John Abbott

Author, ‘Overschooled but Undereducated'

John Abbott is the author of the recently published book ‘Overschooled but Undereducated: how the crisis in education is jeopardising adolescence’. This brief Summary shows the width of John’s, and the Initiative’s, work. It goes as follows.

“England once led the world into the industrial age through merging the genius of the few with the applied creativity of countless self-taught apprentices/craftsmen. We now seem to have forgotten the adolescent’s instinctive need “to grow up” by so learning to do things for themselves that they emerge as responsible, skilful and thoughtful adults. Instead of fostering this innate creativity, formal schooling has sought to neutralise the impact of adolescence thereby depriving youngsters of the strength to take difficult decisions and pick up the pieces if things go wrong. Properly supported adolescence is an invaluable opportunity, not a threat to social stability. Understand that and it changes everything.”

John Abbott has been the President of the 21st Century Learning Initiative since 1995. He once taught Geography and Religious Studies at Manchester Grammar School. He became Chairman of the Expeditions Advisory Centre at the Royal Geographic Society and represented secondary education on The Engineering Council. He was one of the earliest people involved in advising the old Department for Education science on the introduction of computer technology into schools. In 1972 he became Headmaster of the 420 year old Alleyne’s School in Stevenage and in 1979 established what was to become Britain’s first ever fully computerised classroom and in 1984 was seconded to write a ‘curriculum for secondary schools appropriate to the needs of the late 20th Century’. In 1987 he was invited to give the Keynote Address to the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry.

In 1995 he was invited to Washington to set up The 21st Century Learning Initiative to create a synthesis of research into how humans learn which was emerging from the biology, cognitive science and social sciences. In 1997 he was subsequently invited by former President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev to become a member of the State of the World Forum that met annually in San Francisco to discuss those issues which politicians were unwilling to put onto their political agendas.

In 1999 the Initiative published ‘A Policy Paper: the strategic and resource implications of the new modern learning’. He has lectured widely around the world and tries to explain to politicians that a balanced education involves the emotional development within the home, the inspiration for life as found within the community, as well as the intellectual rigour that should be an integral part of life in the classroom. Previously he had published ‘The Child is the Father of the Man: how humans learn and why’, and in 2001 ‘The Unfinished Revolution: learning, human behaviour, community and political paradox’. In August 2009 the Initiative published a ‘Parliamentary Briefing Paper on the design faults at the heart of English education’, which was circulated to every member of Parliament, together with the Directors of Children’s Services in each of the statuary authorities in England and Wales.

See the Initiative’s website,

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