Can a school change and still be the same school?

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By Clare Jarmy, Head of PRE and Head of Academic Enrichment and Oxbridge

125 logo trans - Copy (Small)Giving school assemblies is always such a joy, especially tackling topics that really matter to us as a community. On our minds this year, in the context of the 125th anniversary of the school, and with Magnus taking the reins in September, is institutional identity. Is Bedales the same school it was 125 years ago? With so much change over the years, how can Bedales still be the same?

In Philosophy, we ask this question of ourselves – we are changing too, with cells regenerating all the time, so am I the same person? Perhaps memories are what keep us the same person?

I applied this to the case of Bedales, and demonstrated that there is a long institutional memory at the school. I asked students to stand up if they had been at Bedales for more than 5 years, then to stand up if they had a parent at the school, or grandparent, or sibling. By then, almost everyone was standing up, and we could see how much collective memory we have of the school.

Similarly, we still have overlapping memories leading back to Mr Badley himself. Keith, other staff and OBs, knew Tim Slack. Tim Slack knew Mr Badley. We then, by knowing those around us today, become part of that chain of memory that leads back to the foundation of the school.

This could get quite backward-looking and nostalgic. After all, as John Henry Newman said, ‘to live is to change’, and Bedales is always seeking to renew itself (Mr Badley wanted the school to rebuild itself every seven years). We must, then, remain Janus-faced, looking back to and understanding our past, yet ever looking forwards to how we shape the school in the future.

Steephurst Air Raid Shelter

By Jane Kirby, Bedales Librarian and Archivist

In going through some of the Headmaster’s correspondence from the WW2 era, I came across a tantalising reference to the architect employed to advise the school on the provision of Air Raid Shelters.

I haven’t yet traced all the papers that may be in the school archives, only letters from Headmaster Freddie Meier to Dr Carr, Chair of the Governors, but these were sufficient to send me on a quest to the RIBA study rooms at the V&A.

It transpires, that among the archives of Ernö Goldfinger held at the V&A, there is indeed a file relating to the design and building of the Steephurst Air Raid Shelter.  Mary Crowley, an Old Bedalian who had become an architect, worked with Goldfinger for a period and both their names appear on the front of the Specification of Works for the shelter.

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The Steephurst bike sheds – as they are now.

Before the war, Mary had worked with Alister MacDonald and Vyv Trubshawe (both OBs) on plans for alterations to Steephurst, Steepcot and the Main Building, and designs for the girls’ changing rooms.  She later married David Medd and after the war they became well-known for their work in designing schools.

The Steephurst Air Raid shelter made use of the fact that the land falls between the main Steephurst lawn and the lower part of the garden.  There was already a retaining wall at this point, with central steps.  The steps were removed, and the retaining wall used as the rear wall of the shelter.  Drawn up in an optimistic spirit, the original plans include a drawing for ‘Elevation : Post War’ in which the roof is held up by pillars, but the front wall has been removed, to give a cloister at the edge of the garden.  This, of course, is what was done and the air raid shelter became the girls’ bike shed; perhaps a rather less glamorous use than the quiet shelter for relaxation they might have imagined.

Progress was rapid, considering the restrictions in place at the time, and after the plans were accepted in August 1940 the contractors were on site in early September.  There were difficulties obtaining some materials – the steel reinforcing rods, and bricks – and more expensive items had to be substituted.  There was some discussion as to the need for Elsans, which were eventually included.  A temporary covered passageway was also built from the shelter to Steephurst, but something clearly went amiss in communicating this, so it did not follow the original intended route straight into the sewing room, but went instead at an angle.  Some savings were made by making the bunks 2’ rather than 2’3” wide.

When the building was finished, some disquiet was expressed at how rough the floor was, but there was no money to put down a screed (despite the generosity of parents in donating to the building costs).  One unforeseen problem was that the lights shone through the roof vents “and turned it into a grand express train”, but these were soon blacked out.  By the end of January 1941 Freddie Meier was writing to inform Goldfinger that some of the bricks were crumbling, so despite being a more expensive type of brick than the original ones specified, they do not seem to have been very good quality.  The original builders, strangely, came all the way from Ringmer, near Lewes, but a local firm was appointed to replace the defective bricks.

Many of Goldfinger’s buildings, such as the Balfron and Trellick Towers and his house at 2 Willow Road, Hampstead (National Trust), are listed, so I wonder if we should campaign for the same recognition of the bike sheds, and add another listed building to our portfolio?

How we learn and what makes us tick

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By Josh Mazas, 6.2

I wanted to share some thoughts on what I have personally found make people act the way they do, with a touch on how great a Bedalian education is.

When I say “what makes us tick” I mean the most basic subconscious motivators. Not for example, money, power, or because mum tells you to. These are important, but they apply individually, and I would be more interested in the factors beneath those – in those that apply universally.

Also, I’m only at the very initial thoughts on what I think is education and behavioural studies. In fact, most people would usually stand up and tell the audience why they’re qualified to talk on education and behavioural studies… I’m not qualified to do anything much. I have however, been at this school for a decade now, well over half of the 14-odd years I’ve spent in education. And what I wanted to do was just share a personal fascination that I think was born of going to a school that aims to be slightly different – questioning the status quo.

A few years ago, after some deep soul-searching, I diagnosed myself as a compulsive people-watcher. I find watching the infinitely varied way in which people behave and trying to understand why, fascinating. So to start with, I will spend a bit of time talking about a four-year-old friend of mine, Badger.

Badger: 1. Valorisation

The great thing about kids is that they are psychologically untouched. They don’t have any of the complexities or self-awareness of an adult that comes from scepticism and experiences and growing up, and so when I’m people-watching, it’s like their actions are a clear window into their mind-set.

Well, a couple of weekends ago I spent some time watching Badger interacting with his natural habitat at Common People music festival with his parents and all the other people we were working with. The first evening he stood on the circle of logs around the campfire and jumped from one to the other, and when he did a particularly big jump, we cheered him, which I can tell you made him very happy. The next evening he went back to the logs and did some jumping, but this time he looked at us expectantly, clearly waiting for the applause that his daring feats of acrobatics deserved. Which of course, with his chubby cheeks and bright blue eyes, he got.

As I was watching, I was struck by how much of the time, we do things because people tell us they have value, when in the larger scheme of things, they are about as significant as Badger’s hops. It was clear to me that the really basic reason that Badger was doing his hopping (which can be transferred to many other things we do) is for one of three basic reasons, the first of which I would call ‘valorisation’.

The concept is very simple. Throughout our childhoods, if we have good parents and peers who support us emotionally, then we are applauded for certain things: academic, creative and sporting feats, altruistic behaviour and generally what we think of as those acts that have ‘value’.

It’s funny, because this idea of value is completely arbitrary: we think of an action as having value if it’s worth doing. And we do stuff because we feel it has value. This tautology means that, to an extent, goodness is trained into us: we say that we inherited the creative/sporty/maths genes from our parents, but I think it’s more like our parents applaud traits they find in themselves, and thus you are subconsciously trained to be like them, with no genetic predisposition.

Anyway, when I consider the basic reasons that make us do things: work hard; be friendly; eat your greens; I think it stems at its most basic level from this idea of valorisation. Which means that although we don’t think of ourselves usually in this way, we are each individually programmed by our parents’ conscious and subconscious valorisation, as well as the valorisation we receive from our surroundings. But of course, that’s not where all our ‘ticking’ comes from.

Badger: 2. Copying and integrating

Back to Badger. The day after his log-jumping Olympic gold, Badger was following his mum Kate around, and she was walking round the campsite just dancing to the reggae-dub that was playing on the mainstage, so he started bopping with her. It was interesting because he initially watched her carefully, trying to replicate her exact movements, until the moment of realisation that her incomprehensible spasms were actually linked to the beat that was incessantly playing. You could see the comprehension as we went from dancing completely out of tune, to focussing inwards and rocking to the music with much happiness, jamming along with glee and pride, bigger and bigger moves… until he whacked his head on one of the poles.

Poor Badger.

The next basic motivator then, I thought, was clear throughout much of the animal kingdom; especially monkeys, and it was simply: copying. As an evolutionary mechanism, it makes a lot of sense, you copy your peers or people you aspire to be in order to learn from them, and improve yourself.

This is actually a vital part of initial learning, until we learn to think for ourselves, which is why you have to be super careful about what you do or say around kids. They are incredible at picking up on what you do and copying you. Without their talent in this field we wouldn’t be able to learn to speak, or eat, or any very basic communication skills.

You can also see it subconsciously in large groups of people, shoals of fish, and young Tory voters. “My parents are Tory, I’ll vote Conservative”. It’s amazing how much more likely you are to dance if other people are dancing, this feeling of copying people so as not to be different, to blend in, be part of the crowd is something we all experience, and isn’t always positive.

Anyway, so I think you’ve probably grasped quite easily the first two obvious factors of motivation: valorisation and the innate urge to copy. The third one is my favourite, and I think that between these three you can argue that they cover all the things we do in our lives, in general.

Badger: 3. Wonder

This is the last time I will mention Badger: when I woke up on the last day of the festival, I found him sitting on a stool, pouring water very gently over this little spider web and seeing how it made little droplets that sparkled in the about 11:30 sunshine. He was completely enthralled, and 100% focussed, as he was when dancing or log-hopping. It was wonderful to see.

I took the liberty of joining him in his experiments, and for some brief moments felt the same wonder at seeing the water trickle over such a delicate structure without breaking it.

Although I’m pretty certain Badger wasn’t engrossed specifically by the tensile strength of natural fibres; I thought it was clear we both felt an urge to experiment; to explore our own capabilities; to find out about the world and how it worked. I would argue that it’s the same instinct that makes people want to study at higher education, or take a course in some long-lost art, or climb K2 (the most dangerous mountain in the world to date I believe).

On reflection, I wondered again about the evolutionary perspective on this final factor, and I thought that it was deep down probably linked to fear. Fear is arguably our most innate sensation, all animals have it and it helps us to survive. When discovering something or doing something new, whether physical or mental, you gain knowledge or strength or a skill. This we can essentially call a ‘strength’. Every time you gain a strength, you feel better prepared to survive in a world that is quintessentially frightening. You feel, every time you embark on a discovery, a sense of self-betterment, which is why we have this built into us.

This is my favourite factor, as I said, because it serves us better than the two other factors. If someone tells us to do something, or just simply does something, we are initially at an advantage if we do that thing; but in a more developed world it is absolutely vital to curate and encourage the third factor, which I would like to call innate curiosity.

Bedales

Finally, a couple of quick words about Bedales. Although you may not agree, I think the wonderful thing about this school is embodied in how it approaches the three factors I have just discussed.

Firstly, the incredible amount of valorisation by the teachers is perfect for creating a self-confidence in the student body, a pride in one’s own abilities and also a willingness to do what is good, since we valorise things such as hard work, appreciation of self and others; respect; work of each for weal of all etc. I have a friend who was badly bullied before he joined, and remember vividly how he cried on his first day – such was his lack of confidence. However, through constant support and valorisation, he is now not only proud of his achievements, himself and his beautiful girlfriend, but also feels prepared emotionally for whatever is coming in the next few years.

However, in terms of the second motivator (copying), we find Bedales’ ethos rebels slightly. Bedales is a great advocate of individuality. Which precisely rejects that innate urge to do like everyone else and copy blindly until you understand why. The problem with the second motivator in our contemporary society is that much of what people do is pointless; due to the speed at which attitudes and cultures and even simply geographical positioning changes. In my opinion this is an excellent way to create ‘intelligent thinkers’; people who surpass their basic internal forces to rationally consider their options before doing them. Again, I would say Bedales has struck gold.

Finally, and I’m sure you know what I’m going to say, Bedales – as it says on the website – encourages ‘inquisitive thinkers’. I think we can all agree that this inquisitive, curious, appetite for something different is incredibly valued and valuable at Bedales; it could be considered a trait comparable to or intrinsically linked with (depending on how you see it) creativity. Sir Ken Robinson said it, and I agree, we must cultivate creativity in our schools with the same importance as mathematics or English.

You need creativity to approach the uncertain future we have ahead of us with success. And actually, I would say that Bedales, to a certain extent, is also pretty accomplished in this area too.

Before I finish, I would like to go back to the beginning point about ‘people-watching’. It is fascinating and although you may think what you like about my observations, they come from a completely free and personally tailored form of learning. The integral aim of people-watching is to not only learn about other people, but to stretch your own perspective and learn about yourself. I would highly recommend it.

Bedales Jaw: are human rights, liberal rights?

By Emily Seeber, Head of Chemistry

On Wednesday I presented a Jaw to students on the ‘problem of multiculturalism’ for liberal political philosophy, with a focus on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). I began by introducing students to the key ideas of liberal thought, and focused on the ideas of John Rawls, whose theory has been hugely influential in contemporary political theory. I then suggested the challenge posed by multiculturalism for liberalism and gave three criteria for a liberal philosophy which was consistent with a pluralistic society, and in this case a global society.

Firstly, what constitutes human rights needs to be determined under conditions of fairness (behind Rawls’ veil of ignorance in which participants are unaware of their gender, religion, economic status, political views, etc). Secondly, any universal rights should represent values which deeply different cultures can accept and which do not contradict their own systems of value.

Thirdly, rights and restrictions given by the declaration should provide genuine opportunities for equality of human flourishing in culturally diverse societies. I demonstrated that, arguably, and in my opinion, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fails to meet any of these criteria and, consequently, does not represent a multiculturalist form of liberalism.

Consequently, judging and measuring other societies using the Declaration is inherently illiberal. This does not mean that the values represented by the Declaration are not good values, or that the notion of human rights is conceptually flawed, but it does suggest that the Declaration needs to be reformulated into a document which is more tolerant and sensitive to other cultural values.

Big Dogs, Big Cats and the Power of Mice

By Rick Cross, Deputy Head, Staff and Co-curricular

There are more mobile phones on the planet than people. Facebook has 1.86 billion users. We can publish to billions of people. With such power at our fingertips, with the potential to use it for good or evil,  it is apt to consider the concept of ‘free speech’ and how this basic civil right has developed in our new ‘global city’. Who is in control? Do we need control? What are the consequences of ‘freedom’?

The assembly this week was inspired by reading the recently published book by Timothy Garton Ash on the subject, which breaks the world up into Big Dogs, Big Cats and Mice. The Big Dogs are nation states, who govern us and make the laws by which citizens exercise their rights. Some governments allow more freedom than others, and the biggest dog of all is the US, which has espoused its liberal ideals for much of the 20th Century. China, with a sixth of the world’s population, interprets ‘free speech’ in a very different way. As the number of users increases, each new dog adds their cultural imprint to the debate.

The Big Cats are the few corporations who can challenge nation states. Google is the online giant of advertising revenue, and their actions can either enable or limit our free speech, and crucially manipulate our view of the world.

Where does it leave the mice, the people, watching as the giants fight it out? Timothy Garton Ash suggests a number of fascinating routes still open to us all and his book is well worth a read. He reminds us of the age old advice, from Socrates to the Enlightenment, which I urged Bedales to hold true to…Think for yourself.

Block 3’s Ullswater adventure

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By Evelyn Adams, Blk 3

On Saturday 3 September, the new Block 3 travelled to Ullswater in the Lake District, the 8 hour coach journey was tiring but we were rewarded with an exhilarating swim in the lake when we arrived, which definitely woke us up!

My favourite part of the visit was the gorge scrambling. We were all getting to know each other whilst having fun splashing about and scrambling up gushing waterfalls. Over the week the different tutor groups got to experience all sorts of activities, from canoeing to rowing to trapeze exercises and lots of other fun and challenging activities. On Tuesday morning everyone set off with their instructors on their three day expedition, carrying everything they would need for two nights of sleeping out on the mountains.

The funniest bit was making structures out of pasta and jelly babies. What started off as a competitive challenge, turned into a crazy pasta fight, it was everywhere, but some of the creations were amazing. It was all really fun and everyone was getting along very well and making new friends for the year ahead!

Working, learning and playing in Russia

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By Tabi Archer, 6.1

Over the summer, I and seven other Block 5 Russian students and our teacher Peter, were fortunate enough to visit Orion, a village community south of Moscow which works together to bring up orphan children. Having not previously heard much about Orion, none of us really knew what to expect. We found ourselves in a small village created in its entirety by the residents themselves. At the centre of the village was the school and dining room, where the families ate every meal, cooked by a very Russian woman called Olga. In the school, the children did their lessons, pottery, dancing and plays, which the foster parents ran themselves. Around the school there were about 10 houses, each with two foster parents and around 5 children, both fostered and biological.

wp_20160721_008There was a great emphasis on community, and each house was very open and welcoming to anyone in the village. Orion is an entirely self- sufficient community; growing their own food, making hay and undertaking all building and maintenance. These were jobs we all took on as part of our time in Orion, working alongside the children and adults to make butter, rake hay and paint bed frames. When we weren’t working, we went on walks through the countryside to the river, where we swam and sunbathed, which was a great way to get to know the others and (try) to speak with them in Russian.

In the evenings, we had ‘Lingvotime’, when we got in to pairs and taught English lessons. We were also taught Russian by people our own age, some of whom spoke incredible English. After this we had evening tea with our host families – by far the highlight of the day – when we drank homemade tea and played ‘Uno’, or learnt Russian folk songs.

I think we would all agree that Orion was like no place we’d ever experienced. It was a ‘therapeutic community’ in which every activity was designed to help the children overcome the difficulties from their past and to learn to trust and understand the concepts of family and authority. The sense of community made us forget we were in an orphanage completely, as we were fully immersed in their lifestyle from the moment we arrived.

dsc00049After 10 days in Orion we were thrown back into the outside world with a visit to Moscow for our last day in Russia. We visited the Kremlin and Red Square, explored a Russian market, the Tretyakov Gallery and found ourselves in awe when we saw the Metro stations. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to go on this trip, and I’m really grateful to have experienced both the city and countryside of Russia. We met some amazing people, fell completely in love with the culture, and even learnt some Russian along the way.

View a slideshow of pictures of the visit:

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Just two weeks after the group’s visit to Orion, the BBC filmed a report on the village and its philosophy – remarkably close to that of the Bedales ethos. View here.