Category Archives: comment

The fountain of character

A very useful contribution to the debate around character and values.  Many of the points resonate strongly with evidence emerging from our own work, and in particular around providing the space and opportunity for young people to critically engage with a wide range of values, to process these through experiential and meaningful learning and to filter, refine these to inform and shape their own character.  With regards the key question as to whether character can be taught, I find myself reminded of the phrase ‘character can not be taught, only caught’

If this is so then as is pointed out in this piece, the role of the educator is vital.  Whether they are consciously trying to impart character or not – they are.  This is why we have focus so much on ensuring educators are given the time and space to explore values  – their own, how they work, how they play out in schools and learning etc – for their own professional benefit ahead of pursuing poorly through through government mandates on values and character.  This is important stuff, but is in danger of going the way of other important stuff and being overly regimented into ill-conceived and poorly understood tick boxes.

It is great to know others are asking important critical questions about this.

The fountain of character.

via The fountain of character.

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A caricature of character education? Morgan needs a broader vision

Another contribution to the wider narrative – including some very useful comments. Let’s keep the discussion alive.

IOE LONDON BLOG

John White

The Department for Education has just invited schools and other bodies to bid for money to support projects in character education. Since her appointment last July, Nicky Morgan has shown an especial interest in this area. In a recent talk at Birmingham University, she spoke of “ensuring that young people not only grow academically, but also build character, resilience and grit”.

She went on: “We want to ensure that young people leave school with the perseverance to strive to win…. We want pupils to revel in the achievement of victory, but honour the principles of fair play, to win with grace and to learn the lessons of defeat with acceptance and humility.” These values are reflected in the bidding invitation. Pride of place is given to perseverance, resilience, grit, confidence,

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Character Education is a Waste of Time

Some very useful contributions here to help those concerned about the growing move for the explicit teaching of character. The focus on humanity, experiential learning and the opportunities (time and space) that may exist with the current lifeworlds of the individuals and the school to explore, question, build and reflect on values underpinning character is most welcome and very much in tune with the approach we take through the http://www.learningthroughvalues.org project. All of our experience suggests that the imposition of values (or character) is a non-starter. This is about deep personal identity and being. There is a level of neglect in the way this is being approached by those with power in education at the moment and this is where I feel we get to the elephant in the room – power and the need and desire to control.
Society needs to be challenged and remodeled to reflect the changing realities of our liquid modernity – holding onto a past that has caused so many issues is misguided and short sighted and the imposition of those character traits that underpinned this is simply nonsense – unless of course you are one of the (increasingly) few who benefit from this.
We need an honest debate around these issues and not a short term election response from a dept that does not even know what values are and seemingly from the current funding process, even know what the school year is. Where is the sense in a grant to work with schools running April 2015 – April 2016 – which school year does that fit with? Nonsense.

Speak up, share other voices, create a broader narrative, join in.

Trivium21c

One Man In His Time Plays Many Parts

Today I had the honour to debate the following at the Policy Exchange Think Tank in London: ‘Is Character Education a Waste of Time?’ This was further explained by the Chair, Jonathan Simons in this way: “The issue is… can we teach it [character] in the formal way, in the same way as we teach other subjects…?” (You can hear the debate on the audio link below)

This was my contribution:

I never thought I’d be sharing a platform with Toby Young let alone debating a motion where I am on the same side as him. Toby is an extraordinary character as is Anthony Seldon and James O’Shaughnessy, extraordinary characters all. I feel a bit of fraud, a walk on part, sharing the stage with these lead players in our national narrative.

I must admit to something, paradoxically, my day job is…

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New Minister, Same Misunderstanding

I’m not sure what I expected when the new Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, took on the role from Michael Gove. Her arrival came shortly after Gove had responded to the Trojan Horse affair, by among other things, proclaiming that schools should actively promote “British Values”.

There was a wave of comment and a flurry of activity in response to this, but then Gove departed and all went very quiet again.  Elements of that earlier commentary can be found elsewhere on this blog, with links out to various pieces at the time. Then came Nicky Morgan’s appearance in front of the Commons Education Committee this week and we got our first signs of the likely direction that values would take under the new minister.

The short version of the response is in the title to this blog entry. Nothing has changed. I was not in the hearing and so only have the filtered news reports to reflect on what was said, but in those there is enough to go with. It was a mixed bag for sure. One aspect that I liked was the idea of values being ‘woven’ into the curriculum. This is something we have been working with in our http://www.learningthroughvalues.org project. It is an approach that is mindful of the pressures already on schools and more particularly on busy teachers and school leaders. They have welcomed it, talking not of additional pressures, but of new and exciting ways of doing what they have always done, but with greater purpose and higher motivation and engagement from the pupils. The support for weaving values then seems positive.

Where it becomes more concerning is in what Nicky Morgan might have us weave and why. What is particularly interesting is the introduction of the word ‘fundamental’ such that ‘schools must not be shy about talking about fundamental British values’. This as a response to a concern that fundamentalist views were making their way into our schools. Is there not a contradiction here, or is one version of fundamentalism allowed or more respected and tolerated than another?

There was a further confusing aspect to her comments when she apparently said that individuals who try to promote a particular view in schools needed to be removed from the system. This is of course meant in a context, but it also shows a glaring ignorance as to how values work and even what they are. Everyone has a particular view and that view is informed and regulated by our values. There is not a teacher in the land who does not in some way promote a particular view – to what extent they are aware of this or not is another matter.  So then, we come to the issue of what the view is and this I suppose is where Nicky Morgan places the values that she believes to be fundamentally British into the frame.

Those stated in her comments were mutual respect, equality between boys and girls, democracy and tolerance.  Are these values (if indeed they are in fact values) uniquely British? I have read other lists by those within Morgan’s own party and coalition govt and I have no doubt this is not the final offering hat will comprise the non-statuatory guidance to come, but what is really distressing is the treatment of values as content and the failure to see role of values as process within learning and education.

The hypocrisy of promoting equality at the same time as endorsing policies and measures that increase inequality (there are numerous measures of this in the press in the past week even), is also of concern and I’d like to see the mutual respect that Morgan talks of offered by her own department and staff to those working in education and learning who actually know a thing or two about schools, learning and education.

It seems nothing has changed then. Morgan will preside over what I imagine will prove to be a set of poorly conceived and even more poorly understood, values and announce through non-statutory guidance how, already pressured schools are expected to implement them. I would so love to be wrong on this but my suspicion is that this will be the case and my fear is that under such circumstances there will be very little weaving at all.

In the meantime I look forward to forthcoming discussions with colleagues in London and Scotland who unlike Gove and Morgan have taken the time to fully understand values and the complicated (and yet also simple) ways in which they interplay with teaching and learning.

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A still burning question: what is the purpose of education?

I was today sent a link to a blog (http://jkfairclough.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/what-is-the-point-of-education/) by a former colleague at Tide in Birmingham relating to the question ‘what is the purpose of education?’  It was asked as part of a new international project Tide are partners in and funded by the EU and it is a great question to ask.

It jogged my mind back to our last international study visit to Kerala in South India where a group of educators from the UK asked a related question ‘What is learning for?’ and worked on this for around a year, including a visit to India to learn from others.  The debates, ideas, moments of joy, fear and enlightenment that made that experience all came flooding back as I reflected on the question posed in the blog.

This is a vital question, however framed, and one that is pertinent to the work around values that Values Soup and the projects it is linked to are trying to engage with.  I was minded that we are far from alone in asking this question however and indeed there was a great challenge a year or so ago from Purpose Ed to respond to that very question ‘what is the purpose of education?’ in a maximum of 500 words.  I took up the challenge and had my day to express my own views and share them with the wider audience.  It was great to engage with different perspectives from so many different fields and from around the world and across cultures.  It makes me think there is still much to do here though and I may even need to disagree with myself now as my thinking, as it should has moved on.  To see the entries in the 500 words visit http://web.archive.org/web/20130501070429/http://purposed.org.uk/page/2/ and in case you’re wondering what I said at the time (May 2012) I have posted it below for ease, all 498 words of it.  What would you say?

An ever moving feast (purpose of education)

My immediate response to ‘what is the purpose of education?’ is that it is ‘to enable people to engage with, learn from, and form a considered opinion’ to exactly that type of question.

The circularity of my response comes from a deeply rooted belief in the power of reflective action-learning.  I have time and again witnessed the transformational impact of this type of learning on young people, adults, and organisations alike.  My recent involvement in a number of inspiring opportunities provides the ingredients for my current engagement and learning around the purpose of education, but as with all action-learning the final picture remains an ever moving feast.  Each of the following provides a nuance of what I believe education to be about, but none provides an answer.

What is Learning For? was a year’s exploration with eight inspiring educators into why we learn, how we learn, and what is learning for?  We looked at this from the UK, but more significantly from Kerala in South India – a state with phenomenal educational attainment and insight.  A lasting imprint for me is the dissonance between a UK-based debate over what makes an ‘outstanding lesson’ and the words of a Keralan state official informing us that ‘teachers are the real dreamers in society, because politicians can only dream in 5 year periods’
Education is about: risk, ambition, people, dreaming, creativity, self-belief

Time 2 Think emerges from work around critical literacy and in particular heightened awareness of self, others and the wider world, in shaping our lifeworlds.  This work has reminded me of the significance of dialogic learning and of the incredibly restrictive limits of time that dominate our education system.
Education is about: listening, conversing, contesting, thinking, perspectives, diversity

Learning through Values has provided me with an opportunity to dig deep into my own lifeworld and to support others to do the same.  Building on the work of Common Cause, a number of educators are now combining to consider the centrality of values to our own sense of being and belonging.  How are values aired, shared and prepared by our education system and how aware of this are we?
Education is about: values, understanding, responsibility, connections, living together, change

Learning co-operatively brings a group of disparate organisations and individuals together to explore the power of co-operative learning.  I feel at home in this world of education as co-constructed, inclusive and fair and so too, it would seem, do the young people who benefit. There is something in this…
Education is about: participation, respect, collaboration, equity, ownership, trust, choice

As befits my own moveable feast I do not wish to impose a closing statement as to the purpose of education, but rather invite you to assimilate these vignettes of my recent experience with your own experiences and insight.  However in true circular fashion, I will risk to posit that perhaps a purpose of education is to give us the confidence and ability to do so?

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Michael Rosen on Gove’s “British” values

Thanks to colleague Sheila Tucker for sending through a link to a Guardian article by Michael Rosen.  He deftly whips through Gove’s list of “British” values and in doing so raises some of the very real concerns that, in part at least, led me to start Values Soup.

What I like however is that it is not just a diatribe (there are plenty of those out there), but an enjoyable raising of key questions and in the last a recognition of precisely what we at Lifeworlds and Learning Through Values see as the key to all of this…

So, I look forward to these guidelines on British values, if only for the fact that it will give our children the chance to put them up for scrutiny. By the way, did it ever occur to you to call them just: “Values”?

…the need to drop the “British”, focus on values and develop the dialogue by better equipping teachers with the necessary time and space to better understand values for themselves.

 

 

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The values metric and data heavy diets

We live in an era obsessed with measurement.  Just think about it.  Virtually every news item has some form of metric in it about growth, loss, comparison, change, targets and so on and it doesn’t limit itself to any one subject area either.  This is true of the economy, of education, of leisure, or sport and of virtually anything.  In fact watching the odd bit of the World Cup at the moment it is almost impossible to escape measurement and comparisons and I feel so much the better for knowing that Brazil have not lost a home international since 1975  – or do I?

I am not alone in thinking this and I have many colleagues within sustainability learning and global learning who are very familiar with the notion of trying to ‘measure what we value rather than value what we measure’ but there is still that obsession with measuring!  I found myself straying back into this mindfield yesterday evening when I ended up watching a Channel 4 documentary called ‘The World’s Best Diet’ which took a global look at 50 world diets ranking them from worst at 50 to best at 1.  The list was compiled based on a number of fixed criteria in consultation with nutrition experts looking at issues such as fat, salts, alcohol and ailments including cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart attack etc.  It was interesting (if light) viewing, but I found my mind back in the whole area of values and measuring.  A number of points triggered this:

The measurements used in the programme were based explicitly on health factors.  OK, but what about the impact of diet on the environment?  Many of the ‘best’ diets has a large proportion of fish in them for example, but there was no mention of the regular concerns voiced in the environmental media around declining global fish stocks and empty seas.  Another avenue not explored was that of diet and enjoyment?  I am reminded of an inspiring talk by an Indian professor (whose name escapes me at the moment) some 5 years ago at The Battle of Ideas who talked about economic growth and the rising middle class in India.  He told us that once Indian’s died from starvation and cholera but that now they aspired to die of diabetes, cancer or coronary heart disease!  I could go on – in short I found myself thinking about how do we measure ‘best’ in relation to this programme or anything for that matter.

Values are central to this for me.  What you measure (and how you present it) will depend on what you value?  So here we are existing in a world of data overload where statistics bombard us and compete for our attention, and all of these are value laden and values led.  Think about the debate on immigration that I am listening to right now on the radio in the background.  The data on immigrants shifted from 1.8 to 2.2 million in one sentence.  So which is it and why were both stated – what are they trying to do by using this data?  What is their frame?

 

So how do we measure values?

The complexity of values and measurement is fresh in my mind right now also because of the impending duty on schools to actively promote ‘British Values’.  This is apparently something that the inspectorate Ofsted will measure on their visits, but how do we even begin to measure values and what values lie behind this measurement anyway.  This is an open book for me and I know there are many others trying to evidence the impact (or otherwise) of values-led work in schools.  I look forward to these discussions and to the opportunity to try out new approaches, but I think central to all of this is to remember and reflect upon the values underpinning our desire to measure in the first place.  Data is noise and schools and education are a noisy places these days.  How do we cut through this and find the signal within the noise.  That depends on what you value perhaps.

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Character Education vis-a-vis Learning Through Values

One of the most often encountered challenges in our work around Learning Through Values is the idea that we are somehow seeking to impose a particular set of values upon those who work with us (whether teachers, pupils, parents or organisations).  Of course we are not value neutral, on-one is, and neither would it be true to say that we did not have our own ideas about the future we might want to share and the manner in which that might work.  But this is not unique to us.  Anyone engaging in any form of values related education, including those who choose not to engage in values, are making choices and actions based on values.

The key for me is to be open about this and to be willing to air and share your own values, but to give others the same opportunities.  This is what much of our work revolves around, providing the time and space for people to expose, explore and reflect upon their own values and those of others.  Through a process of dialogue and discovery, people frequently then come to have greater ownership of their own values, but to also recognise that there is often a common core of values that they share with others.  This participatory and empowerment approach is of course imbued with its own values and the framing that these have is in and of itself a challenge and research area that we continue to grapple with.

 

The problem with Character…

We find that the root of suspicion, concern or even outright rejection of the values pedagogies that we are developing and exploring is frequently based on them being seen as ‘character education’.  From where I stand this is a very different, but not completely separate, area of practice and research.  Most mentions of Character Education appear to be traced back to political or religious interests (sometimes both) and are about a certain set of character traits decided by a relatively small group as desirable and deliverable to a much wider group.  This is, I know a great oversimplification on one level, but is made because this is how many perceive it and how we are frequently labelled when talk of values is seen as synonymous with the more powerful voices around Character Education.  Note the recent British govt report on Character and Resilience for example – no mention of values in the headlines or title.

The dominance of Character within these discussions is largely as a result of interests in the USA and in schemes such as KIPP that has been on the radar of Gove and is, I suspect, at least partly behind recent announcements on schools promoting ‘British’ values.  This dominance extends to funding too, with much of the major work taking place on Character Education being funded by US-based interests who have pioneered research and development in this area.

Not everyone has been an avid supporter of Character Education however and in particular with the so-called ‘brainwashing’ that it suggests.  I came across this short blog (http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2014/05/20/problem-character-education) from the US via our friends at Character Scotland with whom we are having great discussions around these challenges.  An extract from the blog serves to illustrate part of this challenge:

“Parents nowadays are growing weary of government attempts to indoctrinate and condition their children according to statist principles. Endless class recycling initiatives, writing assignments on “social justice,” and even collective homework projects all aim to shape children in the progressive mold. In reaction, some insist they want schools just teaching knowledge and not delving into character, habits, and so forth.

Those are worthy sentiments, but they ignore the impossibility of teaching knowledge in a vacuum. What these parents really mean is that they want their children taught values that correspond with their own”

 

Character of Values

What I find most interesting about the above extract is the way it shifts into talking ‘values’ when critiquing character.  This gets to the nuts and bolts of the issue for me which is not to have a polarised view that it is either character or values, but to instead come together to more robustly explore these two approaches.  I feel that at the heart of this is to greater understand the character of values – how they work, where they come from, how they are influenced, framed and shaped, and how they inform our character which is to me the public face of our values.  In short I don’t think there is a ‘problem’ with Character Education, but rather a wider problem with the level and quality of public engagement and discourse around values, character, education, and most significantly what all of this is for?  What is the point?  What is learning for?

We will be holding discussions of this sort with Character Scotland and others in forthcoming events and would welcome other voices to work through this challenge and help to draw out the commonalities,  overlaps and distinctiveness of these approaches.  This is not about competition, but about clarity.  It is not about seeking any form of dominance over the language used to engage schools, but instead to explore those spaces that might be mutually beneficial and to expand each others horizons and extend our own learning further.

Get in touch through www.learningthroughvalues.org if you would like to contribute and get involved in the coming meetings.

 

 

 

 

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Learning Through Values – reflections on the longest day…and the longest journey.

21st June 2014 and it is three years to the day since we held our first ‘Festival of Learning’.  The festival was titled ‘Transforming Education, Transforming Ourselves: inspirational spaces for learning and change’ and in some ways it was the first public outing for our work on Learning Through Values.  The event brought together a diverse range of educationalists from a range of subject areas and agendas as well as from across different organisations and phases of schooling.

What held the space was a shared concern with the changes about to come in education in England (the impact of the new coalition government was just starting to become clear at this point) and in particular about the values (though we weren’t explicitly using this yet) that were inherent to those changes. It was a transformational event for many of those there and certainly for me and for my organisation, Lifeworlds Learning, that had organised the festival as its first major community event.  It led to the first conversations around values and in turn this led to the formation of the Leading Through Values pilot project working alongside several partners who had been involved in the Festival and a follow up event in November 2012.

So much has happened in 3 years – the establishment of a new Learning Through Values community and website, the completion of the Leading Through Values pilot project, the development of new values professional learning opportunities, the emergence of new values work and connections in China, fledgling values partnerships with new organisations and authorities, and several new publications and resources for release in 2014-15 school year – and yet it sometimes feels we have gone nowhere!

The announcements just a week or so ago about the expectation for schools in England to actively promote ‘British values’ suggests that Learning Through Values as we perceive it has barely got off the starting blocks and that there is a long journey ahead.  Reassuringly, I believe we are now better equipped for that journey than we have been, and that we have some incredibly supportive and wonderfully challenging traveling companions.  It is not a done deal though.  We have a long way to go and the road ahead will be bumpy, will have its crossroads and dead ends, but the meandering and progress (no matter how gradual), will I believe continue to open up new and exciting avenues for learning and teaching and to inspire the resilient communities necessary to embrace and resolve the issues that will come their way.

If you’re new to this area of thinking and learning, then I warmly invite you to get involved and add your voice to the growing dialogue that has become the soundtrack for our individual and collective journey’s.  Now to enjoy a full 12 hours + of daylight!

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How our ‘Lifeworlds’ influence our values

This article in the Guardian is an example of centrality of our own Lifeworlds to the values we hold and act upon.  This is why the dialogue around values is the mainstay of our work at Lifeworlds Learning:

Sorry, David Cameron, but your British history is not mine

The prime minister is silent about this country’s radical past that inspires me. That’s why talk of unifying ‘British values’ is nonsense

http://gu.com/p/3q5y2

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