A little known fact about the onset of the Falklands War in 1982 is that the debate in the House of Lords which put the seal on the Thatcher campaign happened on exactly the same day as the presentation to their Lordships of one of the UK’s seminal arts education publications, The Arts in Schools: Principles, practice and provision, written by Sir Ken Robinson and published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
This led some 17 years later to the publication of All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, also written by Sir Ken and published by NACCCE, the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education. This directly led to the biggest investment in cultural and creative education in the UK ever, spawning programmes such as Creative Partnerships, Find Your Talent and more recently the Arts Council’s Bridge Organisation programmes. Over £400m has been invested into creative and cultural education in the UK in recent years as a result of those documents.
Ironically, had it not been for the Falklands campaign, The Arts in Schools may well not have touched the audience it did; and the blooming of arts and cultural education which has taken place in UK schools since may never have happened.
The connection between military campaigns and arts and creativity in education is discomforting but not unusual: it has its roots in the first World War and the work of Herbert Read. The 1950s motivation for stimulating creativity in American schools, and the prominence of the work of Joy Paul Guilford stemmed from Russia being the first nation to put a human being into space. The militarisation of education hasn’t stopped there: school leadership now frequently coalesces into ‘collaboratives’ (networks of schools working together) – the concept previously used to describe traitors in war which led to them being shot. Local education authorities – and arts bodies for that matter – are staffed by ‘officers’ and ‘inspectors’: signals, as Lyotard would have said, of the technology, the culture, the system of ‘terror’ that employs judgments, comparisons and displays as means of control, attrition and change. Perhaps in a different life, Margaret Thatcher may well have developed a career as a successful abstract expressionist.
The following is an extract from my paper When Herbert Met Ken: Understanding The 100 Languages Of Creativity which explores the evens of April 1982 through the prism of a thought experiement a la Tom Stoppard’s Travesties.
The setting is the Bonnington Hotel in London (a site with its own strong connection to arts education history); the cast made up of members of the Gulbenkian committee which guided the writing and publication of The Arts in Schools: Principles, practice and provision.
A Call to Arms: Room 1982, Bonnington Hotel
A charabanc from the Gulbenkian Foundation draws up outside the hotel. Peter Brinson, Gulbenkian group leader, lets his enthusiastic bunch off the coach, some of whom wander from the main group once in a while – their talk is rich with the excitement of children, young people, the arts, schools, education. Barking out instructions, he ticks them off his list with a flourish as they enter the hotel.
Peter Brinson – ex-tank commander. Fought against Rommel as desert rat. Author of Ballet for All. Royal Ballet. Inveigled Peter Newsom, EO of the Inner London Education Authority to prepare a report about arts in schools. A pre-emptive strike on the political agenda. Gulbenkian fund it. Don’t write it art form by art from – locks it into a structure that is already known, people will read their own chapters – which they’ll then find wanting. We’re on a barrel roll – going in two directions simultaneously. Wonderful stuff. Don’t need to talk about definitions – or what arts is. Can discuss it without defining it. We can talk about this without saying what we’re talking about. That’ll keep the buggers on their toes.
Whilst the group radiates warmth and mutual affection, outside the coach the air is chilly. John Allen peers nervously out of the bus, looking up at the sky for signs of inclement weather. In the foyer, Marjorie Glynne Evans of Middlesex Polytechnic and John Stephens of ILEA have struck up an informal musical ensemble with their pal, John Paynter, away on a long weekend from York. Together they compose music for cutlery, hotel furniture and wine glasses and perform to an appreciative, gathering audience who are wowed by their ingenuity, technical skill and compositional awareness.
Once the coach has unpacked, the tour guides steer the Gulbenkian party to Room 1982 – another partially refurbished conference room. The group scribes – Peter Brinson, David Aspin and John Allen – collect suggestions and ideas from the coach party and passing hotel guests who pop their head around the door to see what all the noise is about.
The energy is good humoured but not uncritical – waves of opinion wash around Room 1982 about the style of their book / manuscript – should it be for future academics? For current politicians? For the guests in the hotel lobby who could do with some guidance on how to find their way around this hotel? They agree to allocate tasks as necessary and also on the need for one clear authorial voice. When Ken Robinson wanders in from the corridor looking for the trouble makers of Room 1959, who still can’t keep the noise down, they hand him the portable type writer.
There’s suddenly a flurry of activity downstairs in the hotel lobby. Lord Gowrie, Minister for the Arts, has wandered in off the streets, claiming to be looking for somewhere to sleep – his £30,000 per year salary is proving impossible to live on in London and he needs somewhere to put his head down. He’s directed up to Room 1982 and spends an agreeable time with the Gulbenkian party. In return for letting him hang around them for a few years, he agrees to take their work to the House of Lords so that his mates can mutter a few important words about the state of schools these days, how standards are slipping, how people are increasingly illiterate and that something has to be done about it forgodssake.
The party set about their task with renewed enthusiasm and bunker themselves into room 1982, not leaving it until their task is complete. An exhausted Ken Robinson emerges into the daylight on 15 April and takes a taxi to the House of Lords to hand over the manuscript to Lord Gowrie. Driving up to parliament is more difficult than usual though. The paparazzi are out in force, all of Gowrie’s mates are queuing to get into the House of Lords. A couple of black limousines with tinted windows jump the queue of their lordships and Ken gets a glimpse of Margaret Thatcher applying her lipstick and rouge in the backseat of a limo. Over on the Thames, a battleship is loading up with young, fresh faced recruits, many of whom have just left school, dispirited, disengaged but who’ve flocked to London from the cotton towns of Lancashire, the mining villages of Yorkshire and the car showrooms of the West Midlands in order to get a bit of action, to get a bit of meaning back in their life ‘down south’ – by which they don’t mean the wine bars of Clapham Common but the swell and gun smoke smell of the South Atlantic.
Within the next 20 minutes – because that’s all it takes – the House of Lords hear about how the Task Force has been sent down to the Falklands Malvinas to regain our sovereign territory – an adventure which will eventually result in 255 British and 649 Argentinean deaths. The House is packed to its gunnels – and after hearing about how war has been declared on the South Atlantic, they settle back to hear the reflections of the Gulbenkian party in its report, The Arts in Schools – Principles, practice and provision.
Ken wends his way back to Room 1982 and relates the story. The coach party agree that the presentation of the report to a full House is a seminal moment in the history of arts education – but can’t agree whether its seminal because it will be sidelined and forgotten in the light of the war, or seminal because it will be remembered and acted upon in the light of the war. One way or another they can agree that the Thatcher government had a significant role in the development of arts education in England, although they are unclear as to whether this is by accident or design.
John Stephens speaks to some waiting, tetchy reporters outside the Hotel:
Thanks for attending this press call today. We’re from a mixed background, specialists from all arts disciplines and educationalists who’ve given up our time for this work. We believe there’s a social imperative underlying the work of arts educationalists – and consequently a clear political agenda. Let’s say from the start that there’s an artist inside everyone. Full stop, non-negotiable…
Yes, we know there’s need for basic skills in our schools – we’re not talking about a carefree, laissez faire attitude to children’s development here you know – listening skills are important to everyone not just musicians you know… did you hear that at the back?
Look, the point of all this is about the arts in our schools OK? And we’re at the beginning of this potentially huge development in creativity in our schools so just give us a bit of time and space and we’ll show you what we mean. Creativity? What do we mean by creativity? Well, that’s obvious isn’t it? Rejoice! Next!
Rejoice was the rallying cry for years to come after the events of 15 April, 1982 – but whether this was to rejoice in the conquest of the Falklands Malvinas, the future formulation of a National Curriculum and the optional status the arts had in it, or the rise and rise of OfSTED and its self confessed ‘too naïve, too idealistic, too gullible English teacher’ Chief Inspector (Woodhead, 2002) – depended on which side of the megaphone you were standing on.
Excerpt from: © Owen, N. (2007) When Herbert Met Ken: Understanding the 100 Languages of Creativity English in Education / National Association for the Teaching of English, Vol. 41 No. 2.