On the British Proposal of bringing the Armed Services into the School-system

In their article of 9 July in The Telegraph, the British shadow ministers for education and defence put forward the idea that the military (especially its veterans and reservists) ought to have a stronger role in the British education system.

While this may seem a rather radical idea, it does make some degree of sense. As the shadow ministers (equivalent to the critics in Canadian legislatures) point out, reservists already use civilian skills to do good in military contexts; surely ‘the reverse should also be true’. The armed services are built on the ‘values of responsibility, comradeship, hard work and a respect for public service’, ideals which are essential in helping children to become active citizens in our modern age. Other virtues of the armed services that make them well-suited to being involved in education, but which are not mentioned in the article, are their discipline, their respect for tradition, their custom of rewarding excellence and achievement, and, of course, their strong emphasis on physical fitness.

Whatever one’s thoughts on having soldiers teaching and interacting with children, the principle behind the idea is sound. As has been said on this blog and elsewhere, the time has come to search for creative ways to teach our children. Perhaps the military ideals of discipline and loyalty toward one’s peers and one’s superiors (e.g. the teachers) are just what some schools need to help to serve their students better. As with any model, however, it will not be appropriate for every school.

I myself was at first rather alarmed by the idea of having soldiers in schools, but as I’ve thought things through, the idea has grown on me; though, of course, I would not tolerate the presence of any firearms, or even the wearing of battledress. I do think, however, that, in underprivileged communities (which were particularly on the shadow ministers’ mind when they conceived the plan), the presence of authority in a nurturing role, rather than a law-enforcing one, coupled with the promise, almost unique to the military, of promotion through the ranks for those who work hard, could be precisely what’s needed to help students to rise to their full potential.

The shadow ministers’ suggestion, while creative, is controversial: one particularly impassioned  user on The Telegraph’s website went so far as to say that it was a ‘fascist [and] authoritarian’ proposal. What are your thoughts on this? Is it a troubling recommendation that would militarise our schools and society? Or is it a worthwhile, innovative idea that could help to improve education? Have your say in the comments section below!

Outward Bound Canada and Blyth Education: Sustainability for the 21st Century

Outward Bound (OB) has established itself as a pioneer in raising our collective consciousness about the world, developing self-awareness and leadership, and offering challenging programs of adventure and endurance. [pullquote]Time is not on our side, both personally and environmentally; we need to look beyond our intense personal educational needs and embrace hands-on partnerships …[/pullquote]Not only has OB done this in exemplary fashion since their founding by Kurt Hahn in 1941; in this country, Outward Bound Canada (OBC) has an impressive track record over the past 43 years of changing the lives of countless young people (and adults) that have participated in their programs. Several leaders and environmentalists that I met over the years had found their ecological roots in an OBC program. The “who’s who” of OBC participants includes a multitude of global change makers (educational, political, environmental and economical).

A number of weeks ago, courtesy of Sam Blyth (Founder of Blyth Education and Chair of Blyth Academy) and Patrick Shaw (President and Managing Director, Blyth Academy), I was fortunate to visit the OBC location at the amazing Centre for Green Cities, Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto. The whole experience was unexpected, I have to say. Not having been to the Brick Works before, while driving there, I couldn’t help but question the oddity of an OBC inner-city location. Given their previous home to the north, the urban setting seemed out of sorts. I couldn’t have been more mistaken … the vibrancy, energy, passion and vision for environmental and leadership education at OBC was amazing and the unique distinctiveness of the Brick Works was inspiring. While I have always had the highest regard for OBC and what they have achieved in wilderness exploration, it was an eye-opener to see the type of urban experiential programs they are offering in conjunction with Blyth Education. Sarah Wiley, Executive Director of Outward Bound Canada, describes the urban adventure as “an experiential journey that will connect [students] to the local environment and community on multiple ecological, historical and personal levels”.

An authentic model for 21st century learning cannot ignore the value of experiential partnerships of this nature. If we as educators are going to facilitate meaningful change in this world, we must inspire students to become true global citizens.  Time is not on our side, both personally and environmentally; we need to look beyond our intense personal educational needs and embrace hands-on partnerships as Blyth and Outward Bound Canada have done. The experience of the “Urban Discovery” is real, and it is relevant to the students in their immediate physical environment. The successful partnership between Blyth Education and Outward Bound Canada is a strong example for educators seeking meaningful hands-on learning opportunities.

So, what was my ‘take-away’ from my day at Outward Bound Canada? The message was clear … the 5 key elements for an authentic experiential learning program are:

  1. sustainability
  2. accessibility
  3. relevancy
  4. quality
  5. safety

I wish to extend my sincere thanks to Lindsay Cornell (Eastern Canada Program Director, Outward Bound Canada) and the team at OBC for the warm welcome and for enlightening me; and to Sam Blyth and Pat Shaw for sharing their innovative and dynamic program.
[pullquote]”It is really important for children to make that contact with our environment … and if you can provide that opportunity for them, it is the best thing”.[/pullquote]
Partnerships worth exploring: Ducks Unlimited

Sir Ken Robinson: The Learning Revolution continues …

“The reason I think we need a revolution [in education] is really captured in a phrase you hear politicians often misuse. They talk about the need to ‘get back to basics’ in education; and, I think, we should. The problem, I think, is that many politicians, when they say “get back to basics”, seem to believe the basics are a group of subjects that they did when they were at school; and in particular, they tend to emphasise literacy and numeracy and science. Well, of course, they are fantastically important; but the basics of education are not a group of subjects. The basics in education are fundamental purposes …”

“I find it interesting; people can talk all day about education, but never mention ‘learning’. And, therefore, what I’m arguing is that the education revolution has to be based on a radical commitment to improving learning, however that happens”.

Sir Ken Robinson
September 17, 2011


In his latest talk, Sir Ken not only identifies the basics in education as “fundamental purposes” that manifest in economics, culture and personal realities; he markedly identifies specific core principles that would radically improve learning:

  1. Personalisation:
    “Education is not a mechanistic process; it is a process that depends upon the imaginations and interests of students being properly engaged. So, at the root of my call for a revolution is the need to personalise education”.“Every student has their own story; every student has their own menu of interests and of talents; it has to be about them. It has to be about improving the motivation and opportunities for creativity of teachers. Teaching is an art form; it’s not just a delivery system. Great teachers are people who know how to mediate their material in a way that really does inspire the imaginations and ignite the creativity of their students”.
  2. Customisation:
    “Wherever students learn, that is the education system for them. It’s not the committee rooms of our parliament buildings, it is not the boardrooms of our examinations boards; education happens in the schools or learning communities that students attend, and that for them is ‘the system. So, customising education to those students, to this place, these needs, this community, is absolutely critical”.
  3. Diversity:
    “Our current drive towards standardisation offends the principle of diversity on which human life depends and flourishes … human life is inherently diverse and we need to celebrate that in our school systems. Instead, too often, we subscribe to a rather bland menu of conformity.”
  4. Partnerships:
    “Education isn’t just what happens in formal school buildings; it should involve great institutions … like our great museums, our great science institutions; it should be a genuine partnership with the community more generally”.

Sir Ken maintains that these principles underpin the debate for revolutionising education and for moving beyond curricula per se; they provide the impetus to making education deeply personal by improving the quality of the learning.

Watch the video of Sir Ken’s inspirational introduction at TEDx, London; or download the transcript:

Direct download:
Introduction by Sir Ken Robinson at TEDx, London -The Education Revolution September 17, 2011

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Introduction by Sir Ken Robinson at TEDx, London -The Education Revolution September 17, 2011