Who's to judge...?

Oriel College Oxford

Thirty years ago this summer I graduated from Oriel College with my degree in Modern History (which incidentally started in 410AD). Time flies; in every sense!

It is therefore with some embarrassment that, as a student of History, I now openly admit that the intimacy of my College's association with Cecil Rhodes passed me by at the time. The lame excuse that I offer here is that it was enough for a fresh-faced nineteen-year-old to cope with the culture shock of transitioning from a 'normal', local mixed comprehensive school to the somewhat rarified atmosphere of a College which remained, at the time, a bastion of many public school traditions. Times change. Institutions - and people - move on. Je ne regrette rien. I was - am - proud and privileged to have studied there. I learned a lot.

So it was with great interest that I noticed the recent debate embroiling the College's now infamous statute of Rhodes used as an introduction to the following BBC online magazine article on 'Will future generations condemn us?'...


I'm sure you'll agree it's at once a wide ranging, thought-provoking and challenging piece, posing all sorts of questions around whether values and morality are timeless and universal or ephemeral and transitory, with behaviours only explicable in their specific temporal and cultural contexts.  For all the History teachers out there, that was always the challenge of developing the skill of 'Empathy': understanding the actions of others in the past without passing judgement from the perspective of the present. I guess you'll empathise!

I'm particularly interested here in reflecting on the contention, mid-way through the article, that...

'The next moral outrage the future may condemn is cruelty to children in schooling'.

I don't think I'd go quite that far. Yet. And I certainly hope that any parent or student readers don't currently feel it! However, the underlying dissonance it refers to does at least at one level resonate with what I think I was trying to say back in my blog in September, written in relation to our appearance on BBC Panorama about the future of learning in the digital age...

BBC Panorama
BBC Panorama


My key - only? - point was...

The Second Machine Age, the digital age - our age - whilst not removing altogether.. older skills now reaquires a whole set of new ones and a growth mindset as we learn to interact creatively with new and rapidly changing technology... Creativity in learning - and the flexible skills that students develop as a result - are not tested by a rigid exam system, more suited to the first machine age (the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century) than the second.

It's a system based on testing the 3Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic - in silence, with students sat at desks four feet away from each other with no access to any form of technology other than a biro. Of course these skills are still vitally important as enablers, but in a new context. What, too, of the three Cs: Creativity, Communication and (working as a part of a) Community? For me, in the Second Machine Age, it's these skills that will determine our - and our young people's - ability.. 'to learn to race with the machines'.

It's the importance of creating a dynamic and stimulating learning environment, directly relevant to the current and ever-changing needs of young people, that also makes me such an advocate of our Active Movement pilot. QR codes to encourage walking! Quite literally, you can never afford to stand still...

Active Movement QR Code

And it's why I so love my job!

I think it's time to move on... And let the future judge the veracity of this week's offering...