The Salzburg Global Seminar was set up to encourage a revival of intellectual dialogue after the Second World War. Its founders argued for a “Marshall Plan of the Mind” as a critical element of recovery for a continent that had been devastated by conflict.
This week, a group of international educationalists and scientists met at the Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria, to discuss a different kind of plan. One that would benefit not only Europe but also the rest of the world, that sought, somewhat counter-intuitively, to accelerate creativity in learning and societies via better testing and data.
Among the many ideas aired was an intriguing idea for improving diversity: algorithms that can replace race, class and culture-based criteria with demographically blind, data-based criteria that will remove subjective human evaluation.
But while data collection and testing dominate education in some parts of the world, particularly in the US, it is intellectual ideas that drive us forward. What powers education is the big thinkers.
In this week's edition of TES magazine, we take a look at the effect that some of those thinkers have had on others in the sector, especially policymakers, through their work.
These thinkers live the meaning of education. After all, the word education comes from the Latin educere – to lead or draw out – the role of the author of a book on education is surely to do both.
Unsurprisingly, US cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? is the top choice for three of our respondents, including schools minister Nick Gibb, a standard-bearer for subject knowledge. He says Willingham “demonstrates how the limitations of working memory, and the power of knowledge stored in long-term memory, should guide classroom practice”.
His boss, education secretary Nicky Morgan, similarly flaunts her guiding passions. She plumps for a book by another US figure, Paul Tough, a powerful advocate of the part non-cognitive skills play in educational success. For her, the book, How Children Succeed, “offers an important contribution to the debate around the role of character education in schools, and in particular the value it can have for disadvantaged children”.
Neil Carmichael, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, goes even grittier. He takes his inspiration from the rugby-playing All Blacks with Legacy by James Kerr, because it “analyses the secrets of the most successful rugby team in history and how their disciplines in character, preparation and responsibility can be used by leaders in all fields”.
Philosopher Baroness Warnock, chair of the seminal Warnock report on special educational needs, chooses the magnificent On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, who, she says, speaks of the “tyranny of the majority, the fetters imposed on the individual by the need to conform to the role society has assigned them”. In other words, teachers must try to avoid stereotyping and labelling their students.
Instead, she writes, as inspirational as ever, they should “hope beyond expectation”.
That’s a sentiment with which everyone convening in Salzburg would have concurred. After all, as one singing governess (who was no stranger to Schloss Leopoldskron) could tell you, you can achieve anything once you’ve been inspired “to climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream”.