It took a blend of persistent weather extremes, rising sea temperatures and decreasing Arctic sea ice, coupled with almost unanimous scientific opinion about the role of human beings in all of these things to persuade the world that there is a climate emergency. In fact the evidence has been there for some 50 years with the word ‘global-warming’ first used in scientific journals in 1975. A tipping point in the climate debate has surely been the global co-existence of passionate eloquence of different kinds from the unique combination of Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough. For evidence alone rarely persuades us to change ingrained habits of thinking and doing.
The tipping point idea, given powerful voice by Malcolm Gladwell’s book of that name, suggests that innovation rarely proceeds with the measured pace along a bell-curve with a few early adopters gradually increasing over time to become the majority. Rather, Gladwell argues, changing public perceptions has three critical ingredients in common with the way viruses spread. Ideas, he suggests, like viruses, are contagious. Small causes can have large effects. And they move very suddenly.
We can see this theory enacted painfully in the way Covid-19 has spread in the UK. One moment we were vaguely thinking that holding large sporting events was not such a good idea and the next we are in lockdown. Unwitting super-spreader individuals and the incautious clearing of hospital beds into care homes are potential small causes with large effects. And no-one can gainsay the speed at which this has happened.
As a consequence two of our most venerable institutions, GP practices and schools, have had to change their practices overnight. Surgeries unable to use their waiting-rooms moved to remote online consultations while teachers, arguably further ahead than GPs in their familiarity with online working, have switched to blended learning.
But these changes in a sense are unavoidable. There was really no other option.
I am interested in the opportunity for radical curriculum rebalancing that emerges now. For we have a real-world imperative as adults to focus on developing dispositions such as creativity, critical thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, collaboration, resilience and adaptability, and post lock-down we will have an opportunity which we must seize.
Just take the role of creativity and critical thinking in our adult lives as examples in the current moment. We need creativity in reimagining school, in synthesising possible alternative approaches, in rethinking home-working and parenting, in listening to our intuitions, in inter-disciplinary collaboration, in creating new face coverings which can keep us safe, reflect our identity and not deplete NHS PPE stocks.
We need critical thinking in our understanding of statistics, in examining evidence, in respecting perspective, in understanding difference, in avoiding snake oil solutions, in holding multiple possible solutions in our heads as we work through an issue.
If this is what we need as adults, why would we not want it for our children? Alongside a deep love of every subject discipline (not necessarily served up as separate lessons on a timetable) we need young people with the kind of powerful dispositions for learning the will enable them to thrive at school, at home, in employment and in the community in the brave new world into which we are all going to inhabit.
A decade ago I wrote rEvolution: How to thrive in crazy times making just these points. But after lockdown they are a practical necessity rather than some theoretical musings.
Rebalancing the curriculum now to make creativity, critical thinking, decision-making, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, resilience and adaptability as prominent as English, maths, science, dance, history and philosophy is what we need to do.
Such a reimagining, I suggest, could be the small cause which leads to the larger effect we want for all young people – the development of knowledgeable, skilful and capable young people who, in the language of both Bedales school and School 21, learn well with their head, heart and hands.
Reading Sir Tim Brighouse’s blog, I realise that education has its ‘David Attenborough’; so who will be our Greta?
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