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Searching for Brian Simon: memories of a comprehensive school campaigner, Marxist and historian

Monday 18 January 2021 (17:30-19:00)

Jane Martin

Domus Seminar

With speaker Tom Woodin, Reader in the Social History of Education, UCL Institute of Education

Brian Simon (1915-2002) was an important public educationist who made significant contributions to many initiatives: campaigning against IQ testing; supporting comprehensive education; popularising Soviet psychology; working in teacher education and pedagogy; and, as a historian of education, writing a four volume history of education. He joined the Communist Party in 1935 and worked in teaching and then as an academic at the University of Leicester from 1950 until his retirement and remained active all his life. In the context of the Cold War, Simon struggled to separate out his Party existence from his academic and personal worlds although there were inevitable overlaps. His rather bland autobiography, A Life in Education, makes little mention of his political work which Simon assiduously cut from an earlier draft.

As part of a BERA fellowship, I researched Simon and interviewed many people who knew and worked with him. Using these interviews and other material, I will attempt to reconnect parts of his life and, in doing so, reflect upon his intellectual ideas, educational practice and wider social and political changes. Simon’s attempt to control his narrative surfaced many tensions and contradictions which provide insights into his life and work.

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