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Roland Meighan

The Radical

Learning Beyond the Classroom, to be published tomorrow, is being hailed as one of the key education books of the decade. The 25-year-old author, Tom Bentley, adviser to Education Secretary David Blunkett, puts the case for schools without walls, arguing that learning that best equips children for life takes place outside a curriculum-based system. Here, four educationists give their views

First, the latest Journal of Curriculum Studies declares "curriculum is dead", then Tom Bentley's book arrives. There must be something in the air.

This book engages mind and feelings, but - significantly - always in that order, so it is likely to draw the usual barrage of insults.

It includes an upbeat and informative section in the variety of initiatives outside the schooling system, including Changemakers, Kids' Club Network, Prince's Trust Volunteers, University of the First Age, Youth Works North East, Include, Schools Councils UK and Learning Through Landscapes.

Bentley draws lessons from these about effective learning. The projects, he argues, "motivate their participants, not by control and compulsion, or necessarily by the promise of certificates and rewards, but by developing trusting, reciprocal relationships with them". Another section covers multiple intelligences - spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and so on.

But Bentley tries to be a radical critic without quite succeeding. Metaphors such as the prison, the factory and the machine do reflect facets of contemporary schooling, but confronting the declared main tasks is more significant.

Mass compulsory schooling fails as a learning institution not because of a few operational difficulties, but because of basic flaws. It teaches significant bad habits. The radical educationist John Gatto identifies seven - intellectual, emotional, social, moral and political.

Another American radical, John Holt, claimed mass compulsory schooling could no more teach morality than the army could teach pacifism. It infringes basic human rights, and therefore can never be a moral or a convivial institution. It has to be replaced.

The book is well worth reading, but readers need to graduate to John Adcock, Colin Rose and Malcolm Nichol, Seymour Papert, John Gatto and Chris Shute to pursue the analysis.

Echoing EM Forster on the virtues of democracy, I propose "two cheers" for Tom Bentley's book.

Roland Meighan is former special professor of education at the University of Nottingham. His latest book is 'The Next Learning System', published by Educational Heretics Press

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Roland Meighan

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