20. Harry Potter and the ‘Philosophy Stone’

Today I embark on the “Plan”.  I’ll commence with education as the first and cornerstone of this plan, one that is underpinned by my views of the philosophy necessary to sustain a values and mission driven approach.  I will be using The Harry Potter series of books by JK Rowling to link the themes together.  So, today’s education section is linked  to “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone“.  Others will be linked accordingly!

 Harry Potter Philosopher's Stone

First of the Harry Potter Novels by J K Rowling, (1999)

 So, it’s the day after, the day after the night before and I’m feeling like diarrhoea, marginally better than constipation, but an improvement on shite! A note here is needed. Shite is a much more expressive word than shit (ask Kevin Bridges, Glaswegian Comedian).

Kevin Bridges, “The Story Continues  …”, (2012).

Shit means anything these days: “Do you want to smoke some of that shit?; I’m really diggin’ your shit!; I need to go home and pack my shit. You can never put shite in thay (sic) sentences …. Do you want to smoke some of that shite?; You’re really diggin’ my shite; You’re going home early to pack your shite?” (Kevin Bridges, The Story Continues …  2012.)

Shit can also be used to refer to excrement, of course, but usually in posher circles of England. However shite! is preferred in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Stirling, Inverness and other Scottish places, but especially Glasgow. Bet you didn’t know that; I didn’t before migrating to Scotland either.

Before I begin to try and expound a philosophy of education let me try to capture it as succinctly as possible – not a strong suit in most academics – me included!

When faced with complete disaster

TOTAL defiance is the only answer!


Total Defiance

To introduce my next thought ramblings I’ll briefly repeat my 6 point plan for the NHS. Say nope to complacency! I will be seeking immediate proactive, radical solutions to the major medical issues outlined below (or similar; I’ll be seeking your input too):

  1. Education – underpinned by philosophy
  2. Screening – underpinned by data, information (including economic) and rapid, open publication
  3. Testing from birth to death – coupled to universal insurance to block selective and extortionate premiums
  4. Preventative treatment – promotion of healthy life styles
  5. Research – focused on preventative medical conditions but financed and front-loaded, from National Profits on curative treatments and drug sales as well as taxes on harmful products
  6. Evaluation – led by self-scrutiny, and assisted by sympathetic managers and especially mentors, with an emphasis on honesty, openness, timely feedback and no recriminations except for criminal neglect and unscrupulous Health Care Staff.

So,  on to  …..


If you want to achieve anything (at all) you need an education, try not having one! As former Professor and Director of the Institute of Teaching and Learning at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia; Dean (Vice President) of Teaching and Learning at Unitec NZ, Auckland, New Zealand, and Director of Learning and Teaching Development, SALTIRE, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK (don’t put an apostrophe anywhere near this word when referring to the town, oh no! ) I suppose I know a little about teaching as well as learning, but most of all, I’m still learning. We all are. Education has been a football amongst political parties for decades, ever since the Robbins Report (1963) and much time, money and effort has been needlessly wasted, and opportunities missed. But, let’s move on ….

Robbins Report



I’m unashamedly and passionately committed to helping others learn. My first teaching job (fresh out of the University of Bradford, BSc in Biology; University of Leeds – Graduate Certificate in Education, GCE and no other source of income) was as a private tutor of mathematics to a student who had failed ‘O’ level maths. This gave me my first insight into realising I couldn’t teach her to understand mathematics, but I could help to design exercises with explanations that led her to an improved understanding and eventual technical ability to solve problems. Oh, and pass her ‘O’ Level at the next attempt!

I also grew to understand the unique abilities of genius Mathematicians whom have little understanding of those who don’t ‘get it’, and who also, unfortunately and often, don’t have this magic ability of helping others to learn – mores’ the pity!  Now I am a million miles from being even a beginner mathematician, though I am pretty good at ‘sums’ on a spreadsheet!  I also learnt a lot about the power of one-one work – mentoring I’d call it now!

I have built on these early beginnings over the last 40 years and have made at least a small contribution, alongside, particularly my scottish colleagues in the Scottish Higher Education Developer (SHED) community, to the support provided and inspiration used to help Higher Education academic teaching staff through promoting learner-centred approaches, whenever appropriate.

Shed 1

The SHED Community in Scotland share resources, tools and services to facilitate educational development activities for all Scottish universities as part of the group Universities Scotland group.

Universities Scotland 2

So, these experiences shape my own philosophy of education: a liberating and ‘freeing’ experience; a fun and amusing, playful underpinning of everything; and an absolute right to challenge perceived wisdom, orthodoxy, and ‘establishment’ positions and views. This has cost me dearly on many occasions, but would I do it again?  YES! Yes! Yes! OUI! Oui! Oui!

Additionally, I went on to graduate with higher degrees, an MSc in Experimental Pharmacology (1976) and then, via part-time research, a PhD (1987) in, “Anaemia in Experimental Chronic Renal Failure”, both from the University of Bradford. It was also there where I went on to teach from 1976 – 1997 before leaving for St Andrews. I taught a vast range of subjects whilst at Bradford, most of which I had not even met in my undergraduate or postgraduate programmes let alone knew a great deal about. But hey, this is academia -don’t you know? Yes, academics arrive in their first posts fully formed – or at least some give that impression! Everyone knows it’s a case of the Emperor’s new clothes, but will anyone ‘fess up – not many, in my experience! I did a lot of learning the night before my classes in my Bradford days! Still happens now, I’m a bit of a procrastinator!

My Biomedical Science background has given me a career-long interest and fascination in cell biology, histology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, immunology, pathology and haematology, my ultimate academic specialism. So, if you’ll forgive me, I think I am at least entitled to comment on what an (Medical) education for all in the 21st Century should look and feel like. You are not only entitled to disagree and suggest your own ideas, I absolutely request that you do! I have challenged authority in nearly all my work-roles and well, you win some, you lose some – that is life! I almost dare to challenge authority in my home-life too, but that is another story!

So, if I try to summarise the underpinning philosophy of my views of education I can capture it in no better way than to quote one of my heroes, Paulo Freire, “Speak Truth to Power”. More glibly, “the truth will set you free”, works pretty well too, but if you want the ‘real deal’ then – “a picture is worth a 1000 words”, and worth seeing again (below).

Total Defiance

Finally, so what does this translate into?  You will not be surprised that the horror I experienced outside Ninewells Hospital in their well intentioned, “No Smoking” open-aired garden (see Blog 17) has stimulated many of the above thoughts and others that will follow in parts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. So, it is clear that some aspects of smoking education are not working at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee. “It” wasn’t working in Dunfermiline Hospital either, when I had to attend a specialist clinic there.

Smoking 10 Tips

Accessed 10 December 2015: (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/smoking/Pages/Betterlives.aspx)

But the great news is that Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, to which I paid an unexpected visit (Blog 17) last Saturday night, at least appeared to be getting some things right. “NO SMOKING” that appeared to be obeyed – no overflowing ash trays and butts on pavements – it’s a start!

So now it’s your turn. What would you advocate for in an education, particularly aimed at improving the health and reducing the ‘illness’ of our fascinating, diverse and smart (street-smart, mostly, and often better than ‘trained’) population?  I’ll be trying to find a special spot in the web site for your ideas and suggestions, but for now what about using the comments box?  Maybe I can award prizes for those selections used to compile a final set of recommendations?

And now for something completely different!!

 And Now for Something Completely Different

We are now the proud owners of our 4th BMer, but it was absolutely lousy weather yesterday, so no cleaning was permitted, or even sitting in the driving seat and fiddling with the buttons!

 This is me with my new edited version of the Buzz Cut

 Colin 09122015

(Now, Top No.5; Sides No.3)

Power to the NHS- people power!

Bye all!


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