Recently in Pre-History / HerStory (1950-) Category

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering Princes Boulevard in Toxteth, Liverpool, was once a bustling avenue, the home of wealthy merchants and many townspeople. Then local fortunes took a desperate downturn, the nadir being the Toxteth riots in 1981. But more recently things have begun to look up, as demonstrated for instance by The Gathering of May 2008, and today's Big Lunch in this historic setting.

Liverpool & Merseyside

Quite recently, we acquired from a local auction room a print of the hustle and bustle which was Princes Boulevard in 1915:

Liverpool Princes Boulevard print 1915

It's now fully acknowledged that some of this wealth arose from the shame which was the slave trade, but by the turn of the last century this was a disgrace of the past (not least as a result of campaigns by other Liverpool citizens) and Liverpool was establishing itself as a great city for the right reasons - its entrepreneurial spirit and the cosmopolitan nature of its populace.

And then began the decline in the fortunes of Liverpool which reached rock bottom with the riots of 1981. July that year saw us driving to work past huge groups of police officers imported from all over the country, with the fear every day that friends and colleagues living nearby might be injured in the ugly confrontations which were Liverpool's nightly lot.

But that was nearly thirty years ago. How much more positive it is that this year we have been able to attend the Big Lunch and Gathering in that same place. This was a fun event for everyone. We've seen the preparations getting going over the past few days, and were even permitted a sneak preview yesterday:

09.07.18 Preparing for Toxteth's Gathering and Big Lunch

09.07.18 Toxteth Gathering and Big Lunch - sneak preview of the Mongolian yurt

Then, at midday today, the activities were launched for real, the Boulevard decorated with streamers, ribbons and bows, dream catchers (some of them I was told made from recycled materials) and other features of festivity.

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering 044aa 500x500.jpg

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering

Already, by lunchtime, the place was beginning to fill up, with local folk, older couples and strollers, mums and dads and babies and kids, teenagers on bikes and a good sprinkling of community activists, along no doubt with visitors who'd just dropped by when they saw that things were happening.... and all this in an area of just a few hundred yards, which is also host to the Anglican Cathedral, a Greek Orthodox Church, Princes Avenue Synagogue and the local Mosque.

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - the cupcakes on the table spell out 'The Big Lunch'!

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering ~ people meet and chat with the backdrop of Princes Road Synagogue, the Anglican Cathedral and the Greek Orthodox Church

There were singers, dancers and musicians....

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering ~ the choir entertains

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - jiving and drums, with a harp at the ready...

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - African drummers

... and representatives of several local organisations and services....

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - Hippie Hippie Shake Banana and her friends from Granby SureStart Children's Centre

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - police and ambulance officers

...not to mention people selling everything from jam, bread and cupcakes to plants, recycled clothing, paintings and jewellery ....

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - gooseberry jam and much else

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - Camp Cupcake

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - fresh bread

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - jewellery and rag dolls for sale

So, what next? Way back before the Millennium some of us were agitating with the then-brand-new Liverpool Vision to take a route from Hope Street through Princes Avenue (Boulevard) into Toxteth, making the area people-friendly and good to be in.

Today, with support from Arts In Regeneration and others, there have been celebrations of our living communities at the Bombed Church (St. Luke's) in Leece Street in town, right through to Sefton Park, some two or three miles distant, at the other end of Princes Avenue. Perhaps some of the action on Princes Boulevard didn't offer quite what The Big Lunch prescribed (Geraud Markets for example are not exactly a voluntary organisation), but The Gathering did promote imagination, enterprise and friendship.

Last year there was a first attempt at such an event, on May 25th (2008):

08.08.26 Toxteth Liverpool Princes Boulevard The Gathering

On that occasion the weather was cruel - blustery gales and very cold. This year it has been a little kinder, and the sun even shone for some of the afternoon. Let's hope that next year is a sunshine-all-the-way sort of event, and that this is the start, at long last, of something really, enduringly, positive.


See more photographs of Liverpool & Merseyside and read more about Urban Renewal.

Hilary Burrage Ltd....

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Hilary Burrage Ltd Well, I've taken the plunge. From today I'm no longer a Sole Trader, but, rather, a Private Limited Company. It's a sensible move in business terms, but it's also definitely a stepping stone towards a way of working which even three or four years ago I never thought would be for me. In part, this is because my circumstances have changed through happenstance, and in part it's a changed mode of professional functioning which has developed its own logic over the past few years.

It may feel a bit daunting right now, but it's also a very positive challenge.... so wish me luck!

See also HerStory (1950-)

Salford MSc Sociology as a discipline in the UK was shaping up during the 1960s; but there was still an air of mystery about the whole thing when I chose to study it. There was no clear role model on which to base expectations. The discipline has however served me well ever since. For most of my working life I've been what might be called a Jobbing Sociologist. This is a version of the account I gave of my interwoven personal and professional experience, writing for the British Sociological Association's 'Sociologists Outside Academia' newsletter, published today.

Pre-History / HerStory (1950-), Social Science and Gender & Women.

1968 remains an iconic year for many. For some it represents a time of dramatic change preceding one’s own individual history, for others it was the start of a new way for us all to see the world.

But for me, 1968 was the point where the personal really hit the political-professional – the year I finished being a teenager and abandoned plans to be a natural scientist or a coloratura soprano (I’d tried both), and the year I got married and then enrolled for a degree in the most daring and mysterious subject I could think of: Sociology.

Realities
Needless to say, people opined that it would never last; but truth to tell my heart has stayed on both counts where I put it so long ago, and on many levels the two have interwoven over and over again as time marches on. Allies older and new will confirm that I’ve never been less than a fully paid-up feminist, but hard realities can sometimes get in the way of the more seductive theories of autonomy and self-determination.

My personal journey from undergraduate social science in the Nissen huts of the then North East London Polytechnic, to a freelance career as a writer and regeneration / sustainable communities consultant, via research and teaching Sociology and Social Policy in various institutions of Further and Higher Education and a decade of temporary ill-health ‘retirement’ when community activism was the only way to mitigate the tedium of physical immobility, has been part-moulded by my life as a spouse, mother, daughter, citizen and wage-earner. And I regret not a minute of it.

Following careers
I started my career in Sociology in London, because the Royal Academy of Music is where putative violinists such as my other half studied; we moved to Liverpool when he was appointed a member – as he still is - of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; I undertook my Master’s (Sociology of Science and Technology, 1973; the first serious piece of research on women scientists in the UK) at Salford, because by a miracle the (then very unusual) exact course I wanted was accessible from our new home city; my PGCE was at Liverpool, so every morning before lectures I could take our baby daughter to nursery.

Having been forced (just pre-1975 and the Sex Discrimination Act) to leave my original FE teaching post when I started a family, I taught the new Open University distance courses at home whilst also sewing in pre-school name tapes, and then returned to teach 'O' and 'A'-levels to many engaging young and older college students alongside checking juvenile homework. Later, I wrote the first-ever Sociology Access-to-HE modules, and academic papers and book chapters on aspects of Sociology. For some years I was (unpaid) commissioning editor for the journal Social Science Teacher, working from my prototype Amstrad computer.

Getting involved
I was also an active member of the British Sociological Association (BSA) Executive Committee, instigating the organisation, FACTASS (Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences), which eventually saw off the Margaret Thatcher-Keith Joseph proposal effectively to remove any notions of personal, health, social and civic education (PHSCE) from the school curriculum: ‘History finishes at 1945’ .... Oh no, it doesn’t, not if you’re teaching a decent school curriculum.

And as we all debated in those difficult times, I was learning for real how the prism of Sociology can offer a focus and analysis which rarely fails to stimulate or challenge.

Work experience
Early on, I was a social worker in Liverpool’s dire council estates, and briefly a youth worker; later I was Research Associate in teenage pregnancy at Liverpool Medical School, and then Head of Health and Social Care at a Merseyside FE college. And in the 1980s and ‘90s I had to take several years out of employment with severe arthritis; so I learnt first hand to cope with illness and disability (which much illuminated my later work as an NHS Trust Non-Executive Director and as a Lay Partner of the Health Professions Council) alongside how, as a volunteer and political activist, to lobby for arts and community organisations, so finding my way into the local and regional centres of decision-making.

Eventually from that arose the initiative to regenerate the area in Liverpool I designated as Hope Street Quarter – and thereby my re-involvement in the whole sustainable development agenda, on a very different basis from when my 1970s membership of Friends of the Earth and Scientists Against Nuclear Arms had been seen as almost subversive. Being Vice-Chair of the North West (region of England) Sustainable Development Group, and a Non-Executive Director and Equality and Diversity Champion of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, are pretty respectable activities.

Widening the portfolio
And in the meantime I have undertaken independent consultancies on Sure Start and local authority Youth Services, helping to realign public service provision; I’m working with Muslim colleagues on a mosque project to engage disaffected young people, and to establish a Foundation for the inspiring black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. I’ve spent three fascinating years as Lay Member of the Defra Science Advisory Council (actually working in the corridors of power of which C.P. Snow wrote so compellingly, not long before I went to Salford all those years ago).

I’m currently teaching practitioners about sustainable communities online for the Homes and Communities Agency Academy; I’ve addressed conferences on my take on regional science and the new knowledge economy (‘Knowledge is like water – it flows where it can...’). I write and am a referee for regeneration journals; I have a very active website; plus I suspect I’m about to become the author of a book on communicating to achieve grounded sustainability.

The personal and the professional
So many hours on trains with the laptop, so much still to do; and now delightful Grandma duties too. My personal life trajectory has always and indelibly framed the professional one, but how else could it have been?

Free-lancing as a social scientist isn’t an easy way to earn a living, but I don’t think that’s the point. Knowledge may be like water, but sociological analysis is pure crystal. It sharpens perceptions and illuminates the social world. That’s invaluable in innumerable ways, not least as a consultant-practitioner and enabler of progressive social change.


This article was first published in the British Sociological Association's newsletter for its Sociologists Outside Academia group: Sociology for All, Issue No. 7 (Summer 2009).

Read more articles about Pre-History / HerStory (1950-), Social Science and Gender & Women, and see Hilary's Publications, Lectures & Talks.

Science & Music books C.P. Snow introduced the idea of the Two Cultures in the annual Rede Lecture in Cambridge of 7 May 1959. Himself both an eminent scientist and contemporary historian of science, and a novelist, in that lecture he lamented the gulf between scientists and 'literary intellectuals', arguing that the quality of education in the world is on the decline. Now fifty years later (as on the fortieth anniversary) a range of commentators continues to debate this claim.

Science & Technology.

Some of us may feel that the great contribution to British culture of Charles Percy Snow (1905 - 1980) was in fact to write novels and commentaries about science which are still remembered for the light they shed on how science works in modern society.

For me that's certainly true: the dozen novels of the Strangers and Brothers saga (1949 - 1970) and his non-fiction (if not undisputed) accounts of how science 'works' - especially Science and Government (The Godkin Lectures at Harvard University) (1961), The Two Cultures and a Second Look (1963) and The Physicists: A Generation that Changed the World (1982, republished 2008) - have helped to bridge that science - humanities chasm.

Focus on the Corridors of Power
These were the books which, as a post-grad student of the sociology of science, opened my eyes to a world I hadn't even previously known existed: the world of high level science and policy, the world as Snow himself styled it, of The Corridors of Power.

But this focus has been largely lost in the debate about the Two Cultures and the heavyweight attack which the literary critic F.R. Leavis (1895 - 1978) made on C.P. Snow's thesis a couple of years after the Rede Lecture, suggesting that Snow was a dreadful novelist and rejecting the validity of his concerns that the literary elite was not scientifically literate.

Not always incompatible
Isn't it interesting in this context that quite a lot of excellent musicians are also good at maths and science; and probably just as many very good scientists are also decent musicians?

There remains as ever a cultural gap between the humanities and 'science', but they are both very complex enterprises, and it does not follow that all those in the arts are unaware of science, any more than the converse must always be true.

The nature of evidence
What is more worrying is that sometimes people don't seem to understand the nature of evidence (not 'science') ... that whenever possible it needs to be good enough to rely on, before conclusions are drawn.

Of course all evidence in the end is relative, but we have to start somewhere.... the important thing in a democratic society, is that the basis on which we as individuals, and those with influence, choose to decide actions and positions is open to scrutiny.

Moving towards rationality
Slowly, modern western society is becoming more rational and moving out of the mists of myth and cultural comfort zones. There is without doubt a limit to how much this can or should happen, but I think we're nearer to a balance on this than we were even a few decades ago. Many scientific terms are commonplace in everyday debate.

When C.P. Snow wrote his Two Cultures lecture we as a society 'knew' less than we do now. It's difficult to accept the claim that education for most people is 'worse' than it was in the 1950s and 60s - and I say that as the product of an inner-city grammar school of that era. Then we just didn't perceive the awfulness of the education which most children received; this was still the post-war era when anything was better than nothing.

For most people, cultural memory is it seems very short. We can surely now, despite all the naysayers, learn more, quickly, about anything, than ever before.

The longer view
It's said that 90% of the scientists who ever lived are here on this planet now. Possibly the same applies to artists, for what it's worth. But what I'm sure of is that C.P. Snow has excited a lot of people - including me - over several decades, with the debate he sparked.

Snow's perspective is of course now dated; but those who currently deny that things have got better have (potentially) the benefit of hindsight ,and they need to think quite carefully about whether they are using that very valuable vantage point properly. More people now know something about science and the arts, than ever before.

You don't need to be able to describe the double helix and the works of great poets in detail to share some mutual understanding about our complex cultural underpinnings.

Evidence and ideas for sustainability
What you do need to be able to do is draw threads together to make sense of where you find yourself in the world... and never has that been more true than now, with the 'one planet living' challenges we all face.

Indeed, Lord Snow argued himself that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Bridging the gap
I'm not therefore sure that the most important debate around education can continue now be an arid discussion of so-called 'standards'; surely it has to be about searching for common understandings? And in that debate C.P. Snow and those who followed have helped a lot.

If the musicians and their counterparts can sometimes bridge the gap, then maybe the rest of us should start to be more positive, and have a go too.


Read more about Science & Technology.

For more commentary on the fiftieth anniversary of the 'Two Cultures' Rede Lecture, see e.g. here and here.

Vegetable patch Earth Day, the annual event on 22 April, was devised in 1970 by a US Senator from Wisconsin. Today the Earth Day Network has a global reach. 2009 marks the start of The Green Generation Campaign, leading to 2010, the fortieth anniversary of this important day. A billion people already participate in Earth Day activities, now the largest secular civic event in the world. It's time for us all to take the Green Generation route to the future.

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

We all have to 'Go Green'.... and even back in 1970 many of us knew it.

Whilst we in the UK were busily promoting the then very new Friends of the Earth - at the time perceived by some as a dangerously radical organisation - our eco cousins in the USA were going about their business, it seems, in a rather more formal fashion, via a proposal by Gaylord Nelson, a then US Senator, that there be a national Earth Day.

Today (22 April 2009) sees the thirty ninth anniversary of what has evolved into International Earth Day, with a network of more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries looking forward the fortieth such event, to occur in 2010.

The Green Generation
Now, the focus is on the new-wave Green Generation, a cohort with unambiguously ambitious aims:

* A carbon-free future based on renewable energy that will end our common dependency on fossil fuels, including coal.

* An individual’s commitment to responsible, sustainable consumption.

* Creation of a new green economy that lifts people out of poverty by creating millions of quality green jobs and transforms the global education system into a green one.

Sharing responsibility for sustainability
People of every sort have begun to recognise their responsibility for sustaining the future of our shared environment. Those who have their own challenges, living in a complex multi-cultural society, work together sharing a common resolve to make things better, just as others also do.

But the further you are from where decisions are made, the harder it is to get the support you need to do your part. Sometimes it's money and resources you require; other times it's the encouragement of family, friends and neighbours who don't always understand why wider environmental and community issues matter.

People at the grassroots can feel they have little power to change things.

Small actions are important
But every small effort is part of the greater scheme of things, with important ramifications.

Perhaps it's 'only' planting some vegetables with the kids in an urban space, or explaining to our children why they need to respect their environment - or indeed digging up the White House lawn to plant organically produced vegetables, as Michelle Obama has just done - but from these acts the idea can grow. We're all part of the same shared world.

The environmental movement is growing quite quickly now, even in inner cities. People undertake small projects - helping with a city farm, supporting older people who want to shop locally, or whatever - but over time the ripples of these activities will begin to overlap, as more and more people join in.

Individual initiatives become communal
You may start a small project almost alone but, as others start also do the same elsewhere, there is somehow a change in perceptions.

Through sharing ideas and action we begin to see why everyone must understand that there is only 'one planet' to live on, and that we all have to do our bit to save our environment. Big supermarkets or small traders, there is now an active acknowledgement green issues and eco-initiatives.

All together in common cause
But there's another important thing here too: It doesn't matter where you come from, or what your culture, gender or age is. We must all to 'Go Green', and quickly.

Different people from different places will start in different ways, but we all need to rely on each other. Nobody can 'save the planet' on their own: Environmental sustainability is quite a new idea, no-one rich and powerful 'owns' it.

The idea of sustainability belongs to us all. Here is something we can all contribute to.

A green leveller
The 'green agenda' is a great social leveller, because we are all part of the problem and likewise all part of the solution. Environmental actions, even tiny ones, are critical if we are to sustain our fragile planet; and, happily, sharing our concerns and our ideas for action can bring us together regardless of creed or nationality.

It's not easy to work, often unpaid and in small ways, protecting the environment and looking after the people in local communities. You can feel alone and perhaps unappreciated. But that work is vital and slowly it is being recognised - which is the first step to the work being properly supported.

With luck the Green Generation Campaign and the run-up to Earth Day 2010 will help to make that happen.


Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

The Daily Miracle

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baby mitts It happens every day, and each time it is the greatest and most wonderful gift: the miracle of the birth of a baby.
Nothing compares with the arrival of a new child, every one of them the most beautiful and precious blessing it's possible to receive.
Here is the loveliness which the parents of this tiny, serene new miniature person will now awake to every morning.

new baby, sleeping blissfully

happy young people After much debate the Government has finally announced that Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE) will be compulsory in schools at a level appropriate to each child's age. This decision has been widely welcomed - though strangely not quite by everyone. All children need to understand their own bodies and relationships. But only a few years ago some of us, as educators, were still battling to save this entitlement and embed it into the curriculum.

In 1990 the Cambridge University Press published a book entitled The New Social Curriculum. Edited by Barry Dufour, it was intended as a 'guide to cross-curricular issues', for teachers, parents and governors. I wrote the chapter on 'Health Education: Education for Health?'.

How different things were such a relatively short time ago.

Quotes from another era
Even as recently as 1990 I find, looking back, that I was obliged to write as follows (please forgive the self-plagiarism.):

[My first thesis is] that health education is far too weighty a matter to be left to the varies of visiting speakers, odd sessions, leaflets, films, etc... and the whims of individual teaching staff...

[The second thesis is] that meaningful (or even plausible) Education for Health can only be achieved in institutions where the teaching staff as a whole have a competent grasp of [these] curricular issues and where the mores of host institutions themselves support an alert and sensitive response to the social and personal needs of learners. Isolated 'lessons' on the 'nightmares of adults' (to use Chris Brown's apt term) are unlikely to meet effectively the aims of an informed and humane programme of Education for Health [where] health can be viewed as a positive feeling of well-being....

Any institution which means what it says about Education for Health will recognise the necessity for:
1. a curriculum which acknowledges the overlap between different aspects of social and personal experience;
2. an adequate allocation of resources - financial and personnel - to develop and deliver such a curriculum;
3. careful attention to the dignity and welfare of all who are involved in work or study within it....

But the majority of developments in Health Education continue to occur outside the context of the mainstream curriculum, and certainly outside the professional remit of those who manage formal educational organisations [which..] may account for the lack of impact which many health messages appear to have on their intended recipients.

Contentious issues
It has to be remembered - or retrospectively understood - that this was written in the context of what amounted to moral panic and the Victoria Gillick campaign on the subject of 'Sex Education', which had become the almost singular 'topic' focus of the then-Conservative Government's educational legislation.

Teachers had to contend with, and at their peril remain within the requirements of, the Education Act (Number 2), 1986, the DES Circular 11:87, and, until it was clarified, Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 1988. All these legal frameworks had the effect of putting teachers of anything to do with sexual education, not to mention student counsellors dealing with issues such as homosexuality, at personal and professional serious risk.

A wait eventually worthwhile
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. In 1990 I ended my chapter by remarking that, whilst much good work was being undertaken, there was 'as yet little evidence to encourage the hope that national educational structures, combining the experience of health promotion personnel, health educators and classroom teachers firmly within the context of the National Curriculum, will soon emerge to encompass and consolidate this good practice.'

Now however the Government has at last announced that all pupils will Get Healthy Lifestyle Lessons, including age-appropriate information on sex and drugs, and a review by headteacher Sir Alasdair MacDonald will be carried out into the best way to shape and deliver this essential new core curriculum.

A positive step forward for children
This development, in the context of Every Child Matters, is enormously to be welcomed by anyone who wants every child to receive what is surely their basic entitlement - to understand, in ways suitable for their age and maturity, their own bodies and behaviour. How else can small people grow up to be sensible big people?

Across age, gender, social class and marital status, most adults have recently been found by a BBC survey to support this initiative. It's been needed for a very long time and at last nearly everyone seems ready for it.

Read more about Education & Life-Long Learning.

See also: 'Where do baby rabbits come from? Sex education to begin at five in all schools' (Polly Curtis, The Guardian, 24 October 208).

School children What are schools for? If they're intended to give every child a good start in life, how can anyone defend the old-style Secondary Modern Schools? And how can the other side of this equation, Grammar Schools, be justified? These are institutions defined only by the fact that their students 'passed' or 'failed' an examination at age 11; and the children know it.

The Guardian has reported that there are still 170 Secondary Modern Schools in England, as also 164 Selective Grammar Schools remain, the last few institutions from the Tripartite System commonly employed by Education Authorities the UK between 1944 Butler Education Act and the Education Act of 1974. (This Act heralded the arrival of Comprehensive Schools - though effectively only in name if selective state education also continued in any given County.)

Ed Balls MP, the Government's Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, does not like selection by testing at 11+, but has allocated substantial sums of money to help those 'SecMods' in need of extra support.

Selection and struggling students
Balls is right to do this, but it is right as well that the Guardian reminds us that the 14 County Councils which provide wholly selective state secondary education are also those with highest proportions of struggling schools.

Grammar Schools had their place in the post-WWII scenario of bringing forward the talents of children from less privileged backgrounds, at a time when there were few academically well-qualified and professionally trained teachers. The 'Grammars' were a well-intentioned strategy to nurture children deemed bright, and we knew far less then about how to teach and support children across the board to succeed.

Now, a school which does not support all its pupils or students is rightly judged inadequate; it is not the children who have 'failed', but the school. (What can I say about the school only a few miles from where I live, where just 1% of children gain five good GCSEs - the worst 'results' in the country? Despite its beautifully fitted-out new buildings, its results are simply an unbelievable disgrace.)

Failed students, or failed schools?
One of the reasons given for not closing dreadful schools - though that may happen - is that the children might think it's they who have failed, not their school.

But with the 11+, where only a small percentage of children gain Grammar School places, that's exactly what the message is: 'You, personally, have already failed'.

How counter-productive and downright cruel is that?

Success despite rejection
I know people who 'failed' at age 11, but have gone on to achieve considerable success in their careers.

None of them attributes that success to their Secondary Modern School; and most of them still rue the day when, aged just 11, they were pronounced 'failures'.

It hurts and damages for life.


Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning.

British Sociological Association (BSA) logo The British Sociological Association, founded in 1951, promotes the work of sociologists and social scientists as practitioners and scholars, in the UK and, through links, much further afield. Sociology offers an analysis which helps surprisingly large numbers of us make sense of what happens in our ever-changing world.

I recently re-joined the British Sociological Association, of which I was an Executive Committee member when I worked in further and higher education, much earlier in my career.

It's fascinating to see how things have evolved since that time, back in the 1980s.

Battles now won
Then we were battling to 'save' the Personal, Social and Health curriculum, which Sir Keith Joseph, then Secretary of State for Education under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was keen to remove or at the very least side-line. History in schools was to stop at 1945, the end of the Second World War and before the arrival in 1948 of the National Health Service (NHS) and Welfare State; Section 11 legislation made it almost professional suicide to teach about HIV / AIDS; the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) had to be renamed the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) lest anyone should think that social research was scientific - in retrospect a far cry attitudinally from current demands for 'evidence-based' policy at the highest levels.

All this we addressed, through the Executives of the BSA and other professional associations, via FACTASS, The Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences, of which I was Convenor. Now there is no need for FACTASS. We managed to hang on in there, and it's unlikely that any mainstream politician in any modern democratic country would want to see it otherwise; the PSHE curriculum and entitlement of children to understand their world is, along with positive resolution of the GCSEs-for-all debate, now established.

Fundamentals
But the fundamental emphases of the BSA on social equity; on understanding the interactive social constructions which give meaning to our daily lives, continue, developed and debated by people who have now spent a lifetime exploring how human societies and communities work and are understood by the people in them.

The 'classics' - gender, 'race' and ethnicity, age and life transitions, and social class - remain (alongside matters such as health and medicine, work and employment, and so forth) the fundamental building blocks of sociological analysis, keeping us constantly aware that big and sometimes invisible forces shape our day-to-day experience, even to the extent that they often determine our actual life expectancy.

New social analysis too
And beyond that, there is a new and critical emphasis on our physical world, on sustainability and green issues and how societies and communities will find themselves responding to the challenges we all face.

It may be too soon to say that Human Geographers and Sociologists have found completely common ground, but it looks as though a convergence may slowly be developing, after a decade or more when the gathering of empirical data on population change and socio-economic impacts was sometimes perceived to be enough to take governmental programmes and political policy forward.

Contextualising for the future
There is now a recognition that 'social research' must inform, e.g., environmental as well as community, health and education policies. (I was recently a co-author of the Defra Science Advisory Council report on Social Research in Defra - a fascinating and I hope very fruitful experience.)

The BSA, I note, has a growing Section (interest) Group on Sociologists Outside Academia (SOAg). I intend to sign up for it.

See more articles on Social Science , and
History Lessons Need More Than 'Hitler And Henry'
Social Geographers Take The Lead In Social Policy

08.05.11  computer keyboard 156x112  001a.jpg When did the World Wide Web emerge for most people? Around the Millennium? Like most things technical, it took off first amongst young men who enjoy gadgets.... who happen also in general to be less concerned with what was going on previously. So does History now begin in 2000? Will western culture and destiny henceforth be shaped by what the second generation web tells us?

A hunch today saw me typing the words 'cyber.history' into the Google search engine. I suppose I was not surprised that there are almost 5000 entries listed for that exact phrase.

Developing the idea
One of the most interesting entries I looked at was John Stevenson's cyber history collection and timeline, in which he cites commentary going back to 1945 (!) on what has become the world wide web. This fascinating list includes, of course, the ground-breaking insights of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, including his 1992 CERN paper on World-Wide Web: The Information Universe.

If you're a historian or a social scientist (as I am) looking at the development of science and technology, this is a rich seam ; and one indeed in which, as second generation blogging develops, many of us play our own tiny micro-parts.

Generational and other divides?
Despite the rise of the silver surfer, non-technically-directed people with memories at least as long as mine still form a very small element within the www community.

For most young people the www is the first port of call when information and ideas are sought; and most easily accessible content on the www is probably posted by (relatively) young people. When put alongside the reality that the www became popularly available only in about 2000, it begins to look inevitable that the Millennium just past is where History starts.

An open network
As Tim Berners-Lee, who has steadfastly insisted the www should be an open network, said in 2006:

'We're not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do.....The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space.'

Lee-Berner's remark was made in response to serious concerns that the internet might become an unpleasant place of anonymous rumour and malicious intent. And he is right to be so worried, before it really is too late.

Losing the past
I would add to that my own concern that the www has permitted us to forget how far western societies have come in the past few decades, let alone the past century. Right now, life truly is better for most of us in the developed democracies than it has ever been. But will this good fortune last? And can it be shared?

Losing our pre-Millennium reference points would also result in the loss, at a time when our culture is already very immediate, of our sense of what has worked to make the world better, and what perhaps has not. This loss would make it more difficult to sustain what's good and to improve what's not good or what looks worrying.

Learning for the future
Things reshape and evolve all the time. It's now 40 years since the last time 'history changed', in that surreal summer of 1968. For some who witnessed it, what the lessons are remains a matter of debate.

I still hope the www will help more people of every sort of experience and background share what they know and have observed. We have only to look at the work of political scientists and historians such as Peter Laslett to realise what a better understanding, say, of pre-industrial society might have done for many current social concerns.

Contemporary sharing might encourage us all to reflect just sometimes on the historical medium and longer term, and on how we can learn from it to sustain what we optimistically call 'progress'.


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Hilary's Weblog
Communicating
Pre-History / Herstory (1950-)

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