June 16, 2011 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized
Of all the vision statements for education I have read it was that made by John Milton in 1642 that has impressed me most. Beautifully written, concise and as spot on now as when it was written during the horrors of the English Civil War, Milton calls for “a complete and generous education that which equips a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the offices, public and private, of peace and war”.
Inspiring sentiments! It is the word magnanimously that stands out – an unusual word meaning acting with a big heart, a generosity of spirit and a well-developed sense of empathy – the attributes of the best kind of friend. Milton equated behaving magnanimously as being as important as performing justly and skilfully.
The Initiative emerged from a meeting in the mid-1980s of twenty such people who were concerned that the changes which ought to happen in education went far beyond that which normal administrative arrangements could handle. They bound themselves into a small charity to provide whatever help might be needed for “Educational change with consent”.
Some were head-teachers, some management consultants, together with industrialists, a bishop and several housewives. Their actions were largely shaped by the social consciences of three of their number who were by profession venture capitalists – people accustomed to putting capital into unproven concepts in which intuitively they believed. In their charitable affairs they always did this anonymously, always seeking to be equal partners to those social entrepreneurs who had got hold of a big idea.
This got twisted in the late 1980s when the new Minister for Education, Kenneth Baker, looking to sidestep Parliament offered potential sponsors a deal they could hardly ignore – if they put down £2 million this attracted £40 million of government money, and the resulting Technology College could be named after the sponsor. Increasingly in recent years donors looked to put their money where it could attract maximum government grants, but not into programmes that sought to go beyond government’s own (restricted) thinking. Now, in 2011, too much ‘charity’ has become too tightly tied sponsorship of things most likely to attract government’s support for its own policies.
Nowadays, the average Englishman is considerably richer than several generations ago. ‘Yet they don’t make philanthropists like they used to’, stated the Sunday Times, quoting the car magnate Sir William Morris, once Britain’s richest self-made man, who gave away the equivalent of £700 million in today’s money to good causes, while carpeting his own bedroom with the off-cuts from his Cowley factory.
‘You don’t see that mixture of personal frugality and public generosity…these days – possibly because there are so many more opportunities for lavish spending which are constantly dangled before today’s rich people. Would Morris still have paid for 5,000 iron lungs for Polio sufferers in the 1940s and 1950s if he’d been subject to such temptations as this?’
This doesn’t just affect the rich for most of us struggle to fill our houses with consumer goods that we don’t really need. In the end we would probably all be happier if we followed Morris’s example and gave our money to demonstrate alternative ways of doing things to that which government prescribes. This could be just the medicine the nation most needs for as has been said many times, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’.