Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: April 2011

New Patron, anyone?

📥  Comment

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the new Duchess of Cambridge were found to have a closet interest in the environment?   Well, NGOs in need of a Patron take note:

Kate Middleton has a keen appreciation of the natural world and she derives great joy from the down-to-earth comforts of the physical world, with its myriad of delights. She is quite sensual in a very natural, wholesome way and she knows how to enjoy herself. Middleton is appealing to the opposite sex in an earthy way. She is also a great lover of beauty and her tastes are basically conventional or classic - not modern.

Mind you, this is from which specialises in relationships analysis, and the text begins ...

The following is a description of Kate's basic stance toward life, the way others see her, the way Kate Middleton comes across, the face she shows to the world. In the page about motivation you will read about the inner Kate Middleton - her real motivation, which describes the kind of person she is at heart and where her true priorities lie.

So, maybe not; mind you, there were all those Field Maples in the Abbey ...


William, Kate, and those Welsh Fish

📥  News and Updates

Well, eventually I managed to find an environmental angle to the wedding.  It seems that the use of Welsh gold for the wedding rings might (just might!) pose a threat to trout and salmon spawning.  As TIME notes:

Conservationists and environmental activists fear the April 29 nuptial will spark renewed interest in Welsh gold causing demand to spike—and sending gold prospectors into a frenzy.  And that has consequences for the environment.  Gold panners use shovels and hand-operated suction pumps to remove gravel and expose the bed rock of a river were the heavy metals are found.  That disturbs gravel where salmon and trout have laid their eggs.

It seems that the issue emerged when a panhandler known locally as Irish Brian began digging holes that some officials said were deep enough to drop a car into.   The Forestry Commission put up signs warning would-be prospectors they might well face unlimited fines and jail terms.  It's not at all clear, however, that panning for gold is against the law.  I particularly liked the comment from Vince Thurkettle, a full-time panner and former president of the World Gold Panning Association, who is reported as saying:

You get people poaching for fish but you don't ban all fishermen.



The Web of Hope

📥  New Publications

I've written two blogs now for the Web of Hope.   The latest, about to appear, is about teaching –  the idea that we are all teachers now whether we like, or know, it or not.  We teach through our conversation, our purchasing, our moral decisions, our political stance, and also through what we don't say or so.   The piece explores something of the pedagogy of this often involuntary, sometimes vicarious and possibly embodied, teaching and is here: We’re all teachers now

Mind you, there far better reasons than this to visit the Web of Hope, as you can see for yourself.


I, being Born a Sinner and Distressed, ...

📥  News and Updates

If you've been a sinner but have now seen the light, there's nothing like a public confession to let the world know of your repentance, and to show off your shiny new anti-whatever-it-was credentials and zeal.  St. Paul has a good track record here, as do many environmentalists and other campaigners who have publicly taken on, or given up, various lifestyle options.  In Claire Milne's case it is flying.  Claire is a member of staff at the Bristol Food Hub, and has been in the news lately commenting on a little local difficulty that Tesco has had in the Stokes Croft part of the city where it is trying to establish a niche for its stockholders.

So, no more brilliant Bristol International Airport and rapturous Ryanair — almost a holiday in themselves, of course — for lucky Claire; how I envy her.   I dwell on Ms Milne, not because she's in any sense unusual or remarkable, but because I think that she has come up with the best mea culpa statement I have ever seen.  Here it is.  Enjoy ...

"Claire's work draws on her Masters in Social Anthropology of Development, BSc in Psychology, and professional background in global social justice, along with a lifetime of independent travel – prior to her growing awareness of the climate-criminal credentials of air travel!"


Hobson's choice: Osteoporosis – a Cat's home – and Friends of the Climate

📥  Comment

Shopping in Waitrose today (I know!), I was, as usual, faced with deciding which local charity to support with my solitary little green token.  The choice was between a local osteoporosis support group, a cat's home (actually: Kat's), and the town's "climate friendly" group.  The choices people had made before me showed overwhelming support for the first of these.  The rationality in this seemed clear: people need support; cats don't (given that there are far too many already, mostly in my garden, it sometimes seems) –  andhow you can be friendly to the climate is beyond me.  I just helped this trend along ...


📥  Comment

The most recent Schumpeter column in The Economist discussed a recent book: World 3.0: global prosperity and how to achieve it.  The column's headline is: The case against globaloney: at last some sense on globalisation, which gives the reader a sense of where the argument is going.  It begins:

GEOFFREY CROWTHER, editor of The Economist from 1938 to 1956, used to advise young journalists to “simplify, then exaggerate”.  He might have changed his advice if he had lived to witness the current debate on globalisation.   There is a lively discussion about whether it is good or bad.  But everybody seems to agree that globalisation is a fait accompli: that the world is flat, if you are a (Tom) Friedmanite, or that the world is run by a handful of global corporations, if you are a (Naomi) Kleinian.

Pankaj Ghemawat of IESE Business School in Spain is one of the few who has kept his head on the subject. For more than a decade he has subjected the simplifiers and exaggerators to a barrage of statistics.  He has now set out his case—that we live in an era of semi-globalisation at most — in a single volume, “World 3.0”, that should be read by anyone who wants to understand the most important economic development of our time.

And a few of those statistics are set out in the column.

only 3% of people live outside their country of birth

only 7% of rice is traded across borders

exports are equivalent to only 20% of global GDP

only 20% of shares traded on stockmarkets are owned by foreign investors

less than 20% of internet traffic crosses national borders

I was struck by these, and especially the last one.  I wondered whether I get anywhere this figure these days – and resolved to check.

The column ends by noting that people seem to have a tendency to overestimate the distance-destroying quality of technology, reminding us that this addiction to globaloney has been with us for a while:

Henry Ford said cars and planes were “binding the world together”.  Martin Heidegger said that “everything is equally far and equally near”.

Schumpeter's final word is to remind us that George Orwell got so annoyed by all this that he wrote a blistering attack on all the fashionable talk about the abolition of distance and the disappearance of frontiers — and that was in 1944, when Hitler was advancing his own unique approach to the flattening of the world.   Steve Gough and I wrote about Globalisation in our 2003 book: Sustainable development and Learning: framing the issues.  Here it is: [Chapter 13] Globalisation and Fragmentation- Science and Self .  It has fewer stats than Ghemawat manages and, sadly, no endorsement from the Economist!


A Grand Occasion in Plymouth

📥  News and Updates

I was in Plymouth on Thursday night to be at Stephen Sterling's professorial inaugural lecture.  It was a fittingly splendid few hours.  Stephen was welcomed formally to his new role with an appropriately generous appreciation of his human and professional talents and this was before he'd even said a word.  There was even a brief cameo by way of pre-welcome — a witty but rather bemusing warm up act.

Stephen spoke at length as was appropriate, and we were all encouraged to tweet, blog, etc ( not really sure if there is an etc., but ... ).  I followed the talk by reading Debby Cotton's tweets — you still can here .  I was sitting next to her at the time, and so she was able to 'talk to me' without saying a word.  I saw something of the point of tweeting (and whatever the verb is for reading them is) through this.

Stephen organised his talk round a Venn diagram whose three components were: Sustainable education – Ecological consciousness – The sustainable society

He spoke about each and brought them together at the conclusion of his talk.  It was a grand tour of his thinking over many years with many of his favoured alliterative lists on display, for example:

Learning by doing / default / design – these map to reflection / reaction / anticipation

Levels of educational thinking: practice / provision / policy / purpose / paradigm

He ended with a declaration of his possibilist stance towards change, after Jacob Von Uexkull, the founder of the Right Livelihood Award.  Uexkull says that

" There are too many possibilities to be a pessimist.  Of course, there are also too many crises to be an optimist.  I always say, I am a possibilist".

... which sounds to me like being a meliorist without going into the messy business of agency.

I can't help but think that Stephen is at the perfect place now: a professor at a university that takes what he can do seriously, surrounded by those who share his convictions.  Time now to make that contribution that his work so far has been building up to.  I'm looking forward to it, as should we all.


Cut off from the World

📥  News and Updates

Back on line after 3 days with no home broadband, and now recalled to life – but the first thing I learn is that Catherine Z Jones has depression!   Well, I'm off to Plymouth for Stephen Sterling's Inaugural – very much something to look forward to.  I shall report back ...


Take a Mary Baker Schools Mix

📥  Comment

An article in Local Government Lawyer [LGL] at the end of last week reports on a review of capital investment in schools that has criticised the system as "not fit for purpose” and suggested that the public sector had consistently failed to get the value it should have done out of the Building Schools for the Future [BSF] programme.   Indeed!   The report dwells on this and provides much evidence of BSF's problems.

The BSF review report was written by Sebastian James, a Dixons director.  The LGL piece lists a long catalogue of problems highlighted by James who says that, not matter how people tried, the system was always too much for them.   Four issues from the reported highlighted by LGL are:

  • The capital allocation process was “complex, time consuming, expensive and opaque”
  • The design and procurement process for BSF was not designed to create either high and consistent quality or low cost.  “Procurement starts with a sum of money rather than with a specification, designs are far too bespoke, and there is no evidence of an effective way of learning from mistakes (or successes).”
  • A lack of expertise on the client side “meant that there was little opportunity to improve building methods in order to lower costs over time, especially for very large and complex BSF projects”.
  • Devolved funding processes did not deliver efficiently the objectives that they were established to achieve.  Funds were diverted to those adept at winning bids rather than those most in need.

All this is very believable.

The overall aim of the Review was to ensure that future capital investment will provide good value for money and strongly support the Government’s ambitions to reduce the deficit, raise standards, tackle disadvantage, address building condition and meet the requirement for school places resulting from an increase in the birth rate.  Given this, James's main recommendations are unsurprising, perhaps.  Two stand out for me and have inspired the title of this posting:

iii.  New buildings should be based on a clear set of standardised drawings and specifications that will incorporate the latest thinking on educational requirements and the bulk of regulatory needs.  This will allow for continuous learning to improve quality and reduce cost.  Currently the bulk of new schools are designed from scratch with significant negative consequences on time, cost and quality.

iv.  There must be a single, strong, expert, intelligent ‘client’ acting for the public sector in its relationships with the construction industry and responsible for both the design and the delivery of larger projects.  This body must be accountable for the delivery of buildings on time and to the right budget and quality standards.  This is a philosophical shift in approach as it would mean that the Department for Education will deliver not money, but rather a building to meet local needs.  Currently, the Department for Education supplies money to the Responsible Body and the principal accountability for delivery lies with them.

So, the (wo)man in Whitehall is to know best once again.  All this seems quite at odds with the government's localism agenda and it remains to be seen how Mr Gove will react.  It seems to me to be a huge and touching leap of faith that student and community needs can be met in this way, both to standard and price.  More likely "best value" schools will be built which never quite do what it says on the tin – just like all those cake mixes whose packaging flatter to deceive despite the eating experience they promise.  The is a mention of sustainability in the report, but it's hardly a fulsome one:  Bureaucrats 1  Architects 0.


Campus Fugit

📥  Comment

I watched [part of] the first episode of Channel 4's new "comedy" Campus which was filmed at Bath last year.  I was a bit confused though as I didn't find it funny.  Whilst i know that universities are not supposed to be amusing, I thought comedy was.  Might be an age thing ... .  However, I am not alone; that insightful bloke, Graeme Thomson, agrees!