seminar 2002
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           Exclusive - Seminar Aberdeen
Institute of contemporary Scotland
ICS Day in the North East

R.F. Mackenzie - Maverick or Revolutionary?
A lecture by R.F. Mackenzie's biographer, Peter Murphy,
followed by a discussion on the educationalist's values and
beliefs and influence on education.

Saturday, 5 October 2002
TUC Club, 13 Adelphi, Aberdeen
11.00 am - 1.00 pm

Director of the Institute, Kenneth Roy, chaired the day, below are his opening remarks:

"I am very pleased to see such a marvelous turnout for this event which is concerned with theories and practice of education. In particular of course with the work of one man, the unbowed head himself, R. F. Mackenzie. His book A Search for Scotland was published as you know shortly after his death. That book did help to inspire the foundation of the Institute of Contemporary Scotland, two years ago.

The Institute was formed in an attempt to rekindle that spirit of independence and inquiry for the modern world.

We are also grateful to see so many former colleagues of R.F Mackenzie present and in particular I am very happy indeed to welcome his son Alasdair, to this assembly this morning.

We are particularly grateful to Peter Murphy, a founder member of the Institute. He has been one of our staunchest supporters since it began for agreeing to deliver the lecture this morning in honour of this great Scotsman. No one is more qualified to address the subject of R. F. Mackenzie and what he stood for than Peter Murphy because Peter Murphy is no less than the biographer of R. F. Mackenzie."

Peter at this point was introduced and began his lecture. In the next week or two I will transcribe what he said and will let you know when his remarks are available to read. I will also hope to bring you some of the comments made from those present.

Peter Murphy's presentation:
This will be typed up over the next week or two and will be added here in portions till it is complete.

The discussion after Peter's presentation will be added daily till all the
comments made are recorded here.

Discussion after Peter Murphy's talk:

Comment from Kenneth Roy;
The story of a complex and passionate and prophetic character movingly told there by Peter Murphy. Perhaps significantly this meeting is taking place at the end of the week, a week at Blackpool at which our Prime Minister is talking about moving away from the present system of education to what he calls 'the post comprehensive era of education', in this country. I am not sure what Tony Blair means, maybe we will ask ourselves what he means in the next half hour.

Hamish Brown - remembers...
I frankly find it depressing because nothing has changed. I will give an anecdote to cheer us up - Mackenzie loved coming on outdoor experiences at least once. He came with us on one occasion on a canoe trip across Rannoch Moor, where we launched canoes from the roadside and canoed across to Rannoch Station. He chose a canoe at random, a leaky one, and he had to paddle into the side to empty the water out of this canoe. The loch is several miles long and in the middle there is a shale bank, I grounded my canoe way ahead of the others, so I jumped out to pull my canoe across as I did so Mackenzie later reported one of the kids saw me there and apparently get out of the canoe and walk around on water... and one of the kids said 'Christ' and the kid next to him said 'no, its just Hamish!' The fact is that Mackenzie found this very entertaining and with his wet bum was paddling up this loch. He was so involved with them. I can't think many headmasters would be found in that situation today.

Robin Harper - remembers...

I first met RF when he came to address the students at the teacher training college when I was doing my year of training and when it came to asking quetions I asked him if he thought that the training that we were getting in the college was a suitable sort of training for teachers going into junior secondary education. He was very quite about it, as a guest at the college he felt that he xxx . What happened was that I was hauled up in front of the principal the next day and was given a really good telling of. How dare I criticise the college by asking Mackenzie to say what he thought about our teacher training. I met RF at the foot of Nelsons Column in London having written a few letters trying to get an interview with him. It must have been July 1964 and we went up St Martins Lane and sat in a cafe and talked, and talked and talked. He eventually said he had to get back to where he was staying. As we got to Charring Cross Station I said, oh what about the job? He simply replied 'yes, you've got the job'.

Your talk Peter makes me feel a bit guilty, sitting there in the back, I feel I have done what I can for outdoor education in the Scottish Parliament. A few months ago I invited everyone I could think of to a meeting, hired a committee room and we talked about what you had done Hamish for the school and how things had gone down recently. I at least encouraged everyone to the environment, to the education committee and consultation presently taking place.

Has anyone seen the consultation on education? RF would have gone aperplectic with rage to see it because it is actually so tightly described that its impossible to respond to it. Outside the present way that education is organised you could not xxx perhaps we could change the books or paint the classroom doors a different colour, this kind of thing. There is no room for any radical ideas in that consultation whatsoever. I have done what I can to encourage people.

Recently in the Parliament I got upto speak about the schools side of things and in my speech I referred to the arts council saying that the arts can live by themselves. Teaching art, music, drama and so on, you don't have to justify by going on about all the other skills that they encourage. A wonderful spinoff but they are good in themselves. The numerous things that you can't measure in people, their very humanity that these things encourage. They stand alone and you don't have to justify them in any other way. I then went on to talk about RF's dedication to getting rid of exams and I made a plea not to think that we are going to get more art and we are going to get more drama that then we have to have more examinations and more ways of measuring, Imagine 'O' grade outdoor education! Some people are afraid of being seen as radical in what they are thinking.

Mackenzie has been an inspiration to me all my life and I am doing what I can.


David (former pupil, Summerhill played Fagen in school musical)

I lived through the turmoil that was the change from the former head of Summerhill to Mackenzie, and it was turmoil. I suppose we did not realise how bad things were being pupils, I am sure the staff did more so. We were given this freedom, liberalisation and we did not know quite how to handle it to be honest. Some of us did not handle it very well. There was a tremendous amount of vandalism went on in the school. He used the opportunity to let us use our voices. I remember we used to have to do Scottish Country Dancing, everyone had to do it. We did not want to do it and would rebel against it. The head of PE had quite right wing views and he came in and said right get into the gym hall, line up boys on one side, girls on the other. We said as one that we found this humiliating and were not doing it. He stormed of to get RF Mackenzie and back he came. Mackenzie sat down and asked us why. So bit by bit it came out, that we found it humiliating and we did not want to do it. Mr Mackenzie said thanks very much and said to the teacher find something else to do, and RF went of down the corridor with the teacher in full flight. We looked at each other and realised that if we stuck together we had something to use against authority. It was the beginning of some liberelisation. I found my voice but did not find a like for Scottish Country Dancing.

Charles (local businessman)

                 Alasdair Mackenzie makes a point to Kenneth Roy

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