The liberating power of education

In his Letter,The Liberating Power of Education, Harley argues that education has always had a tension between the practical or technical application of skills and the broader appreciation of a liberal approach to knowledge. Our contemporary aversion to teaching ‘the best that has been thought and known’, he argues, represents a long-standing fear of what the masses might do with unbridled access to education. Teaching is an act of faith, he says, one which must be free to produce new and exciting ideas.

Download a free PDF, or buy, Harley’s Letter from the Academy of Ideas

Chair: Dennis Hayes

(Copies of our Salon booklet will be available free to all those attending)

Date, Time and Venue: Thursday 10 March, 18.30 (for 19.00), in the Brunswick Inn, Derby.

Tickets (£3 plus fee) on Eventbrite.

About Harley

Harley has worked in education publishing for over 20 years and is an organiser of the Academy of Ideas Education Forum. He writes and lectures on learning through the ages and blogs at historyofeducation.net. He has written about pre-state education from Ancient Greece to the Industrial Revolution for the Routledge History of Education (forthcoming).

The New Meaning and Function of Racism

Our next event is a discussion on racism and the dangers of the new anti-racism

Dr Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert returns to the East Midlands Salon in her new role as co-ordinator of the campaign group Don’t Divide Us who are our partners for this event. Alka will lead our discussion of the changed meaning of racism and what anti-racism means today. She has written and spoken many times on issues such as ‘decolonising the curriculum’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘unconscious bias training’. As a taster of her writing, here is a link to a recent article headed: ‘Brilliant exposé of the moral wasteland of Britain’s culture wars is a must read’ and a link to the bookMoral and Political Discourses in Philosophy of Education to which she contributed a chapter on ‘Education, Social Realism and Liberal Cultural Values’.

In 2021 she wrote one of the first of the Academy of Ideas’ Letters on Liberty on The Dangers of the New Anti-Racism

Date, Time and Venue: Thursday 10 February at 18.30 (for 19.00) in the parlour of the Brunswick Inn, Derby. Tickets on Eventbrite.

About Alka:

Alka presented an argument for a progressive case for a liberal subject-based education for her PhD in sociology at Cambridge University. She has been a teacher for many years and is currently head of education at Don’t Divide Us. She writes on education and cultural politics for academic and professional publications and is co-editor of the second edition of the recently published What Should Schools Teach? Disciplines, subjects and the pursuit of truth.

How can we defend the legacy of the Enlightenment?

At this special East Midlands Salon event we will launch our glossy 24-page booklet about the Salon that contains two essays giving some philosophical and historical background.

The Salon exists to re-invigorate the Enlightenment tradition that once flourished in Derby and the Midlands. But what is the Enlightenment and why is it important? The Enlightenment is characterised by universal values that we can summarise as a commitment to reason, truth, science and progress.

Those values are challenged today, and our Salon will focus on a round table discussion on how we can defend those values.

Date, Time and Venue: Thursday 13 January at 18.30 (for 19.00) in the Parlour of the Brunswick Inn, Derby.

We are asking attendees to donate a small amount to cover our costs (£3 is suggested).

The classic short essay by the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment? (1784) is useful background reading.

Beyond the culture wars

The December East Midlands Salon is an introduction to the Academy of Ideas’ new series of ‘Letters on Liberty’. It is also a reprise of a discussion at the Buxton Battle of Ideas Festival. Philosopher, Jacob Reynolds, will discuss his Letter on Liberty Beyond the Culture Wars with historian, Nicholas Joseph and social scientist, Vanessa Pupavac. BUT all attendees can respond as the Jacob’s Letter on Liberty is available to buy for just £2 or you can download a copy for free! During the pandemic, public life came to a standstill. But long before lockdowns and viruses threatened the freedoms that we hold dear, there has been a problem with our belief in liberty.

Open debate has been suffocated by today’s censorious climate and there is little cultural support for freedom as a foundational value. What we need is rowdy, good-natured disagreement and people prepared to experiment with what freedom might mean today. Faced with this challenge, the Academy of Ideas decided to launch Letters on Liberty – a radical public pamphleteering campaign aimed at reimagining arguments for freedom in the 21st century.

In his Letter, Jacob argues that the culture wars feature three key trends: the destruction of the private sphere, the moralisation of politics and the replacement of virtues with values. He argues that this hollowing out of politics must be challenged by a radical defence of freedom.

Join Jacob, Nicholas and Vanessa to examine why the culture wars have intensified, explore some of their key characteristics and ask whether we can transcend them. Are those who wish to fight the culture wars merely pining for a lost and dead culture, or is the task before us more radical than conservative? How do we build a future-orientated society where such foundational principles as liberty and universalism are taken seriously? Do we really live in a ‘fragile peace in a culture of fragments’ as philosopher John Gray suggests, or can we offer a more optimistic outlook?

Date time and venue: Wednesday 8 December at 6.30 PM (for 7 PM) in The Brunswick Inn, Derby.

Tickets and further details on Eventbrite

Dante’s Hell – why a medieval fantasy still sizzles!

The East Midlands Salon returns with a discussion of the enduring legacy of Dante’s Inferno.

“Seven-hundred years on, the first part of the Divine Comedy continues to express a very human sense of justice…

The characters in the first part of the Divine Comedy have…made a lasting impression on generations of readers, along with the sheer poetry of the Comedy, even in translation from Dante’s native Florentine dialect. Perhaps that’s because, as well as writing in the everyday vernacular rather than the prestige language of Latin, Dante peopled the afterlife with many of his own contemporaries, as well as more celebrated figures from history and mythology. The result is that all are portrayed as realistic individuals, in graphic and often gory detail.”

Our speaker, Dolan Cummings, is the author of Gehenna: a novel of Hell and Earth (Lockdown Press, 2020) in which he replaces the Florentines condemned to hell with Glaswegians.

Dolan will be in conversation with one of our Salon organisers, Vanessa Pupavac, to start our discussion.

Date, Time and Venue: Thursday 11 November 2021 at 7 PM in the Parlour of The Brunswick Inn, Derby.

Tickets £3 from Eventbrite (or register here on Facebook and make a donation on the door).

A Battle of Ideas Festival Satellite event

Alchemy – a search for truth

Jo Herlihy discuss her book Alchemy: a search for truth

Our first Salon to be powered by Zoom. We have had many requests to made this discussion available to those who weren’t able to attend – alchemy is a popular topic on social media.

What is a citizen?

Our next Salon, powered by Zoom, will be held on Thursday 4 June at 7 PM.

Mladen Pupavac and Vanessa Pupavac from the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, University of Nottingham and co-authors of the forthcoming book Changing European Visions of Disaster and Development will lead our discussion of ‘What is a citizen?’.

“The idea of being a citizen is tied to membership of a city or state, that is, rights, freedom and responsibilities derived from membership of a particular place. 

Crucially as citizens we enjoy rights of political self-determination where the city or state lies. 

In the modern era our core rights have been organised around being a citizen. The French Revolution put the citizens and the rights of man at its heart. However, the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau had recognised a tension between the claiming the rights of man and having to being a citizen. 

Some human rights advocates argue that we should move away from many of the distinctions between citizens and non-citizens, and ground more rights on universal human rights. What would we gain or lose were we to do so? 

Thinking about this universal idea may help us determine what it is significant about being a citizen.” 

This Salon is free but please register by emailing [email protected] and you will be sent an Agenda and a link to join the event.

Alchemy: a search for truth

The next East Midlands Salon will take place online for the first time. Our speaker is local author and Salon member, Jo Herlihy, who will talk about her new book: Alchemy: A Search for Truth.

Her book tells the story of the people, the books, the controversies and the dangers surrounding the secretive art of alchemy and the search for truth. Alchemy is a multifaceted and mercurial subject.

In her ‘Introduction’, Jo says: ‘There is no doubt that the practical experimentation undertaken by alchemists provided real insights and new knowledge, bringing real benefits to society, and also paved the way for modern chemistry‘. Join us to hear Jo discuss this fascinating subject and join in the discussion.

Jo’s book is available on Amazon

You can follow Jo on her Instagram account: @fragmentsofalchemy

Date and Time:

Thursday 7 May 7 PM powered by Zoom (follow the link to sign up for free)

Invitation Only – for details visit our Facebook Group.

Stop Mugging Grandma



At our February Salon, sociologist, Dr Jennie Bristow will talk about her latest book STOP MUGGING GRANDMA: THE ‘GENERATION WARS’ AND WHY BOOMER BLAMING WON’T SOLVE ANYTHING. She says “Part of my motivation in writing Stop Mugging Grandma was to challenge the shrill, brittle, and dishonest framing of politics as a clash between old and young, and to warn of the dangers arising when an obsession with generation collides with the logic of identity politics.”

Date, Time and Venue: Thursday 13 February at 7 PM in the Brunswick Inn, Derby. Tickets £3 (to help cover costs). Details and tickets on Eventbrite Alternatively, pay on the door but please let the EMS know you are coming.