Another Education is Possible

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A recent conference discusses alternative ways of learning.

Part of the collateral damage from two Blair governments has been the inversion of commonsense terms to mean their opposite. 'Invasion' of another country becomes 'liberation'. 'Choice' in public services means no such thing when it comes to how schools organise themselves. 'Literacy' becomes a deadening chore.

The straitjacket of the National Curriculum has students trying to break free in all sorts of inarticulate ways classified as bad behaviour, as we educators tick-box and number-crunch our way to a more distant retirement.

The 'Rethinking Education in the Era of Globalisation' conference held last month had already been jointly called by Ealing NUT and Islington College Natfhe, as a result of discussions coming out of education meetings at the European Social Forum last October in London. An inspirational element had been the contributions of Bob Peterson and Stan Karp from the Rethinking Schools collective based in Milwaukee, US. Their hallmark is a sharply analytical commitment to global social justice fused with classroom strategies that work with real students in real schools.

Some 230 educators from all sectors gathered to hear 20 speakers and workshop leaders suggest what has been going wrong and what we can do about it. NUT president Mary Compton kicked off with a brilliant report of what she has learned from travelling this year. Student Zoe Pilger moved listeners with her plea for greater rights as learners.

Morning workshops analysed the business model of educational provision, testing, myths of intelligence, disability rights, pre-school provision, the Tomlinson report, the poverty of teacher education and the latest research on African Caribbean achievement.

The afternoon started with Melissa Benn calling for a campaign to defend comprehensive education. Lindsey German described how children the world over have been caught up in wars. Jackie Simpkins urged everyone to get involved with Make Poverty History.

The following workshops included author Alan Gibbons showing how primary literacy can be fun, examples of anti-war English and pro-refugee projects, challenging the primary curriculum, and a survey of schools organised differently from ours. The day concluded with a report from teachers fighting huge attacks on their work in Italy, and a discussion of where to go next.

A steering committee was drawn up, with ideas to produce on-line and/or print-based materials for classrooms, and a meeting in May. Perhaps the key idea though was for schools and colleges everywhere to plan a Make Poverty History day or week before the G8 summit starts in Scotland on 2 July. We can all do this from nursery to university.

The words 'inspiring' and 'a breath of fresh air' were heard at the day's end. While pay, pensions and pupil behaviour might grab most of our attention, we really do need to reclaim the freedom and self-respect as teachers that Thatcher started to deny and Blair has entrenched. We need to prove that real 'choice' in education starts with empowering the educators and learners to determine their own agendas, rather than, as with the Five Year Strategy and 14-19 White Paper, organising us to serve the CBI and the Daily Mail.