Two days, two talks

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.

Humanising the Other

Friday night and it is our first Global Awareness lecture: Dr Shahidul Alam, Principal of Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography (Dhaka, Bangladesh) talks about Humanizing the Other. Using the medium that has been central not only to his own professional life but also his struggle for democracy (in 1984 especially, in the protests against General Ershad) he illustrates the way that human interaction remains mired in prejudice and stereotypes and has failed to make the progress that, for example, technological change has. Alerting us for example to the way that, in the early ’90s the movement for democratic change in Bangladesh did not fit the stereotype of Bangladesh as an icon of poverty and therefore did not catch the attention of the world media but the cyclone of April ’91 did, he asked us not only to question what we see but also to “question the lexicon”; why for example, does the G8 which represents 13% of the world’s population have a right to talk about the Developing World – isn’t the Majority World a better term? Not only was his talk an alert on these broad issues, but he also asked us to think about the effect on the image of the relationship between the person who takes the photo and the subject, recounting his work in enabling photographers from all parts of his own community to learn to be photographers and the need sometimes to “take the Gallery to the People,” putting photographs onto mobile displays so that people whose own actions can easily seem invisible to themselves are able to see them and their own issues. As with all brilliant talks, Shahidul’s manner – measured, calm, kindly and beautifully articulated – worked with the images he showed to illustrate his message: that we need to be active and engaged in all spheres – Politics, Culture and Education – in order to work against all the forces that stop us recognising other people – especially those who live far away –  as human beings.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

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.