Forty Years On: Reflecting on Good Fortune

10/01/2010

I saw of a copy of Alan Bennett‘s play Forty Years On (1968) in a second hand  bookshop this week.

By coincidence it is forty years ago this week that I went to the University of York to start my social sciences course. Ironically I should have been on my way to the University of Reading to study French and German!

Heslington Hall

Revision for my final year school exams in 1970 were distracted by the Football World Cup in Mexico. I am not sure whether it was the excitement generated by the World Cup or my lack of study skills that led to some final grades that prevented me from going to Reading. York kindly offered me a clearing house place.

Looking back I believe I was enormously fortunate to take up my place at York. My experiences there gave me a real desire to follow a polymath interest in society, culture and learning. Over the years I have maintained a fascination with language that may have been different had I studied it formally.

Later in my course at York I read Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden’s (1962) Education and the Working Class. Recently I looked back at a 1986 edition of the book and appreciated the subliminal impact of their approach on my thinking.

I went to University as the son of a steelworker and postwoman. I had no idea what University education was and was ill equipped to study with peers who had come from completely different backgrounds. As a ‘new’ university York was a rick mixture of people like myself and many who had come from the private education.

I went to York two years after events of May in Paris,  a year after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a few months after Brazil, with Pele in the team, defeated Italy to win the World Cup in the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City and shortly after Leonard Cohen’s appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival. It was a time when anything was possible.

York nurtured this sense of the possible and enabled me to pursue a path that Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden championed. My first week there was spent in a pre-season training camp with the University’s rugby team. The group really welcomed me and may have been over-anticipating my ability. I had told them correctly that I was from Wales and played outside half. I think they were anticipating a Barry John!

Attendance at the training camp introduced me into the University and ever since I have been grateful that sport does offer distinct social inclusion possibilities. I could not have blogged about my experiences at the time. I would have needed thousands of these:

to program a third generation computer so that I might take advantage of “a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet Protocol Suite” in the early 1990s!

Forty years on it is wonderful to reflect on good fortune. I am more convinced than ever that personal learning environments must celebrate biography and work with our ‘taken-for-grantedness’.

Photo Credits

1970s photographs of the University of York taken from the Alumni site.