So I’m running a conference this September…
Beginnings are often noisy: babies delivered in an eruption of clamour and viscera; shuttle launches where a dot of metal balances on a skyscraper of exploding fire and prayers. This firework went off so quickly I didn’t even hear it until my house was on fire.
Last week: I’m invited to the Teach First launch of Ben Goldacre’s ‘Building evidence into education’ at Bethnal Green Academy. As usual he’s fired up and switched on about Bad Science; eloquent, spiky and charging into education. Research in education is one of my hobby horses- mainly because while some of it is excellent (as some of anything usually is) a lot of it is poorly constructed, riddled with bias, and empty of utility. I met some of the usual Baker Day Irregulars, had a coffee, and went back to school to teach year 7s about Jewish food laws, and babysit detentions.
Tuesday evening: I’m watching…well, I’m watching GI Joe, and marking essays. Don’t judge me, I do it so others don’t have to. Ben and a few others like Sam Freedman and Joe Kirby are talking about the need for teachers to talk about research in education in a more structured way: Ben wants RCTs, others want greater rigour, others are concerned with the link between policy and research, particularly cherry picking retrospective justifications. Sam says, ‘Tom should do it,’; Joe, possibly for a dare, echoes. Like Marty McFly I did the obvious, stupid thing, and leapt like a Yahoo into the challenge.
One hour later. An hour is a long time on Twitter, as Sally Bercow knows. Hundreds of tweets from people expressing interest; then I put an email address out, because I’m like that, and a got another hundred. I finally learned how quickly your DM box can become swollen, then auto-emptied by a river of incoming messages. By 1am I had been offered five venues, gratis- all great ones- and had representatives of two dozen organisations that wanted in. Offers of help to set up websites, do admin, design art, host, lend a hand. I went to bed feeling just like that dot of metal I mentioned.
Next morning, it was all still there. Another hundred messages across the platforms, similar to before. I had my first offers of financial support and sponsorship, and more offers of help. People were asking to be put on a mailing list, so I thought I better start one, over coffee and toast.
That lunchtime I spoke to people in the business who advised about logistics; I used to run Soho nightclubs, so I’m not particularly fazed by the thought of having several hundred people under a roof and trying to stop them killing/ mounting each other, while simultaneously feeding them booze and engineering rhythmic proximity like a gang-bang in a lift. Just like your average education conference.
By Wednesday night I was a man, a plan, a canal, Panama. researchED 2013 as it was now called, will be a conference, sometime in early September, where researchers and teachers and interested parties can speak, listen and talk with each other about the role of research in education, and crucially, what needs to happen to improve matters. The difference with this conference from others, is that teachers would have to be involved- have to be, otherwise there would be no point. The abyss between practical experience and dessicated theory born of a Petri dish and tortured until it says what the designer wants, was apparent to me the first day I walked in a classroom. We deserve better; kids deserve better than cargo cult science, or the voodoo pseudo-science created in a few tiny classrooms and scaled up by zealots into universal dogma, often adopted by policy makers.
So: keynote speakers, of course- people need to talk. Panel discussions where debate can happen, with audience involvement. There are arguments to be made and had here. Opportunities for organisations involved in research to recruit teachers, and opportunities for teachers to engage with the research community. I won’t call them workshops, because no one will be working, no one will be shopping, and nobody is wearing dungarees.Frankly I think there should also be music, but I’ll let you know how that goes.
Wednesday and Thursday night were a bit like Tuesday- momentum hadn’t stopped, so neither could I. Two national papers contacted me asking to support, three Universities, four colleges, and a certain Government ministry also expressed interest. More names for the mailing list. Between Tuesday and today I must have logged around two working days answering emails and calling people. In general I’m a bit sceptical about crowd sourcing- as you’ll know if you’ve ever asked a class of year 9s what they want to do on a Friday afternoon- but the expertise offered and the generosity of people this week would melt the most callous of hearts. I asked for help with a logo: done. I asked for help with a website: dozens of offers. I asked for a WordPress blog: done. Live streaming of the event: done. Website address registered: done.
Because so many people have helped already, I’m going to thank them publicly, properly, once researchED 2013 gets rolling a bit more, but I assure you everyone will get their reward, not in Heaven, but in this life.
As I go along, I know I’m going to need more and more help. But somehow I get the feeling that once you build it, they will come. I know that’s an article of faith rather than reason, but the experience so far tells me that they will. The Kids from Fame couldn’t have put together a better, more impromptu show. Like Blanche Dubois, I rely on the kindness of strangers.
I opened a Twitter account (@researchED2013) 18 hours ago; as I write it has over 300 followers. Invitations to speakers start going out this weekend, although some have already been signed, and many have asked if they can take part. I’m visiting venues Monday-Friday, so I should be able to announce this week, but I can honestly say that every one of them is a belter. I’ve had to turn down kind offers of venues I never dreamed I could get, only on the grounds of size, or availability.
This is a pro-bono gig. It’s not for profit, and that’s at the heart of it. Once I’ve costed out the project, I should be able to start ticketing the event- there will be a charge to get in, but only what’s needed to make it happen. I want this to be something that everyone can come to. The exact date will depend on the exact venue, but if you want to get involved, keep early September free, and hopefully the Saturday.
I’ll start using a WordPress blog and a website very soon to keep people updated about this, but for now, my own poor page will have to suffice. [edit: this is now the WordPress blog for the conference]
I still have no idea how GI Joe ended. Maybe we need Heroes of Education action figures? Let me know if anyone can help.