Dear John

Following an eventful summer term and break I have at last completed your book, and had a chance to reflect on its messages – and the questions you pose at the end regarding the way forward.

Absolutely central for me are the messages re ‘work in progress’ and the importance of home and the community – the other two legs of the stool. These messages are fundamental to politicians and others in understanding the process of learning, and demonstrating how that process needs to be liberated from the paranoia of micromanagement in all contexts, returning to the ‘wise guidance’ of the principle of Subsidiarity and the apprenticeship model, rooted in collaborative and co-operative behaviours, of which you are such a persuasively eloquent advocate.

The personal stories you include have great impact: for me they are a powerful evocation of how learning must be a guided personal journey from the womb onwards. How poignant (and ironic given similar programmes in Britain) are the comments of the Head of the Sure Start centre highlighting emotional voids in parenting and in children’s growth. How affecting and desperately sad was William’s story. And how evocative and cautionary the description of the Hadza, who originally had no concept of a ‘free market’, or of allowing ‘the state’ to take over the responsibilities of the home and the community for the welfare and education of their children – relying instead on centuries old natural and nurturing relationships. But then they were innocent of any idea of greed, or of an iconic economy, driving and served by the community, living instead within a socialised economic framework which served the needs of the whole community and its individual members.

So questioning values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours is a fundamental part of the realisation of any 21st Century Learning vision; the starting point for me in the journey forward. Your description of ‘upside down and inside out’ regarding the organisation and structuring of learning in latter years is I think entirely right: I feel that in the debate re nature versus nurture there needs to be a perspective which exposes the baseness of attempts to coerce parents and learners to achieve ‘desirable’ state-determined utilitarian economic outcomes, emphasising competition at the expense of collaboration. Too much has been attempted by way of ‘patching up’ the system; the plans and the quality of the bricks and mortar just haven’t been up to the job. Government needs to be brought to think long-term about the processes which will achieve a harmonious and culturally productive society, avoiding the consequences of the emotional and spiritual bankruptcy we are witnessing in current economic upheavals.

The principle of ‘going with the grain of the brain’ is so fundamentally right, it’s breathtaking in its simplicity and deserves the status of a daily mantra. Yet the complexity of the task of sensitively reconstructing the fabric of a damaged society is daunting. I repose great faith in the descriptions you give of centuries-old collaborative predispositions and behaviours in developing intelligences and finding solutions which have enabled our species to overcome difficulties and survive. The insecurities and by comparison short-term concerns of current economic and political arrangements are miniscule problems – and will be overcome.

I could go on – but in brief I wanted to say what impressions the book had made on me. I found it a compelling and thought-provoking read – paradoxically, that’s another reason it has taken me a relatively long time to complete, as I kept on raising and exploring debates, finding resonances in current situations, being frustrated and then re-charged with a determination to continue to make a contribution and a difference in almost equal measure. It is an engaging, eloquent, educational, provocative, persuasive, wide-ranging and stimulating text: and one which demands to act upon. Thank you for this preview of it.