In 1971, the Hillside Seekers wanted to teach the world to sing. Nine years, and several million bottles of Coca Cola later, the Korgis were forced to agree, perhaps reluctantly, that everybody’s got to learn sometime. Realising this, the eighties pop band might well have donned their leg-warmers, trudged down to the nearest secondary school, and thrown a sausage on a fork across a crowded canteen. Today, they might very well be in the wrong place. For in an elegant passing of the educational relay baton, Grange Hill’s imminent closure coincides with the launch of the School of Everything.
Paul Miller is no Mrs McClusky, which is just as well, for it will be his headship which steers this cracking venture through its first stages and beyond. The basic idea is just plain simple; We’ve all got something which we can teach – and we’ve all got something we want to learn. Why leave teaching to schools, if the web has connected us all? When Ebay launched in 1995, the idea that strangers would send stuff off to people they had never met was scoffed at. Today, your next piano teacher could be sitting in the flat next door, right now, fiddling with his Pez Heads.
You may have come across Horses Mouth, the online e-mentoring site, which has a similarly straightforward core idea, around learning from each other’s life lessons. The difference with the School of Everything is, firstly, that the teaching happens face-to-face (although it’s possible to tick a box saying you teach online). The second difference is that it’s a business, as opposed to being structured as a social enterprise or a charity. You could call it a social business. This second difference means that it has attracted an inspiring and eclectic range of shareholders and investors, from Channel 4 and the Young Foundation, to US entrepreneur Esther Dyson and BT’s JP Rangaswami. Both JP and the Young Foundation’s Geoff Mulgan were on excellent form at this evening’s Channel 4 launch.
I first heard about all of this when I met founder Paul just over a year ago, over coffee. Then, it was little more than a twinkle in his eye. That he has taken it through launch, and with such a great group of investors, is testament to a winning idea and to his fantastic drive. The other thing which always strikes me when I cross paths with Team Everything (they recently won a Catalyst Awards) is that they are a small yet already buzzing organisation with a terrific sense of camaraderie. So no lessons needed on that front.
Why would someone register as a teacher? Well, School of Everything allows you to select a range of reasons, whether you’re looking for paying students, skills swapping, ways to help, good conversation or all of the above. It’s possible to browse possible subjects (picking the first from each section would see you learning art, abstract thinking, driving, allotments, baking, chainmaille – it’s a type of jewellery apparently, addiction management – to social networks perhaps?, ICT, english, hatha yoga, clarinet, acting, cycling, biology and chemistry. Quite a day at school.
A search reveals that the nearest teacher to me is called Laurie Winkless. She teaches Physics, to ages ten and above. Which is almost perfect for my level of expertise. Einstein reckoned that education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned at school. He must have been thinking of a different kind of school. The place we used to go to learn things.