What the FRSA…

…are they all about?

I joined the RSA some 20 years ago, when it became clear to me I needed some cross-‘business meets theory’ support above and beyond that which my professional sector of education was giving me. I needed the support of a couple of existing Fellows then to support my application, and apart from agreeing to subscribe some £250 a year, I was made a Fellow and I have stayed connected ever since.  The Chief Exec. of the RSA, Matthew Taylor writes this in the Times Educational Supplement recently “It is important to develop skills that cross subjects and specialisms, skills that will be useful for all and in all walks of life” , and that’s certainly what my Fellowship has helped me gather, through its quarterly magazine, its events and projects.

The RSA objectives include enabling the Fellowship to be a powerful force for social good and civic innovation, and that’s certainly part of my raison d’etre for engaging so widely and across the piece in education.  I rather like Mr Taylor’s 21st animation that describes our current strapline of 21st Century enlightenment in some excellent thought-provoking and challenging ways – you can watch his talk here http://bit.ly/d1RFvF, brilliantly illustrated by the people from Cognitive media. I have already written about the humbling nature of Headship; what seemed so obvious in the first few years of running a school may remain just as clear, but the sheer scale of the complexity of human development means that the mission becomes really rather complex. To be able to step outside of my goldfish bowl, study, work and engage with others of greater experience, intellect and vision has been incredibly helpful.

So when RSA added a Twitter steam, I decided to tune into that, as I had previously to their LinkedIn network, providing all sorts of thoughts and links to research. A recent question posted on the RSA comment area asked Fellows to distinguish between Learning, Knowledge and Wisdom, and it set me to reply as follows:

“Jamie’s Dream school TV on Wednesday nights has become part of my required viewing. Alvin Hall, the American financial trainer, hit close last week when he was prepared to accept that Jamie’s students were clever, but not that they were intelligent.

Consider learning to drive. Long before any student actually learns to drive a car, most reckon they’ll be really good – ‘clever’ at the driving thing.  Stick them behind the wheel and pretty soon they’ll be humbled that they don’t actually know how to drive

We learn how to drive a car, a complex series of mechanical activities that bit by bit we make subconscious so that we can then pass a driving test, and then actually get into the whole process of transporting ourselves from A to B, and worry a lot more about other more important things. Learning is all about cognition, the result of perception, learning and reasoning, by which we acquire new skills or knowledge. Knowledge is an outcome of learning, it can be measured by tests; we learn the Highway Code as part of the driving test, we don’t actually have to understand what lies behind the code, and regular rehearsal will help us tick the right boxes.  Superficial knowledge acquired this way becomes deeper as we become more experienced drivers, as we make more mistakes and learn from them, as we experience new conditions and control our responses as a result. Wisdom of the driver accumulates from many such sustained experiences, where knowledge meets common sense.

People who are clever learn quickly, they seem to be able to manage with fewer instructions and fewer rehearsals, they’ll not often be in the resit class either. But that does not make them intelligent, the process by which we learn from experience and from which wisdom develops.  Where and why learners fail is when their willingness to work is less than their attention span; the learner has not been willing to suborn their own desires to the needs of the teacher or the group. Of course the teacher must learn their craft skills, pace and vary the learning activities to just stretch the pupil enough so new experiences are gained, but not so rapidly to disenfranchise and disconnect. Watching Alvin worry all night about how he could present difficult challenges to his charges in just hard enough ways was great; seeing him connect across the pond to another teacher who give insight and craft skill for the task ahead is precisely what we do. I have done that for this writing, connecting not just to colleagues but to Google, Princeton and Wikipedia to check that what might seem clever has some signs of intelligence, and that as a piece might impart some wisdom. But hey, what do I know?”

The nice thing of course is that others following the stream join in, add their thoughts, polish mine, even of course disagree. Essentially I have found virtual RSA a 21st century coffee shop of the enlightenment, from which over 300 years ago, modern behemoths such as Lloyds of London commenced their commerce. I don’t know many Fellows, but what I do share with them is a powerful urge to do good, be influential and shape society. As the American anthropologist Margaret Mead argued

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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One Response to What the FRSA…

  1. Thank you James, this is great. I will share this with US Fellows – it’s a nice way to reaffirm how Fellows inspire each other and how the virtual coffee house is a place for collaborative learning.

    I invite you to visit the virtual American Coffee House for RSA Fellows at http://www.blog.rsa-us.org.

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