New England colours

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Sharp early morning: clear skies, true red dawn and a decent frost as floppy Labrador, relieved that the worst of the fireworks are over, scampers over the fields.  Trees have stopped pretending they’re in a New England Fall and become more authentically Old Hampshire.

It’s a big day over there and I am thinking about USA current and past: the pineapple that my Scottish ex-pat great uncle used to send us from Hawaii each Christmas and which used to look forlorn and dismal sitting on our dining table when it arrived eventually in Lancashire, often well after Christmas. It was as exotic as it was unappetising: I think it found its way to the compost heap, only nominally nibbled. One of my Scottish uncles had followed that great uncle, starting on his pony supervising the pineapple fields and, after time fighting in Okinawa, ended up in a senior position in head office in dreamy San Francisco.  Today, we have our inaugural Kadian Harding Lecture – as it happens a Professor of Astronomy from the University of Hawaii, Gareth Wynn-Williams.

Like many people, I have found myself drawn to the USA – in my final year at school an English Speaking Union scholar became one of my best friends and I travelled around the USA with him the following year, seeing his country through his eyes as well as mine.  When I had the chance to do a year’s teaching exchange I went to California and visited a whole range of schools and universities, both in the West and East. Educationally I think that much of the best thinking is going on over there.

Returning in 2007 (the glory moment of $2 to £1) to New York with my family I saw it through the eyes of my children.  In 2012 I went back in order to visit a number of New England schools, but in particular to attempt to set up exchanges with two – Groton and Putney.  This visit also involved visiting schools which are part of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Research Schools International (RSI) network.

So, with the additional purpose of firming up links with Manhattan schools which now qualify as feeder schools, Moony and I spent the five days of half term over there in the glorious bright late October sun and colours: as well as visiting two feeder schools, Groton and Putney (where we saw our Block 4s in action) we visited five higher education places: Parsons School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, New York University (NYU), Brown University and Yale University.  There is something about being in that part of the USA, with Boston as its epicentre, which arguably has no rivals as being the cauldron of world scholarship, which is stimulating.  It is not just that the resources are so phenomenal, but it is the work ethic that goes hand in hand with it and gives one such a strong sense of opportunity.  Financial support, even for overseas applicants, is generous at Yale and it is difficult not to see time as an undergraduate or a graduate in any of these places as very desirable.

The OB network gives you a particular insight into this: Robbie Ward (2007-16) in his Freshman year at NYU in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Kate Teale (1978-80), artist and teacher at Parsons; Jonathan Klein (1978-79), Chair and Co-Founder of Getty Images; Ben Polak (1975-80), Provost of Yale.

Whatever happens today, the educational colossus that is New England will power on – and I imagine that there will be nothing but growth in the number of Bedales students who look in that direction.