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Is the answer to unconscious bias or systemic racism towards the black community within the education system to focus on educating its own children?

This was one of Professor Andrew’s main contentions. The current educational system is about maintaining the status quo – it’s not about educating poorer cohorts or weaker minorities to play a powerful role, it’s about protecting white supremacy and just providing skills that enable the system as it is to function. We can’t expect the current system to do the opposite of what it was designed to do.

Not only that, but black children have been made to feel educationally sub-normal within the UK schools system.

That may at first sound like a nihilistic proposition. However, Kehinde reminded us of the 1970s experience of black families taking education into their own hands – with the black Saturday school movement. He talked about navigating through the system so that children unhook themselves from the approval or disapproval they face at school – they make what they choose of the system.

Whether you agree with the system being intrinsically biased or otherwise, this is an exciting idea because of its positivity and the sense of power it engenders.

Assuming, there is some willing to improve the system - another major question is the direction in which we should encourage the curriculum to be expanded. Should it put more time into the colonial period and oppressive histories such as the slave trade? Or should the focus be on internationalising the curriculum? Here Professor Andrews took the view that the former was most important, with Maya de Souza, the moderator, suggesting that in fact the latter could be more empowering.

Professor Andrews argued that we’d be in a better place in the UK if we understood the history of empire. Understanding “what Britain is, is really important – sounds simple but it’s very complicated”. It’s empire that creates Britain – it enriches and allows the country to take it’s place in the world. It was the premier slave trading nation. Rather than ingenuity and capitalism, underlying the industrial revolution, it was imperialism. Slavery gave us the commodities that were turned into products – whether sugar or cotton.

A thought-provoking presentation and discussion! And one that provided some practical suggestions for action.

A new style of politics: From Tribalism to Dialogue-based Decision-making

The question that looms large over us, that prompted this discussion, is whether our current style of politics is fit for the huge life-threatening global challenges we face? Poverty and starvation (let’s tell it as it is - from war in Yemen and Burma to locust ravaged East Africa), climate change which exacerbates the above, technological change that could put us all out of jobs as well as put us into enclosed echo chambers. Now to top this we have a pandemic. Is the system that we have - politics riven by division, party politics sustained by social media which widens rifts rather than healing – fit for purpose? If not, what must change?

For the progressive left, the re-emergence of populist politics worldwide means a backward step in many hard-fought areas: safeguarding our environment, indigenous people’s rights, multi-culturalism, and feminism. Compass and others in that sphere are facing up to the challenge with plenty of tough debate and discussion.

However, across the political spectrum people acknowledge the need to address the pressing problems of our time including climate change, poverty and pandemics too. The stakes are high – the loss to the planet and to human life as we know it from inaction is potentially devastating.

I’ve drawn out some key points that hit home from our excellent speakers and participants.

For Neal Lawson, Chief Executive of Compass Think Tank, this is an epochal moment. We have never experienced anything like this in recent times. On the one hand we have a Conservative government that has recognised the need for state intervention to save people and the economy – challenging the role of state in relationship to civil society. On the other, we have technology that democratises, but creates dangerous echo chambers. There is a bubbling vitality in society creating space and energy for a shift to a new paradigm.

From Kirsten de Keyser, what we need is trust. The distrust of the intelligentsia and experts is the big problem. We need to rebuild this trust to enable reform: trust in institutions, in the banks, in colleagues, the police, the politicians, the media. This baffles visitors to Scandinavia, New Zealand and Germany, but the deep sense of trust in these countries is not naivety, it enables action. We need to build back that trust in our own communities. Proportional representation and a fairer electoral system can help build that trust and get people across the political divide talking to each other.

Kathie Conn, XR spoke about deliberative forums – how people from all walks of life, randomly selected, like for a jury and then stratified to be a representation of the population in terms of age, gender, levels of education, where they live, ethnicity etc. come together. Listening to a wide perspective of evidence, questioning, discussing, considering pros, cons and trade-offs before making recommendations.The collective intelligence of citizens will help transform our political landscape, with more voices included in the conversation, sitting around the table and making long term decisions. Deepening democracy in these turbulent times, rebuilding trust and reviving citizen engagement. For more information:

The audience were in agreement with the vision of collaboration, information and trust. The questions were mainly about how we get from A to B. Some saw Labour Party discussions as critical, others stressed political education, and personal and group action to develop a negotiated collaborative culture. Legislation like the Welsh Future Generations Bill that embedded longer-term thinking were regarded as hopeful!

So we are past first base on this discussion. To me, action will be necessary on all levels to get from A to B: developing a new culture of collaborative solution finding in our own institutions and organisations – from school to offices, working within political parties to rethink positions, and working across them to agree on necessary change.

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