Re-inventing The Wheel

Happy New Year. The Webmag is seven years old, a good time to look back on the past and forwards to the future.

Towards the end of the First World War, the Germans made one final push to create a rift between the British and French armies before the Americans could play a significant role. They gathered together a large force, gave them additional training and equipment and made a brilliant attack. They almost succeeded, but their push eventually ran out of energy, with lack of logistical back-up and the necessary reinforcements to make a decisive breakthrough. It was like a boxer at the end of his reach, and the punch lost its power. The Kaiserschlacht, as it was known, ground to a halt. The Germans never again took the initiative, and they gradually crumbled, losing the ground they had fought hard to win.

This campaign is just one of those historical battles that officers mull over during training. It is now part of strategic thinking to take account of the need for back-up so that lightning gains are not lost through poor preparation and follow-up. Officer training has a multitude of examples from the past – successes and failures – from which today’s armies can learn.

Other professions do the same. Architects and engineers learn all they can when buildings collapse, bridges give way, structures fail to withstand earthquakes or are subject to fires. Doctors learn from the effects and side effects of new drugs or operations. Scientists build on the learning of the past, even when they have to revise earlier laws as a result of fuller knowledge.

Yet in child care, we keep on trying to re-invent the wheel. People do not seem to be interested in the past. Send a historical text to a publisher, and they will say it won’t sell. People – whether politicians or professionals – have bright ideas they want to try for the future. The fact that those bright ideas may already have been tried and failed – whether in this country or abroad – does not seem to worry them.

People often say that time is wasted in re-inventing  the wheel, and not learning from the past. The actual danger is  that we do not even re-invent the wheel. The wheel was a brilliant technological invention and there have been sophisticated cultures which never managed to invent it. The problem is that in devising new social policies, we often fail to re-invent the wheel. We come up with a sort of sledge, and we have a bumpy ride.

We need to learn from the past. While many things have changed over the years, human behaviour has not altered markedly, and the teaching of past child care experts can still be very relevant. So can the ventures of the past – the systems, the legislation, the policies. There have been successes and failures; we can learn from both. Of course, any lessons need to be re-interpreted in the light of today’s circumstances, but let us never ignore or reject the past unthinkingly; that is arrogance and we will pay the price.

It is high time that as a profession we took the past more seriously and that the history of child care became a respectable academic subject. The past need not define us, but it can inform us.

Have a sprankling New Year!

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