Sir Ken Robinson: when Herbert meets Ken, what an afterlife that will be.

Sir Ken Robinson’s recent death has prompted much reflection and sadness across the world from artists, teachers, thinkers and politicians alike.  He’s been a hugely influential figure for so many of us who have been cultivating the arts and cultural education estate over the last 50 years, and it’s impossible to overturn any stone in the garden, rearrange the shrubbery or repave the patio without noticing the impact and influence that Ken, now one of the Great Gardeners in the sky, would have had on that contribution to our educational horticulture.

Many of us owe a huge debt to him for the wisdom, generosity of spirit and sheer good humour he has showed us whilst tending the estate.

My own testimony to him goes back to when I was studying for my PhD at the University of Hull, when I met him at a teachers conference in Stockport in August 2006 to talk about his history in art education: where he started, what he continued and where it was heading.

Whilst he had a long history of advocating for arts education, it was perhaps his work as Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) with its publication of All Our Futures Creativity, Culture and Education in 1999 and the subsequent development and implementation of the Creative Partnerships programme in 2002, when many of us felt the full magnetic force of what a Ken Robinson vision of what a creative education could look like.

Whilst you can trace a direct genealogical lineage from his book, Learning Through Drama with Maggie Tate in 1977, to  the Gulbenkian Foundation’s The Arts in Schools report in 1982, no-one could have reasonably foreseen the marked change of trajectory that Ken would go on to take between 1982 and 1999 with the publication of All Our Futures.

 His strategy was to re-configure artists in schools projects into a more ambitious programme of creativity and cultural development in which creativity was disconnected from an arts education agenda and placed within the wider context of creativity, teaching and learning. This may sound oddly familiar to those of us who are following the recent Durham Commission’s work into Creativity and Education and their visions for quietly rearranging Ken’s horticultural revolutionary idealism, but I’ll let that pass for the moment.

From initially arguing in 1982 that a repositioning of arts education in schools was essential to contributing to  a holistic, humanistic education, Ken found himself arguing in 1997 for a programme which, in reducing the significance of the arts and the artist in creativity and cultural education, was purposefully designed to appeal to government ministers who were anxious to ensure that the programme could not be interpreted as being the result of successful lobbying by an articulate arts constituency.

In an interview with me, Ken referred to a complex political context shaping the work of NACCCE and its production of All Our Futures:

I read this paper to him (David Blunkett)…  he said we would like to do this…  I was saying why don’t we get a group together to advise you   on what would be involved in a systematic  approach to creativity  in the school system given how important this is… but he didn’t want to go down in history as Gradgrind…. he wasn’t comfortable with the Chris Woodhead thing…  it was cramping his style … he said Chris (Smith) was very interested in this too …  you tell us how this might work… who would you like on the group… So that’s how it came about…. I put the proposal together to make it happen…  it just seemed to me that there was a historic opportunity here ….  my own personal line of thinking  has been…  a continuing opening of the agenda further out… my interest began in drama… but I always felt that drama was part of a bigger picture … so it became arts in schools…  but all the things I’d been writing about personally…  had always persuaded me that there were powerful synergies between the disciplines… but also if you look at what was happening in the theory of science … and especially the  cognitive sciences and theories of mental representation and  meaning making, you don’t have to look around long to  see synergies between  science technology  and the arts  – I also knew … that  the people who worked in science and maths were just as pissed off about what was happening in their disciplines…  they were feeling boxed in by these strategies and so on….  as soon as (Tony) Blair started to talk about creativity, I thought this was great…. but you can’t talk about the arts for long without saying creativity and culture, not really…  I also knew that….  if we’d gone to David Blunkett or Blair then in 97, and said this won’t do, you’re marginalising the arts again, we need a big arts initiative, I know they would have said not just now, we’re doing the economy…. we’ve got so much on, go and talk to Chris (Smith)…  I knew instinctively this just wasn’t the way to go – creativity was a  portal for all of us to go through…. so I didn’t write a paper about the arts, I wrote  a  paper on creativity… this was just the right thing to do politically because…   this was what they were concerned about:  what they didn’t know was what to do about it….  and they didn’t know what they were throwing away in the process – they were killing arts programmes all over the country at the time…. It seemed a much better strategy rather than saying…. you’ve got a problem, you’re killing the arts… more than that, it was an opportunity to get around the same table not just artists  but scientists, business leaders, economists….  that then is irresistible; if you show this is actually a  common argument  and a big argument and that the arts  are four square with the sciences and technology….  creativity seemed to be the portal  we could all go through…we could all get that… people got the economic argument…   it was a way of recasting it… so in a way….  All Our Futures is in its own way the arts in schools projected onto a much bigger canvas…

You can hear that interview here.  It’s not broadcast quality but his insights and humour shine through – and they tell us a lot about what Ken was faced with in attempting to revolutionise our educational landscape.

Ken’s allusion to creativity as a portal through which disparate educational and disciplines might step, in order to counteract the effects of an ever-prescriptive national curriculum and increasing performativity driven managerialism in is as relevant today as it was back in 1999, and even earlier.

Both All Our Futures and The Arts In Schools  trace their lineage to Half Our Future, a report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) published in 1963 and chaired by John Newsom, which, in its turn pays homage to the work of Herbert Read and his 1957 conference report for the Joint Council for Education through Art, Humanity, Technology and Education where H.J.  Blackham concluded:

 We believe that neither the contribution of the arts to general education, nor the place of general education in the national life has yet been properly recognised, and we want to form a body of enlightened opinion drawn from all walks of life which will bring general public opinion to share our conviction and see our vision of the role of the arts in general and the role of general education in the life of our industrial mass society.

 Remember that this was in 1957, not 2020. And if you want to dig up the lawns even more, you can find the work of Caldwell Cook  with The Play Way – perhaps the first book on drama in education  – arguing in much the same vein at the height of the first world war in 1917:

A social revolution of some kind will be necessary in England after the declaration of peace on the continent; for even supposing some fair principle is established by force of arms, it has still to be wrought into a living practice by right education and good government.  For many of us the greater war is  yet to come.

The creativity and cultural education agenda isn’t new and its call to action continues to reverberate across the decades.  We might ask ourselves why we need to keep making those calls to action and why there seems to be a permanent deafness to its rhetorical powers.

During my studies, I captured my understanding of Ken’s work in a paper entitled ‘When Herbert Met Ken: the 100 Languages of Creativity’.  It’s central conceit is that of a thought experiment written in the spirit of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties in which some contemporary thinkers on creativity and culture – ie Ken Robinson and many others, in particular Sir Herbert Read – are brought together to examine the impact that Ken’s work has had.  You can read the paper here.

Whilst they never did actually meet, if there is to be an afterlife then at least Ken will be able to meet Herbert and have it out with him, fully reassess the impact that their work, and the work of those before and after them have had and plan for something better.

Their new visionary cultural landscapes may not be something we will see in our lifetimes, but landscape artists and gardeners move in mysterious ways so you can be sure that we will continue to feel the effects of Sir Ken’s work into the next century and beyond.

Game, set and match: Janice Owen reads Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player for Mothering Sunday.

To celebrate mothers and their impact of tennis players of the future, Janice Owen reads Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player

Janice is a mother, writer and an ageing tennis player. Living in the village of Beetham as a small child her fascination for tennis was lured by the grass court at the big house which was very much a private court. Curiosity killed the cat in the summer of 1969 when her primary school class was invited to play croquet and have homemade lemonade on the adjacent lawn. She thought it was all very proper and very nice.

Janice’s grand slams were truly focussed on her father’s garage door where she practised and played against the her tennis opponents of the day in the 1970’s. Her mother’s objections to such activities led to quicker returns and an improved back hand. A family friend, John Ladell, realising her potential, gave her his own racquet, a gift treasured to this day.

Great tennis players of her school, and village club, Arnside, took court priority but that did not deter her spirit. Seeking out lessons she sought to modify her self taught bad tennis habits at the village club and appreciate the more competent players of every age.

Her grand slam and croquet techniques were later transferred to the squash courts and hockey pitches. As a mother she continued garage door grand slamming, she was the best solo player. Teaching her three sons to play and having matches on a sloping driveway, not ideal but great fun.

Today alongside her ageing but much loved tennis racquet she is the proud owner of a croquet set. Her continuing love of hockey, and the speed of ice hockey sit alongside her ambition to grand slam in walking tennis.

Whilst Mothering Sunday is special, some mothers are isolated from their children through estrangement. 50% of all donations received by 23 March will be made to MATCH, the charity supporting Mothers Apart from Their Children.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: all episodes now available on YouTube

In light of the very difficult times we’re all facing, I shall now be putting out every single episode of ‘Confessions’  on the YouTube, so If you stick with it, you’ll hear the whole book in its entirety!

Episode 1: Warm Up: One day I will play Roger Federer at Wimbledon and probably beat him.

First Set: how to Play Tennis.

Episode 2: First Game: How to deal with the irritation of 13 year olds on the other side of the net.

Episode 3: Second Game: How to Enjoy Net Play.

Episode 4: Third Game: How to Fly Solo in a Doubles Pair

Episode 5: Fourth Game: How to Play Percentage Tennis.

See the full campaign here.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: it’s your go!

Hi Y’all!

Hope you’re keeping well in these very difficult times! In the next few weeks of the Tennis Player campaign, I’m offering you the opportunity to become the tennis player you always wanted to be!

Just imagine you’ve become your favourite tennis player, write me a short blog about you as whoever it is, and I’ll post it along with the promotional video! It can be as long or as short as you like!

And if you fancy reading the script of the promotional video, just email me at richardnyowen@msn.com and I’ll help you sort it out.

Keep safe!

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: ‘May I Be The First’ played by Robert Coyne

This year, I’m planning to give Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player a major re-boot by publishing it with Troubadour books.  I’ve been fortunate to meet a Derby based illustrator, Paul Warren, who has provided a fantastic set of images for the book which you can see on the campaign page here.

I’ve also been very lucky to involve the work of Kevin Coyne and his two sons, Robert and Eugene, all of whom are also donating tracks.

Robert  plays guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and sings. For this campaign, he has donated ‘May I Be The First’.

He and Eugene appeared on some of Kevin’s recordings including Tough And Sweet (1993) and Sugar Candy Taxi (1999). As a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, Robert eventually joined Kevin’s band and contributed to several further albums, including Room Full of Fools (2000), Carnival (2002), Donut City (2004) and One Day In Chicago (2005, with Jon Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts).

You can see more about his work here.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: read by Candace Lott.

This year, I’m planning to give Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player a major re-boot by publishing it with Troubadour books.  I’ve been fortunate to meet a Derby based illustrator, Paul Warren, who has provided a fantastic set of images for the book which you can see on the campaign page here.

I’ve also been very lucky to involve Candace Lott who has generously donated her time and skills to support the campaign.

Candace’s passion for reading, started out when she was a little girl. She loved  reading books with unique characters and a lesson weaved into each story. Reading was a clear escape to an adventure, whether she experienced a bad day at school or wanted to expand her knowledge. When Candace entered elementary school, she discovered a new love centered on writing. After high school, Candace enrolled in college and worked hard to improve her writing skills. After graduating college, it still didn’t occur to her, that she was born to be a writer. Until one day, God led Candace to her calling.

Candace is now, a ghostwriter, proofreader, freelance editor and voice-over actress.  Here, she writes about her life as a writer.

Have you ever heard that writing is an art form? Well, whoever said it, they weren’t kidding. Writing has been one of the most challenging adventures—I’ve ever signed up for. One because some days the writing process can drive you nuts. Does that word fit? Should I put this word, instead of that word? Will my audience enjoy this style of writing? Or will they hate it? What to do? I don’t know! Boo, who! And sometimes you have to start over from scratch. Because nothing works. Wowser! However, I wouldn’t change this writing phenomenon. I started writing early on as a child. Before anyone says, “how can a child understand writing?” Let me stop you! Sometimes people know early on. Sometimes you don’t get it, until you’re into your adult years. So, it has always been relevant in my life. From writing stories, poems, lyrics, plays, and now books.

The Child Writer vs. Adult Writer

The child writer vs. adult writer. Highly different. Child writer has tons of fun. No pressure. That’s my childhood experience as a novice writer. Child writer does it without second thoughts. Child writer doesn’t take him/herself too seriously. Adult writer doubts him/herself. Hyperventilates over the thought of a rejection letter. Fears judgment from others. Pours hope in receiving representation from publishers and agents. Anywho, like most things in life, if you want success and longevity, it will require much practice. Every day I write and then edit. Write and then edit—some more. The cycle continues. I am blessed to have earned both titles, writer and editor. Yay! Pretty lucky, eh? I’ll say, it serves a great purpose. Can’t have one without the other.

For more information on Candace Lott on her website or follow her on Twitter:  twitter.com/lott_renay

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: ‘The Story is Told’ by Martin Milner.

Martin Milner, a long standing colleague from my work in Wallasey, UK, has kindly donated one of his songs, ‘The Story is Told’ as the backing track for the promotional video of Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player.

Martin says:

“Music and education have driven my life and career since I can remember. Music making, and being involved with learning in a general way. I am not a fan of big institutions, although I have co-existed with some (eg, LIPA -Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, BBIS -Berlin Brandenburg International School).

I am a creative improvisor, and not just musically. Also a father, a poet, and I like to cook. Cycling through the woods makes me happy. So does meditating. I stand up for my beliefs and support causes such as anti-capitalist initiatives, community-building projects and good work generally, but not because I think it will make a big difference.

Maybe I’m too small to save the world, but I can help out in the neighbourhood.  After 30+ years as a singer-songwriter I finally produced an album of 13 songs in 2015, for the record. A second set is on the way.  Like the rest of you, I am too caught up in my own life to really pay attention to what people write in places like this. Anyway, peace and music be with you, dear reader!”

You can hear more of Martin’s work here.

Martin and I collaborated between 2007 and 2008, together with Nicki Dupuy and Andy Escott. We developed some exciting creative music opportunities with pupils and staff at Riverside and Somerville Primary Schools and the Oldershaw School in Wallasey, Wirral. Funded substantially by Youth Music and a host of other charitable donations, the project – Deschooled? Re-Engaged! aimed to bring about the inclusion of vulnerable and ‘at risk’ children aged between 5 and 14 years from the most socially deprived areas of Wallasey by ‘re-attaching’ them to learning and routes of positive personal development through collaborative working practices between musicians and educators.

You can read all about that project in The Routledge International Handbook of Creative Learning here.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: read by Jessie Antonellis-John

Dr. Jessie Antonellis-John  has generously donated her time and skills to support the campaign.

An aspiring actress, musician, and writer in her dreams, Dr. Jessie Antonellis-John is actually a science educator.

She hails from New England but is happily relocated to the Pacific Northwest. She currently resides on the Oregon coast with her wife and two cats, where she writes curriculum by day and fiction by night.