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My speech at the 2013 Curriculum for Cohesion Dinner

Video and transcript of Mohammed Amin's speech. He explains how education transformed his life, and why he is so passionate about supporting this project. It has the potential to change the education of every child, Muslim and non-Muslim, who is educated in England.

Summary

Delivered 25 June 2013. Posted 14 July 2013.

Curriculum for Cohesion is a collaboration between academics, teachers and employers that develops humanities education to improve the lives of young people in the 21st Century. I helped Dr Matthew LN Wilkinson to plan the project, was the first significant donor, and have been a patron since the project's inception.

On 25 June 2013 we held our second annual dinner at the Royal Over-Seas League to bring together the project’s academics, patrons and friends. The annual dinner is the only time that all of the people involved with the project have a chance to get together. There were very many distinguished people present, including:

The annual dinner is also a vehicle for introducing new people to the project.

My short speech gave me the opportunity to explain why I have been so passionate about this project from the very beginning. You can watch my speech on video, by clicking this link or clicking the image. Alternatively you can read the text lower down.

Mohammed Amin speaking at the Curriculum for Cohesion Dinner

Text of speech

Good evening and peace be with you.

In the 4 minutes that Matthew Wilkinson has given me, I just want to cover three things very briefly.

  1. An example of changing people’s thinking.
  2. How Curriculum for Cohesion is achieving change.
  3. My personal perspective on Curriculum for Cohesion.

An example of changing people’s thinking

Just over 40 years ago I was at Cambridge University studying mathematics. One of my school friends, Harold Noonan, had also come to Cambridge and was studying philosophy.

One day I decided to tease him. I pointed out what scientists and engineers did for the world.  Compared to that, philosophers were irrelevant, just talking to themselves in ivory towers. Harold’s response floored me. It was so effective that I never teased him again.

Harold reminded me of the French philosopher René Descartes. He is famous for saying "cogito ergo sum". In English, "I think, therefore I am." Harold explained that before Descartes everyone thought about the nature of existence in a completely different way. After 40 years, I won’t try to explain the difference!

Single-handedly Descartes changed the way that every educated person in the world thinks about the nature of existence.

You won’t be surprised that Harold went on to become a professor of philosophy.

How Curriculum for Cohesion is achieving change

So how do you change people's thinking?

The first time Descartes said "cogito ergo sum", did his colleagues fall at his feet marvelling at his genius? I doubt it!

The first time you say something, almost nobody will pay attention. You have to do two things:

  1. Firstly, explain your ideas in detail in a way that people will understand and respect. Matthew Wilkinson is doing that by writing academic papers and by giving seminars. He is also busy writing a book.
  2. Secondly, you need to say the same thing, again and again and again. We have been repeating our messages in the media continuously.

However it is not enough to do it by yourself. You have to have friends and allies saying the same thing.Look around this room. You see an amazing collection of talent supporting Curriculum for Cohesion. There are other supporters who cannot be here tonight.

It is this collective effort that is making the difference.

Even in the year that has gone by since we published our paper "A Broader, Truer History for All", which is on our website, I have seen a change in the way people talk about the History curriculum.

The effect of change like this is cumulative. It is a bit like pushing a snowball downhill. For a long time nothing seems to be happening. Then you realise how the snowball is growing and starting to roll by itself.

My personal perspective on Curriculum for Cohesion

Finally, I want to give you a personal perspective.

I grew up in the slums of Manchester with parents who were very poor and illiterate. However they doted on me and were completely committed to my education.

Because they had no education, my parents knew just how valuable education was.

I went from those slums to a state grammar school, to Cambridge University and eventually to a partnership in Price Waterhouse. My wife and my four children are all university graduates, and my career has taken me around the world. God has given me the glittering prizes.

In 2002 when I stood on the plain of Arafat during the pilgrimage to Mecca, I realised that, more than anything else, I wanted to help other people succeed with their lives.

It was three years ago, on 20 June 2010 that I met Matthew Wilkinson for the first time. We could not be more different.

I am descended from illiterate peasants. Matthew’s great-grandfather, Lord Jellicoe, led the British fleet at the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. Matthew himself was head boy at Eton.

In October 2010 Matthew came to me with the idea of Curriculum for Cohesion and I have been helping him ever since with my money and my time.

I did that because I felt the project was important and needed to happen. However I didn't realise just how important the project was until about a year or so ago.

I have had the privilege of helping to start something that will change the education of potentially every child, Muslim and non-Muslim, who is educated in England.

I cannot think of anything that I have done in my life which is potentially more important.

 

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