Monday, 5 October 2015

Fear and Loathing in Bas Vegas (Who disrupts the #Disruptors?)

I was somewhere around Barking, on the edge of the desert, when the adrenaline began to take hold. I remember saying something like: "How long do I have?" But that rotten conscience of mine hadn't arrived yet. Strange looks from besuited passers-by.  What would she say? "As your conscience I advise you to get there at top speed. It'll be a god-damn miracle if you get there before the robots get your job."

Back To The Future II: 2015 as imagined in 1985.
Inexplicable waves of hyper-tension. The sight of the lizards doesn't help. Armani suits, white sparkly dresses, stiletto heels covered in diamonds, outward projections of power. Garments woven from the finest cold hard cash would be less conspicuous. Before I know it, I am wearing a purple wristband. I have vague memories of other colours. A hierarchy of colours. I hope the purple is imperial. I self-funded to be here.

Incredible, I think to myself.  How did I get here?  I'm holding a piece of cardboard to my face and as I pivot I get a full-spectrum view of some natural formations somewhere far sunnier than London while a young woman reads me a script. All I can think is I'd rather be under that blue sky... Actually, anywhere else but experience the future of education Google-style. "This will make it possible to take the poorest kids anywhere in the world. Who needs field trips?" I want to vomit on G-Man's shoes but I haven't eaten yet. Next door, there's a robot tipped to take my job. Look professional. Exchange business cards.

Virgin on funny: Welcome to Fabulous Bas Vegas
Two days ago I was teaching in Basildon. These kids go to school in a shiny new building dropped from space into the middle of their estate.  A new school building, apparently, is exactly the ticket to get them engaged in learning - it makes you feel better that Mum's new boyfriend kicked you out the house this morning before you had any breakfast when you've got a shiny building to go to.  

No anxiety in Basildon. Not for me. I feel good there. I'm doing what I'm built to do. There's something honest and salt-of-the-earth about being sworn at by an angry tweenager. There's something ineffable about turning that into an opportunity to learn.

It's tiring too. It weakens you emotionally, being on your game all the time, finding the right level of wit to show your mettle without scaring him off. In hindsight, I think the reason I decided to go to #Disruptors was that my shoe got ripped by the door as it was pushed into me by said tween. I was weakened, and the sales pitch got to me.

"The Future of Education: Does the Current Model Make the Grade?"  Fuck no.  Not as long as I keep getting shoes ripped.  I'm in. Take me to the 21st Century. 

I find my conscience.  She'll keep me straight.  We head to the main hall, decked out like the neon orgasm of an art student high on the same shit Tracey Emin's ingesting.

Tracy Emin: Blinding
Disruptors: The Future of Education

The day proceeds like an extended episode of Horizon that fell into a puddle of Tomorrow's World and went to dry off any semblance of fact by airing on Channel 5.  

Session 1 - Education is bollocks, okay? Chief Guru Branson's evidence for the need to transform education is that he left school before he could legally incur debt in order to start a magazine.  Ergo, school is irrelevant, anti-creative, anti-entrepreneurial.  How old are you now, Branson?  Schools have changed.  Why haven't you grown up? Why haven't you come to terms with your elite start?  Hey! Why are you pulling the ladder up, Branson?  I'm not finished with you! He shouts down from his spacecraft: "Oh! And who needs French? They all speak English anyway." I shit you not.

Wisdom of the market: Quel encule!
Session 2 - Welcome Robot Overlords. They walk and talk. Like kids and lizards in sparkly shoes. Unlike teachers, they have fresh, unhaggard faces all year round. They can be updated with the newest apps so that their pedagogical practices will never be out of fashion, and they can be controlled from a tablet. Fuck you, NUT. Your days are numbered. I think. I was mostly tweeting so I may have missed the gist.

Behaviour Solved: If the friendly face doesn't do it, the laser eyes will.

Session 3 - Space. The final market. These are the voyages of the Virgin Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new markets, to seek out new life and sell it aspirations, to boldly grow where no shareholder has gone before.

Session 4 - Google. Creativity is more important than spelling. No, really. Look, here's a picture of me when I couldn't spell.  Wasn't I cute? Oh, and cardboard is the new field trip for the down-trodden. The lizard population is lapping this up. They flew from LA for this. I look to my conscience for guidance. She is simultaneously endorsing my avid criticism and tweeting her matter-of-fact observations. How does she do it?

Session 5 - Creativity is the new literacy. In this, the second age of modernity, reading and writing are a thing of the past (and the rich).  Who needs to read when you can have any book (in Google Books) read to you with the synthesised facsimile of your favourite posh voice?  (I hear David Cameron reading Animal Farm to me. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again. Jesus! Did I say that? Or just think it? Did they hear me?  I glance over at my conscience, but she seems oblivious - tweeting.) Who needs writing when you can dictate anything into a wrist appendage? Why stop there? Why not headphones that can interpret your brainwaves into the appropriate vocabulary and tone for your audience?  Mine at present are spewing Aaaaaaaaarweyopgluuuuuuuurrrrrrrphlum.

Creativity is the new something something: Write your own caption.

Session 6 - Virgin helped me start my business when I left school:  Not one of these disgustingly youthful show-ponies from the Virgin stable seem to know how to fix my shoe or prevent further on-the-job shoe ripping, let alone fix the (as-per-subtle-advertising) broken school system. Entrepreneurial, my arse.

Session 7 - The end of the Galactic dream: Sal Khan. The Sal Khan. He can't be here today because you're not that important.  He's in LA. The lizard couple in Armani and diamond shoes who flew in from LA don't even look a little miffed. They are resilient beasts. But he's on Skype, except he's not, because the connection means the entire episode looks like a cut scene from The Martian. The irony is lost on the lizard population.

Sal Khan: All the way from the stars.
Session 8 - The pub: My conscience takes me out for a pint and allows me to vent. She agrees with all my criticisms, though I suspect this is for therapeutic purposes.  

Session 10 - The disruption: My conscience sits between me and and a smiling stranger. He is rubbing cream into his hands. He offers it to her and she partakes, then offers it to me. Have I stumbled across some weird ritual? I succumb to peer pressure. I take some and reflect how far backwards mankind has come since the 70's. The debate starts and I find I am impaired by greasy hands. I can't tweet. Consternated, I look around for that sycophant of a conscience of mine but she's gone. She was a deep-cover Virgin agent all along. I knew it. Nothing of the debate is intelligible to me if it can't be quickly digested into 140-character snide comments. I've been disrupted.

Post Scriptum - Viva Bas Vegas

Strange memories on this nervous night in Bas Vegas. I'm sure LA in the late noughties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . 

And this, I think, was their handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; they didn’t need that. Their energy would simply prevail. They had all the momentum; they were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

But now, less than five years later, you can go up to the top floor of a Basildon Academy and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

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