To kick off the discussion.

Please read the page ‘What’s this blog about?’

To kick off the discussion I would appreciate some thoughts on anything that arises from my research brief, but particularly the following:

‘Rites of passage’. What do we consider marks the transition from childhood to adulthood in the UK? Are there any experiences common to all? Is the transformation marked somehow by concepts like responsibility? What does this mean?

I have suggested three outcomes that an effective education system in 21st century Britain should strive for: social justice, an entrepreneurial attitude and citizenship. Perhaps these are wrong? Can anybody offer a decent definition of these ideas in relation to education?


5 thoughts on “To kick off the discussion.”

  1. Hi Jake.

    Why would you want school children to develop an ‘entrepreneurial attitude’? If you just mean that you want them to show initiative, take some risks, and not expect other people to be responsible for them for their entire lives then that’s fine. Or do you want them to have a highly positive attitude towards the profit motive? I’ll do my best to teach the former, I am not willing to attempt to school people into having the latter world-view.

    I think the whole idea of “social entrepreneurship” is devious; a way of presenting business as the answer to social problems and lumping together community activists in a meaningless way. Did you know that Wikipedia ( is claiming Florence Nightingale as a social entrepreneur? Why couldn’t she just have beena humanitarian and a genius who devised modern nursing methods? What a meaningless, backdated description.

    Doubtless there are a few social entrepreneurs as described by Dees below. But not many, unless you have other reasons for inviting anyone with a social conscience into this charmed circle.

    Anyway, hope stuff is going well. Look forward to hearing more about your research and your travels.



    The language of social entrepreneurship may be
    new, but the phenomenon is not. We have always
    had social entrepreneurs, even if we did not call
    them that. They originally built many of the
    institutions we now take for granted. However,
    the new name is important in that it implies a
    blurring of sector boundaries. In addition to
    innovative not-for-profit ventures, social
    entrepreneurship can include social purpose
    business ventures, such as for-profit community
    development banks, and hybrid organizations
    mixing not-for-profit and for-profit elements, such
    as homeless shelters that start businesses to train
    and employ their residents.

  2. Well, you’ve got quite an interesting discussion going here, Jacob. I was planning a more ranting (!) reply to Joseph’s post but you’ve given a pretty good response on reasons for promoting an entrepreneurial attitude and defence of social entrepreneurship. So I’ve thought again. This might be taking the discussion off in the wrong direction so feel free to say so and I’ll try to make another comment which is more to the point.

    Sometimes you need a new description for an old thing, which you backdate to give it credibility and because you believe in the old thing you’re renaming anyway. Michael Young (the world’s most successful social entrepreneur, according to Harvard University!) wrote in ‘The Rise of the Meritocracy’ that “the best way to achieve something new in England is to pretend that it is not.”

    You need to crank the wheel of social movements – they don’t do it by themselves. Social entrepreneurs are generally humanitarians, so it has helped the humanitarian cause that there’s a new movement called social entrepreneurship which has reinvigorated society’s response to social problems. The modern world is all fads and buzz words and marketing. Humanitarianism is a hard word to market at the moment.


  3. Thank you James,

    I quite agree that backdated descriptions are valid. Social entrepreneurship as a phenomenon is not new.

    What I suspect are new, and justifies the term social entrepreneurship beyond its uses as an expedient rebranding of humanitarianism, are perhaps the conditions in which those concerned with social justice now opperate. By that I mean that we are at a point in history where we can, with great clarity, acknowledge a number of ‘truths’ (that the state cannot solve all social problems, that economics is not a value judgment, that when business does not recognize the true cost of its externalities the market proves unjust and is ineffective in solving social ills) and also opperate in a climate of relative prosperity, relative security, and of relative consensus on such issues as human rights.

    This, I suggest, is fertile ground for a form of what you have called humanitarianism and perhaps justifies the defining of it in a new way – as social entrepreneurship.

    I particularly like the idea of social entrepreneurship as the latest form of a type of agent which ‘cranks the wheel of social movements’.


  4. Hello Jacob
    As a parent, teacher and school governor, I find these questions refreshing. I don’t hear others discussing what we want our children to be like when they grow up. Do well at school, yes. That means not get kicked out, not get bullied and get those GCSEs. Lots of focus on academic achievement, even though around half of all kids don’t reach the standard. Not much on the day-to-day behaviours and attitudes we actually want from our kids as adults, e.g. non-violence (I hear lots about punishing violence), self-sufficiency and integrity, the things we probably value most in our neighbours. Lots on safety, sometimes seemingly stifling the contact between kids and adults which seems to me important for giving kids the feeling they’re grown up. Kids naturally model themselves on grown ups. We need to let them talk with more than just their parents, extended family, their teachers and the telly. I wonder how important to learning is ‘risk’. I guess you don’t get much of value unless you risk something to get it. That’s why entrepreneurism, the attitude of risk-taking, may be essential to rescuing state education. What it may do for kids is invite them to make mistakes and reflect on those mistakes without shame. We might even find a way to credit them for the number of mistakes they make (not repeats) in trying to solve a problem. I think Jacob is right to explore ‘responsibility’ as a key to understanding the transition to adulthood. When someone is given adult responsibility, really entrusted to make the decisions of an adult (albeit subtly supervised) for somthing or someone of value to others, that person surely makes a leap in self-confidence to behave like an adult. Maybe when we criticise teenagers for appearing aimless or destructive, we should ask what real responsibility we have given them. Maybe it is only in the absence of real responsibility that peer influence, bored, turns destructive rather than creative. Modern science has proven our physical environment to be chaotic and our education system, as Jacob suggests, needs a vision for helping people to cope with chaos. Entrepreneurs are comfortable with chaos because it offers endless problems for them to solve. Kids are engaged by entrepreneurism because it’s not boring. They love problems as long as they’re real and their own contribution to the problem solving is valued. Maybe the rite of passage is ultimately about work where work means making a difference in the adult community. Maybe it’s also something to do with feeling heroic. Whichever way we go as educators, we must find time to understand the individual and ensure he experiences success. Experiencing state-sponsored failure – like the 30,000 in England and Wales who leave school this summer with no GCSEs, mostly with a deep sense of inadequacy – does none of us any good. We must take care to not disable people by defining success too narrowly and take risks with our ideas about how to do education differently.
    Above all, we must encourage our students to take risks.
    Good luck with it all, Jacob.

  5. Thank you Tom. There are so many things that you hit on that I agree with passionately.

    I liked your phrase ‘the things we probably value most in our neighbours’. I don’t think we should be afraid to say that our school system should try to produce good neighbours, should we? So, the discussion must be about what values we hold to be important and how we achieve them. I like the idea of self-sufficiency as a value. It links to the idea of taking responsibility, and I am becoming convinced that ‘responsibility’ holds a key to the effective transition to adulthood.

    Talking to a woman in a bar in Montana highlighted a problem. She talked all the ‘right’ talk about the value of education, including pretty interesting ideas on mentoring and work-based learning, but condemned what appeared to be pretty progressive ideas being attempted by the local school. Her negative experience of school coloured her judgement of her children’s experience of it. She layed all the blame for her negative school experience squarely at the feet of her teachers. She did not acknolwedge her role or agency in her education at all. And perhaps quite rightly. I suspect she was schooled in a system that largely didn’t require much student agency at all.

    As I think is being more and more recognised at the moment, we should acknowledge that the most important agent in a school is the individual learner – the pupil, who should be growing up to exercise more and more of their own agency.

    And, yes, this inevitably means making mistakes. Now, we need to work out what we mean by this. Mistakes that destroy a learning environment for others are surely not worth any intrinisc value they may have. But if we could find a structure in which meaningful challenges could be undertaken, with a steadily increasing burden of responsibility on pupils, and a value placed on ‘mistakes’ – or at least those calculated risks which don’t in the end work out, then we would have found something of value to our education system.

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