. watching and listening
- remembering what you’ve seen and heard, and being able to assimilate it
- learning how to express yourself in word and deed, how to take the things you’ve learnt and do something with them
The more specialised the things you watch and listen to, the more you’re acquiring a particular skill. Sometimes there’s more watching, sometimes there’s more listening. Whenever I had to concentrate to see or hear or express something, I really felt for people who couldn’t, people who didn’t have the full use of their sensory equipment, people who didn’t find it easy to deal with their feelings. I’ve always had a sneaking admiration for people who are autistic, more specifically people with Asperger’s, because there’s a part of me that feels I belong there.
Just musing. What does “education” mean to you?
Incidentally, this post was triggered by my reading today’s Randall Munroe special:
At the back of my mind was all the recent kerfuffle caused by the publication of Don Tapscott’s recent book, a subject I shall revert to later.
Incidentally, if any of you prefer to take the discussion offline, DM me via http://twitter.com/jobsworth