Whenever I hear the name Robert Owen my heart sinks. This isn't so much to do with the reformist himself, rather the impact he has add on educational visits to New Lanark – of which I have had five! Two when studying geography and history at school, one when briefly studying town planning (I think that visit led to a quick exist from that degree), another during my social work degree, followed by a visit during my post-grad year studying leisure , recreation and the heritage industry (strange but true). It was suggested as a potential place to visit when I was studying for my education degree, but I declined the coach trip. I was even there last week for the IRISS Conference, but honestly I could have led the Annie McLeod Experience tour.
So, I have to confess that when Mark Murphy @robertowenctr first told me about the Launch of the new Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change, I had to suppress the fear of another visit to New Lanark, and then rejoice that it was safely based in Glasgow University. He did look a bit taken aback when I asked for confirmation that anyone involved with the centre wouldn’t actually have to go to New Lanark.
New Lanark is actually a wonderful place (the first few times) but I can’t help feel there is a slight irony in naming the center after a leading reformer from the past, at a time when colleges across Scotland, renowned for their work in addressing inequalities in education have lost the names of enterprising innovators: James Watt, Stevenson, Telford (let’s gloss over the gender issues here).
I’m know the centre will be focusing on innovation and change based on national and international research (http://robertowencentre.academicblogs.co.uk/) and undoubtedly will form a much needed dynamic network of all those passionate about educational change. My slight unease is that we will be researching within the confines of what already exists, with a focus on the transition between school to university, as if this golden route to readdressing inequality. My hope is that we have research that questions what education is really for and how it can be structured in such a way that it doesn’t continue to privilege the separation out of academia from skills/occupationally based education. In my opinion this means challenging the narrow, linear approach we have to Scottish education and questions the assumptions about where and how education takes place and who is involved in the process of providing educational experiences.
I would urge all those involved in education to get involved in the work of The Robert Owen Centre – it is a much needed resource for education, but, I can’t help but wish it had been called - The Dangerous Centre for Educational Change! Maybe I could start one, and it could have the role as the darker alter ego of Robert Owen. Watch out for the announcement of that at ‘How Far Has The Axis Shifted?’ http://bit.ly/1aGXyT0 . We will be exploring dangerous ideas in practice and planning for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas – June 2014, hopefully in collaboration with The Robert Owen Centre, but please – not in New Lanark.
Apologies to all who live and work in New Lanark, and those who love it.