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Learning in the age of stone

Education is a terrible word and should be banned from the language. Education ministries and departments up and down the land should be closed and the leaders of these dens of iniquity should be cast into the wilderness. We need look no further than the etymology of the verb ‘to educate’ to understand my argument; educare is the Latin verb meaning ‘to lead by the nose’. It may be appropriate to use this power-crazy term in the context of pig farming, from where the usage undoubtedly sprang, but it has no place in today’s modern civilised information society, the fundamental tool of which depends on the potentially liberating electronic vibrations within endless arrays of silicon wafers on a printed circuit. Silicon, as we know, is a mineral, much akin to quartz or stone.

My own formal learning experience began in 1955 in a small stone classroom in what was known at the time as the urban district of Crayford, later subsumed into the London Borough of Bexley. The classroom, still standing today, is less than a mile away from the 12th century St Paulinus Church, which was built out of flint, a stone common to North-West Kent. My first teacher was from the Indian sub-Continent, an elderly, very gentle lady with a rosy complexion. Given the post-war shortage of paper, we were given sticks of chalk and slate tablets on which to begin shaping our first letters, but once we had mastered the alphabet and a number of words we were allowed to migrate to lead pencil and paper. I have never forgotten the day when I made that technological transition, the sense of pride when I went home to tell my parents. That first year, in that first classroom, was magical. It set me on the path to lifelong learning, and it was where I first fell in love. School entry was staggered according to date of birth and I would befriend every new girl on the day they joined the class, and I can still remember many of their names, Elizabeth, Wendy, Susan, Helen, those who accepted me and those who rejected me, a great learning curve.

If there have to be ministries, then they should be called Ministries of Learning and they should act accordingly. Nobody has all the answers, nor should anyone have absolute power over the curriculum of learning activities; young people should be encouraged and given the time and space to question and to challenge received knowledge, to think, to feel and to create. The dead hand on the administrative throttle driving over-examination should be removed and magic and discovery should be restored to their rightful place at the heart of all learning processes. A liberating national learning charter should be drawn up and it should be written in stone. 

John Lyons

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