With an assembly coming up tonight on student-led initiatives, I have been dwelling on this strand of life: thinking of examples is easy; thinking about what makes this impulse so strong within our culture is trickier but interesting. So, here are some thoughts.
The impulse to want to do things yourself, rather than watch someone, usually older, do things on your behalf, is a natural one. It may well be that an environment like ours here simply allows this natural impulse greater rein than is the case in many schools. Indeed, arguably in this respect we merely sit at the homespun sandals of our Arts & Crafts forebears: learn to do things yourselves, rather than relying on others (servants, often) to do things for you, was the Badleyan message. Paired with this powerful anti-feebleness dictum was the underpinning educational conviction that we all learn best through doing. It is no accident that these two threads are connected in our second school aim which extols the virtue of doing and making.
But there is something else which connects with what’s above but which may have its genesis more in the changes that occurred in the second half of the last century with the increased expectations of that young people had of personal happiness and self-fulfilment. It seems to me that this school, temperamentally receptive to the ideas that flooded school and university campuses in the ’60s, took on much of what those heady times brought with them: above all a strong belief that individual idealism, initiative and aspiration needed to be fostered and channelled.
These head winds rocked public schools in general – the If generation knew it. Questioning, choice and individuality were in; obedience, conformity and being peas-in-a-pod were out. For Bedales it was the time when the prefect system and the remnants of school uniform went – collective responsibility and mufti replaced them: there was a different expectation about the individual’s capacity to choose. Whilst many public schools looked to throttle back on as many of the changes as they could and some staunchly marched on, this strain was grafted into the Bedales soul and has – happily from my point of view – remained a potent force. Indeed, the reforms made to the curriculum – both with the BACs and the recent changes to the Block 3 curriculum – put individual student initiative at the heart of the curriculum. There is plenty of educational research which supports the idea that allowing students to have scope for individual choice over their work spurs on motivation. Instinctively we all know this.
So, whether it is a particular take that a student takes on his or her extended project, an idea to build an octagonal shed, that quirky plan for a new publication (The BDaily after all was once a glint in a student’s eye..) or a dream of running a conference, these are central to what we do and what we are.
Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.