I am writing this post in response to a Twitter exchange about gender and educational attainment in England. It connects with the conclusion of my book ‘Building Passions‘, which examines the history of the built environment in Victorian Britain through two famous families, the Brunels and the Barrys.
The aim of the book (and its associated website) is to educate and engage with wider audiences about the history of structures. This makes them more relevant to the communities which depend on them for shelter, work, worship and many other uses.
In the conclusion I write about the Grenfell Tower inferno, on which I have also blogged on this site. It was a shocking example of how things can turn out badly for a local community when key decisions about the design and build of structures are largely taken out of its hands.
Building regulations were introduced many centuries ago to protect the interests of cities against corrupt builders, as well as reducing health and safety threats from fire and disease. I am scoping a PhD proposal that will look at the impact of these regulations on diverse architectural styles in three different conurbations at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
So how does his all relate to the way young men and women connect with specific careers and subjects at school and beyond? Well, it’s about diversity. The world needs diversity, if only to ensure the survival of enough species variety in difficult times on the planet. Humans need diversity in order to thrive, despite contrary impulses to maintain ‘pure’ streams based on one particular characteristic or another. This applies to people, jobs and types of structure.
In schools the tension between purism and diversity is shown through a range of genetic and societal factors which impact on children. They need to be equipped to handle these appropriately. Teaching that encourages controlled risk-taking might be one method of doing this, as it balances opportunities for change against some form of stability, such a regulation. “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!”
I would argue that every school subject can be used for this purpose, but some might be more obvious given their closer connections with future careers. Medicine is an interesting example of a career without a specific school subject – interest and even accomplishment in Biology and Chemistry is encouraged, but what matters more are other things I suspect, including people skills and a certain hardiness.
More interesting for me are the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) disciplines. The Built Environment fits neatly as a possible career sector for those keen on these subjects. It is useful to be comfortable with maths and enthused by design. It helps to have a pragmatic but risk-based approach to things. Anyone can do it at the appropriate level, but employers need to make clear to the education system and parents that diversity is positively encouraged.
In this way we will ensure we have diverse future generations who understand and care about the structures within their local communities, and hopefully prevent more tragedies from taking place such as Grenfell.