One of my academic heroes is the brilliant German Geophysicist Alfred Wegener (1880-1930). It was Wegener who first suggested the theory of continental drift, highlighting evidence from fossil records and matching geologies either side of the Atlantic Ocean, which showed the Americas must have once been joined to Europe and Africa.
When Wegener first published ‘The Origins of Continents and Oceans’ in 1915 he was subject to widespread academic criticism. In arguing against the prevailing early twentieth century paradigm of continental stability his academic critics dismissed him as a dangerous crackpot. However, fifty years later geophysicists working on the theory of plate tectonics heralded him as a John the Baptist of Earth Sciences, a remarkable scientist who could think outside the box and challenge prevailing orthodoxies. Wegener was ahead of his time, and also right in much of what he said about continental drift, as the science of plate tectonics has shown.
A high quality education must encourage students to think for themselves and to think
outside the box. Top schools should not be producing ‘parrot’ learners who mindlessly regurgitate model answers to eminently predictable exam questions. We have a duty to look beyond GCSE and A level results and league tables, and to educate our talented pupils in ways that will optimise their value to society. Pre-eminent amongst these is
the value of independent, critical, thinking and the courage to take a contrary
viewpoint. I well remember teaching Politics in the late 1990s, where my own view that European Monetary Union without economic homogeneity and fiscal and political union would fail was very unfashionable. How times have changed…