Saturday, 31 October 2009

Educational Troubleshooting: The Magnificent Seven

I watched the movie ‘The Maginificent Seven’ for the fourth time recently. This time around I found it had a special resonance.

I’m a freelancer. I left teaching two years ago, paroled after a fifteen year stretch. Not too sure what my crime was. But joking aside, teaching is truly the most important job in the world, for ‘He who teaches the children teaches the children’s children to the end of time’ (Talmud).

Teaching is a job for big people, the bigger the better. But where are the Mahatmas, the Churchills, the MLKs or the Einsteins? Instead of enough Bohrs we have too many bores. Instead of broad backed authority with a light touch we have the back-covering velvet gloved tyranny of mediocrity, conditioned by some maniacal pavlovians to sweat rather than salivate at the merest mention of tickboxes, inspectors and targets; tired lions jumping through the latest blazing hoops of the government circus. A sorry show to be sure.

So, high time I got an honest job, I thought. I decided to strike out as a storyteller. With a doctorate in the educational applications of narrative forms it seemed an obvious choice. And being a sixth generation storyteller descended from a line Jamaican Maroons stretching back to African griots it seemed a natural choice too.

Storytelling soon broadened out to include wider creative learning projects as clients (schools) began to ask what else I could offer besides telling tales. And before I knew it I was being asked to deliver training for local authority education advisory teams all over London. Now my work comprises a rich mix of storytelling, teacher training, creative learning projects, national and international 21st Century education innovation, national and international conference presentations and keynotes, personal tutoring, mentoring and intervention strategy planning for young people at risk of diversion by gang culture (for I was also expelled from school and spent several years in a gang in my youth.)

It’s a rich mix and I love every aspect and every moment of it.

I am sometimes referred to as an educational troubleshooter, sounds like a hired gunslinger. I’m probably not the best brain in town, there’s always someone quicker on the draw, but I only play in my field and that gives me an edge, so far. I’m the only person in the UK who combines academic, arts, education, underworld experience and entrepreneurial acumen to such a high degree. Like all gunslingers, a freelance education troubleshooter has to win every time; you’re only as good as last gig and if you lose one you’re finished.

But if I am a hired gun in education I am one with a clear agenda, no mercenary. My agenda is to carry the baton passed to me by my own mentors, people like Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Marley and Paulo Freire, the torch of empowerment, human liberation, justice and excellence, the beacon of what the old-timers called 'soul'.

Perhaps I should be unsurprised by the mix of responses I get from the education world. Some teachers and advisors regard me with the suspicion that is always reserved for those who fall outside of their frame of reference, their comfort zone. Others welcome the fact that there is someone like me around and are only too pleased to make good use of my unusual mix of skills and experience. They tend to be the smarter ones (but then I would say that, wouldn’t I) who are good enough at what they do not to feel threatened.

The kids on the other hand are unanimous. They love what I do with them, perhaps partly because they sense how much I love it too.

If there are any other troubleshooters out there who combine a similar mix of skills and experience to mine I’d like to know. Schoolville needs to rise and shine if it wants to step up to the mark and lead the way to a 21st Cenutry worth living in, and who better to help inspire a hopeful sense of vision and purpose than The Magnificient Seven?

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