Sir Ken Robinson’s award-winning work on creativity in education makes him a natural advocate for our movement. His belief that outdoor play and its benefits are “vital for education” and “vital for our families” resonates with our belief that playful children grow into great people. –
“Dirt is Good”
Pashi Sahlberg writes:
When I look around the world, I see competition, choice, and measuring of students and teachers as the main means to improve education.
This market-based global movement he calls ‘GERM’: the global education reform movement. Yet Sahlberg seems to overlook how the market is involving itself in subtle and not so subtle ways in education. When he says that:
Better education for all our children is not going to be a result of… managing education system (sic) like businesses. What we need now instead is to have schools where curiosity, engagement and talent can be truly discovered and nurtured…
he doesn’t realise that business is already ahead of the curve, his ‘progressive’ agenda is theirs. It is not just education systems that are being managed like businesses, it is the art of education itself and it is the philosophy of ‘progress’ that is, arguably, the main driver for this. Ford Motor Company is imploring us to ‘Unlearn’. Lego want to ‘open our minds’ to “critical knowledge on play, creativity and learning.” Sky want us to believe in the ‘power of TV’. Persil prefers the narrative of ‘Dirt is Good’. As David Arkwright (founding partner of global brand-development agency MEAT and the former global brand director for Unilever’s laundry business, author of The Making of Dirt is Good.) puts it: “Great brands and brand stories play to a deep desire or resolve a deep tension.”
We located this tension as the counterpointing of disciplinarian parenting versus the universal aspiration for a more libertarian parenting style in the spirit of transgenerational progress. Everyone seeks to feel they are somehow more progressive than the preceding generation. We had found our great point of resolution. The story would start to unfold.
It is no accident that Persil has brought in Sir Ken Robinson, to chair the brand’s Dirt is Good Child Development Advisory Board with Dr Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play to “investigate methods of play that best help children learn and develop.” Here Sir Ken is telling the TES that: “I think it’s important that we look again at the importance of play-based learning – there’s a long history of research to show that play is not a waste of time, it is not time that is badly spent. Play, among human beings, has very important social benefits.”
The article reports that:
The report Play in Balance, commissioned by Persil, polled 12,000 parents worldwide. In the UK, 75 per cent of parents said their child preferred to play virtual sports games on a screen rather than real sports outside.
Over at the Sky Academy they: ‘believe in potential’, they want to use ‘the power of TV, creativity and sport, to build skills and experience to unlock potential in young people’.
Over at Microsoft they are launching an education edition of Minecraft According to Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice-president of worldwide education: “Teachers are using Minecraft to do so many things, including teaching maths, science, religion and poetry…”
Might Salcito want our kids to stay inside whilst Robinson wants them outside? Lego want you to play with real bricks instead of virtual ones, Sky want you to watch TV… and Ford really want you to play with cars…
Ford want us to try “parking what we know and take a fresh look at familiar and finding new ways to make progress… open minds… because when we ‘unlearn’ we let go of what we know and that’s when we go further” you can see the ad, sorry, manifesto here. They say that: “This progressive thinking is reflected…” in their latest vehicle line up, meanwhile Fauja Singh runs through Greenwich Park ‘unlearning’ what it is to be an OAP.
As David Arkwright might put it a story is starting to unfold, it is the story of global brands tapping into the progressive education discourse and using it, emotionally, to firstly sell product and secondly to campaign for libertarian parenting and play based learning by letting go of what we know, opening our minds to creativity, playing outside and not on computers, or playing inside on computers or with bricks (though you could do this outside, it won’t involve kids getting dirty enough for Persil’s needs) or driving cars, when you leave school. And Ford isn’t boring any more.
I remember the Daz adverts with Danny Baker, we now have Ken Robinson metaphorically knocking on our doors and opening our minds to play Persil based whiter than white wash.
Maybe all this is an example of what is called ‘Shared Value‘, originally launched by the Clinton Global Initiative, they say: “Business is at its best when it helps people and profits, this is shared value, for example if a business provides medicine and health care education to rural areas without access it creates both healthy communities and a healthy customer base…”
Global companies helping our children, the healthy customer base for the future… This is progress.
In his book ‘More Human,’ David Cameron’s one time guru, Steve Hilton, writes that: “Media companies like News Corporation, Pearson, Disney, McGraw-Hill and Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt (some of which already own school textbook publishers) are pushing into education technology systems as a new sales and marketing strategy: a way to get as many eyeballs as possible on their products.” For Hilton this influx will be supporting the factory school model and the ‘depressing bureaucracy’. He cites a Pearson report ‘Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment’ in which it says:
Without such a systematic, data-driven approach to instruction, teaching remains an imprecise and somewhat idiosyncratic process that is too dependent on the personal intuition and competence of individual teachers.
Hilton goes on to say that this is an approach which sees tests as the solution and teachers as the problem. His solution is to offer more choice in the school system, human scaled schools breaking the monopoly of local bureaucracies. His libertarian view is one I have a lot of sympathy for but I don’t think Governments will let go of testing regimes easily, in fact the data will provide a compelling narrative for competing ‘shared-value’ companies and systems. Whether it is the narrative of play based learning or, what Hilton and, interestingly, Ken Robinson call the ‘factory school’ it seems that global big businesses from Lego to Pearson from Persil to News Corp feel there is a worthwhile narrative in education to sweep us all into the arms of their ‘products’.
Are all those on the left who extol the work of Ken Robinson happy with him cavorting with Unilever? Dirt is Good…
Peter Hitchens, writing in the Daily Mail, has begun to mourn (as a Conservative should) for the old days: “I do begin to feel I was fooled into thinking that what was coming next would be any better. At this rate it may soon be much, much worse…” and that he: “…fell for the great Thatcher-Reagan promise….I believed all that stuff about privatisation and free trade and the unrestrained market.”
How many articles will be written in the next thirty years bemoaning how we gave up our education system to the ‘shared-value’ market?
If we put all the above together what might the system look like? At one level it will be centralised and at another it will be choice driven. It will dispense with teachers because they are too idiosyncratic. It will become more standardised, computer play will be one way through as will play based learning at earlier ages. There will be online personalised routes, ones that will either look like minecraft or are textbook-lite; algorithms will point the child in the direction to go: where and when. There will be outside time when children will get dirty, and indoor time with bricks. They will be ‘unlearning’ and letting go of the past, whilst looking to ‘create’. There will be a plethora of online standardised tests run by Pearson et al which will allow data comparison across borders, and this will be realtime data, broken down into age, gender, geography, poverty etc. Some of this will be home learning through computers and/or in institutions policed by ‘teachers’. Films, TV shows and other products will be used to excite and deliver narrative to children as will games, robots and virtual reality.
One thing is clear, the institution that we currently know as ‘the school’ will, if all this comes to pass, be ‘progressive’ – the emotional tales of free children running, jumping, smiling, (at least in virtual reality) responding to progressive laissez faire parenting, whilst Government outsource centralised testing and learning modules to global companies. The unrestrained ‘shared-value’ market.
The ‘traditional’ model is quite tame in comparison. Institutionally based, with teachers at the centre, teaching children in their ‘idiosyncratic’ and flawed ways.
How old-fashioned, how unprogressive…