My story

Where to begin? People seem to have three different kinds of stories about why they’re here: Return to a previous or authentic awareness; Epiphanic awakening; or a kind of stuttering, growing sense that something has to change. The story I usually tell is a mix of the first and the third. I’ve not had any epiphanies or breakdowns worth telling about, but I do have them every day. Litte epiphanies due to disturbing or affirmatory insights on reading news or seeing signs of oddness or beauty. Mini-breakdowns every night when I despair about the future for my child and her children and everyone else’s. Also, where I am now is a return to how I was raised. I grew up in what was described as ‘the greenest family in Norfolk’ (Norfolk, England, that is), and this was a combination of sustainable rural frugality and early awareness of environmental degradation (e.g. Silent Spring). But the arts in general and art history in particular were what I loved and knew about, so that’s what I did, combined with education. My first proper job was a good one, at the Tate as Education Officer and later I became Head of Learning at the British Library. The Library was extraordinary but I was a manager and the other management were increasingly from financial corporate backgrounds and we could have been speaking Martian to each other. So, I left to set up my own company in 2006, Flow, with Mark Stevenson (author of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future and founder of the League of Pragmatic Optimists). The idea was that this would be a platform for us to develop our own vision, on a foundation of good ethical business. I specialise in consulting arts and heritage organisations, especially on learning and digital strategies. I’ve done some work too in the sector on environmental sustainability and ecological literacy but my bread and butter comes from helping open up collections and content for public engagement with digital tools. In recent months, I’ve been feeling a stronger need to be an activist, a writer and an artist, all those three things together. I still have to eat, so I hope the consultancy work will still be strong, but my creative enquiry into the Learning Planet is becoming more important. I’m involved in a lot of networks, almost too many to mention, including Wikiquals (doing PhD level research and a book in a collaborative group of scholars), Dark Mountain, Re:think, the Happy Museum, a local group called Bold Vision (which includes Transition work, a cafe, cultural programme and running a people’s library), and more. I think I’m in too many networks so I’m slightly wary of getting very into Edgeryders too, but I’m intrigued to know how this might enhance all of that and make communication easier and help action arise from it.

Around this, there is doing photography (about ecology, learning, place and childhood) and being a home-schooler of my 11 year old daughter Megan. The more I can integrate these two things into my professional life, the better. Pretty much everything I think about what matters gets out onto Twitter @bridgetmck and onto my blog  I love to receive critical commentary on my articles.

My research into the Learning Planet is about how communities can learn faster, learn together and learn with an ecological turn. I want to put this thinking into theory (or rather non-theoretical storytelling) in a book, and also into practice through a co-learning platform (aimed at informal and home-based learners). So, you can see I’m interested in Edgeryders, both as a case study for this book and an exemplification of such a learning platform.

What do you mean “no breakdown”?

Bridget, I don’t know you, but it may just be you are an unassuming person. Leaving a management job at a prestigious cultural institution to start a company (!) to consult for good ethical business (!!) in culture (!!!) would look like a triple breakdown to many people in this little space.

Which is oddly common - and this commonality is very refreshing in itself, because it points to a view of European youth as busy tackling some very large societal problems instead of sitting back and complaining about the government (though they do that too, and rightly). This may be obvious to many people here, but as a temp Eurocrat I can assure you that it is NOT the way most policy makers see it. When they look at young people, they see mostly problems: unemployed, undercapitalized, lazy, selfish, violent, dangerous. As they struggle for a solution, they look everywhere except to the people already blazing trails. Here we try to build a safe space for policy makers and trailblazers to interact respectfully. I guess this would win us honorary membership of the League of Pragmatic Optimists (you lot seem to have a knack for great names)… except our pragmatism has not been recognized yet. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, as I read your story I find it very clear that you are almost a one-woman Edgeryders. The environment, learning, sustainable communities, even open data (I am in that space too, though for me it is a form of activism and not a business):  you seem to be innovating on quite a few of the dimensions that the nascent Edgeryders crowd is exploring. I am looking forward to know more about your experience in these areas.  I am curious: what kind of background produces someone like you? You mention, in passing, being from “the greenest family in Norfolk”. What does this mean? Were your parents famous ecologists or environmentalists? Sorry, maybe this is obvious in the British context, but I am from Italy…



I’m impressed by how much conversation there is here, how much this is a proper conversation. I am a bit busy so forgive my rush.

You’re quite right, leaving my prestigious job was a time of breakdown. I cried for a week.

You’re also right, young people are generally seen as a problem. Such lazy thinking about that in the UK.

‘Greenest family’ was to do with recycling, growing and foraging food, spinning own wool, etc etc. My parents were teachers and artists, and involved in local politics. Not at all famous and not ecologists. My dad has become less green over the years, oddly. I think actually the environmental awareness was more me personally being very attuned to it from an early age. Growing up right next to wetlands, rich with wildlife, certainly added to that.


Hello Bridget!

I really enjoyed reading more about you. I looked up earlier today the Happy Museum project, and was glad to read your mission report.

Are you taking care of your daughter’s education? A home-schooler? I breastfed my son until the age of 3 years, and I thought it was very demanding. Taking care for the education of a child at home must require very high organizational skills. But on the other hand, it allow for a different approach to formal education. What horrifies me about school is the bad habits that children get so easily, especially the distorted vocabulary. My son spoke so well, it was a real magic to hear him speak, and when he came to school, everything was ruined! Five years of efforts have been undone in just a few months of kindergarten. My son is six years now, and changed scholl this year, I put him in a music program, which seemed like the least worst option.

What fascinates me most about your story is the way you described your ‘little epiphanies’. You noticed that it manifests itself as an increased creativity. Connection to the self (through beauty, for instance), produces energy, creativity and inner awareness. Continue like this, dear Bridget. You’re on the right track!

Being a mother is the supreme act of creativity. This very important role is not at all valued in today’s society. We could talk about it more, if you’d like. What you do as a home-schooler interests me. Have you integrated art in your learning program? I kept all my Art history books in a large library. My son is already interested in these books. He has very refined tastes. I am sure he will be an aesthete later.

What role does Art play in the life of your daughter?

You photo reminds me vaguely of Peter Greenaway’s movies… It brings a burst of Michael Nyman music in my head.

Home schooling and creativity


Yes, absolutely, creativity is a bit part of my daughter’s life, the reason why she couldn’t carry on at secondary school, and is a big part of our home life too. She’s very talented in all kinds of making; drawing, sculpture, pottery, printmaking, sewing, cooking, inventing, digital art, film-making, photography etc. Most of her explorations of science and culture are done through art. That photo of her is cut off, so the best are on my Flickr (see the Portfolio sets). It is relevant because it is a diseased tree. We did a family project on tree diseases and made an art installation as part of an exhibition about woodlands.


The fine art of effortlessness

The choices that made my life what it is (and that many people, including my family, openly regarded as crazy) were made possible by teaching myself to un-see the cognitive barriers that narrow your choices. After school there is university; then you take a job, right? It’s what sensible people do. I was taught never to question this. It took me a lot of effort to look around and realize that the range of choices at my disposal was far broader than I thought.

You Bridget, you make such choices seem effortless. Your daughter was not really a good match with your run-of-the-mill schooling, so you stepped in and conjured a totally personalized approach that would fit well with her talents and personality. Just like that! I hated school too, but at the time it was completely unthinkable to do anything else. Is it an eye-of--the-beholder effect? Was it actually a tough, controversial decision? Is it that other people's had choices always seem easier than one's own? Or do you have an uncommon gift for choosing freely, greater than mine anyway? 
Later in the spring, we will have a campaign about education: perhaps you can tell us about your experience as a home schooling parent. It is a topic that fascinates me (I have even blogged about it). Incidentally, at the end of January our own Nadia is going to talk about Edgeryders at Learning without frontiers in London. Will you be there?

Harder than it might seem


There’s something about summing up experience in short paragraphs (or tweets, or blogposts etc) that conceals all the difficulty you experience in the moment. It was really quite hard to make the choice to home school. We’d never thought of it before. I believe in the role of schools as the heart of community and wanted my daughter to go to our local school. The choice to home school was made in an emergency. If we had insisted she stay at the school, she would have refused to attend and then refused to attend the other local schools because they seemed too similar. We were asked by the school if we could physically manipulate her into her uniform and into class every day, but the physical force it would require was against our principles and feeling for our child. Besides, she had made herself ill by not sleeping or eating, and needed care.

We had no choice but to be entirely positive about the home schooling project. My husband found this hard at first. My daughter still wishes we could find an ideal school, as she’d love to be with a bunch of friends every day. But we are accommodating to it. Every day has good things in it. We’re relaxing and realising that learning isn’t a race. We have amazing conversations that spark creative ideas for all of us. Yesterday we read the opening of Orwell’s 1984, then walked in the park talking about dystopias and authoritarian control. This had followed watching films set in Iran and her own research into war and dictatorship in African countries. So, then she wrote a story, set in London in 2047. The country is divided into tribal settlements of Blingkers (bling addicts who are blinkered) and Eekos (Eco geeks). The tribes co-exist but keep erupting into short civil wars. Schooling is entirely segregated. She set the scene from our hill, Telegraph Hill, overlooking London. There are patches of forest and patches of skyscrapers, demarking the different tribal areas. Her lead character, Luna Leaf, is an Eeko, but she has to go and work in the hotel in the top of the Shard skyscraper, serving Blingkers. Her own home is a one-person tall teepee, echoing the Shard.

I could go on. There’s nothing to say she wouldn’t have come up with that story if she was at school, but I don’t believe she would have had the opportunity for such a focused and creative enquiry into repression and social structures. Those themes are too dispersed between the curriculum subjects.

The question of how learning can be organised through Creative Enquiry is something that I’ve been exploring all my professional life, and now it’s fascinating to practice it in home schooling. I haven’t written a blogpost about the home schooling experience since we first made the decision ( ) so I think one is due, on this subject. I’d be happy to contribute to your education campaign in the Spring. I’ve just registered this morning for the Free part of the Learning Without Frontiers festival. Graham, who runs it, lives opposite me. So, I’ll come along to the Edgeryders session.

Thanks for your interest, Bridget



I am an avid science fiction reader, because it makes me understand human society better (and I became an economist and an engagé musician out of an insatiable curiosity for, and need to tinker with, human behavior). It seems to me Megan’s  story would make a great novel in the Bruce Sterling/Cory Doctorow tradition. Anyway, thank her on my behalf for a really fresh perspective on the friction between the civilization of consumption and the need for planet stewardship. If she ever publishes it I will read it!

my hightlights from your article

"People seem to have three different kinds of stories about why they're here: Return to a previous or authentic awareness; Epiphanic awakening; or a kind of stuttering, growing sense that something has to change. The story I usually tell is a mix of the first and the third. I've not had any epiphanies or breakdowns worth telling about, but I do have them every day."
Thank you for your synthesis of what you get from the edgeryders stories: in this context where there's so much production and writing... it's useful to have these personal summaries. And thank you for showing us how your experience fit in.
"The more I can integrate these two things (photography and home-schooling) into my professional life, the better. "
One of my current struggle is: should I keep two baskets for the personal/social and professional life or should I try to integrate them and find as much synergies as possible? 
"I think I'm in too many networks so I'm slightly wary of getting very into Edgeryders too"  
Again I noted this passage because it resonates with my situation and well… it requires clarity, discipline and focus to not get lost and to establish relationships with strangers around the world, exchanging asynchronous thougths on the spare time. I think it's tough but it's definitely worth the effort.
And finally all your experience about home-schooling. As a (very frustrated) graduating student I'm looking at viable alternatives  to the formal educational system. And reading from your blog and twitter stream… I just find it encouraging and it make so much sense even though I understand the lack of social interactions can be an high price to pay 
Bridget: thanks again for sharing!
ps. not to mention the unextinction machine… wow that's pure science fiction thinking, say thanks to Megan from me :-) 

Thank you

Thanks for your comments. This question of putting work and hobbies (or outside life and home life) into two different baskets is an unsolvable dilemma really. It’s just something we all have to find workarounds for, and keep finding workarounds. I wish you well with yours!

Science fiction fans understand

… the movement to get Megan’s book out is growing, I see… :slight_smile: