University is about more than jobs and earning power

    Next month, I embark on my fourth postgraduate qualification: an MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. I also believe that alternative credentials such as Open Badges are valuable. That’s because the answer to an ‘either/or’ question is usually ‘yes/and’.

    So I have sympathy with this article which talks about potentially going too far in discouraging people from going to university. What’s missing from this piece, as usual with these things, is that Higher Education isn’t just about earning power. It’s about expanding your mind, worldview, and experiences.

    I got involved with Open Badges 12 years ago because I wanted my kids to have the option of going to university, rather than it being table-stakes for a decent job. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re a lot closer than we used to be. It’s a delicate balance, because I don’t want a liberal education to be the preserve of a wealthy elite.

    Wages grow faster for more-educated workers because college is a gateway to professional occupations, such as business and engineering, in which workers learn new skills, get promoted, and gain managerial experience. Most noncollege workers, in contrast, end up in personal services and blue-collar occupations, for which wages tend to stagnate over time.


    Despite the bad vibes around higher education, the fastest-growing occupations that do not require a college degree are mostly low-wage service jobs that offer little opportunity for advancement. Negative public sentiment might dissuade some people from going to college when it is in their long-run interest to do so. The potential harm is greatest for low- and middle-income students, for whom college costs are most salient. Wealthy families will continue to send their kids to four-year colleges, footing the bill and setting their children up for long-term success.

    Indeed, highly educated elites in journalism, business, and academia are among those most likely to question the value of a four-year degree, even if their life choices don’t reflect that skepticism. In a recent New America poll, only 38 percent of respondents with household incomes greater than $100,000 said a bachelor’s degree was necessary for adults in the U.S to be financially secure. When asked about their own family members, however, that number jumped to 58 percent.

    Source: The College Backlash Is Going Too Far | The Atlantic

    Image: Good Free Photos

    'Personalisation' is something that humans do

    Audrey Watters, formerly the ‘Cassandra’ of edtech, is now writing about health, nutrition, and fitness technologies at Second Breakfast. It’s great, I’m a paid subscriber.

    In this article, she looks at the overlap between her former and current fields, comparing and contrasting coaches and educators with algorithms. While I don’t share her loathing of ChatGPT, as an educator and a parent I’d definitely agree that motivation and attention is something to which a human is (currently) best suited.

    How well does a teacher or trainer or coach know how you feel, how well you performed, or what you should do or learn next? How well does an app know how you feel, how well you performed, or what you should do next? Digital apps insist that, thanks to the data they collect, they can make better, more precise recommendations than humans ever can — dismissing what humans do as “one size fits all.” Yet it's impossible to scrutinize their algorithmic decision-making. Ideally, at least, you can always ask your coach, "Why the hell am I doing bulgarian split squats?! These suck." And she will tell you precisely why. (Love you, Coach KB.)

    And then (ideally) she’ll say, “If you don’t want to do them, you don’t have to.” And (ideally), she’ll ask you what’s going on. Maybe you feel like shit that day. Maybe you don’t have time. Maybe they hurt your hamstrings. Maybe you’d like to hear some options — other exercises you can do instead. Maybe you’d like to know why she prescribed this exercise in the first place — “it’s a unilateral exercises, and as a runner,” she says, “we want to work on single-leg strength, with a focus on your glute medius and adductors because I’ve noticed, by watching your barbell squats, that those areas are your weak spots.” This is how things get “personalized” — not by some massive data extraction and analysis, but by humans asking each other questions and then tailoring our responses and recommendations accordingly. Teachers and coaches do this every. goddamn. day. Sure, there’s a training template or a textbook that one is supposed to follow; but good teachers and coaches check in, and they switch things up when they’re not really working.


    If we privilege these algorithms, we’re not only adopting their lousy recommendations; we’re undermining the expertise of professionals in the field. And we’re not only undermining the expertise of professionals in the field, we’re undermining our own ability to think and learn and understand our own bodies. We’re undermining our own expertise about ourselves. (ChatGPT is such a bad bad bad idea.)

    Source: Teacher/Coach as Algorithm | Second Breakfast

    Using semesters for goal-setting

    This article suggests using the academic calendar as a framework for setting and achieving personal goals, breaking life into “semesters” to focus on mini-goals that contribute to larger ambitions. It argues that this approach can aid in time management, motivation, and skill development, offering a structured yet flexible way to make meaningful progress in various aspects of life.

    As someone who spent a long time in formal education, was a teacher, and spent time working in Higher Education, it’s difficult to get out of the habit of the academic year and breaking your work into ‘terms’. Perhaps I should be leaning into it?

    While it’s important to set goals, the roadmap for how to attain them can be murky. Instead of embarking without a plan toward broad ambitions, there’s value in incremental objectives in service of a larger aim. Take a page from the educational system and divide the future into “semesters” — traditionally 15 to 17 weeks long at American colleges — in which to implement minigoals to help get you where you want to go. Use the traditional academic year as a guide to help you stay on track, says Rachel Wu, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside. Many community classes and educational opportunities are offered roughly on a quarter or semester basis. “At the very least, it will help people, maybe, feel young again. I think that’s a huge benefit,” Wu says. “They can think back to that point in their life when they had that kind of organization and that might be something that works for them.” (You don’t need to follow a traditional academic structure by any means, but having a firm start and end date within a few months’ span in which to focus on certain skills or activities can help keep you motivated.)


    Modeling your life after academic years allows you to adequately mark your process. It’s difficult to determine improvement with daily or even weekly goals, Fishbach says. But with a quarterly or biannual milestone, you’re more easily able to track your progress; you can more clearly look back on what you’ve learned after a 20-week intro to coding class as opposed to after a few days of instruction. The end of a semester allows for these report cards. “It just helps you feel that you’re growing as a person,” Fishbach says. “You’re not the person you were three months ago.”


    A self-imposed semester system also lends itself to increased motivation due, in part, to the fresh start effect, where people are more driven to pursue goals after a “fresh start” like a new year or semester. (Fully embrace the back-to-school energy and buy some new school supplies, Wu says, “and then learn something.”) With goals that have an endpoint, called an all-or-nothing goal, Fishbach says, motivation increases as you approach the deadline. Having a distinct cutoff to your personal semester can help you stay driven knowing there’s an end in sight.

    Source: Semesters for adults: How the academic school year can help with goal-setting, time management, and motivation | Vox

    Ungrading the university experience

    There’s some discussion of students ‘gaming the system’ in this article about ungrading university courses, but nothing much about AI tools like ChatGPT. This movement has been gathering pace for years, and I think that we’re at a tipping point.

    Hopefully, this will lead to more Open Recognition practices rather than just breaking down chunky credentials into microcredentials.

    [A]dvocates say the most important reason to adopt un-grading is that students have become so preoccupied with grades, they aren't actually learning.

    “Grades are not a representation of student learning, as hard as it is for us to break the mindset that if the student got an A it means they learned,” said Jody Greene, special adviser to the provost for educational equity and academic success at UCSC, where several faculty are experimenting with various forms of un-grading.

    If a student already knew the material before taking the class and got that A, “they didn’t learn anything,” said Greene. And “if the student came in and struggled to get a C-plus, they may have learned a lot.”


    [S]everal colleges and universities… already practice unconventional forms of grading. At Reed College in Oregon, students aren’t shown their grades so that they can “focus on learning, not on grades,” the college says. Students at New College of Florida complete contracts establishing their goals, then get written evaluations about how they’re doing. And students at Brown University in Rhode Island have a choice among written evaluations that only they see, results of “satisfactory” or “no credit,” and letter grades — A, B or C, but no D or F.

    MIT has what it calls “ramp-up grading” for first-year students. In their first semesters, they get only a “pass,” without a letter; if they don’t pass, no grade is recorded at all. In their second semesters, they get letter grades, but grades of D and F are not recorded on their transcripts.

    Source: Some colleges are eliminating freshman grades by ‘ungrading’ | NPR

    The 'value' of a degree

    I’ve got two things to say about this article in The Economist. One is to do with alternative credentialing, and the other is to do with my first degree.

    1. The rhetoric around Open Badges in the early days was that it would mean the end of universities. Instead, they have co-opted them as 'microcredentials' in a way that unbundles chunky degrees into bitesize pieces. Universities are now more likely to work with employers on these microcredentials, which is a benefit to employability, at the expense of a rounded 'liberal' education.
    2. My first degree was in Philosophy, which most people would assume makes you entirely unemployable. The reverse is actually true, especially for knowledge work. I should imagine that in a world where we need, for example, more AI ethicists, this trend will only continue.
    The value of a university education, to my mind, isn't really how much you earn specifically because of the piece of paper you earn at the end of it. Instead, it's a way to broaden your mind by (hopefully) moving away from where you grew up and encountering people who think differently.

    Chart showing the (economic) "value" of different degrees

    In England 25% of male graduates and 15% of female ones will take home less money over their careers than peers who do not get a degree, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a research outfit. America has less comprehensive data but has begun publishing the share of students at thousands of institutions who do not manage to earn more than the average high-school graduate early on. Six years after enrolment, 27% of students at a typical four-year university fail to do so, calculate researchers at Georgetown University in Washington, dc. In the long tail, comprising the worst 30% of America’s two- and four-year institutions, more than half of people who enroll lag this benchmark.


    Earnings data in Britain call into question the assumption that bright youngsters will necessarily benefit from being pushed towards very selective institutions, says Jack Britton of the ifs. In order to beat fierce competition for places, some youngsters apply for whatever subject seems easiest, even if it is not one that usually brings a high return. Parents fixated on getting their offspring into Oxford or Cambridge, regardless of subject, should take note. But there is also evidence that tackling a high-earning course for the sake of it can backfire. Norwegian research finds that students whose true desire is to study humanities, but who end up studying science, earn less after ten years than they probably otherwise would have.

    Source: Was your degree really worth it? | The Economist

    Let's make private schools help pay for state schools

    I’m delighted to hear about this and I hope the vote passes. It’s a farce that place of privilege should gain tax breaks and have ‘charitable status’. As I’ve said many times before, opting out of state education and the NHS should be, either impossible or ridiculously expensive.

    Labour will attempt to force a binding vote on ending private schools’ tax breaks and use the £1.7bn a year raised from this to drive new teacher recruitment.

    The motion submitted by Keir Starmer’s party for the opposition day debate on Wednesday is drafted to push the charitable status scheme that many private schools enjoy to be investigated, as the party attempts to shift the political focus on to education.


    Labour will hope the motion will force the government to make its MPs vote down an issue, rather than ignoring the process. A Labour source has previously said: “Conservative MPs voting against our motion are voting against higher standards in state schools for the majority of children in our country.”

    Source: Labour look to force vote on ending private schools’ tax breaks | The Guardian

    AI everywhere in education

    Jon Dron makes a good point here that we need to put the humanity back into education, otherwise we’re going to have AI everywhere and a completely broken system.

    I thought it would be fun, in an ironic kind of way, to use an AI art generator to illustrate this post…

    To a significant extent, we already have artificial students, and artificial teachers teaching them. How ridiculous is that? How broken is the system that not only allows it but actively promotes it?


    This is a wake-up call. Soon, if not already, most of the training data for the AIs will be generated by AIs. Unchecked, the result is going to be a set of ever-worse copies of copies, that become what the next generation consumes and learns from, in a vicious spiral that leaves us at best stagnant, at worst something akin to the Eloi in H.G. Wells’s Time Machine. If we don’t want this to happen then it is time for educators to reclaim, to celebrate, and (perhaps a little) to reinvent our humanity. We need, more and more, to think of education as a process of learning to be, not of learning to do, except insofar as the doing contributes to our being. It’s about people, learning to be people, in the presence of and through interaction with other people. It’s about creativity, compassion, and meaning, not the achievement of outcomes a machine could replicate with ease. I think it should always have been this way.

    Source: So, this is a thing… | Jon Dron

    Image: DALL-E 2 (“robot painting a picture of a robot painting a picture of a robot, in the style of Rene Magritte”)

    Eddie Jones on how privately educated rugby players 'lack resolve'

    It’s no secret that I believe that private schools shouldn’t exist. I’ve explained why so many times over the years I almost don’t know where to link, but try this from 2012, or this from 2019. Ben Werdmuller also shared his thoughts a week ago.

    I’m pleased to see this report of comments made by Eddie Jones, England Rugby Union’s head coach on private schools. I think we’re coming to realise, as a society, that more diversity really is better for all of us.

    Jones, 62, claimed the pathway produced players who had enjoyed a "closeted life" and lacked "resolve" in a weekend interview with the i newspaper.


    Jones had claimed in his interview that “you are going to have to blow the whole thing up” as the system yielded young players who struggled to lead because “everything’s done for you”.

    “When we are on the front foot we are the best in the world,” Jones added. “When we are not on the front foot our ability to find a way to win, our resolve, is not as it should be."

    Source: Eddie Jones: England head coach admonished by RFU over private school system criticism | BBC Sport

    The value of a liberal education

    I have degrees in Philosophy, History, and Education. As such, I have received what most would call a ‘liberal education’.

    These days, people don’t put as much store in a liberal education as they used to, which is a shame. In fact, many people don’t even know what it means. SMBC explains.

    SMBC is a daily comic strip about life, philosophy, science, mathematics, and dirty jokes.
    Source: Liberal Education | Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

    Private schools having charitable status is an absolute scam

    I’ve always been against private schooling. I’m glad that others, even those who went to them themselves, are also seeing how bad they are for society.

    I hate the new trend of British private schools opening branches abroad because the reason, it seems to me, is naked and unreflecting expansionism. It’s not spreading the original institution’s educational values because, as the Times investigation shows, they’re all too ready to drop those values in order to continue to trade. The desire for revenue obviously plays a part but, as the institutions don’t make profits, I don’t think personal financial rewards for the various executive headteachers or boards of governors are a huge factor. It’s less intelligent than that. It comes from an ill-considered capitalistic urge for growth, nothing more thought through than bigger is better.

    This is the same reason McDonald’s opened a branch in Soviet Moscow, but that was fine because, as far as I know, McDonald’s has never applied for charitable status. What is astonishing is how, by conducting themselves in this way, private schools seem to have given up on making a meaningful argument to retain that status themselves. They’ve just stopped caring about the views of the likes of me. Is the right wing of the Conservative party now so completely dominant that the idea of keeping the sympathy of anyone on the left or in the centre feels like a waste of time?

    Source: Expansionist private schools need a lesson in morality | David Mitchell | The Guardian

    Web3 and Ed3 are both problematic

    Web3 is being discussed as if it’s anything other than the financialisation of everything. This post about ‘Ed3’ really struggles to square that circle when it comes to education. There are so many issues with it that I don’t really know where to start.

    The bit that really jumped out for me, though, given that I’ve spent a decade working on Open Badges is the bit on credentialing. The cat is out of the bag by this point, especially in the “only paying for what you need” language. The whole point of education is that you don’t know what kind of person you’ll be at the end of it.

    Anything else is just training.

    Imagine if universities were fractionalized and you could earn the micro-credentials that mattered most for your career, only paid for what you needed, and owned a life-long portfolio with those credentials that were interoperable across all institutes & industries?

    Web3 will also enable the metaverse to take shape over the next few decades; a universe of many buildable worlds that operate on decentralized infrastructure. The metaverse will make it possible to do everything we can do in the real world but enhanced by digital experiences & possible in an entirely virtual world.

    Source: From Web3 to Ed3 - Reimagining Education in a Decentralized Worl… — Mirror

    Unless one is a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible

    Can on rotary phone. Everything is pink.

    👯‍♀️ Secrets of the VIP Party: Why the 1% Love ‘Ritualised Waste’ — "Post-pandemic, in a broader sense, you glimpsed an immediate reckoning and disgust with ostentatious displays of wealth in the context of COVID-19. We saw some instances where people would make statements like ‘we’re all in this together’, while broadcasting from their luxury yacht or private island, followed by a backlash. I think they’ve quickly learned not to do that since…"

    This is an incredible read: an interview with a former model turned sociology professor.

    💳 Germany To Let Citizens Store ID Cards On Smartphone — "The Interior Ministry said Wednesday that from this fall, citizens will be able to use the electronic ID stored in their smartphones together with a PIN number to prove they are who they claim to be when communicating with authorities or private businesses."

    It's Germany, so I'm sure they'll do this sensibly, but it's incredible to think how quickly smartphones have become an essential part of our everyday life.

    🏛️ 'A very dangerous epoch': historians try to make sense of Covid — "It is not just the Covid pandemic that can make these feel like unusually significant times. Populism, Trump’s rise and (perhaps) fall, Brexit, the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo protests, mass movement of refugees, the increased might of both China and India and many other issues have contributed to a sense of humanity having reached a historic moment, all while the climate crisis rages with ever more urgency."

    People always think they're living through unprecedented times. But in our case, we probably are.

    🚸 Why there's no such thing as lost learning — "The fact is that we – as a community of politicians, teachers and education experts – decide what any child must know, understand or be able to do at each age, not some natural law of learning. Why should a child know the structure of a cell membrane by the age of 16? I couldn’t know that information at 16 because it had not yet been fully discovered and described. But I learned it at a later stage."

    This is a useful post to point people towards, as the author does a great job of pointing out the ridiculousness of putting an arbitrary body of knowledge before the well-being of young people.

    👑 Should Elizabeth II be Elizabeth the Last? At least allow Britain a debate — "But none of [these revelations] reflect the real damage the monarchy inflicts on us. It’s not their money nor their abuse of power, but their very existence that ambushes and infantilises the public imagination, making us their subjects in mind and spirit."

    My views on privilege hardly need rehearsing here, but suffice to say that one of the main problems with our tiny island is the delusions of grandeur we have through outdated institutions such as the monarchy.

    Quotation-as-title by Anthony Hope. Image by Tyler Nix.

    Reducing exam stress by removing pointless exams

    In the UK, it used to be the case that children could leave school at 16. This was the reason for 'O' levels (which my parents took), and GCSEs, which I sat at that age.

    However, these days, young people must remain in education or training until they are 18 years old. What, then, is the point of taking exams aged 16 and 18?

    A group of Tory MPs has written a report, with one of the authors, Flick Drummond, making some good points:

    The paper argues that preparation for GCSE exams means that pupils miss a large chunk of valuable learning because of the time taken up with mock exams and revision, followed by the exams themselves. “That’s almost six months out of a whole year spent preparing for exams,” said Drummond.

    She said she was particularly concerned by the impact of exams on mental health, citing a report backed by the Children’s Society in August that ranked England 36th out of 45 countries in Europe and North America for wellbeing.

    Instead, the new report says, the exams should be replaced by a baccalaureate, which would cover several years’ study and would allow children more time from the age of 15 to settle on the subjects they wanted to study in the sixth form for A-levels or vocational qualifications such as T-levels and apprenticeships, and to explore potential careers in a structured way.

    Richard Adams, Tory MPs back ditching GCSE exams in English school system overhaul (The Guardian)

    As a parent of children who could be affected by this, I actually think this should be trialled first in the private sector and then rolled out in the state sector. Too often, the private sector benefits from treating state school pupils as guinea pigs, and then cherry-picking what works.

    Like the flight of a sparrow through a lighted hall, from darkness into darkness

    Saturday scramblings

    I've spent a lot more time on Twitter recently, where my feed seems to be equal parts anger and indignation (especially at Andrew Adonis) on the one hand, and jokes, funny anecdotes, and re-posted TikToks on the other.

    In amongst all of that, and via Other Sources™, I've also found the following, some of which I think will resonate with you. Let me know on Twitter, Mastodon, or in the comments if that's the case!

    School Work and Surveillance

    So, what happens now that we're all doing school and work from home?

    Well, for one thing, schools are going to be under even more pressure to buy surveillance software — to prevent cheating, obviously, but also to fulfill all sorts of regulations and expectations about "compliance." Are students really enrolled? Are they actually taking classes? Are they doing the work? Are they logging into the learning management system? Are they showing up to Zoom? Are they really learning anything? How are they feeling? Are they "at risk"? What are teachers doing? Are they holding class regularly? How quickly do they respond to students' messages in the learning management system?

    Audrey Watters (Hack Education)

    Good stuff, as always, by Audrey Watters, who has been warning about this stuff for a decade.

    We're knee-deep in shit and drinking cups of tea

    Of course this government are failing to deal with a pandemic. At the fag end of neoliberalism, they don’t exist to do much more than transfer public assets into private hands. What we’re living through is exactly what would happen if we’d elected a firm of bailiffs to cure polio.  That’s not to say that they won’t use this crisis, as they would any other, to advance a profoundly reactionary agenda. The austerity they’ll tell us they need to introduce to pay for this will make the last decade seem like Christmas at Elton John’s house.

    There’s an old joke about a guy going to hell. The Devil shows him round all the rooms where people are being tortured in a variety of brutal ways. Eventually, they come to a room where everybody is standing knee-deep in shit and drinking cups of tea. The guy chooses this as the place to spend eternity, and the Devil shouts “Tea break’s over lads, back on your heads!” That, I suppose, is how I feel when I hear people crowing about how the government are being forced to implement socialist policies. Pretty soon, we’ll all be back on our heads.

    Frankie Boyle (The Overtake)

    As comedy has become more political over the last decade, one of the most biting commentators has been the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle. I highly recommend following him on Twitter.

    Novel adventures: 12 video games for when you’re too restless to read

    A few keen readers have turned to essay collections, short stories or diaries, which are less demanding on the memory and attention, but video games may also offer a way back into reading during these difficult times. Here are 12 interesting puzzle and adventure games that play with words, text and narratives in innovative ways, which may well guide you back into a reading frame of mind.

    Keith Stuart (The Guardian)

    I hadn't heard of any of the games on this list (mobile/console/PC) and I think this is a great idea. Also check out the Family Video Game Database.

    Career advice for people with bad luck

    The company is not your family. Some of the people in the company are your friends in the current context. It’s like your dorm in college. Hopefully some of them will still be your friends after. But don’t stay because you’re comfortable.


    When picking a job, yes, your manager matters. But if you have an amazing manager at a shit company you’ll still have a shit time. In some ways, it’ll actually be worse. If they’re good at their job (including retaining you), they’ll keep you at a bad company for too long. And then they’ll leave, because they’re smart and competent.

    Chief of Stuff (Chief's newsletter)

    Most of this advice is focused on the tech sector, but I wanted to highlight the above, about 'friends' at work and the relative importance of having a good boss.

    Are we too busy to enjoy life?

    “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on,” supposedly said Heraclitus. Time is like a river. If you’re too busy to enjoy life—too busy to spend time with friends and family, too busy to learn how to paint or play the guitar, too busy to go on that hike, too busy to cook something nice for yourself—these moments will be gone, and you will never get that time back.

    You may think it’s too late. It’s not. Like many people, I personally experience time anxiety—the recurring thought that it’s too late to start or accomplish something new—but the reality is you probably still have many years in front of you. Defining what “time well spent” means to you and making space for these moments is one of the greatest gifts you can make to your future self.

    Anne-Laure Le Cunff (Ness Labs)

    Quality not quantity. Absolutely, and the best way to do that is to be in control of every area of your life, not beholden to someone else's clock.

    Labour HQ used Facebook ads to deceive Jeremy Corbyn during election campaign

    Labour officials ran a secret operation to deceive Jeremy Corbyn at last year’s general election, micro-targeting Facebook adverts at the leader and his closest aides to convince them the party was running the campaign they demanded.

    Campaign chiefs at Labour HQ hoodwinked their own leader because they disapproved of some of Corbyn’s left-wing messages.

    They convinced him they were following his campaign plans by spending just £5,000 on adverts solely designed to be seen by Corbyn, his aides and their favourite journalists, while pouring far more money into adverts with a different message for ordinary voters.

    Tim Shipman (The Times)

    This article by the political editor of The Times is behind a paywall. However, the above is all you need to get the gist of the story, which reminds me of a story about the CEO of AT&T, the mobile phone network.

    At a time when AT&T were known for patchy coverage, technicians mapped where the CEO frequently went (home, work, golf club, etc.) and ensured that those locations had full signal. Incredible.

    We can’t grow our way out of poverty

    Poverty isn’t natural or inevitable. It is an artifact of the very same policies that have been designed to syphon the lion’s share of global income into the pockets of the rich. Poverty is, at base, a problem of distribution.

    Jason Hickel (New Internationalist)

    There's some amazing data in this article, along with some decent suggestions on how we can make society work for the many, and not just the few. Also see this: wealth shown to scale.

    On Letting Go of Certainty in a Story That Never Ends

    Possessed of no such capacity for superior force, fairytale characters are given tasks that are often unfair verging on impossible, imposed by the more powerful—climb the glass mountain, sort the heap of mixed grain before morning, gather a feather from the tail of the firebird. They are often mastered by alliances with other overlooked and undervalued players—particularly old women (who often turn out to be possessed of supernatural powers) and small animals, the ants who sort the grain, the bees who find the princess who ate the honey, the birds who sing out warnings. Those tasks and ordeals and quests mirror the difficulty of the task of becoming faced by the young in real life and the powers that most of us have, alliance, persistence, resistance, innovation. Or the power to be kind and the power to listen—to name two powers that pertain to storytelling and to the characters these particular stories tell of.

    Rebecca Solnit (Literary Hub)

    What was it Einstein said? “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

    Private gain must no longer be allowed to elbow out the public good

    The term ‘commons’ came into widespread use, and is still studied by most college students today, thanks to an essay by a previously little-known American academic, Garrett Hardin, called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ (1968). His basic claim: common property such as public land or waterways will be spoiled if left to the use of individuals motivated by self-interest. One problem with his theory, as he later admitted himself: it was mostly wrong.

    Our real problem, instead, might be called ‘the tragedy of the private’. From dust bowls in the 1930s to the escalating climate crisis today, from online misinformation to a failing public health infrastructure, it is the insatiable private that often despoils the common goods necessary for our collective survival and prosperity. Who, in this system based on the private, holds accountable the fossil fuel industry for pushing us to the brink of extinction? What happens to the land and mountaintops and oceans forever ravaged by violent extraction for private gain? What will we do when private wealth has finally destroyed our democracy?

    Dirk Philipsen (Aeon)

    Good to see more pushback on the notion of 'the tragedy of the commons'. What we need to do is, instead of metaphorically allowing everyone to graze their own cows on the common, we need to socialise all the cows.

    Header image by Jaymantri. Gifs via Giphy.

    The old is dying and the new cannot be born

    Education for a post-pandemic future

    Welcome to the fourth instalment in this blog chain about post-pandemic society:

    1. People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character
    2. We have it in our power to begin the world over again
    3. There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it

    This time, I want to talk about education. It's been a decade since I left the classroom as a school teacher and senior leader but, just after doing so, I co-kickstarted a project called Purpos/ed: what's the purpose of education? While the original website has long since gone the way of all digital bits and bytes, it can still be accessed via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine (which may take significantly longer to load than most websites, so be patient!)

    There were some fantastic contributions to that project, each of which were 500 words long. We followed that up with image remixes, audio contributions, and even a one-day unconference at Sheffield Hallam university! All of the written contributions were compiled into a book that was published by Scholastic (I've still got a few copies if anyone wants one) and the campaign ended up being featured on the front page of the TES.

    My reason for returning to this project is that it seems that many people, especially parents and educators, are once again thinking about the purpose of education. There is even a UNESCO Commission on the Futures of Education to which you can add your voice.

    Below are some of my favourite responses to the Purpos/ed campaign, right after a video clip from Prof. Keri Facer, whose work (especially Learning Futures) served as our inspiration.


    Before the first Purpos/ed post was written, I jotted down my own off-the-cuff answer: "the purpose of education is to aid our meditation on purposes — what should we do, why and how?". I know that's a bit glib, but it adds a reflexive twist to this debate: how sophisticated and sensitive to changing context are our education systems and discourse? I worry we may be in for a rude awakening when the education squabbles of the Easy Times are shown up as an irrelevant sideshow when the Hard Times bite.

    David Jennings

    Education should not be just be about the ‘system’ or the schools, it should be about the community and drawing on the skills and knowledge that is within our local communities.  Enabling our children to learn from what has gone before to ensure that they enhance their own future. For many education provides an escape, a way out that broadens their horizons and provides them with opportunities that they did not realize existed, that can ultimately provide them with richness and most importantly happiness.

    Dawn Hallybone

    The internet provides us with rich and free spaces for expansive learning. The institutions only have left their monopoly on funding and on certification. And so capitalism has begun a new project. The first aim is to strike out at democratization of learning by privatizing education, by deepening barriers to equality and access. And the second more audacious aim is to privatize knowledge itself, to turn knowledge and learning into a commodity to be bought and sold like any other consumer good.

    Thus we find ourselves at a turning point for the future of education. The contradictions inherent in the different views of the purpose of education do not allow any simple compromise or reform minded tinkering with the system. For those that believe in education as the practice of freedom there are two challenges: to develop a societal discourse around the purpose of education and secondly to develop transformative practice, as teacher students and student teachers.

    Graham Attwell

    "Education should disrupt as much as it builds" (David White)
    CC BY-NC-SA Josie Fraser

    Education should critically ensure children, young people and adults are equipped to be unsettled, to be confronted by difference, to be changed, and to effect change. Education is a conduit to different cultures, different places, different times - to different ways of thinking about things and doing things. Education provides us with an introduction to things unimagined and unencountered. It should provide the critical challenge to examine our beliefs, interpretations and horizons, the ability to reexamining ourselves in new contexts, to develop new interests, to review the ways in which we understand ourselves and our place in the world. The purpose of education should be to expand expectations, not to confine them - to support our learners in understanding the impact they can and do have on their world. We cannot expect education built upon, and educators who model, a fixation with certainty and inflexibility to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of pressing social, economic and political change.

    Josie Fraser

    For me, the purpose of education is to become a better human being; recognising that we share a commonality with others around us and that we are bound to the ones who walked before and the ones to come. It allows us to draw on the experiences of the past and help prepare us to face the future (with all its attendant opportunities and issues). Conceived in this sense, it allows us to remove the primacy of the veneer (worker, teacher, student, friend) and reinstates these (important) roles within the context that they form part of a larger whole. Doing so would also allow us to rethink the relationship of means and ends and unlock the powerful impact this reconfiguration can have for the lives of people around us when we do treat them as they should be.

    Nick Dennis

    The desire to learn is woven into the concept of contentment and that, for me at least, is the basic purpose of any education system. Contentment can flourish into happiness, riches, recognition or any other myriad of emotional and material gain. But without a content society, with an ambition to continually discover and question the world around them throughout life, we end up with society's biggest enemies: complacency, stagnancy, apathy and ambivalence.

    Ewan mcintosh

    CC BY-NC-SA ianguest

    An educated population is probably the least governable, the most likely to rebel, the most stubborn and the most critical. But it is a population capable of the most extraordinary things, because each person strides purposefully forward, and of their own volition, together, they seek a common destiny.

    Stephen Downes

    Education, it seems, is the method by which we attempt to make the world come out the way we want it to. It is about using our power to shape and control the world to come so that it comes into line with our own hopes and dreams. In any way we move it, even towards chaos and anarchy, we are still using our power to shape and control the future.

    Dave Cormier

    It is make or break time for humanity and we have a responsibility to draw a line in the sand, admit our mistakes and create a system of education that can begin to undo the harm that we have done to the world. For all the talk over the last twenty years of the ‘global village’, it has not stopped us continuing to destroy our planet, to wage wars and to continue to ignore the inequalities in society. What is the purpose of education? Surely, it is to create unity by helping future generation to recognise the values that humanity share.

    James mIchie

    As Purpos/ed was a non-partisan campaign, Andy Stewart and I didn't give our views on the purpose of education. But perhaps, in a follow-up post, it's time to explicitly state what, for me, it's all about? I'd certainly like to read what others are thinking...

    Quotation-as-title from Antonio Gramsci. Header image via Pixabay.

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