By Josh Block, Head of Philosophy and Religious Studies
One of the key aspects of philosophy is the emphasis on having an open mind and being willing to engage with and sometimes embrace a wide range of new and perplexing ideas. As Aristotle put it: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
On this basis, the Block 5 Philosophy, Religi and Ethics (PRE) students are a highly educated lot indeed! This year so far they have encountered thinkers from Plato to Turing, the existence of no world to many worlds, and their reality not being real at all. To say nothing of the ever-topical question of whether AI is about to take over the human race! They have embraced all of this with enthusiasm and the well known Bedalian desire for more, and not necessarily simple, answers.
As part of their BAC assessment the students produced creative responses to a chosen aspect of the areas they had studied. They could choose their topic, media, focus and conclusions with complete freedom – or at least perceived freedom as there was inevitably a mark scheme which had to be followed! But all of this was met with passion and skill; the range of ideas was inspiring, and the means of execution nothing short of mind-blowing.
As nothing I type will actually do the work justice, I will allow as the phrase goes ‘an image to speak a thousand words’. Cast your eye over the images, and if you happen to be the parent or guardian of one of the students involved, please congratulate them and if they haven’t already, ask them to help you entertain new thoughts!
In Jaw this week, I spoke about the ethics of buying smartphones. Having recently broken my own phone, I described the dilemma I faced when I came to replacing it. I talked about an event I attended here at Bedales a few years ago, where former Head of BBC News James Harding explained that most of the cobalt found in lithium-ion batteries – the rechargeable batteries found in all smartphones – is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where men, women and children endure dangerous and unhealthy conditions to source the element for mobile devices. This essentially means that quite a lot of us carry around with us in our pockets something that is the product of child labour.
All of this had left me wondering how I can work in a school, and care for some people’s children, whilst ignoring the plight of others. That, in turn, got me thinking about an excellent book I’ve read – The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer – which argues that although we can often feel helpless to solve global issues, we actually have a moral obligation to do something, and we should really be thinking of these global problems as our problems. If we wouldn’t think twice about rescuing a child drowning in a pond immediately in front of us, why are we reluctant to do our bit to help children in danger several thousand miles away? For me, it felt disingenuous to live a life based around caring for children, whilst ignoring other children, just because they’re far away.
I also touched upon other important issues to consider, such as the sustainability of resources used to produce smartphones, and widespread concerns about the working conditions and pay of those producing them. Use of smartphones has risen exponentially over the last few years, and as they become a staple of everyday life and use continues to rise, the ethical impact of what we do with smartphones will become more significant.
I asked students to consider the ethical weight of their smart phone. What are they carrying in their pocket? What is the moral dilemma they should face when they think about replacing their smartphone? What can they do? Addressing the advantages and disadvantages of each, I presented a range of options, from keeping a particular handset for longer than the original contract or buying a reconditioned, second-hand phone, to buying a phone from an ethical brand, such as Freephone or Teracube, who work to ensure fairer supply chains, use recycled materials, and pay fair wages.
We are a long way from a perfect solution, but I hope my talk has encouraged students to start thinking about these issues and, when they next come to replace their smartphone, consider the ethical weight of the phone they choose. As for me? For Christmas, I’m going to ask for my iPhone to be repaired.
By Clare Jarmy, Head of Able, Gifted & Talented, Oxbridge, Academic Scholars & PRE
The Utopia Project is the longest-established part of the Bedales Assessed Course in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (PRE) and, as PRE is one of the oldest BACs, it is therefore one of the best established BAC modules. These have been new, different times in which to think about society and utopia, and I am sure that these events will colour how we see the project in the future.
On Wednesday afternoon, Block 5 presented their Utopias to their teachers, and to each other, in an Expo in the Library. Every year, I am impressed with the sophistication of students’ work. The project, for most students, fosters independence in a wholly new way. The Utopia Project is effectively a blank sheet of paper for students to formulate a vision for a perfect world. It is structured for them, and they have to refer to five key texts, but their Utopias can end up being utterly different.
By Georgie du Boulay, Block 5
Photo by Jake Scott, Block 5
In early December, a group of Block 5 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (PRE) students ventured to Florence, Italy, along with Clare Jarmy, Al McConville, Alastair Harden and Nick Meigh.
On our first day, we took a coach to Siena, where we visited its cathedral and the Palazzo Pubblico, where we sat and discussed Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Government – a series of three fresco panels which line three walls of the room in the palace where Siena’s chief magistrates, Sala dei Nove, held their meetings – with our upcoming utopia projects in mind.
For the rest of the trip we stayed in Florence, exploring the widely celebrated Le Gallerie Delgi Uffizi and other renowned Florentine cultural highlights, as well as visiting the Santa Croce Christmas market for some festive gift shopping!
By Clare Jarmy, Head of Head of Able, Gifted & Talented, Oxbridge, Academic Scholars & PRE
Project-based learning is getting lots of attention at the moment, with films such as Most Likely to Succeed proving highly influential.
Such interdisciplinary, creative approaches are not new at Bedales, though. For nine years, Block 5 Philosophy, Religious Studies & Ethics (PRE) students have studied core topics in the philosophy of metaphysics and mind, and from that, have had to pick one area on which to build a creative response.
We do not stipulate what medium it must be, so students can play to their strengths. We have had many wonderful projects in the past, but for the first time this year, we made the exhibition open to parents and other students as well.