London’s francophone refugees

We are roughly at the mid point of our commemoration of the First World War. Let’s look back just over a hundred years.

London before the outbreak of war in 1914 was the greatest industrial city in the world and by far the largest in Europe, a city of migration where new arrivals were welcomed in large numbers but were also subject to racism and xenophobia, a city of inequality and widening class divisions with great poverty; over a million living below the poverty line while their near neighbours included some of the richest people in the world. It was a city of exploitation; sweated and insecure labour, working and living in appalling conditions and overpriced slum housing. It was a city of widespread industrial unrest; with walkouts on building sites, lockouts and strikes on the trams and in the factories, with local councils refusing to administer grossly inadequate poor relief. It was also the focus of a militant struggle for women’s suffrage with assaults and demonstrations as well as the vandalism of art galleries used as tactics. London was in ferment before there was even a whiff of war in Europe.

Then, on 24th July, Austria declared war on Serbia. By the 27th, war preparations across Europe had shut down the world financial system and on the 31st the London Stock Exchange closed down indefinitely. Across the city, thousands attended anti-war rallies, but by the time Germany declared war on France and then invaded Belgium on 4th August, jingoistic war-fever took hold and the crowds were supporting British intervention.

In France, the politician Jean Jaurès had warned on 25th July, in a speech at Vaise, that a Balkan conflict between Serbia and Austro-Hungary could conceivably snowball across Europe:

“Citizens, I need to tell you this evening that never in the last 40 years has Europe been in a more menacing or more tragic position. Citizens, I do not want to paint too bleak a picture, I do not want to say that the diplomatic breakdown between Austria and Serbia will necessarily lead to war between them and I do not say that if it does, war will necessarily spread across Europe, but I do say that right now the odds are against us, against peace, against human life…”

Jaurès predicted that if the various alliances were triggered; Austria with Germany, Serbia with Russia and Russia with France, it could mean: “Europe on fire, the world on fire.” On 31st July, Jaurès was assassinated in Paris becoming one of the first ‘casualties’ of the conflict. The very escalation he had predicted had started and war was inevitable.

Appalled by the enthusiastic rush to war, the writer Romain Rolland, wrote Au-dessus de la mêlée (Above the Battle) in September 1914:

“O jeunesse héroïque du monde. Avec quelle Joie prodigue elle verse son sang dans la terre affamée.” (“Oh, heroic youth of the world. With what great joy it spills its blood in the famished soil.”)

In 1915, Rolland wrote in his tribute to Jaurès:

“The death of a single man can be, in some cases, a battle lost for the whole of humanity. The murder of Jaurès was one such disaster.”

Soon, in London, crowds were gathering in silence to watch the endless stream of ambulances bringing thousands of casualties from the front into the city’s hospitals. Terrifying new military technologies were in use and London was being bombed from the air by Zeppelins. Dangerous anti-German hysteria was rife and Alexandra Palace was transformed into a squalid internment camp for London’s citizens of German origin.

100 years ago today, the battle of the Somme was still raging. A single campaign, it cost 1 million lives. One million – it’s hard to take in killing on such a terrible scale. The war went global with a final toll of 17 million dead and 20 million wounded, destroying or traumatising a whole generation. Even the peace, when it finally came, sowed the seeds of deep resentments and further conflict which was to engulf the world in 1939.

This is not ancient history about remote conflicts of purely academic interest. These events affected people many of us have known, they have shaped our lives and were themselves shaped by forces which are still with us. History doesn’t repeat itself precisely but we know that gross inequality, injustice, xenophobia, nationalism, militarism, poverty, exploitation, war and refugee movements are still features of our world. Our governments debate whether to accept refugees from the brutal conflict in Syria and this is often framed in the language of mistrust, suspicion and thinly veiled racism. A hundred years ago, as our city’s francophone population increased tenfold during the war years, those same prejudices were being expressed about refugees, including those from Belgium and France.

We must congratulate and thank Dr. Charlotte Faucher and Professor Richard Grayson at Goldsmiths and the students they worked with from both the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle and Newham Sixth Form College for this excellent project. This research involved students using primary archival sources to uncover the lives of the French and Belgian refugees who made their home in London at this time. This type of research is vital to help us understand more about our grandparents and great-grandparents and to draw parallels with our own period.  The resulting exhibition will be on display here at Goldsmiths for a while, then at the Lycée in South Kensington and on to NewVIc in Plaistow in the New Year.


Speech made at the launch of the ‘Francophones in London during the First World War’ exhibition at Goldsmiths on Thursday 22nd September 2016.


See also :

WW1 French and Belgian refugees were branded ‘shirkers’ (Goldsmiths blog)

Above the battle (Au-Dessus de la Mêlée) by Romain Rolland (1916) English version

Zeppelin Nights, London in the First World War by Jerry White (2014)

Jean Jaurès: ‘What is courage?’ (August 2016)

Instinct, heart and reason – Daniel Pennac on the refugee crisis (August 2016)

Giving peace a voice (August 2016)

Seeking refuge in poetry (September 2015)

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Crick reloaded: citizenship education and British values.

“We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the critical capacities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting; to build on and to extend radically to young people the best in existing traditions of community involvement and public service, and to make them individually confident in finding new forms of involvement and action among themselves.” Citizenship for 16-19- year-olds in Education and Training (2000)

It’s hard to dispute the importance of education for citizenship or to disagree with these aims. But which sixth form provider today could confidently claim to be comprehensively fulfilling them with all their students?

1. Crick Post-16

The great step forward in the development of post-16 citizenship education was the second ‘Crick’ report, Citizenship for 16-19- year-olds in Education and Training (quoted above) which was commissioned by the Government from a committee chaired by Bernard Crick in 1999 and published in 2000. This led to a blossoming of new materials and approaches supported at the national level by an excellent co-ordination and development unit run by the Learning and Skills Network (LSN), and curriculum guidance from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Programmes in the post-16 phase were voluntary and flexible with a strong emphasis on responding to the local context. An AS and full A-level in Citizenship Studies were developed (now soon to be withdrawn) which could be used to accredit students’ achievements and there was talk of Citizenship becoming recognised as a wider key skill. Ministers were supportive and it felt like citizenship education was finding its place at the heart of post-16 education.

The Crick proposals offered a set of concepts, knowledge and skills:


  • Participation: becoming involved, for example, as an active member of a community group or organisation
  • Engagement: taking participation further, for example, by trying to influence the strategies or policies of the group
  • Advocacy: being able to put a case
  • Research: being able to find relevant and alternative sources of information
  • Evaluation: being able to judge the relative merits of different possibilities
  • Empathy: being able to consider an issue from the point of view of others
  • Conciliation: being able to resolve disagreements and conflicts
  • Leadership: being able to initiate and co-ordinate the agreed activities of others
  • Representation: being able to speak or act on behalf of others
  • Responsibility: thinking before one acts and accepting the consequences.


  • how decisions are made at local, national, European, Commonwealth and international levels and how these decisions may or may not be influenced by citizens
  • how public and private services are delivered and what opportunities exist to access and influence them
  • how the different communities of national, religious, ethnic or cultural identity which make up the United Kingdom relate to each other
  • how equal opportunities and anti-discrimination legislation and codes of practice apply
  • how policies on taxation and economic management affect individuals and groups
  • the rights and responsibilities which individuals have in employment
  • how each particular vocation is affected by public laws, policies and events
  • the roles of individuals as family members
  • the rights and responsibilities of consumers
  • the different approaches to policy of the main political parties and pressure groups
  • how people can contribute to the life of voluntary groups and of their local communities
  • environmental issues and sustainable development.


  • demonstrating an understanding of the rights and responsibilities associated with a particular role
  • applying a framework of moral values relevant to a particular situation
  • demonstrating an understanding of, and respect for, cultural, gender, religious, ethnic and community diversities both nationally and globally
  • combating prejudice and discrimination
  • critically appraising information sources (advertising, media, pressure group, political parties)
  • managing financial affairs
  • assessing risk and uncertainty when making a decision or choice
  • initiating, responding to, and managing change
  • selecting the appropriate mechanisms or institutions for dealing with particular issues
  • identifying the social, resource and environmental consequences of particular courses of action.

All this was linked to the different key roles of the citizen:

  • Community member
  • Consumer
  • Family member
  • Lifelong learner
  • Taxpayer
  • Voter
  • Worker

While this is all good stuff, embedding and mapping it to the post-16 curriculum was a big ask. A matrix which did justice to all these aims could potentially involve over 8,000 elements (10 x 12 x 10 x 7). Apart from being unwieldy, this approach also tends to categorise people’s identities and roles too rigidly and the framework could certainly do with streamlining and simplifying.

2. ‘Britishness’, belonging and integration

A few years after the Crick report, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, launched a debate about the concept of ‘Britishness’ and whether a shared British identity and British values should be more vigorously promoted as a uniting force in society. This led to a somewhat inconclusive debate about what constitutes ‘Britishness’ but also established that whatever it is should be based on common values. Speaking in January 2006, Gordon Brown said:

“it is to our benefit to be more explicit about what we stand for and what are our objectives and that we will meet and master all challenges best by finding shared purpose as a country in our enduring British ideals that I would summarise as—in addition to our qualities of creativity, inventiveness, enterprise and our internationalism, our central beliefs are a commitment to—liberty for all, responsibility by all and fairness to all.”

A little later, John Sentanu, the archbishop of York added:

“Our cultural identity and difference must be balanced with a clear understanding of a shared humanity and membership of one world…We need other human beings to help us be human. We are made for interdependence, for complementarity. Our commitment as communities to promote understanding and justice will create harmony longed for by all.”

In 2007, the Education Select Committee concluded that citizenship education has at its heart:

“a commitment to enabling young people to participate fully in a democracy, and ultimately, securing a cohesive and inclusive society. In particular, it has a role to play in developing the skills for effective community relations, in developing shared identities, and safe ways in which to express difference.”

The Department for Education said in written evidence to the select committee that:

“citizenship education is key to building a modern, cohesive British society. Never has it been more important for us to teach our young people about our shared values of fairness, civic responsibility, respect for democracy and respect for ethnic and cultural diversity [it] remains a dynamic subject which responds to issues concerning society and how these come about.”

3. Where we are now.

So where are we today? We no longer have any specific post-16 guidance on citizenship education and there is no post-16 National Curriculum. The post-16 landscape has changed a great deal in 16 years with key skills downgraded while the English and Maths requirement (to GCSE) has become an essential element of students’ programmes of study.

So has citizenship be simplified out of existence? Not quite. Schools and colleges do now have a duty to support, promote and exemplify British values which are defined as: “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs” and inspectors take a close interest in how well we prepare young people for life in modern Britain.

The British Values approach is still relatively new and people are coming to understand that the ‘Britishness’ of these values is not exclusive, oppressive or nationalistic. This is a British government aiming to speak for all its citizens in the way the EU or the UN might aim to speak for EU or global citizens. Instead of agonising over the impossible question of ‘what it means to be British’, the government has defined a simple overarching framework of values which each institution can explain and exemplify in its preferred way. We can argue about emphasis and omissions (eg: where is equality? where are human rights?), we can discuss some of Britain’s historic failures to uphold these values and we can warn against interpretations which might stifle debate or promote conformity. But there is nothing objectionable in explaining, advocating, defending and debating these values vigorously and living them in our day to day work.

4. Citizenship education under a new name?

Citizenship is complex and contested with different perspectives on what is most important. At its best, good citizenship education involves applying both knowledge and skill in social settings and through active participation; engaging with ideas, people and challenges. It is still worth recalling the aims and recommendations of ‘Crick post-16’ and building on them. It is certainly possible to continue developing and deepening this work within a British Values framework.

See also:

Post-16 citizenship in tough times (May 2014)

Better inspection for all? (November 2014)

Citizenship for 16-19- year-olds in Education and Training (2000)


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‘Pick your own’ performance measure.

England’s school and college performance tables are full of fascinating information.

This information gives a profile of different providers and the idea is that this can help us make judgements and comparisons.

Any tables based on data, assuming they are accurate, represent real evidence of …well, reality. So at the level of truth they can’t be argued with. But such tables are also based on a particular view of what is worth reporting and what this means; they offer a selection from all the possible ways of trying to represent things. Data tables may give an impression of total objectivity but it’s important to understand the underlying assumptions and to be aware of their limitations. Clearly, data are reductive; they reduce things to something less than the whole in order to try to make the big picture clearer. So, while we can’t do justice to everything, it’s always worth asking about what’s been left out and why.

Let’s imagine 3 sixth forms; Colleges A, B and C, serving the hypothetical Anytown. In 2015 each of these colleges claimed to be the ‘best in Anytown’. So let’s look at their imaginary data to see if we can establish which was the highest performing or ‘best’ college.

1. College A can claim to be the highest performing college:

A level points per student
College A 840
College B 764
College C 688
Anytown overall 731
England average 764

Students at college A have achieved higher average point scores than students in the other two colleges and also well above the national average. College A is clearly top of the league for raw performance.

2. College B can claim to be the highest performing college:

% improvement since 2014
College A -10%
College B +5%
College C 0
Anytown overall 0
England average

College B has achieved exactly the national average points per student on average and this represents a big improvement on last year and it is the only college in Anytown to improve in this way. This strong improvement means that College B can claim to be the most successful in Anytown, particularly given College A’s downward slide and College C’s stagnant performance.

3. College C can claim to be the highest performing college:

A-level value added
College A -0.2
College B -0.1
College C +0.1
Anytown overall 0
England average 0

College C has a significantly positive value added score overall and is the only sixth form in Anytown with positive value added. This means that, on average, students at College C are achieving higher grades than expected based on their previous GCSE grades. College C can therefore claim to be the most successful, particularly given the significantly negative value added of the other two sixth forms.

4. So which college is right?

They’re all right. Each college is basing its claims on different measures in the performance tables but none are making any misleading claims. However, there is some further information which may add to our understanding. Interestingly the average grade per entry in each of the colleges is identical. In other words the average A-level grade achieved by students in each college is exactly the same and the only reason their points per student are different is because students in each college are entered for different numbers of A-levels on average. College A clearly enters most of its students for 4 A levels, while College C enters most of its students for 3.

A level points per entry Entries per student
College A 212 3.9
College B 212 3.6
College C 212 3.2
Anytown overall 212 3.4
England average 212 3.6

The other information which is relevant is the respective cohort size for each college:

A level students
College A 100
College B 200
College C 400
Anytown overall 700
England average

Because College C is larger than both the others put together it has a larger impact on the overall figures for Anytown. The way the different measures aggregate for Anytown also explains why an area which has 3 such successful colleges seems to be sitting pretty much on the national averages, or below them in some cases. This shows that institutional success can mask system stagnation.


None of this is an argument against performance tables. It simply serves to demonstrate that we need to look behind the top level measures, evaluate all the available data and decide what we value.

Each of these colleges will have targets for improvement and could learn from the others. They would be well advised to work together to improve the Anytown system as a whole.

If you asked me to choose between the 3, I would tend towards College C which is clearly helping a more inclusive intake to achieve better than predicted grades. All things being equal, it is also turning out more well qualified students for progression than both the others put together.

See also:

Post-16 performance tables: taking the long view (January 2015)

London’s sixth forms (June 2016)

A sixth form profile for the ‘Local London’ area (February 2016)


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Your dogma, my principles.

Simplex and Sapiens are discussing the government’s plan to open more selective schools.

Simplex: Our mission is to build a country that works for everyone.

Sapiens: Sounds like a good starting point.

Sim: Yes, it’s a vision of a truly meritocratic Britain that puts the interests of ordinary working class people first.

Sap: Very egalitarian principles.

Sim: Absolutely. People worry that the changing world around them means that their children and grandchildren won’t have the same opportunities they have enjoyed in life. We need to ask some searching questions about what kind of country we want to be.

Sap: Indeed, there’s no doubt we live in a very unequal society.

Sim: We want Britain to be a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow, a place where advantage is based on merit not privilege; where it is your talent and hard work that matter. We need to ensure that there is a good school place for every child, education provision that caters to the individual needs and abilities of every pupil.

Sap: So I guess that means investing in improving all our comprehensive schools.

Sim: Well, not exactly. Politicians have for years put their own dogma and ideology before the interests and concerns of ordinary people. In fact, we know that grammar schools are hugely popular with parents. And we know that they want to expand. They provide a stretching education for the most academically able, regardless of their background, and they deliver outstanding results.

Sap: This is starting to sound a bit like dogma. There’s no evidence that selection improves standards for all, quite the opposite in fact.

Sim: We help no one by saying to parents who want a selective education for their child that we won’t let them have it.

Sap: But ‘wanting a selective education for their child’ means denying it to the children of others. I thought we agreed on the universal, egalitarian principle of good schools for everyone.

Sim: We mustn’t be dogmatic about that. I know there are those who fear this could lead to the return of a binary system as we had in the past with secondary moderns. But this fear is unfounded; there will be no return to secondary moderns.

Sap: Sorry? How can we have grammars without secondary moderns? Selection is binary; you either pass or fail the test. This feels like a return to the 1950s.

Sim: You’re just being blinkered and dogmatic. It is not a proposal to go back to the 1950s. We don’t want to go back to a binary model of grammars and secondary moderns but to build on our increasingly diverse schools system. We should focus on the new grammars of the future.

Sap: I’m not sure it’s me being blinkered and dogmatic…

See also:

Arguments against selection

Sapiens and Simplex have also discussed:

Labour pains

Exam success boost to the economy

The ‘forgotten 50%


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My NewVIc story: Raymond Fernandez.

I attended Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) for 2 years from 2013-2015. In my time at NewVIc I studied on Entry level 2 Skills for Independence and Work. I feel that being at NewVIc enabled me to grow and learn and to meet new people. I was also involved in doing many new things and all my staff helped me and encouraged me to gain new skills and confidence and to pass my qualifications.

I have always been very active, attending football sessions every Friday and going on trips and tournaments regularly. In my second year, I moved to Entry level 3 Preparation for Progression. I went to a Raleigh presentation which offered me a great opportunity to visit amazing countries such as Costa Rica, Tanzania or Borneo. First I attended the Raleigh outdoor Adventure Residential trip. This was also an assessment and I passed. We took part in lots of team building and leadership activities and I made a lot of new friends.

When we arrived in Costa Rica we were given skills training on how to navigate on treks, carrying lots of equipment, putting up tents and cooking outdoors and even first aid. In the first part of the expedition I was supporting a natural resource management project in La Cangreja National Park. We worked hard to complete trails around the park and it was tough as we had to complete our work early in the afternoon as it could be quite rainy in the afternoons. It was very tiring. The trails make the park easier to get around. The trails also need to be looked after to help stop forest fires, and plant and animal poaching. We learnt so much about the local way of life and were really welcomed by the local people – I also speak Spanish which helped.

I also did a trek and this was tough but amazing; seeing volcanoes, wildlife and streams. I had the most amazing experience and was so pleased when I got awarded a golden mess-tin for my hard work!

I learnt more about being independent and feel much more confident travelling around London and meeting new people. This was a great opportunity to learn about life in other countries and to do something to help in those countries. Going on the Raleigh changed me and also made a real difference to others. I hope I can be an inspiration for other students. Since I left NewVIc I am now studying childcare at the East Ham campus of Newham FE College.

Raymond Fernandez – Class of 2015 (far left in photo)


More on Raleigh International:

About Raleigh International Citizen Service (ICS)

Walking the Circle Line (November 2015)



Previous My NewVIc story posts:

My NewVIc Story: Amritpal Gill.

My NewVIc story: Nazia Sultana

My NewVIc Story: Supreet Kaur

My NewVIc story: Joseph Toonga

My NewVIc story: Rumana Ali

My NewVIc story: Zakiyah Qureshi

My NewVIc story: Husnain Nasim

My NewVIc story: Airey Grant

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University for all

This August I was asked to contribute a short piece for our local newspaper, the Newham Recorder, as part of a debate about the benefits of a university education. I did my best to summarise the case in 220 words which can be read here. This is a slightly extended version, at double the length:

Once again this autumn over 700 of our students will make a successful transition to higher education. It’s what most of them aspire to and we have encouraged them and supported them to achieve this aim. We are proud to send more disadvantaged young people to university than any other sixth form in England. Together with many others from Newham they are showing their commitment to creating a better future for themselves and for their community. They are on degree courses which are often essential requirements for skilled and professional jobs. They are the future carers, health workers, teachers, artists, engineers and business people who will provide the health, education, public services, culture, infrastructure and enterprises of tomorrow. Their energy, ideas and creativity will power our country deep into the 21st century.

But university is not just about young people studying full time for 3 years. Degrees have evolved to fit around work and to be accessible throughout life and these days many more undergraduates are older and studying part-time. Many courses are highly work-related with projects, placements, internships and sandwich years allowing students to connect and apply their learning to the needs of industry. While the best apprenticeships are excellent, many are not stretching or challenging enough and their focus is always employment with training. They cannot substitute for the broad and full education we need in order to flourish as equal and active citizens of a modern and diverse society.

Over the last 25 years we have seen a massive increase in the numbers of young people from Newham taking the step into post-compulsory education. They have turned our borough from an area of low participation to one of high participation. Most stay in East London and help to enrich our community and drive our economy. This should be celebrated as a vote of confidence in the future and we need more of this, not less.

Education is not preparation for life, it is essential throughout life. As long as we live, breathe and think, we can learn, grow and work to make our world better. Continuing education should be an entitlement for all adults, not a rationed commodity to be exchanged for crippling debt. Publicly funded universities which are responsive to their local populations could lead the way for a renaissance in adult learning. As vital cultural institutions they should be as open-access as our museums or art galleries; sharing their expertise and resources widely. Our universities should be there for everyone who is ready to commit to their continuing education and no one should be told that ‘it’s not for you’ or have their ambition capped.

eddie-aug-2016Eddie Playfair is the principal of Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc).

He blogs at  and tweets @eddieplayfair


See also:

University progression for the NewVIc class of 2015

Investing in East London’s future

NewVIc breaks all its university progression records

From free school meals to university

Re-imagining the university

How to achieve high university progression rates

Berkeley and the promise of the public university

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Theodore Zeldin on ‘what is worth knowing?’

What is worth knowing? It’s a good question, given how much there is to know and the impossibility of knowing more than a tiny fraction of the total.

ZeldinTheodore Zeldin’s latest collection of essays, ‘The hidden pleasures of life’ (Quercus, 2015) considers some of the big challenges we face as human beings in his distinctive way; sharing highly individual stories, including his own, to illuminate the universals. Like all his work, it is full of warm humanity, openness to the experiences and perspectives of others and an ability to shift between boundaries and levels of all sorts including the personal and the social.

Simply reading the list of questions which head up each of the essays is thought provoking. As well as ‘What is worth knowing?’ the 29 essay titles  include: ‘What is the greatest adventure of our time? How can prejudices be overcome? What is the point of working so hard? What more can the young ask of their elders? What does it mean to be alive?’

Each of these weighty questions is addressed with a light touch, never dogmatically, moving quickly between ideas while doing them enough justice to get the reader pausing for thought and returning to the thought many times.

Each page has its own different header; this encourages browsing and gives a flavour of what one might find, and each of these headings could be a worthwhile theme for the kind of conversations which Zeldin believes we should all have more of. The page headings for ‘What is worth knowing?’ for instance are:

Too much knowledge. What the Chinese did with knowledge. Islamic and enlightenment encyclopaedias. What use is information if there is no wisdom? What can history and art add to wisdom? ‘Things are not what they appear to be’. How I select what I want to know. Knowledge is the child of disagreement. Science is rooted in conversation. The first moments of waking in the morning. Freedom from preordained targets. An alternative academia.

As an academic and an historian, Zeldin loves knowledge and values research: “I have pursued knowledge … with unquenchable passion”. Nevertheless, he recognises that:

“Education has been a panacea for virtually all human ills for many centuries, and yet, despite all the marvels it has brought, some of humanity’s worst follies have been perpetrated by highly educated individuals and nations.”

He reminds us that we have always had a problem with too much information, as well as too little, because one can never know enough. Encyclopaedias are the ‘ancient monuments’ which reveal this:

“…the most significant encyclopaedias have been those that have not just tried to make information available in an easily digestible form but have given it meaning, to ensure that it leaves people feeling nourished rather than bloated.”

Zeldin doesn’t despair about the ‘blizzards of information’ which we face:

“The information I have accumulated in my head does not all point in the same direction. Instead of disturbing me, this gives me a sense of freedom. Learning is only a beginning.”

Zeldin’s own answer to the question ‘what is worth knowing?’ is:

“What matters is not just how much knowledge I have, but what I do with my knowledge. The process of creating something useful and beautiful out of what I learn does not resemble building a house out of bricks that have been ordered in advance. It is more like painting a picture which gradually takes shape.”

He argues for a kind of ‘knowing through dialogue’, which emphasis the dynamic, transactional aspect of knowledge and its acquisition:

“It is … impossible to know in advance what is worth knowing: only when one piece of knowledge meets another piece of knowledge do they discover whether they have anything to say to each other, and the link is made by the unpredictable spark of an individual imagination… What is very much worth knowing is the shape of the pattern that I impose on the facts that pour into my head, and the shape of the sieve that discards so many of them. That becomes visible only by comparison with other people’s patterns and sieves.”

Zeldin also makes a strong case for broad, liberal, multidisciplinary learning:

“Now that each branch of learning has become so specialised, demanding that attention should be concentrated for many years on a few minute details, the interaction between amateur skills and expert learning has become more precious than ever.”

Aphoristic assertions abound; ‘communication is a battle with uncertainty’, ‘knowledge is the child of disagreement’… while these may not appeal to everyone the overall effect is to engage you at every turn in a profoundly human dialogue about the continuum which includes information, knowledge, know-how and wisdom. Without discussing schools, curricula or pedagogy, this short essay says a great deal about what education should and could be.

‘What is worth knowing?’ is well worth reading and the whole collection is highly recommended.

See also:

What is powerful knowledge? (August 2015)

Learning to love liberal education (October 2014)




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