1969 Politics & History

Linden West Portrait What am I doing now?

Well, I’m Professor of Education at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, I jointly coordinate a European Research Network on biographical research and I’m also a psychoanalytic psychotherapist with a small private practice.
How did you get to where you are now?

Ups, downs, darkness, light; wrong paths taken, and then right ones, or at least some rightish ones found. I’ve been lucky to be able to do a lot of things in my life: I’ve worked in diverse settings and countries, including being a researcher at Keele in the early 70s in the now defunct department of adult education. I’ve been a City Councillor too (in Carlisle), and a Parliamentary Candidate (I actually fought Willie Whitelaw in the 1979 parliamentary election. It was one of a very few constituencies to show a slight swing to Labour; trouble was I was still some 13,000 votes behind). I’ve worked part-time in television, radio and been involved in a range of programmes as well as working at a number of other universities. I’ve been a visiting professor at the University of Paris Nanterre. It was a great honour to do a talk in the Sorbonne, and in French!

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Being a dad, becoming a professor and being pleased with aspects of my research and writing and their impact. This includes my new book – Distress in the City; racism, fundamentalism and a democratic education, published in January by Trentham Books. The research is focused on Stoke, including the estate where I was born. I wrote the book in a way that was respectful but also honest about the problems the city faces. It is distressing to see the place struggling with a range of difficulties, but there are also enormous resources of hope, not least among some of those working and living in challenging communities.

Oh and by the way, I also played for the Neil Baldwin football team, but I’m not going to tell you the result against Oxford University Students’ First team. Neil told me off for slack marking after they scored, well, too many goals.

Linden as a baby with mum and dad And your biggest mistake?

Not taking the Foundation Year as seriously as I should have done; education can be wasted on the young. A few of us were talking at one of the recent Alumni events about FY, and how much we would love to do it now. There is in fact a rather interesting link between the Keele and Christ Church (founded in 1962). Frederic Mason, the first Principal of what was then a teacher education college, was a great admirer of Lindsay and of what the FY sought to achieve. A broad education of citizens before specialising professionally was, he thought, essential. There is in fact a rather interesting link between the Keele FY and a course at Christ Church modelled on the FY, which all trainee teachers needed to do, although it was more limited. It was called Civilisation. One of the difficulties it faced was finding suitable external examiners because of its interdisciplinary nature. Lindsay would have understood the problem. There was another difficulty in that some of the students were dissatisfied with the course because they wanted something of more immediate relevance, for instance to help them work better in the classroom, during their placements; as I was said, education can be wasted on the young.  It’s also worth mentioning that the Foundation Year grew out of workers’ education traditions in Stoke and North Staffordshire. Lindsay had been an extramural tutor there, as was Tawney of course.  Resources of hope can be found in the area’s history, which includes the Lidice shall live campaign, spearheaded by Alan and Cheryl Gerrard, who live in Fenton. They are passionate about the arts and its role in building a better world.

Photo left: Linden the baby - with mum and dad.

‌What are your ambitions now?

I have a new book to write with a colleague from a university in Milan; it’s on something called transformative learning, which is a big idea in the States, but often lacks an appreciation of European intellectual traditions, including popular education, and can also be highly individualistic in thinking about the nature of transformation.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?

Work out what your values are and what you believe in while always being open to what is new and challenging. Maybe you need a healthy scepticism towards the new and fashionable, without it degenerating into cynicism. And don’t neglect the personal aspects of your experiences; they can provide powerful insights into how the world works, for better as well as worse.

Linden at a symposium What made you choose Keele University?

The truth is that I originally chose Manchester but they insisted that I take Latin in my first year, because I’d applied to do an English and Drama degree. Frankly I didn’t want the hassle (although I would love to learn Latin now, and have a dictionary I carry round with me). There were other offers from other universities but Keele was local and maybe, in retrospect was a way of managing what was a big step for me into a very different culture from that of home. It was at Keele that I first met public schoolboys,and one or two girls too. Class mattered, and still does, in negotiating who we are and our place in the world.

Photo right: Linden - the professor - at a symposium 2006

What kind of a student were you?

Mixed, sometimes serious in my work, sometimes less so. I loved extra-curricular life, including drama and debating.

How has Keele influenced your life?  

Incredibly; not least in being more open than many to a range of perspectives and not being overly tribal in my academic identity.

Linden - as a grandad What is your favourite memory of Keele?

Playing Bassanio in the Merchant of Venice in tights, in the old Walter Moberly Hall, and having some local schoolgirls sighing at my beauty. Well, it was a long time ago, I am getting older and we need some illusions. And if I am allowed two memories, there were great debates in the Students Union, with old friends like Malcolm Clarke, Francis Beckett, and Sam Nolotshungu. Sam died, far too young, shortly after becoming a Vice-Chancellor of a very prestigious South African university.

Photo left: Linden - the grandad.

What is your impression of Keele now?  

It’s clearly known difficult times, including the loss of the Foundation Year. But it has survived (which it might not have done) and prospered; although I sometimes feel sad when some present-day academics know little about the history of the place. This includes the symbolism around being called Keele, which is after all, a tiny village; reflecting, perhaps, the schizophrenia in the University’s origins, maybe in Lindsay too, between being a local peoples’ university or a new Oxford-residential college on a green-field site. The latter won the day, and I’m not sure Stoke ever quite forgave the University.

At Pioneers Reunion 2011 Anything else you would like to add?

Stoke and North Staffordshire struggle, economically, culturally and politically, and I’d like to see more of a commitment to the local area, from the University, including researching and teaching in some of the local communities. Certain academics and units are involved but more might be done in the spirit of educating citizens in a multi-cultural society. A kind of back to the future, I suppose, in the sense of re-engaging with an older tradition of university settlements in marginalised spaces but in a different kind of society. Researchers and other academics might meet local people, run workshops and diverse creative activities, making spaces in which people from different ethnic groups might learn together. It could start small by buying a house in a local area (there are many cheap ones on offer!). Maybe working with Staffordshire University, with churches and mosques, in places, say, like Burslem. Lindsay thought that universities had a civic responsibility to their local communities in the inter-war years and afterwards. He was haunted by the failure of German universities to resist the rise of Nazism, preoccupied as they were with narrow research specialism and catering for only a small segment of the population. The tradition that Lindsay stood for was about providing university experiences for everyone, as an aspect of citizenship. They did things differently then, and sometimes for the better.

Photo above: Linden - the Keelite: singing a skit at the 2011 Pioneers 1960's Reunion with L to R Francis Beckett, Mac Elsey, Dick Hubbard, Mike Brereton, Linda Foster (Friis) and Linden West.