Late last year, the US-based Roosevelt Institute asked the RSA to write a policy memo to support its Next American Economy project. This project ‘identifies the trends and challenges that will shape our economy in the next 25 years to better inform the policy decisions we must make today.’
We were asked to explore how school systems can best be designed to develop all students’ creative capacities during their school years, so that young people are better equipped to succeed in the 21st century economy. Although The RSA’s ‘Power to Create’ philosophy is predicated on a belief that creativity has intrinsic and non-economic value for individuals and communities, this memo was driven by the project’s particular rationale – the economic imperative for a more creative workforce. .
Whilst based purely on desk research, the work, helped by the Roosevelt Institute’s recommended structure of ‘situation-complication-questions-answers’ and short word limit, has helped marshall our own thinking. Although our emerging aim – to close the creativity gap in learning - widens the RSA’s lens beyond schools and young people, it’s been useful to concentrate again on the eternally important and contested role of schools.
Amanda Kanojia, head of administration, ARC
I was in Paris last weekend – a very pleasant thing to do. I’ve always had a soft spot for Paris; there is something about it that I never tire of. So it’s good to be there for the weekend. But this particular weekend was special. Last week a number of Parisians were killed for what they do and the way they do it. And Je suis Charlie now echoes along the boulevards and alleyways and streets and squares of Paris … France … the world.
Have you ever heard of Pascal Gielen?
I hadn’t before I was given one of his short books, Creativity and other Fundamentalisms.
It’s as dense as the title suggests, but I stuck with it and found a few decent gems of wisdom. Essentially he argues that society has developed an unhealthy fetish for individual entrepreneurship, which in his view encapsulates the way that work has become more ‘nomadic’ and ‘rootless’. Increasing numbers of us, Gielen agues, have been set adrift on our own rubber dinghies, while the cruise ships of the welfare state lie idle, and the yachts of the super wealthy glide by (his metaphor, not mine). Worse, we’re all complicit in this neoliberal agenda, having been convinced to sacrifice our rights in the futile pursuit of self-realisation – something Gielen calls ‘self-precarisation’.
So, not exactly light-hearted. But still worth a read if you’re interested in thought-provoking commentary on the future of work, education and business.
Here are a few of those gems I mentioned:
On professionalisation and the development of generic skills:
We should not be fooled by these loud calls for professionalisation…. The aim of all this is to deliver ‘broadly employable’ or ‘polyavent’ students, multi-purpose individuals who follow just one important imperative: that of adaptation or – indeed – anticipation… The point is by ‘tuning into’ the market, schools lose all performativity (and authority) to make their own mark and therefore no longer provide a spine to those who wish to stand up straight and undertake some daring act.
As part of RSA Investigate-Ed, a series of short investigations on key education issues, RSA Education are undertaking a research project on the role of supplementary schools. With around 3000 – 5000 in the country, supplementary schools are often volunteer led and offer educational opportunities for ethnic minority children and young people outside mainstream school provision.
Supplementary schools vary in their size, context and intention and so it is often hard to come to absolute conclusions about their specific roles. However research for the Department for Schools Children and Families (DSCF) in 2010 helpfully groups supplementary schools into three different categories (p. 27)
1. Schools that focus on improving the educational attainment of their students and who provide support in national curriculum subjects. This type is particularly dominant within Afro Caribbean communities where the rate of educational attainment has tended to be below average
2. Schools which focus on the cultural and/or language traditions of a particular community, typically common in Bangladeshi, Panjabi and Chinese supplementary schools amongst others.
3. Schools which promote educational values that are distinctly counter to those found in mainstream education. For example, the home schooling movement where parents might elect to educate their child out of the mainstream completely
Public Health England have published the latest statistics for HIV infection in the UK. The figures show that 110,000 people are infected with the virus. Worryingly, there has also been an increase in the number of gay men diagnosed in recent years, with 3,250 newly diagnosed in 2013. In London, the proportion of gay and bisexual men living with HIV is 13% of the HIV population. Read more
London’s population is about to reach a record high of over 8.615 million. Resident number 8.615.001 will compete with us for an appointment at our local surgery, a place in a good school, a seat on the Tube and a property on an already pressured market. With a growth rate of around 100,000 new Londoners per year, the media and policy makers alike are right to point out the pressure on the NHS, schools, the housing market and the transport system. Pointing out these issues is justified, a debate is needed. After all, it affects all of us in one way or another.
Yet, the debate about an increase in population due to an increasing birth rate and immigration often misses one point: resident number 8.615.001 is seen as someone making demands, not as someone offering a contribution. Read more
It looks increasingly likely that the leadership we have come to expect from Europe in launching our fledgling circular economy is being scuppered by the new masters of Brussels and a contingent of business lobbyists. Just before Christmas, President Jean-Claude Juncker and his deputy Frans Timmermans decided what would be in and what would be out of the Commission’s Work Programme for 2015. And the circular economy, they decided, is out.
Last summer, a whole package of circular economy measures were announced by outgoing Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik. These included phasing out landfill, increasing household recycling to 70% by 2030 and streamlining a raft of legal requirements, definitions and targets. The measures were welcomed at the time by cities, green groups and some businesses – though several in the zero waste and circular economy communities also warned that they didn’t go far enough, and focused too much on ‘end of pipe’ rather than systemic or design-based solutions.
Now, however, it seems that the entire circular economy package has bitten the dust along with the outgoing Commissioners. In November, business lobbying group BusinessEurope (represented in Britain by the CBI) sent a paper to new Vice-President Timmermans arguing that, along with proposals for a financial transaction tax, increased maternity leave, gender balance on boards and stricter regulation of air pollution, the proposed legislation should be withdrawn. On 16th December BusinessEurope, arbiter of growth and guardian of the free market, got their way, and the package was resigned to the dustbin of history. Read more
The political debate about the extreme pressure the NHS is currently under is barely serious. In reality, there is little real difference between the parties on NHS funding and some marginal differences on structure and regulation. Don’t get me wrong, the Conservatives have made mistakes not least in an ill-advised top-down reorganisation through legislation – one which they had counselled themselves against. But rather than seeking an honest debate about a service under extreme pressure, Labour chooses to play politics in the main. This election has already assumed a depressing pattern.
Something more fundamental is at the root of the current situation. We are witnessing a systemic failure to cope with rising demand. This means there are two parts to the equation – the system and demand. Spraying more cash at the problem, in the face of extreme capacity constraints, will do little at this stage. There is very little spare capacity- ie people and facilities – in reality. Instead, there is simply a system with so many perversities, skewed incentives, inefficiencies that it may seem difficult to know where to begin.
Wherever one would start, it would not be with a politicised debate. There is broad consensus about NHS funding between all the parties but some marginal differences in analysis of reform. This would appear to be an issue where there is scope for broad cross-party consensus on finding solutions to long-term problems. Don’t hold your breath.
Spiritualise: Revitalising spirituality to address 21st century challenges deals with a weighty subject and the overall process of producing the report involved about 300 people over two years, so it’s not surprising the final report is relatively long – about 40,000 words over 92 pages; it’s half a book really. (Now there’s a thought…)
You can of course skim and dip, but if you want the full picture and the whole thing seems daunting, there is a 4000 word summary in the form of speech transcript here, and the video recording of the actual speech is here (4.30-23.20).
If even that is too much, I wrote a 1000 word summary here.
And if that’s still asking too much, I can only really offer bait in the hope of luring you in. So here are some of my favourite quotations from the report. I’ve given the page numbers so you can pursue them in context:
1. “We all see our lives, and/or the space wherein we live our lives, as having a certain moral/spiritual shape. Somewhere, in some activity, or condition, lies a fullness, a richness; that is, in that place (activity or condition), life is fuller, richer, deeper, more worthwhile, more admirable, more what it should be. This is perhaps a place of power: we often experience this as deeply moving or inspiring.”
- Taylor, C. (2007) A Secular Age, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press p.5.
2. “I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do…I miss civilisation, and I want it back.”
- Marilynne Robinson (Quoted in London Review of Books, 23 October 2014 p20) See: www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n20/
3. “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.”
- Barnes, J. (2008) Nothing To Be Frightened Of. London: Jonathan Cape.
4. “Many atheists now consider ‘spiritual’ thoroughly poisoned by its association with medieval superstition (but) we must reclaim good words and put them to good use – and this is what I intend to do with ‘spiritual.’…There seems to be no other term (apart from the even more problematic ‘mystical’ or the more restrictive ‘contemplative’) with which to discuss the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness.”
Harris, S (2012) In Defence of ‘Spiritual’. Online: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/a-plea-for-spirituality
5. “I’m not only agnostic about the answer, I’m agnostic about the question.”
Jonathan Safran Foer responding to: ‘Do you believe in God?’, Radio4, Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01cjm4c
6. “The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”
- Haidt, J. (2012) The Righteous Mind. London: Penguin Books. p.281.
7. “I don’t think any one of us can begin to discover again what religion might mean unless we are prepared to expose ourselves to new ways of being in our bodies.”
- Williams, R. (2014) The Physicality of Prayer. New Statesman, 8 July, [Online] Available at: www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/07/after-god-how-fill-faith-shaped-holemodern-life
8. “Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself – and there isn’t one.”
- Wei Wu Wei. (1963) Ask The Awakened. Routledge-Kegan Paul Ltd.
9. “In theory, freedom may be held in high regard; in practice it is experienced as a dizzying loss of meaning and direction.”
Batchelor, S. (1997) Buddhism without Beliefs. Riverhead Books. p110.
10. ‘We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking’.
Rohr, R. (1999). Everything belongs. Crossroad Publishing Company.
11. (Religion should not be seen as inherently divisive, but could also be seen and experienced as) “a secure base from which to explore, not a fence beyond which lies infidels.” – Elizabeth Oldfield (at first RSA workshop)
12. “The word spiritual has a history, and that history has a politics.”
- Matthew Engelke at first workshop.
13. “In truth, the crossing from nature to culture and vice versa has always stood wide open. It leads across an easily accessible bridge: the practising life.”
-Sloterdijk, P. (2013) You Must Change your Life. Cambridge: Polity Press. P.11
14. “‘God is Love’ became ‘love is God’.”
- May, S. (2011) Love: A History. London: Yale University Press.
15. “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic…It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.”
- Martin Luther King, Sourced from Kahane, A. (2010). Power and love: A theory and practice of social
change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
16. “…There’s no cheating death here; the meditator learns to stare down the vertiginous fact of her own mortality, unflinchingly and intentionally. And it’s in so doing that religious principles move from propositional beliefs into experiential reality…” – Joanna Cook (speaking at the RSA)
17. “I face up to death but then I flip back into denial. Surely that’s what it’s like? I lie in bed in the small hours of the morning, absolutely terrified by the apprehension of my own dissolution…And then I go to sleep and wake up in the morning and make toast.”
- Will Self (speaking at the RSA)
18.“We are all engaged in a futile struggle to maintain ourselves in our own image.”
- Epstein, M. (2004) Thoughts without a thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist perspective. Basic Books. p.44.
19. “We can say that there is in every organism, at whatever level, an underlying flow of movement toward constructive fulfilment of its inherent possibilities”.
- Rogers, C. (1995). A way of being. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
20. “We have had two centuries of a civilisation of unparalleled material progress, abundance and development based on extrinsic values (self-interest, materialism, economic growth, keeping up, social mobility); intrinsic ‘beyond-self’ and religious values have periodically been reasserted but they have lost their institutional hold and centrality to the stories that make sense of our lives. The extrinsic values celebrated by industrial society are now under real pressure in the West as scarcities begin to return and confidence in the future wanes, for good reasons of ecological disruption, social fragmentation and economic dysfunction and inequality.”
-Ian Christie (email communication)
So the election campaign has started. It’s all about fundamental choices, roads ahead, supposed disaster for the economy if one side wins, supposed disaster for the NHS if the other side wins. This will get apocalyptic fairly soon. In truth, there is more of a choice in this election than there has been for a while. There’s no excuse for not voting: there’s a good range of options. This is not a cluttered centre ground election. Even so, the election debate will be quite parochial. There is a bigger set of challenges that are already impacting us enormously. Global power is shifting and it has enormous consequences: we are just largely ignoring them.
Back in September Francis Fukuyama spoke at the RSA in an event chaired by Martin Wolf. It was to showcase his monumental new work Political order and political decay. Martin Wolf has his own new work out: The shifts and the shocks. They are both to be wholeheartedly recommended. Taken together, these works reveal the absence of enormous geo-political change within our domestic political debate.