Professor Leslie R.

Perry
Educationist who put a particular emphasis
on 'practical knowledge' by Roy Prentice
‘People should be helped to make… meaningful connections between their
work and their interests…’ – LESLIE PERRY

MONDAY 26 MAY 2003 THE INDEPENDENT


BRADFORD ON AVON TOWN BRIDGE

LESLIE ROBERT PERRY, philosopher and teacher: born Wood Green,
Middlesex 3 May 1915; Lecturer in the Teaching of History, then Senior
Lecturer in the Philosophy of Education, Institute of Education, London
University 1958-68; Professor of Education, Warwick University 1968-71;
Professor of Philosophy of Education, King's College London 1971-78
(Emeritus); married 1951 Roquelia Mari (died 1984; one daughter), 1991
Diana Wright; died Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire 8 May 2003.
All his long and varied life Leslie R. Perry sustained a freshness of vision
and an intellectual curiosity about philosophy, education and the arts. He
had an extraordinary ability to explore connections between things in order
to address contemporary issues of relevance to teachers; this, aided by his
straightforward ways of communicating complex ideas, lay at the heart of
his teaching and writing.
A practical man, he was as enthusiastic about obscure craft tools as about
educational theory, as much at ease repairing his roof as discussing Lenin.
At the age of 80 he told me,
Nobody should be expected to stay in a form of employment that bores
them; they should be helped to make more meaningful connections
between their work and their interests. [My interests] were twofold:
philosophy and art. I found in the field of art and design education a type of
work that allowed both of these interests to be pursued and developed.
Pursued and developed they were, over a period of 60 years. Having left
school at 15 without any academic qualifications and finding himself doing
tedious work, he began to educate himself. He studied art at Hornsey
College of Art, history at Birkbeck College and philosophy at the London
School of Economics, where his PhD research was supervised by Karl
Popper.
He embarked on a multifaceted and successful teaching career. He taught
English at William Ellis School in Camden and lectured at various times in
history, philosophy and art and design education in a number of further and
higher education institutes including Birmingham School of Art, the Froebel
Educational Institute in Roehampton, and the Institute of Education at
London University. In 1968 he became Professor of Education at Warwick
University and in 1971 he returned to London as Professor of the
Philosophy of Education at King's College, where his inaugural lecture was
based on an analysis of the educational theories of John Dewey. During
most of his time at King's he was Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Education.
After retiring from King's College, Perry, now Emeritus Professor, returned
part-time to the Institute of Education where he became my immediate
colleague. Until he was 83, when declining health forced his reluctant
withdrawal from academic life, he made a major contribution to the
institute's Department of Art & Design Education. He strengthened the
philosophical underpinning of the department's teaching and research and
as a result of his intellectually rigorous and analytical approach successive
generations both of staff and students benefited greatly.
He enjoyed dialogue far more than lecturing formally. Above all, he
encouraged students to take risks in their thinking, to abandon routine ways
of working, to ask uncomfortable questions and to construct elegant
academic arguments. He inspired and equipped them to challenge what he
regarded as the many conceptually flawed "desperate solutions" imposed
on education by bureaucrats.
More widely, Leslie Perry helped to form new national opportunities for
specialist teachers of art and design to engage in academic study
grounded in professional practice. During the 1960s he influenced the
structure and content of the art and design elements of the innovative BEd
Degree. In the 1970s his impact on the formation of advanced Diploma and
MA courses enabled art and design teachers to aspire for the first time to
high-level academic qualifications in their own specialism. In addition, his
lifelong commitment to studio-based work nurtured debates about "practical
knowledge" and the nature of "visual evidence" in research. He argued that
"through direct involvement in practical work, handling tools and equipment
and shaping materials, a special kind of learning takes place - through our
fingertips".
As a boy, he had had direct experience of this "special kind of learning": his
father was a stonemason and other relations were craftworkers in wood
and metal - they learned through making. Small wonder that central to his
philosophy of education was the value he attached to practical work,
creative activity "through which you find out things for yourself".
Alongside his teaching, writing and personal engagement in art activity,
Perry was influential in the evolution of educational policy through his
membership over many years of diverse advisory bodies, high-level
committees and examination boards. The Arts Council, Design Council,
Crafts Council, the Laban Centre, various government agencies
responsible for teacher education and the first National Curriculum
Committee for Art all gained from his unassuming wisdom.

OLD MILL BUILDING IN BRADFORD ON AVON