Finding our voice in a crisis.

Blogging in the 2020s.

It can be hard to write in a time of crisis. What can we possibly say that could be of any use to anyone? But when things are this bad, it’s also hard not to write. What good is saying nothing?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2020s.pngWe are trashing our home planet, people are suffering and dying from avoidable causes, systemic inequalities are widening, injustice, exploitation and conflict of all sorts proliferate and we continue to make choices we know are unsustainable. The consequences of our failures are more evident than ever but it feels like we haven’t fully developed the ideas, the dialogue and the politics to deal with the situation in we find ourselves. We may just be coming to a collective realisation that our current ways of doing things will not get us out of this and that there needs to be sustained structural change.

There’s plenty of cynicism, despair and disempowerment around. If we are to get through safely we need to understand and interpret what’s going on, sharpen our critical faculties and find the voice to try to say something useful which can nurture positive change. We need to recognise the scale, depth and severity of all our various crises and to rigorously critique the way we think and the way we do things.  We have to search for signs of hope, new ways of thinking and workable solutions. We need to extend the practice of equality, democracy and solidarity when they are under attack.

This isn’t just a difficult moment to get through before returning to ‘normal’ by finding ‘fixes’ for each separate problem. We need to see the internal connections and ‘join the dots’. Systemic crises require systemic solutions and we have to confront ours as a whole as well as in their connected parts. Our crises are structural and they share their roots in the extreme inequalities of access to power and wealth among humans on our planet. The sensible, workable, common-sense solutions are going to be radical ones developed by people working together locally and globally, thinking outside the models which gave us the crises.

I’ve posted less in 2020 and 2021, reflecting the challenge of finding useful things to say. But I have looked for some of the ideas which can help us understand the nature of our crisis, its roots in our actions and some of the tools we need to address it:

An A-Z for a world which has to change (Mar 2020) offers a short overview of the challenges which confront us.

Rebecca Solnit on Hope (April 2020) Rebecca Solnit offers some of the most clear-eyed and inspirational advice for our times.

Resisting classification (Dec 2021) makes the case for a more careful use of categories in trying to understand the complex social world.

I want to continue to write about the interconnected and structural crises we are living with and to argue for a more democratic, and participatory politics and more egalitarian solutions.

This blog has always had a strong focus on education for all, for equality and social justice:

Decarbonising education (Mar 2020) looks at young people’s efforts to ensure that the climate emergency is properly covered in their curriculum.

Starting to rethink education (Jun 2020) makes the case against going back to normal after the crisis.

A manifesto to end educational inequality? (Sep 2021) is a critique of proposals which are not ambitious enough.

Knowledge and education for the future (May 2020) outlines Edgar Morin’s ‘seven lessons for the future’ – useful principles for curriculum design.

Reading bell hooks. (Apr 2021) is a brief response to reading the luminous ‘Teaching to Transgress’.

Freire for today (Mar 2021) is a re-reading of ‘Pedagogy of Hope’ reminding us that education is not neutral and that learning is not banking.

Seven ways to avoid a Frankenstein education. (Feb 2021) returns to the work of French educationalist Philippe Meirieu.

Learning, earning and the death of human capital. (Feb 2021) is a critique of human capital theory and the influence it still has on public policy.

Why the comprehensive college? (Sep 2020) makes the case for an inclusive, non-selective post-16 education system.

The turnaround in public exam policy in England as a result of the pandemic is described in two posts from 2020, reminding us that rapid, radical change in apparently stable systems is perfectly possible, but requires new thinking:

England’s unexpected exam revolution (May 2020)

Exam results – what just happened? (Aug 2020)

I want to continue to show how the way education is organised entrenches social divides and is not as emancipatory as we would like to think. In England, the case for a National Education Service is as strong as ever and it needs to be fleshed out and popularized.

Cultural experiences move us and change us. Over the last 2 years I’ve shared my reflections on some of the reading which I felt was insightful or influential:

‘The Ministry for the Future’ by Kim Stanley Robinson (Dec 2020) is an visionary future narrative of humans surviving the climate emergency.

Tsitsi Dangerembga’s ‘Nervous Conditions’. (May 2020) is a brilliant account of personal and political awakening.

‘Bewilderment’ by Richard Powers (Nov 2021) is a beautiful exploration of the contradictions of living in difficult and bewildering times.

‘Light Perpetual’ by Francis Spufford (May 2021) is a wonderful celebration of life and love.

In praise of lightness – Calvino’s ‘Legerezza’ (Mar 2020) from his ‘Six memos for the next millenium’ is a rich essay on the balance between freedom and attachment.

Utopian thinking and both its real-world and fictional manifestations are an important source of ideas for us.  Learning from Utopia (Dec 2021) draws on Ursula Le Guin’s classic novel of contrasting social orders ‘The Dispossessed’.

I will continue to select and recommend fiction which has the potential to clarify or transform our understanding of the situation we are in.

I started on a journey of musical discovery in 2021, guided by Clemency Burton-Hill’s ‘Year of Wonder’ which offers a different piece to listen to for each  day of the year. Readers might like to join this journey via a monthly post in 2022. ‘Listen to this’. (Feb 2021)

The solutions to our crises will emerge from collective action and reflection, so in times like these we need to be reading, thinking and writing more than ever.  Writing a blog is a good way to organize and sharing your thinking, and reading blogs is a good way to sharpen and challenge that thinking through regular interaction with others.

In 2022 I will aim to be positive while trying to do justice to the scale of what we face. As always, it’s a work in progress! My New Year wish for 2022 would be that we collectively start taking the bold steps needed to address our multiple crises and to plan for survival rather than accept catastrophe.

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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1 Response to Finding our voice in a crisis.

  1. nivekd says:

    Happy New Year! Thanks for the flow of sanity!


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