Thinking globally about local diversity

Henry Higgins, paranoia, and thrushes, finches and nightingales

This talk is a kind of weblog - in its form as well as its content a weblog is about local diversity. A bit of this and a bit of that. Snippets and snapshots. Bits and pieces, miscellany, anthology. The delicacy of a spider's parlour next to ponderous wordplay - let sleeping logs die …

Links, allusions, connections. But flirting with inconsequence too.

Local, nay parochial, and the hideous risk of being egocentric. But reaching out, trying to connect, to join up, articulate. The word blog is an anagram of how the word globalisation starts.

This weblog, woven in the third week of April 2005, touches on four bases. The ground - the playing field - between the bases is the Tide~ Centre and all its works and its ways. Three of the bases are alluded to in the talk's sub-title - thrushes, finches and nightingales; Henry Higgins; paranoia. They are all to do with bits and pieces in my week so far - personal bits and pieces, though shared with many others. The fourth is the publication I have been asked to touch base with this evening, Here, There and Everywhere.

Thrushes, finches and nightingales are proud songsters, said Thomas Hardy. They popped out on me this week because I have had occasion to think quite a lot about a wonderful teacher and headteacher who died prematurely two years ago. Everyone who worked with him said he was the most child-centred colleague and mentor and model they had ever known. Benjamin Britten's setting of Hardy's Proud Songsters is on the same CD as his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, which was one of that person's favourite pieces of music. He sang as if all time was his, did that headteacher, and taught others to sing thus as well. But the sun was going, though neither he nor anyone else knew that, or could imagine it.

The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,
And as it gets dark loud nightingales
In bushes
Pipe, as they can when April wears,
As if all time were theirs.

That's the first stanza. We'll return to this first base later, to look at the second stanza.

Henry Higgins

Henry Higgins popped up this week in connection with an anti-deportation campaign in defence of Tafara Nhengu. Tafara was an entertainer and an activist in Zimbabwe and was targeted by the government. He fled to the UK to seek asylum. Three weeks ago, on 31 March in London, which was Election Day in Zimbabwe, he led the dancing and drumming at protest rallies outside the Zimbabwean embassy on the Strand and appeared on national and international television. On 4 April he was arrested by the police, and was scheduled for deportation on a Kenya Airways flight due to leave Heathrow on KQ426 at 2000 hours on Tuesday 19 April. A massive campaign was mounted by the church in Leicester to which he belonged. But with no success. On Tuesday afternoon a busload of his friends and supporters from Leicester went down the M1 to Heathrow and started handing out leaflets to other passengers checking in for the same flight. Here is a description by one of them, the Reverend Martine Stemerick (the minister at Tafara's church), of what happened:

An airline employee and SIX airport police came to inform me that Heathrow is private property, and that freedom of speech, assembly, and leafleting are NOT rights recognized in this space. "Our passengers are uncomfortable," said the check-in staff. "They don't want to think about things like this on the plane."

By 7.30 pm, Tafara was on the plane. He was in handcuffs and was being racially abused by his guards - "we don't want you asylum-seekers in this country, you're all parasites, feeding off good, decent hardworking British people." (They may have been quoting something they'd read recently in a newspaper? Or something they had heard a politician say? Er, are you thinking what I'm thinking?)

But Kenya Airways was having second thoughts, partly because of the leafleting within the airport, partly because of the hundreds of email messages they had received, partly and particularly because some of their staff were able to see with their own eyes the vicious physical cruelty with which Tafara was being treated by the guards. They refused to carry him and he was accordingly taken off the plane. The person who had led the campaign wrote the following morning to all who had in any way helped:

Do you remember the scene from My Fair Lady? When Henry Higgins and Professor Farkleface are dancing around, chortling and singing: "We did it! We did it! I can't believe we did it!" We weren't dancing on the number 91 bus last night, but that's just because the bus driver wouldn't allow it. Tafara's deportation was stopped within MINUTES before the flight took off.

Folks from all over the country/world made this small victory for compassion and justice possible. So, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! To each and everyone who worked on this campaign. Hundreds of petitions were faxed to the Home Office, letters and emails sent to Kenya airways; activists, churches, compassionate individuals; reporters, radio newscasters and television broadcasters: ALL played a part. And last night, it worked.

She added: "We're not out of the woods yet." Tafara is still in detention; the British way of dealing with people seeking asylum is a long, long way from being humane, either in operational terms or in strategic; and politicians continue to make the absurd claim that controlling immigration is good for something they call good race relations; and millions of people swallow the claim, for they know the discourse is code for the hate that dare not speak its name. Code for fearing, shrinking from, opposition to, local diversity.

"Our passengers are uncomfortable," said the check-in staff. "They don't want to think about things like this on the plane."

Or, indeed, anywhere.


The third of this year's Reith lectures was delivered yesterday evening. The speaker referred more than once to the title of a book by one Andy Groves, a specialist in the physics and technology of semiconductor devices, and co-founder and subsequently chairman and chief executive of the Intel Corporation: Only the Paranoid Survive. This, he maintained, is what globalisation means. If you want to think globally about local diversity, or indeed about anything, never forget for one moment: only the paranoid survive.

Also, said the lecturer yesterday evening, only those who think globally survive: "To be only nationally competitive is to be not competitive." He was talking about getting the fruits of technological advance to market, and selling them there, but his point was of extensive - global - import. To educate only nationally is not to educate. To think only locally is not to think. What the lecturer said about companies is true also of schools, for example, and of individual educators such as those present here this evening: "Companies have ceased to make entire products themselves and have became assemblers of the world's best, and to do this they have to know the world Ð both its technologies and its peoples."

The proposition that to think only locally is not to think is one to which all friends of the Tide Centre would no doubt say amen. Would they - would you - say amen quite so fervently to the proposition that only the paranoid survive?

(To rejoice only in this month's thrushes, finches and nightingales is not to rejoice?)

In the preface to his book with the famous title, Groves wrote:

When it comes to business, I believe in the value of paranoia. Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. The more successful you are, the more people want a chunk of your business and then another chunk and then another until there is nothing left. I believe that the prime responsibility of a manager is to guard constantly against other peopleÕs attacks and to inculcate this guardian attitude in the people under his or her management.

The things I tend to be paranoid about vary. I worry about products getting screwed up, and I worry about products getting introduced prematurely. I worry about factories not performing well, and I worry about having too many factories. I worry about hiring the right people, and I worry about morale slacking off.

And, of course, I worry about competitors. I worry about other people figuring out how to do what we do better or cheaper, and displacing us with our customers.

But these worries pale in comparison to how I feel about what I call strategic inflection points ... A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.

We are living this week and next, maybe, at a strategic inflection point, so far as local diversity in Britain is concerned. Maybe the electorate will buy the nonsense being spouted about immigration and asylum, and related moral panics about crime and political correctness, and all the other threats to so-called hardworking families. If they do, it will be because they feel helpless since there ain't any longer, because of globalisation, any infallible, omnipotent managers to guard them constantly against other people's attacks. And if they do, it could be the beginning of the end. But if they don't, there'll be an opportunity to rise to new heights.

(Maybe it's relevant that, in the psyche of the so-called and self-styled West, an infallible person went and died on us the other day? It's probably little comfort, in that same psyche, that the infallible chap who died has been replaced by a 78-year-old infallible German.)

Here, There and Everywhere

Here, There and Everywhere is about thinking globally about local diversity. It proposes that there are certain 'Big ideas' that ought to permeate, ought indeed to direct, all curriculum planning in all subjects and at all key stages. In its lay-out it's like a weblog. A bit of this and a bit of that. Snippets and snapshots. Bits and pieces, miscellany, anthology. Links, allusions, connections. Reaching out, trying to connect, to articulate, join up. It suggests six big ideas …

Students at a secondary school in a town in rural Derbyshire, working with students at a multi-ethnic school in Derby City some 20 miles away, set up a web-site. The purpose was to explore differences and similarities between the two schools and to share reports and reflections about various joint projects. Echoing a song performed by the Beatles, the students called the site, Here, There and Everywhere. The same phrase has been taken as the title of this handbook, produced by Robin Richardson for Derbyshire Advisory and Inspection Service. It explores how issues of belonging, identity and equality are here, there and everywhere in every school.

The handbook is organised around six ‘big ideas’. It offers a wealth of stimulus to support teachers’ thinking about these ideas together with practical support for supporting learning through different curriculum areas.

Six ‘big ideas:

Shared humanity

Difference and identity

Local and global

Achievement everywhere

Conflict, justice and rights

Race and racisms

From Tide~Talk Issue 3, 2005

Thrushes, finches and nightingales

Thomas Hardy was a gloomy fellow and the April songs of birds were seldom if ever the sole subject-matter of one of his poems. The second stanza of Proud Songsters is about transience and mortality and inconsequence. Until very recently, those birds didn't exist. Very soon they'll return to the soil, water and air from which, in the global ecosystem, their molecules and atoms came. But the global interchange of organic and inorganic gives Hardy a kind of quiet solace. The interconnectedness of all things breeds in him not paranoia but serenity and indeed joy, the kind of joy that interconnects with the compassion and justice for which the friends of Tafara Nenghu fought and won this week.

These are brand-new birds
Of twelve months growing,
Which a year ago, or less than twain,
No finches were, nor nightingales,
Nor thrushes,
But only particles of grain
And earth, and air and rain.

Conclusion and farewell

A strategic inflection point, the man said, is when there could suddenly be an opportunity to rise to new heights or, equally suddenly, the beginning of the end. Depending on what happens over the next fortnight with regard to local diversity within the global system as we here know it this evening, there could be the beginning of the end - the end of decent multiculturalism and of effective antiracist struggle in this country. Or there could be singing and dancing - "We did it, we did it, we never believed we could do it." And the song could transmute: "We did it, we did it, we always knew deep down we could do it."

Or maybe we are not at a strategic inflection point at all? Maybe we're simply heading, after 5 May, for BAU, business as usual - which is to say, minding one's own business as usual - and NWTK, not wanting to know. ("Our passengers are uncomfortable. They don't want to think about things like this on the plane.")

A bit of this and a bit of that. Snippets and snapshots. Bits and pieces, miscellany, anthology. Links, allusions, connections. But flirting with inconsequence too.

Local, nay parochial, and the hideous risk of being egocentric.

Friends of, friends at, the Tide~ Centre, Thursday 21 April 2005, I wish you singing and dancing.

Reaching out, trying to connect, to join up, articulate.

And that the words of your song shall be, or anyway, more modestly, that they shall include: "We did it, we did it, we always knew deep down we could do it."