By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools
Two days into the week and we have had two talks which inspire and help all of us understand better this era of upheaval we are living through.
Monday and it’s the Global Awareness lecture, given by Afghan refugee, Gulwali Passarlay. This remarkable young man tells the story of his flight from Afghanistan in 2007 when he was 12. The endemic struggles for control, the power of education in this turbulence, the mentality of Pashtun young men, the violent death of his father – all these bring alive to us the reality of his native land and the need for him to leave. Most poignant is his account of his year long journey to the UK, the cruelties and rare kindnesses he encountered – those oranges and croissants given by the Italian police.
For his audience, sitting in the safe oaken glow of our theatre in woody, safe Hampshire, we are jolted and inspired as we hear of his response to not seeing his mother for 11 years and his swift learning of English, succeeding at school quickly here – 10 GCSEs from scratch in two years – and his subsequent education, achievements such as The Lightless Sky and further ambitions.
Tuesday Civics and it’s John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times group, on news in the era of upheaval. As his talk proceeds – 20 minutes of razor sharp observations supported by four slides and 40 minutes of questions – pennies are dropping amongst the student audience. Yes, I really am listening to someone who leads one of the most influential, opinion shaping news groups in the world; and yes, this is pretty amazing.
John talks about the prevalence of fake news – it’s always been there (think Zinoviev) but now it is systematic and operating at scale. Quality news, which costs money, works through a collision of ideas – “there are… unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know” (D Rumsveldt, unlikely but true source). On the contrary Facebook’s cunning algorithms give you more of what you like. He’s had the debate with its boss.
Thinking of going into journalism? Great opportunities but it’s more about news than it is about writing – increasingly stories area being told through means other than straight writing – here’s the FT’s popular Uber game which takes you into the life of one of their drivers. If you have determination and initiative you will succeed in his vocation. And, while we’re at it, cut the adjectives.
Perhaps above all what comes over is the sense of a man whom you would naturally want to follow and whom it is stimulating and enjoyable to be around. He begins his talk with a reference to the David Watt book An Inquiring Eye. This is his lode star, it seems. He feels lucky being able to follow a career which allows him to do what he loves and credits this to a high degree because of the mindset and personality he developed here at Bedales.
We leave the SLT with more questions for John as I shepherd him across the Orchard. Students return to their boarding houses, clutching Tuesday’s FT (read Janan Ganesh’s ‘The real saboteurs of Brexit are its own amateur leaders‘ if nothing else).
The ripple effect of talks like these two amongst school communities is powerful.