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.

John Locke Institute Summer School

By Eben Macdonald, 6.1 and Academic Scholar

Over the summer holidays, I had the privilege of attending the John Locke Institute Summer School at Balliol College, Oxford, to study an academic course in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). Competition for a place on the summer schools is intense, and to be considered for a place, we had to write a resumé and attend an interview (via Zoom, of course), where we were asked to articulate our most controversial idea and defend it against the interviewer, who challenged us rigorously.

At the summer school, we were put into small groups and our day consisted of three kinds of lessons: seminars, which were lessons with professors, in our groups; lectures delivered by professors, which all groups attended together; and critical response precepts, where we discussed recent lectures in our groups.

We enjoyed the presence of some fascinating people – Bryan Caplan, Professor of Economics at George Mason University; David Schmidt and Cate Johnson, two world-renowned experimental economists; John Filling, Doctor of Philosophy at King’s College, Cambridge; and Jamie Whyte, a philosophy PhD and former leader of ACT New Zealand. We even got to meet the former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbot!

The faculty never failed to give exciting and, often, provocative lectures. I really enjoyed discussing them with the intellectually vibrant student body.  

At the end of the course, we went to the Oxford Union to be subjected to Bryan Caplan’s Ideological Turing Test – where we’d have to argue for or against a certain proposition, regardless of our actual position on it, and if the student body believed we were genuinely arguing our true position, we’d have shown we were able to accurately represent a view which we had not necessarily agreed with. 

The summer school was a life-changing experience for me and I urge people to register next year.

What a week for Utopian thinking…

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.

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Philosophy, Religious Studies & Ethics students visit Siena and Florence

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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!

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Block 5 students bring creativity to philosophical deliberation

Creative-Response-Expo

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.

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Bedales students shortlisted for essay prize

Congratulations to Eben Macdonald (Block 4) and Will Needs (6.2), who have both been shortlisted for the John Locke Essay Competition.

The competition, which is held annually by the John Locke Institute, encourages young people to develop independent thought, depth of knowledge, clear reasoning, critical analysis and persuasive style by exploring a range of challenging and interesting questions. Essays are invited from students across seven subjects: Philosophy, Politics, Economics, History, Psychology, Theology and Law.

Eben answered a question in Philosophy (“What is meaning? How much would it matter if we had none?”) while Will answered a question in Theology (“I believe in God. Which God should I believe in?”)

Both will now wait to hear whether they have been successful in their respective categories. There is a prize for the best essay in each category; each prize is worth £100, and the essays will also be published on the John Locke Institute’s website. The candidate who submits the best essay overall will also be awarded an honorary John Locke Institute Junior Fellowship, worth £500.

The next chapter in the story of creation

By Alice McNeill, Head of Partnerships, Initial Teacher Training, Academic Tracking and EPQs

Too often, when we think of creativity, we think of coloured pencils or a mind-boggling array of Post-it notes; we mentally interchange creativity and originality, or creativity and innovation. But creativity should be better defined in education – because I do believe that it’s the missing ingredient. I also think a creative education is the remedy to a great number of problems with our system, but creativity’s proper definition, “the ability or power to create, to make something”, has to be at its heart.

The only way to futureproof education is to place more value on creativity. It is a truth almost universally acknowledged among educators, especially since educationalist Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk on the subject in 2006, that creativity should be as important as literacy and numeracy in schools. “It is education that is supposed to take us into this future which we cannot yet grasp,” he said.

Back in 2006, Sir Ken’s argument was fuelled by problems apparent at that time – most probably the stifling emphasis on assessment, especially literacy and numeracy targets in primary schools, and the explosion in global tertiary education graduation rates. But a seismic shift in the educational debate has taken place in the decade following his talk. Michael Gove, in his time as education secretary, transformed the curriculum; testing has reached unprecedented levels; EBacc, Progress 8 and GCSE and A-level reform has narrowed the curriculum; and academisation has led to schools becoming larger than ever, and hence heavily reliant on data generated in specific areas of school life.

There has also been an acceleration in the pace of technological change. University of Buckingham vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon, a former head of Wellington College, has made much of the problems that artificial intelligence will cause for the educational status quo in his book The Fourth Education Revolution. Creativity is becoming more important than ever if we are to avoid an educational cliff edge.

Many have written, myself included, in Tes about the urgent need for more creativity in education. After my latest article, many people approached me to ask: “So what next?” One colleague commented that the need to foster creativity was an oft-repeated mantra, but little advice existed about how the creativity gap could be filled. The comment led me to think more on the subject and to create something akin to a manifesto for creative education; this amounts to four main principles and 10 practical steps for school leaders and teachers to ensure creativity is given its place on the curriculum, both explicit and hidden.

So here is my take on what creative education should be:

  • Playful: We learn through play. Creative education must have intrinsic value – it should be fun – and we ought to learn it from the earliest years in education onward. Through play, we learn the importance of taking risks and making mistakes, as well as resilience and teamwork. Play is also the antithesis of the prevalent utilitarian, results-focused culture, which celebrates the tick above all else.
  • Problem-solving: We create to solve problems, to make things better. We do not create to destroy or diminish. So creativity should have a clear sense of purpose. If this begins at a very early age and continues all the way through school, it will equip learners to contribute positively to society in future.
  • Project-based: Working on long-term projects engenders commitment, collaboration and a more meaningful outcome than something shorter term. Where possible, people should be given the opportunity to work for a longer period of time on a project.
  • Future-focused: This involves ensuring there are clear pathways and opportunities to develop, to go forward. Links with industry are vital to demonstrate how one might take the learned skills, ideas and knowledge into a meaningful career.

Which brings me to my plan of action…

  1. Understand the importance of creativity and shout about it

Make it part of your mission statement; make sure educators understand its importance. There should be visual signs throughout the school suggesting the importance of creativity. Wherever possible, the school should be an ever-evolving display of creativity, from use of student voice to celebrations of work. It is always impressive to visit schools with a real sense of ownership of the environment that has come about through co-construction. For example, the student-led green initiatives at Ampleforth College, or the students’ input into the architectural design of London Oratory School and David Young Community Academy.

  1. Focus on building skills

Every subject can nurture and celebrate creativity if there is a good understanding of what creativity is. The word “creativity” has been used synonymously with innovation, but actually a better definition is “the power to make something, tangible or intangible”. In all subjects, we need to empower students to make things, whether it is a solution to a problem, a strategy for teamwork or an original piece of artwork, a project or an idea. It is only by doing this that students can find their inner motivation to succeed.

  1. Find creative role models and celebrate creative success

Every student wants to create something. And many do. We are often looking in the wrong places for things to celebrate. We should find time to praise creativity. A good way of doing this is to have a specific language to talk about creativity. For example, if there is a former student of the school who works in a creative industry, or someone of particular inspiration to the school, then their name can be given as shorthand for recognition of achievement in this area. A part of assembly each month could be given to recognise people in creative pursuits in the same way that sporting achievements is often be recognised.

  1. Imitate early years education

We have so much to learn from the joy, excitement and creativity that imbues the earliest years in education. Let’s find ever-more ways of getting back to the excitement of discovery and invention that is an everyday sight in Reception classes.

  1. Encourage invention

Much has been made of the four stages of investigative questioning: detective (what, when, who?); scientist (how? why?); judge (would you agree?); and inventor (what if?). By continually encouraging the fourth type of questioning, we can nurture lateral, outside-the-box thinking.

This approach is a brilliant remedy for the kind of thinking that is characterised by the refrain, “Is this in the exam?”

  1. Scan the horizon

Make sure the information that you have about how an industry is evolving is up to date. Students find it so much easier to be creative when they know why they are doing what they are doing. Are they writing about the latest antibiotic research for a medical application? Are they building a portfolio to showcase their fashion design? Are they researching a new genre in theatre to build a specific skill that they’re currently lacking? What will the working environment be like? It may be a single teacher’s responsibility to be aware of the market and the skills required for different pathways. But even better, make it every teacher’s responsibility.

  1. Build relationships

Many schools actively seek relationships with local companies to offer work experience or volunteering opportunities for students. It might take the form of a formal partnership or even sponsorship. These relationships can build slowly over time, but they can be immensely rewarding and give students a brilliant insight into how they might become agents for positive change in the future.

  1. Find opportunities for long-term projects

When a student works for a significant length of time on a project, they feel boredom, frustration, doubt, and often want to give up. These are all essential parts of the creative process that students must be facilitated to experience and to cope with. Nothing could be a better lesson to learn at school.

  1. Ensure students are able to leave school or university with a portfolio of projects

If you asked anyone which piece of work they were most proud of from their school days, it would most likely be a self-driven, creative project. In an ideal world, there should be an opportunity each year to do, and to showcase, a significant piece of work such as this. There are more and more opportunities to do this as part of the formal curriculum, from the International Baccalaureate to the Extended Project Qualification. Such tasks are demanding, time-consuming and challenging, but the effort and creative energy put in is directly proportional to the sense of pride and lasting effect that students will feel in their lives.

  1. Creativity should always be constructive

Obvious, perhaps, but it underpins everything a creative education should be. Ultimately, creative education builds, edifies, emboldens and serves others; students transform from passive recipients of information to active participants – a process that both shapes their futures and enriches society. The easiest way to ensure that education is creative is to continually ask ourselves the purpose of the curriculum. If we can be assured of the constructive nature of an activity, we can be assured that what we are doing is worthwhile.

Taken together, these ideas, I hope, will give readers something of a roadmap to building more creativity into the curriculum. Or at least a little optimism.

With thanks for their permission to publish on the Bedales School blog, this article originally featured in the TES magazine on 21 December 2018.