I SPENT A WHOLE DAY reading hundreds of pages of Higher Education for Good, an outstanding compendium of writing, sketches, and thoughtful ideas edited by Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz.
Many of the illustrations moved me, including this sketch of "Hope" by George Sfougaras. His explanation is equally moving.
The print ‘Hope’ was inspired by the exodus of refugees and the images of people sailing across the Mediterranean from Turkey to the Greek islands. The news was and is saturated with shocking pictures of little boats and uprooted people, desperately seeking a better life, leaving all they had and all that sustained them behind.
Early on the day when the original idea was conceived, I was walking to my studio through Victoria Park in Leicester. The trees had shed their last autumnal leaves and stood in a bitter breeze which bent and swayed their thin branches. They stoically faced their circumstances in the hope of a new spring and new life. The image of the tree made me think of how hope survives and sustains us — even guides us — when we face insurmountable odds. The tree on the boat is a metaphor. The three components of the print, the boat, the tree, and the sea are simple and universally understood, but their juxtaposition makes us look again and reflect. The tree symbolises a person who has been displaced or uprooted and through life-changing events, forced to become a refugee. Anyone in that position cannot survive long without putting roots down somewhere. When they do, will they survive and thrive, create a meaningful life for themselves and their children, and bear fruit?
Every displaced person is sustained in their search for a better life through their hopes and dreams. For immigrant families, the education of the children was seen as the way to succeed in a new country. It was certainly the case for me, coming to the UK as an adolescent with basic English. I vividly recall wanting to master the language, to integrate and be seen as capable and competent in my school and later in the workplace. Having come to a rather insular and xenophobic 1970s England, I saw education as my way to demonstrate my capacity for hard work, but, more than that, to address the perceptions of ‘foreigners’ as less capable, less educated, less emotionally literate, and somehow less than. Higher education gave me a way to gain qualifications, which allowed me to progress and, in some ways, overcome the barriers of prejudice, at least professionally. Towards the end of my career as the head teacher of a school, I realised that the hope education gave me was still a powerful currency, and in my discussions with displaced or disenfranchised young people, I was able to turn to the hope that education offers, to escape difficult circumstances, and to create a better world through knowledge and insight.
On a deeply personal level, the image reminds me of my own family’s tortuous path to safety, when they escaped war and ethnic violence. My mother’s family followed a route from their home in Smyrna (Izmir) in 1922 to the island of Chios, which a century later is the same route taken by refugees from the Middle East and Asia. They rebuilt their lives in Greece, the ‘home’ country they had never seen. It seems that they were destined to uproot again, this time during the troubled Greek Junta period. History is, for all of us, a bigger part of our lives than we like to acknowledge.
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Catherine Cronin explains "the book brings to fruition 27 chapters written by 71 authors in 17 countries. Authors include established academics and researchers, learning professionals, and early career scholars, as well as students, those in academic leadership positions, and educators working outside higher education but with valuable perspectives on it. Responding to our invitation to consider all forms of creative expression, including but extending beyond the usual academic genre, chapters are written in a variety of forms: critical reflections, overlays of writing and editing."