Marmalade and Free Range Education

Our fridge is full of half-empty jars of marmalade. I'm quite partial to it. I tend to make a couple of slices of the stuff on toast and a cup of coffee around 5.00 am each morning before starting on this blog. The trouble is - and this is especially the case with the really thick-cut variety - I can't spread it evenly, however hard I try. There are always big clumps on one part of my slice and a pathetic, barely visible, smear on some other part. That's the bit I tend to end up giving to Moz, our elderly hound, who makes his entrance skating across the laminate flooring into my office when he smells food and comes begging for scraps ... and a chance to get out into the garden to go for a wee!

Not being properly spread out is becoming a bit of a problem all round, to be honest. There are just under 68 million of us in the UK, with a whacking 243,609 sq km to share. That gives each of us our own 0.00348 sq km. There are a million square metres in a square kilometre, so, multiplying 0.00348 by 1,000,000 we get 3480 square metres apiece. That's about a third of a football pitch for every man, woman and child in the UK. Enough space to park over 100 double-decker buses, which average 10 metres in length and 2.5 metres in width. So, why is it such a struggle to maintain social distancing when each one of us only needs a measly 12.5 sqm to keep safe? It's like saying there isn't enough room for more than two postage stamps on a something the size of a small dining table.

We used to be a lot more spread out. A couple of centuries ago, when most of us lived on farms and spent our days looking after sheep and planting potatoes, a typical person might have seen 4-5 people each day. But now that we've crammed ourselves into towns and cities, there are thousands of us, all barging our way onto the same Tube trains, eating in the same restaurants, sending out children into overcrowded classrooms and going to rock concerts and football stadiums. All of which means that, if you've got a cold, or your child has chickenpox, or you've got coronavirus, I'm going to get it off you. Almost certainly.

We need to spread ourselves out more. We can do this by distributing the shops and services that we need over a wider area. Schools that hold a few hundred pupils, rather than nearly 2,000. Supermarkets that aren't the size of football pitches. Villages of a few hundred people where almost everyone is known to everyone else, rather than vast conurbations housing hundreds of thousands of people who don't know one another at all and care about one another even less. Yes, we will lose some economies of scale. I'm not sure where things that have to pull big crowds like stadiums, cinemas and theatres would fit in here. But we would gain so much else if we stopped trying to live on top of one another.

One benefit of Cyclical School is that it spreads people out. And. what is more, people who have more space are altogether more civilised and less stressed than those who are cooped up. You only have to look at the difference between battery hens and free-range chickens (which, incidentally, is almost the name of an excellent organisation that exists to empower and support women; they're called 'Free Range Chicks') to see what I mean.

Education doesn't have to be like modern-day poultry farming, delivered in cramped spaces with poor lighting where everyone is falling over everyone else and the weakest get trampled on. We can use our community centres, church halls, mosques and libraries to space learning out. We can go out into our open spaces, as some do when they learn in forest schools or on Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. And quite apart from the fact that this will make us less likely to catch the dreaded 'lurgy' from one another, it might just give us the space we need to stay sane in the longer term.

I shall call this 'Free Range Education'. I hope that it becomes as popular as the Free Range Eggs I am now going to poach for my second breakfast. That's my 8 o'clock breakfast by the way ... it's three hours since I had that marmalade on toast!

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