The ethics of buying a smartphone

By Clare Jarmy, Acting Deputy Head (Academic)

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.

The joy of learning languages

By Christopher Grocock, Teacher of Classics

This week I had the pleasure of taking Jaw, something I have always enjoyed doing, and talking about my experience of learning languages over the 60+ years I have enjoyed doing it (I include English – we all learn at least one language of some kind, even if we don’t realise we are doing so at the time!) It was interesting to have the opportunity to reflect on this since Latin (and some Greek) have been a part of the ‘Languages’ department – and not just administrately – for the last year and a bit. This also mirrors my own experience as a linguist – I have both learned and taught ancient (dead) and modern (living) languages. They are all languages and there are similarities in the way we get to grips with them (learning) and teach them (passing them on, education) but there are many differences, too.

Doing this Jaw also gave me the challenge of trying to answer the question ‘Why bother with language?’, especially now there is Alexa and Google Translate readily available to help us out. I think there are multiple answers to that question. First, though, I admit that new languages can be a real challenge to us. You have to find ‘traction’ – ‘hooks’ so you find your footing in a new language; and you may find yourself with lots of unfamiliar shapes in the way that the new (to you) language is written. Studying ancient languages can seem very dry and dusty – the experience of the playwright Patrick MacGorain at school was that “the little grudge I bear is directed against those men who taught me the literature of Rome and Greece and England and Ireland as if they were little pieces of intricate machinery… we were so engaged in irregular verbs and peculiar declensions that we never once smelt blood or felt gristle”. He couldn’t see the wood for the trees. This is a familiar experience when you are doing ‘first steps’ in anything – but persevere, and you begin to see a more complete picture. Better still, you begin to ‘feel’ the sense of the original – to taste it, almost. As Lucy Nicholas from the King’s College London Classics department notes, when you start to immerse yourself in an original text, you get more than you can from even the best of translations; writing about Vergil, she says “he plunges us into real life, the lives of the dispossessed, the disoriented, the vanquished, the triumphant, the dying, the lovelorn. His poems don’t offer words, words, words, but blood”.

The poet Robert Frost once said that “poetry is what gets lost in translation” – though a good translation can have a musicality of its own, as Patrick Leigh Fermor found when he got into conversation with a certain Baron Reinhardt von Liphart-Ratshoff, a man of frankly alarming culture (in A Time of Gifts, pp. – the whole book is well worth a read!) Asked if it were true that the German translations of Shakespeare were as good as the original, the Baron said: “Not true at all, but it’s better than any other foreign language. Just listen!” He took down four books and read out Mark Anthony’s speech in Russian, French, Italian and German. The German had a totally different consistency from any other utterance I had heard on this journey: slow, thoughtful, clear and musical, stripped of its harshness and over-emphasis and us; and in those minutes…I understood for the first time how magnificent a language it could be.

As diverse a knowledge as that might be beyond us now – but learning a language means that the knowledge is yours, not Alexa’s or Google Translate’s. You don’t feel at a loss in the world; you know where you are because you have an idea of where you and your language, your culture, have come from. Even more, you can get into another culture ‘from the inside,’ and knowledge and understanding becomes a part of you. The critic and philosopher George Steiner sums it up very neatly: “A sentence always means more. Even a single word… It can, and usually does. Each language speaks the world in its own ways. Each edifies worlds and counter-worlds in its own mode.” In short, “The polyglot is a freer man”.

Commemorating 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz

Holocaust-Memorial

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Able, Gifted & Talented, Oxbridge, Academic Scholars & PRE

Following Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, Abi Wharton and I reflected on the Shoah – a Jewish term meaning ‘the destruction’, which has been given to the atrocities committed against Jews, and others, by the Nazi regime – at Jaw on Wednesday.

Holocaust Memorial Day is especially poignant this year, as it marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the concentration camp in Poland where 1.1 million people were murdered by the Nazis.

At Jaw, we heard about Arnold Arnold (né Schmitz), a political and religious refugee and a German Jew, who came to Bedales during the 1930s on a full bursary after his family’s assets were seized. Interestingly, in his obituary, the claim was made that Bedales was – at that time – the only school that would consider accepting a Jewish student. We are not sure what, if anything, substantiates this – Eton’s Jewish Society has already celebrated a centenary, for example. Whether or not this claim is true, the perception that Bedales was unusual in having its doors open to Jewish students is an interesting one.

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Transformative Education

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Philosophy, Religion & Ethics

An education is a transformative thing, and a great education can lead to a great transformation. Every student at Bedales is fortunate to have so many opportunities. Being part of a school like this, someone has invested in that transformation. For many, parents make this investment. Sometimes, it is grandparents. I have even known students paying their own fees out of inherited money. Others, and I was one of them, get to come to a school like this with the support of others, through bursary programmes. I can speak as one who knows: bursaries transform lives.

Patrick Derham, OBE, the Headmaster of Westminster, and formerly Rugby, knows this better than most. We were so fortunate to have him speak at Jaw on Wednesday, and the impact his talk had on students was palpable. Having, like me, been to seven schools before the age of 12, he was an ‘Ari Boy’, educated aboard the permanently moored vessel Arethusa. One day, he was asked ‘Do you know what Public School is, Derham?’ ‘No, Sir’, he replied. The school aboard the Arethusa was disbanded overnight, and he was sent off to Pangbourne College, a beneficiary of a bursary from an anonymous donor. It changed his life, giving him opportunities beyond his wildest dreams.

He took advantage of every chance, getting to Pembroke College, Cambridge, and has spent his career determined to give back. He started the celebrated Arnold (bursary) Foundation at Rugby, and from that went on to found Springboard, a national charity linking young people to places at boarding schools. He is involved with numerous other projects, all concerned with providing excellent educational opportunities to young people in difficult circumstances.

I can see why he said this was what ‘gets him out of bed in the morning’. Last year, I was thrilled and deeply moved to be asked to be a trustee of our own John Badley Foundation. Through the work of the JBF, students with backgrounds more like mine, and those much less fortunate than I was, can get to come here, and just as happens with every child, experience the transformation that comes from a great education.

For more information about the John Badley Foundation, click here.