Teaching for Freedom: The Ideal School’s Exhibition 

Julian Astle is the RSA’s Director of Creative Learning and Development who over the last few months has carried out research in schools which has culminated in the publication of a new RSA essay The ideal School Exhibition.

In summary Julian argues that with liberal democracy under threat, schools need to take brave decisions about what they teach children.  When Islamists and far-right extremists are willing a violent clash of civilisations, young people will need to know how to resist their provocations without shrinking away from the battle of ideas.  They will have to weigh the cost of joining or turning away from an increasingly shrill and polarised public debate dominated by the deliberately offensive and the easily offended.  Astle argues that the classes of 2018 will need to learn that all of this will be easier to achieve if we can rediscover our civility, generosity, humility and humour.  This provides a challenge for all of society but particularly for our schools which are charged with passing on society’s norms, customs, culture and values.  When freedom is the goal education is the solution.    Throughout the essay he poses the question ‘what kind of education will prepare them, not to just write a good exam but to live a good life?’  The Ideal School Exhibition is a study conducted with schools from across the country on the debate of what schools should teach (curriculum) and how they should teach it (pedagogy) and how they can find out if they are succeeding (Assessment).  One headteacher in the study states that ‘The best defence against extremism and illiberal democracy is an education that teaches reflection, critical thinking and questioning’.  Another argues that ‘without knowledge critical thinking is redundant.  Without some knowledge and some acceptance of facts we are just people with different opinions shouting at each other’.

As Julian Astle concludes, this is the educational conversation the leaders of mission- oriented schools are engaged in.  And that is the conversation the RSA intends to host and contribute to in the coming years.

For the full essay read The Ideal School Exhibition at www.thersa.org/idealschool