Word Search

Word Searching – How (Not) to Describe Your Passion

I need a new word.

You may have noticed that I’ve changed the url of my website recently. The switch was driven by a need to change hosting arrangements as much as anything else but it’s caused me to think deeply about how best to describe my ‘project’.

The problem is one of baggage.

I’m from the world of ‘agile’. I’m interested in how the power of ‘the agile mindset’ might help improve the effectiveness of education in preparing young people to succeed in the modern world. But the word ‘agile’ carries with it several problems – as hinted by my exuberant use of apostrophes.

Firstly, it’s a word that conceals a mine-field of jargon – much of which is likely to be alien to the audience we’re trying to reach. There’s a danger of triggering a ‘them and us’ divide between business-based agile practitioners and education professionals.

Secondly, it’s rather vague. The term became popular after ‘The Manifesto for Agile Software Development’ was published in 2001 (the authors toyed with the word ‘light’ as an alternative) but it has transformed from something describing a very simple principle into an umbrella covering a fog of wide ranging concepts (see the infamous Deloitte Agile Landscape Map).

There is even far too much debate about how the word should be used – is it a verb, an adjective, a noun or simply a profane expletive?

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, if you type ‘agile doesn’t work’ into a search engine you’re likely to need an extremely long screen for the results.

‘Agile’ has a reputation problem.

The cause is complicated – but in a nutshell, agile transformations are extremely challenging to achieve successfully, resulting in many cases where ‘agile’ can be considered to have failed.

This doesn’t mean we should give up and go back to the old world (instead, we should try harder or perhaps smarter) but this fact does taint the reputation of ‘agile’ and all of the frameworks, tools and ideas that are associated with ‘it’. This reputational damage is so severe that some people get quite angry at the merest mention of the word!

Since the term and concept of ‘agile’ lacks clarity and is rather emotive, I feel there has to be a better term.

Perhaps the obvious choice, which I’ve been using recently, is ‘progressive’. It is at least more meaningful on its own in that it suggests by definition that we are concerned with change, improvement, or reform rather than simply to move quickly or easily. But the word ‘progressive’ is also problematic.

It too is vague and it too has a reputation problem… especially when applied to education. This is perhaps a bigger problem than the reputation issue that exists with the word ‘agile’.

Since ‘the age of enlightenment’ in the 17th and 18th centuries there have been attempts around the world to construct forms of education that are progressive in nature – to move from teacher-led to child-centred learning and away from traditional one-dimensional, academic, exam driven schools to something that embraces the variety of human nature.

However, there are many who believe, quite categorically, that the ideas behind progressive education are fundamentally wrong. A simple search will reveal case studies that claim progressive education has failed generations of young people who, as a result of progressive ‘experiments’, find themselves unable to read, write or carry out simple mathematical calculations.

Despite this, there are still many who believe a progressive approach is the right one. Personally, I think there is a middle (dare I say ‘agile’) way that combines the best of traditional and progressive approaches, but whatever you believe, the term is damaged.

So what next?

I’ve toyed with other ideas, but they all hit problems:

  • Hybrid Education – already used in the EdTech world to refer to a combination of online and in-person learning
  • Integrated Education – used in Northern Ireland in particular, to refer to schools where children from both protestant and catholic family backgrounds are educated together.
  • New Education – too vague and too hippy.
  • Education Reform – political connotations

…I could go on. The truth is, there’s no easy way to clearly encapsulate what I have in my mind without hitting a wall of packing cases.

So, I’ve finally decided. I’m off to my local domain name store to buy myself:
exploring-and-promoting-some-ideas-from-the-world-of-business-that-I-and-others-think-might have-a-positive-impact-on-the-way-young-people-are-educated-to-prepare-them-for-life-in-the-modern-world.com

…but then I really don’t like domains with hyphens!

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson PhD, 1950-2020

It is estimated that 380 million people from over 160 countries have watched Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

It is a remarkable and powerfully persuasive argument for worldwide educational reform – presented with the wit and delivery of a genuine stand-up comic. It was one of the catalysts that inspired me to create the Agile in Education Community Group and this web site.

I was therefore immensely saddened to hear of Sir Ken’s death last weekend, on the 21st August.

Sir Ken fought throughout his career “…to transform the culture of education and organisations with a richer concept of human creativity and intelligence”. He was a respected advisor on educational reform in the UK, including a period in the 1980s as Director of the Arts in Schools Project. He later went on to have similar influence in the USA and other parts of the world.

He believed that we are facing significant challenges as a result of globalisation and the pace of technical advance threatening our cultural identities – creating a world in which we cannot predict what life will be like in a years time let alone when the current generation of school children leave education. How can we prepare them for this uncertain future?

“We can reinvent school. We can revitalise learning and we can re-ignite the creative compassion of our communities if we think differently when we try to go back to normal.”

…real social change comes from the ground up through people cultivating the grass roots. It’s a mistake to believe that we just need to wait ‘til some enlightened politician comes along and shows us the way.

“My thoughts to the Call to Unite”, Sir Ken Robinson, May 7th 2020

He argued that the majority of the education systems around the world have their roots in the industrial revolution and are focused on a narrow sense of intelligence which stifles creativity. He believed that this is preventing us from being innovative – a critical skill for the modern world. He suggested that we build education systems based on diversity and individualisation – valuing and nurturing traits of curiosity and creativity within our young people.

“The real power is with the people and connecting people…is the key to this – getting people to share ideas, to collaborate, to work together to see future possibilities and to bring them about through joint projects and through the joint support that comes from compassionate collaboration.”

“My thoughts to the Call to Unite”, Sir Ken Robinson, May 7th 2020

As a master of communication it is no surprise that his web site at http://sirkenrobinson.com is simple, efficient and eloquently presented. If you’re interested at all in the subject of progressive educational reform or just want a better world for the young people of today – and for all of us, then I urge you to spend some time there absorbing his wisdom.

I am sure his legacy will live on and if enough people listen to his message, then one day…

Sir Ken Robinson – 2006 Ted Talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity?