If the man doesn’t believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that settles it. I mean, it does nowadays, because now we can’t burn him.

Mark Twain

Today I discovered I had been ‘let go’ by Independent Thinking Ltd.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 20.30.08Of course accidents happen, but I hadn’t received this email so it came as something of a shock. This post is in no way intended to be sour; it is merely an attempt to work through how I feel.

For those those of you who may not be aware, ITL are essentially a employment agency for education consultants. Here they are in their own words:

More of a network than a company and more of a movement than an organisation, for over twenty years Independent Thinking has been making a tangible difference in schools worldwide. We help young people, teachers, school leaders, parents and others involved in education rethink what they do and why they do it – all with the purpose of ensuring education is so much more than the passing of exams.

We aren’t a speakers bureau although we have some of the world’s leading educational speakers. We aren’t a consultancy, although we are more than happy to work with you to help you become even better. We are not a panel of educational experts because we don’t believe there is such a thing.  We are not a publishing company although the Independent Thinking Press has won awards for its ground-breaking education books. And we aren’t a training company because, well, the word ‘training’ comes from the Latin ‘to drag’.

We don’t employ people, own fancy offices or produce glossy magazines and, because we were set up to make a difference not a profit, we put back as much as possible into our work.

At Independent Thinking, we believe education is about integrity, passion and compassion, creativity and professionalism. It’s about doing the right thing, being healthy, being happy, growing and serving. It’s about living up to our motto to ‘To do things no-one does or to do things everyone does but in a way no-one does’. And it’s about having a laugh while you’re doing it. After all, education is too important to be taken seriously.

My connections to them began back in 2011 when I first met the founder Ian Gilbert at my school. He said I had ‘presence’ and expressed an interest in working with me. Naturally, I was flattered and having recently read Ian’s books I had a great deal of respect for him. When I took the plunge and quit my full time job late last year, ITL were great and found me enough work to keep the wolf from the door. In return, I’ve spoken at 3 of their ‘Big Days Out’ for nowt. After the first of these days out in October 2012, I was told I wasn’t ‘on message’. This surprised me as I had assumed they were all about independence. And surprised as well because I too believe “education is about integrity, passion and compassion, creativity and professionalism.” And I too am sure that education is “about doing the right thing, being healthy, being happy, growing and serving.” But that’s not all either of us believe.

Suffice it to say, although the folk at ITL gave me a leg up and helped give me the confidence to think independently, I’ve never felt part of the establishment there. And as time’s gone on it’s become increasingly clear that our ideological differences have made for a sometimes abrasive relationship.

Needless to say, I asked if the email I should have been sent on September 10th could be forwarded to me, and here it is:

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 20.32.40

It’s never nice to hear your colleagues have been complaining about you behind your back and it’s a great shame that this wasn’t a discussion we were able to have in the open. I’ve no idea who they are and this kind of anonymous whispering can be toxic; it starts you wondering about who. Was it someone I thought of as a friend? Because there are some really lovely Associates at ITL. Martin Robinson is one of the most interesting thinkers in education and a helluva guy; Hywel Roberts is one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet; Nina Jackson is a woman of wonderful warmth and wit; Lisa Ashes is a pocket dynamo who should never be underestimated, and Phil Beadle is someone I genuinely consider as a friend.

And horrible too to wonder what exactly about my actions and behaviour can have caused so much consternation. Certainly I’ve never publicly said anything disparaging about ITL or any of the people who work for them, so maybe they’re complaining about my support for things I hold dear and of which I’m proud? Maybe it’s been the fact that I’ve been holding Ofsted to account and finally succeeded in making my voice heard in the new Inspection Handbook? Maybe it’s the work I’ve done with a number of schools to improve pupils’ literacy? Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve made it my business to question assumptions and leave no stone unturned in my desire to work out whether we might be making mistakes in the way we’re thinking about education? Might it be that I’ve pointed out that some of the advice teachers are routinely given might be bogus? But maybe it’s that I’ve publicly changed my mind about some of my beliefs; people don’t always like to have their beliefs questioned?

But could this really have had a negative effect on a company that prides itself on helping “young people, teachers, school leaders, parents and others involved in education rethink what they do and why they do it – all with the purpose of ensuring education is so much more than the passing of exams”?

Here I am talking about my philosophy of education with an ITL logo in the background:

I still get incensed by the lack of WHY in education. (Although I’m much less sure about the last 30 seconds or so.)

The trouble is, as I’ve said before, people ‘involved in education’ don’t agree what eduction is for. We are often unwitting slaves to our ideologies. We put being right before doing right. As Francis Bacon put it, “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.” And because of this, some people ‘involved in education’ say or do things which other people vehemently disagree with.

Here’s something Schopenhauer (who knew a thing or two) had to say about that:

If human nature were not base, but thoroughly honourable, we should in every debate have no other aim than the discovery of truth; we should not in the least care whether the truth proved to be in favour of the opinion which we had begun by expressing, or of the opinion of our adversary. That we should regard as a matter of no moment, or, at any rate, of very secondary consequence; but, as things are, it is the main concern. Our innate vanity, which is particularly sensitive in reference to our intellectual powers, will not suffer us to allow that our first position was wrong and our adversary’s right. The way out of this difficulty would be simply to take the trouble always to form a correct judgment. For this a man would have to think before he spoke. But, with most men, innate vanity is accompanied by loquacity and innate dishonesty. They speak before they think; and even though they may afterwards perceive that they are wrong, and that what they assert is false, they want it to seem the contrary. The interest in truth, which may be presumed to have been their only motive when they stated the proposition alleged to be true, now gives way to the interests of vanity: and so, for the sake of vanity, what is true must seem false, and what is false must seem true.

This is a tendency I regularly examine myself for and at times find myself wanting.

So, in conclusion, I find my public persona doesn’t fit with ITL’s ‘direction of travel’. Charitably we could infer from this that they would rather forego making money than working with someone whose beliefs differ. Maybe that’s honourable? But I just don’t know whether a different ideological standpoint is grounds for sacking – is it just code for ‘we don’t like you’? Maybe we could have reached a rapprochement? As Michael Corleone said in the Godfather, something to be said for “keeping your friends close and your enemies closer”? Who can say. But I do admit all this comes as something of a relief. It’s like I’ve been holding my breath or clenching my jaw and can finally relax.

I wish my friends at ITL the very best and if I’ve had a negative effect on their livelihoods by criticising something they hold dear then I’m genuinely sorry. I’d like to believe though that I’ve only criticised ideas and never those who hold them.