Place as a cure for envy: How could anyone not want everyone to have it?

I’m from a working class background and I attended, like most people of my age, the nearest schools to where I lived.

The infant school, juniors and seniors were situated on the same area of land and were all of similar building and equipment standards.

For us schools were just schools and there was no way for us to compare ourselves with others.

The children who did have some ability to make comparison took part in sports and activities that would take them to other schools in the region.

That wasn’t me but I was reasonably aware that we really did have the basics.

What it lacked in investment and educational resources it more than made up for with a combination of highly sociable and semi-ordered laxness.

It helped instil in me a lack of discipline and respect for authority which I can proudly say has stuck with me for all my years.

Teachers were striking. Nobody turned up for detention.

A school ‘no uniform’ day resulted in an act of mass disobedience.

Our mutiny held it’s ground and no uniforms were required ever again.

80’s fashion, music and sub-cultures were victorious.

The kids were and will always be alright.

This being the moral, the story and the soundtrack of the 80’s.

It’s a long way from where we find ourselves today.

I actually don’t think I’d cope in a modern school.

I think I would most probably break down or become ill.

I think children deserve to be children and not utilised as competitive data in the global education rankings and damned be those who think otherwise.

A childhood is for growing into the world.

It’s not for marching to someone else’s drum.

Several years ago and I’m sitting it the office of an educational charity and upon the desk there is a brochure for a school.

By this time schools have become highly competitive environments.

Academisation has taken place and the schools themselves are being run like businesses.

This school was like no school like I’d ever known.

The brochure was a real piece of marketing excellence. That in itself could have cost upwards of £20,000 to produce. Could you imagine spending that? On a brochure about the school and not the school itself or the children? It makes you think how much gets thrown about while other schools ask forced to ask parents to provide paper and pens and other basics.

Still. This wasn’t any ordinary school.

I’ve never been ‘anywhere’ that posh.

If I did I feel that they’d detect my background and class and react like inflammation around a splinter. Like Neo in the Matrix, my presence would be detected as alien — teachers and children would start to gather and point. They’d ask me questions I wouldn’t understand about a language I do from a test written by someone I never will (this being the Education Minister at the time — Michael Gove).

The brochure stirred up feelings within me of disbelief, anger and envy.

I was fully aware of the sorry trajectory our educational system had taken and the effect it had on kids. I knew of the underinvestment. The impoverishment of the curriculum. The teachers leaving the profession. The pursuit of rankings in pursuit of parents and the ‘right kind’ of pupils. The high levels of expulsions of the ‘wrong kind’ of pupils.

This though, this was a school where you could be who you wanted to be.

Where you could study and apply yourself to what you liked and enjoyed.

Everything there was simply the best that money could buy.

The music rooms. The art studios. The sports facilities. The science labs. It was all state of the art.

The buildings and grounds were from a fairy tale.

It was beautiful, natural and otherworldly.

My initial feelings receded and I began to see the other side of the story.

How could anyone not want their child to have that?

Which was exactly the point being made by the vastly expensive and obviously bloody effective brochure in my hand.

This point made; how could anyone not want everyone to have it?

Lifelong Learning, Education as Business, the Economics of Capitalist Growth

If you’ve followed the trends leaving education gets later and later.

First it was 16 (1972). Then 18. Then it’s college. Then university. Then more university.

Then it’s off to work and no matter your chosen job or career, more learning, development and education will be a part of your life.

It’s terrifying really.

It’s an institution we inherited vs designed and now something ill-fitting that we may never seemingly escape from again.

Some of this is occurring because of policy and economics.

It is also due to the increasing levels of knowledge that is being generated worldwide and the rapid adoption of technologies and practices which are taking place in the workplace.

If you are expected to work 40+ hours a week.

If you’re pedalling as fast as you can to keep up.

Then there comes a point where something somewhere is going to give way.

This applies whether you’re an individual, a business or an organisation.

It is increasingly difficult to keep up already and it will become practically impossible to do so as we move forward.

How do you keep up with ever accelerating and exponential?

Think about it.

That’s a problem we’re going to have to solve somehow.

That’s what you might think…

But for our economic system, it isn’t a problem. Because education has been converted into a business sector; remaining in education, going to university, and remaining in training for the rest of your life is ultimately an economic success.

To someone somewhere or some bean counting machine.

For some reason I don’t feel that it’s the most humane or intelligent use of our time on earth.

It all sounds like bloody hard work to me.

It’s a problem.

To be noted… businesses can increase their profit by giving you or someone else less.

The measures taken by schools, colleges and universities due to Covid will become accepted as normal practice. This includes remote homework (there really will be no escape) and online educational resources and courses.

Reduction in staffing ratios? Lowering of terms and conditions?

This one’s a perennial problem for our society.

It’s about profit seeking and capitalism but it’s always presented as some kind of forced and unavoidable necessity.

I’m an anti-capitalist by the way.

Who’d have thunk it.

What I’m saying here is that the education system and people’s experience of it will be qualitatively altered in some way.

I think it will in all likelihood shift into a lower frame of expectation.

Future generations will lose out.

On the bright side.

It means there will be more money for brochures and marketing.

Place & Society

Place is where you are. You know what else is there? Different problems.

I’m not going to elaborate here. If you read my other writings, you’ll get the drift quickly enough.

Loneliness. Disability discrimination. Racism.

Underinvestment in the public realm. Lack of maintenance and care.

Abandoned high streets.

You get the idea?

But you look back at the photos and videos of times gone by and things look very different.

My nearby park in days gone by was the place to be seen. Beautifully maintained rose and flower gardens. Ornate fountains and features.

It was incredible.

It looked so good it could have appeared in that school brochure.

To this point I will return again.

Ill-fitting but well understood

Today’s world and its economic system were built for a bygone era.

Our education system and the way we learn and train is also built for another time and a different set of social and economic problems.

The world today is hyper-connected and accelerating in every direction.

We need to get far smarter in how we do things.

Everything about how we lived our lives to the systems we choose support us are up for reimagining and renegotiation.

I have written before about how networks, more deeply understood, allow us to circumvent our current systemic issues and logical limitations and address the problems we face today.

The way we worked, the systems we designed, and the organisations and institutions that supported us in doing so were all built to operate in a highly centralised and linear manner.

Networks when used to ‘reinvent not reproduce’ are able to replace the underlying logic that our world has been built upon.

Before it was straight lines, cause and effect and transactions.

Networks enable you to create ecosystems and these operate entirely differently.

Think of a garden.

A bee flies to a flower and what happens between them isn’t a transaction. Now that is not to say that there is not an exchange of some kind but something different is taking place. It is better understood as a relationship or a mutuality.

The flower receives something which contributes towards its life.

The bee receives something which contributes towards its life.

There is no harmful work ethic, wasteful advertising budget, or neurosis based aspirational desire going on.

They look like they’re enjoying themselves.

It’s definitely far healthier and much more fun than the rat race existence we’ve been told ‘There Is No Alternative’ to.

If we’re smart. If we work together and think things through we can move closer to the ideal presented to us in the natural world.

Putting Learning into Place

So when we look at Place and we look at Society and at our Problems and at our Needs.

With networks it becomes possible to connect them all together into a type of ecosystem which moves us away from the concepts of transactions, costs and narrow economic interests.

We can begin to consider things instead from multiple and overlapping perspectives. A garden after all is much more than a bee and a flower — all of it in its entirety is in relationship with every other part in some way.

Embedding education, learning, development and training into place is something we can do as part of an ecosystem based approach.

If we did this we might be able to tackle the social problems of today as well as the needs of place. Not only that but we would be building and prefiguring an alternative education system and potentially a new form of social compact.

Yesterday’s systems and logic cannot solve tomorrow’s challenges.

We have to try something else.

My belief is that it can be done in such a way that individuals, communities, civil society, businesses and that state are all able to work together and learn and develop at the same time as realising actual real-world benefits.

Throughout history, education and learning were never separate from real world problems and application. Humanity learnt through interest, necessity, experience, doing and practice.

We developed minds and built civilisations by getting on with it.

The education and learning we see around ourselves today is a legacy of industrialisation, Victorian thinking, and outdated need.

It’s defunct, wasteful and harmful.

A Civic Curriculum

To make it easy for you lets take a couple of problems.

Say the lack of civic engagement and 21st century skills.

To address these we could create, for want of a better term - a Civic Curriculum (I’m not suggesting anything as narrow or limiting it’s just a useful word to carry an idea — civic platform?).

What this would facilitate is the development of the necessary skills at the same time as supporting the needs of the local civic organisations and communities.

Does this make sense? You put it all together as an ecosystem.

This isn’t just applicable to individuals.

If there is a need for organisations and businesses to; become more innovative, have a better understanding of mental health and inclusivity, experiment with new ways of working and organisation, develop their workforce or transfer skills.

You are able to connect their internal needs to the local context.

You just need to be able to bring the rights elements together.

A platform which connects these elements together can enable this to happen.

You create the ability for mass participation at the civic level, create the right incentives and then move all the bits into easy reach of everyone.

By doing so you create the possibility of developing place at the same time as developing everything else.

You also create the cross-sector connectivity and participation which enables this to come into being at the society and civilizational level…

Image Source: https://medium.com/disruptive-design/tools-for-systems-thinkers-the-6-fundamental-concepts-of-systems-thinking-379cdac3dc6a

Investing in place because it invests in you

Which brings me quite arduously to the conclusion.

That school. The envy and joy of all.

It isn’t supported only by money.

It is supported by parents who pay but also parents who contribute through additional means whether these are contacts, fundraising, interest or time.

It is supported by ex-pupils who appreciate what they received and want to give back, to the school as well as to the next generation.

It is supported by businesses who through some association or relationship know that through any contribution they make young lives will be transformed.

Those things just ain’t gonna happen in a way that dramatically achieves results at your local comprehensive no matter what name you give to it.

But embed learning, education and training into place and it’s a different story.

Create reasons for communities, civil society, the state and businesses to work together and also make use of local facilities such as the Town Hall, Community Buildings, Parks, Libraries and even Schools and you create the reasons for everyone to invest in them.

There’s something in Place for everyone and the feeling is mutual.

It’s mutual because once the potential and relationship is there, it’s always able to give something back in return.

How could anyone not want everyone to have it?

So that question which stuck in my mind all those years ago.

I think somewhere in all this is an answer to how we;

  1. Give that experience of having state of the art facilities to everyone
  2. Help the places we live become the best, most beautiful, highly inclusive and accessible spaces that they can be
  3. Address some of our most pressing social, economic and environmental problems
  4. Replace our out-of-date systems, institutions and ideas

It’s different to how we did things before.

Want to develop people? Then develop place in a way which enables this.

Want to develop place, economy, resilience, or the environment…? Then do it in a way which develops people, businesses and organisations.

Want to reimagine how you do Lifelong Learning? Do it in a way which is fun, fulfilling and doesn’t remind anyone being back at school.

Want to change the education system? Occupy new territory and build something that makes the old system obsolete.

When you bring it all together into an ecosystem of mutuality — investing in any part of it is an investment in everything else.

Take a leaf out of natures book.

Just do your bit and…

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Founder of Socially Enterprising / Commoner / Mostly Unemployed.

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Wes Hinckes

Founder of Socially Enterprising / Commoner / Mostly Unemployed.