Curriculum – first 100 years

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this fourth blog is ‘Curriculum – first 100 years’.

When Bedales began in 1893, it was the second of the so-called New Schools, Abbotsholme, where John Badley had begun his teaching career, being the first. Reacting against something (the rigidities and classical basis of the Victorian public school curriculum) was fair enough, but a New School needed to answer two crucial questions: What should be taught? How should it be taught?

My previous reflections on place and relationships show the importance of individuality, personal growth, the influence of environment and balancing the work of head, hand and heart.

So, first of all what do you teach? Move away from dominance of the Classics (Greek and Latin) as the primary way both of teaching your own languages and for training the young brain. In the chapter on The Middle Years in Memories and Reflections (1955) Badley focuses in particular on what would be taught in the Middle Years, before the specialisation required for the School Certificate at 15 or 16. Here just under half of the time was spent on languages (including English) and history. Just over half was taken with Maths, Science and practical training in wood and metal work, domestic economy, music and drawing.

Secondly, how? Have the formal curriculum occupy a smaller proportion of time, but create more variety and increase the pace at which the pupils learn by what we would call now active learning – learning through doing. As a result (again from The Middle Years) teaching would be “as varied as possible, both in subject matter and in manner of treatment”.

Central to the method, the How, was the organisation of the day: the morning given over to “school work” HEAD; the afternoon to “outdoor activities” (farm work and games) HAND; and the evening to “social interaction” HEART.

See below the digest from the start of Badley’s Bedales; A Pioneer School (1923) which gives a handy overview and the brightly coloured timetable from 1903.

Contents Bedales A pioneering school

Timetable 1903

 

Pioneer, experimental, new – they are all involve trying things out: and that’s what they did.

Whilst at the Old Bedales, they experimented with extending the usual public school custom of an hour’s work before breakfast to two hours. Result? They abandoned even the one hour, discovering that this led to “so much increased vigour in the rest of the day’s work”. Modern research agrees.

In 1920 Dr Montessori herself visited Dunhurst and admired the work of her protégée, Amy Clarke, the Dunhurst Head. The “project method” (an outcome of John Dewey’s “experimental work”) became an established thing with the older classes at Dunhurst – Badley cites the “building of a Viking ship” as an example: a brilliant example of cross-curricular, learning-through-doing work: “a practical demonstration of the need of various kinds of knowledge and of their inter-relatedness”.

The Dalton Plan was tried for two years in the early 1920s; although it was formally abandoned, the balance between what you were taught in “class work” and what you were expected to do in “individual work” had shifted as a result of the experiment towards the latter.

Other innovations included taking English seriously as a subject: Geoffrey Crump, appointed Senior English Master in 1919, was said to be one of the first of his kind in an English Public School.

Turning to the national educational scene, the role of Bedales in establishing the first Design O Level in the 1970s resulted from the school’s unusual position in combining Craft, Design and Technology and in the inspirational work of Biff Barker and David Butcher. In the mid 1970s over 80% of a year group took Design O Level.

In summary, in 1911 in one of his Talks in Peace and War on “the intellectual side of school work”, Badley gives three reasons for this kind of work: use (ie. the practical benefit your subjects give you), pleasure and training. It is unsurprising that in the rest of the talk he majors on pleasure: “true ambrosial food” can as naturally come from Science as from literature and great art. The educational experience should shape each pupil’s life through the New School being “a place full of active and joyous life”. (Bedales: A Pioneer School)

Next week – Bedales Assessed Courses.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Today’s eye

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Up early this morning and catching the end of the farming programme, where discussion is all about how to sell food to millennials, who relish the authentic, unlike smug baby boomers like me who have occasional cravings for those sweetly synthetic sausages that on a good day you found in your beanz.  Reading yesterday’s paper on the train I finally read an article by George Monbiot on the connection between immersion in a virtual world and the rise of fascism and racism (our greatest peril? Screening ourselves off from the real world).   Thinking about the way the natural world impinges on our lives, I read in Country Diary’s account from Wenlock Edge that the origin of our homely word daisy is from the Anglo Saxon daes eage or day’s-eye and that a group of nuthatches is called a gidding.  I find delightful links like this as reassuring as crumbling soil between my fingers or hearing our Head of Outdoor Work, Andrew Martin, refer to the birth of his own daughter  in the same breath as our sow’s farrowing (“our little piglet has been joined by other little piglets…”).  The pungency of the world of real experience surpasses the virtual.

Reassuring too, to think over the cheering encounters of my week; yes, of course, alongside some more quotidian concerns, but reminding me of how lucky I am to be doing what I am.

A Monday evening that finished listening to our senior literary society discussing Paradise Lost under the guidance of Head of English David Anson in his house.  For many it was their first encounter with Milton’s magic and insights were strong.  Tuesday evening brought a gathering of former students at the Royal College of Surgeons who are making their careers in STEM areas, from those in the higher reaches of academe to recent leavers tussling with Maths degrees or about to start out on their first engineering job.  Wednesday brings the two Bedales Assessed Course (BAC) devised Drama performances.  Based on the ideas of Space and Time, their exploration of complex and difficult ideas (mental illness, drugs, identity, perspective) is brought across with an impressive grasp both of theatre’s many resources but also of the power of collaboration. Rough magic at work, with brain and heart mining into the soil of experience to powerful effect.

All this is shot through with lots of conversations and other messages about my decision, announced on Monday, that in July 2018, I will pack up this particular kitbag and saunter off to pastures new.  Lots of heartening and flattering things, yes.  However, premature nostalgia is almost as bad as premature goodbyes, so here’s a resolution: to do my best to avoid the sentimental and any further mention of leaving in these missives in the intervening 17 months.  There’s much to do and relish in the interim.

Dystopia revisited

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

A while back and in another school, I taught a sixth form General Studies course that was based on the idea of nightmare worlds; central to it were dystopian novels.  Unusually for such a course, the students seemed to have read most of the books on offer and when the course stopped after its one term’s duration, they seemed keen for more.  1984 (1948) and Brave New World (1932) were there of course, but it was Zamyatin’s We (1924), which arguably laid the imaginative foundation for 1984, that seemed to attract a good deal of the discussion.  Shortly after its publication, I taught Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), which gripped its teenage readers with its nightmarish world and was an intriguing text to be talking with teenagers about in the ’80s.  Over the holidays I returned to Attwood with her very readable The Heart Goes Last, as well as finding Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror as my annual box set.

More’s Utopia (1516), the book that coined the adjectives, is now 500 years old; each Spring, our Block 5s who are taking the much admired Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (PRE) Bedales Assessed Course (BAC) become caught up in creating their ideal worlds; so the idea of Utopia is very much a feature of our shared cultural life.  So, it is salutary – scary actually – to stop and think about how many dystopian echoes there are in the way that the world seems right now. Early Black Mirror, 15 Million Merits (2011) especially, where the game show and unintended consequences of an increasingly digitally based world combine to create a garish living nightmare, now seems spookily prescient.

Specific to the USA, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004) is thought-provoking.  I’m told we should be reading Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935).

But it is the masterly portrayal of totalitarian thought control in Orwell’s 1984 that seems to be capturing people’s interest.  I suspect that there will also be many more teachers who are encouraging their students to carry their reading of Orwell on into the essays, in particular Politics and the English Language with its memorable concluding thought:

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Dangerous foreign amblings

Poetry, literature and the dangers of monolingualism are all front page news – thanks to a timely debate sparked by Jeremy Paxman’s comments after judging the Forward Prize, Michael Gove’s impact on the national provenance of GCSE texts and the welcome alert to the shortage of strong British modern language students given by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, Professor Borysiewicz.

I feel unusually smugly Govian as I teach my Block 1 lesson on Tuesday: they start by reminding me of the splendid Shakespearean insults that they have learnt and, yet more importantly, the appetite that their (proper, full time) English teacher, Melissa Canter has given them for the sheer flex, sinew and oomph of Shakespearean language; then I gather their thoughts on what they think makes for poetry before drawing on a few adages on the topic  – from Hardy and Larkin (Govian murmurs of approval, please) – segueing into the stunning and unusually  (for someone better known for being urban-dreary) lyrical Larkin poem Cut Grass. So, a lesson that begins with Shakespeare, dallies with Hardy and then concludes in the sweet spot of the English pastoral-lyrical tradition – 10/10 for me on the Govian British Isles scale. And I suspect I am doing quite well too by Wordsworth and Paxman benchmarks on accessible poetry – stuff ordinary folk can appreciate.

Sadly – and here is the confession – I have erred over the course of half term. Foolishly, I allowed myself to be bundled onto a train by my well organised wife (Dutch extraction, a few generations back, I fear); I then found myself in a very comfortable armchair travelling at high speed towards Paris (where awkwardly that almost British Isles author Joyce wrote a bit) and then on to Strasbourg, still sitting comfortably. Even more dangerously, I found myself confronted with a range of books, some of dubious origin: Burial Rites, an enthralling and thought-provoking first novel by Hannah Kent, an Australian, about a young Icelandic woman condemned to death for murdering her lover;  Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s eagle-eyed commentary on cultural cross-currents between the UK, USA and Nigeria; The Mighty Heart,  Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson – about, well, what it says, but one of those mind-whirring books which sets you both thinking and wanting to visit all sorts of places across North Africa, the Mediterranean and the near East; and The Undertaking by an Irish author, Audrey Magee, about Stalingrad and domestic life in Berlin.  (Didn’t like that one but loved the other three, by the way, and didn’t read them all on the train, of course.)

So how did I do on the Gove scale? Well, The Mighty Heart is fine because Adam Nicholson is British, although being mainly a Scot, he could easily soon fall foul to a re-defintion of the British Isles; sadly, though, the book is about Greeks and others from outwith these isles, although Homer’s yarns have been quite influential on much of British Isles literature, even Joyce’s Ulysses (if permitted).

Aside of feeling relieved that our own, homegrown Bedales Assessed Course in English Literature will allow us the scope to choose the texts, from Britain or elsewhere,  that we feel are right for our students, I feel embarrassed that, maybe unwittingly, Michael Gove has allowed himself to appear Farage-like in his literary parochialism. Enough from me – here is Michael Rosen’s much more balanced and fully referenced Letter from a curious parentDear Mr Gove…