If We Truly Want Wales to Be a Smart Nation, We Should Embrace Wales the Arts Nation as Its Rallying Cry; September Is Welsh History Month in the Western Mail. We're Asking Leading Members of the Schools, Higher Education, Political and Academic Scene to Debate the Following: Education in Wales Must Do Better. Discuss. Today It's the Turn of Professor Dai Smith of the Learned Society of Wales

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

If We Truly Want Wales to Be a Smart Nation, We Should Embrace Wales the Arts Nation as Its Rallying Cry; September Is Welsh History Month in the Western Mail. We're Asking Leading Members of the Schools, Higher Education, Political and Academic Scene to Debate the Following: Education in Wales Must Do Better. Discuss. Today It's the Turn of Professor Dai Smith of the Learned Society of Wales


Education is too important to be left in the hands of the educated. The tendency of the educated is to be smug because they are already, socially and economically privileged. Since they did well in school they urge others to emulate them, to "do better". But to "do better" than what and for what? scene If it is to do better than those left behind as individual ladders are climbed then we in Wales would do well to spurn such self-serving.

do If it is to do better as individuals so that as a society we may help each other and collectively improve then we must understand that education is not merely about schooling and that there are virtues, based in intelligence and fellow-feeling, at the core of our very humanity, which are wiser and deeper than any formal education, a kind of training after all, can ever deliver on its own.

Training brings with it the trait of obedience. To do better is to seek the perpetual change of rebellion of mind which is the lasting spirit of any humane education.

At the core of all education should be a restless search for knowledge. Knowledge about what we already know and how we can extend it. Knowledge about what we may never know and why that matters. Knowledge about others and knowledge about ourselves. Indeed you might argue that we cannot really know others unless and until we truly know ourselves. For those of us who work in the arts and humanities this last is the central paradox. In other words, we must be avid for knowledge of the culture and history of other people, of their arts and traditions, because otherwise we are merely tribal and inward-looking. But we must also propagate and create our own culture within our own evolved society because, contrariwise, if we do not, we merely hold up a mirror to that which is not us, and so are lost in bewilderment.

For education, at all levels in Wales today, this paradox is the crucial one. We should be asking on what solid basis do we seek to build for future generations our representative democracy and its new institutions if we do not now develop a deeper sense of our civic and social being - past and present, as citizens. And how should or can these active citizens behave if they do not understand or are not shown how their lives have been shaped and formed by the lives of those who have gone before them in Wales? Human life here has been experienced within a particular landscape, through specific industries, by different linguistic expression, in conflict and in consensus. Universals have been felt locally. How else could it be in reality? And so only history and the arts can show exactly how we have been rooted, and only such knowledge will allow roots to flourish and flower. If we seek global horizons, as we must, for all of our society, not just for a few individuals, then as a society we must stand firmly on local terrain.

Our desired social outcome will only be attained if we choose educational pathways which are open, aspirational and participatory, not rigidly set or blinkered.

Charles Dickens encapsulated this difficult, and uncomfortable for some, truth in Hard Times, his novel of 1854 directed against the philistine Gradgrinds of early industrialisation whose idea of schooling was mechanistic rote learning. Dickens taught us in a famous school scene that you may define a horse by the number of legs and teeth it possesses, whether it eats grass or meat and its average longevity, without coming near to the essence of its vitality, beauty, wonderful otherness and purposeful relationship to human society. The education Dickens satirised does not fulfil or expand possibilities, it crushes and reduces imagination. It sorts and grades and classifies, and does not reveal or build hope.

Education in Wales today should keep the faith with the imaginative vision that is being set with the future in mind, not as a catch-up statistical exercise but a leap over the soggy heads of the socially myopic. …

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If We Truly Want Wales to Be a Smart Nation, We Should Embrace Wales the Arts Nation as Its Rallying Cry; September Is Welsh History Month in the Western Mail. We're Asking Leading Members of the Schools, Higher Education, Political and Academic Scene to Debate the Following: Education in Wales Must Do Better. Discuss. Today It's the Turn of Professor Dai Smith of the Learned Society of Wales
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