Gordonstoun school motto.
“Education must enable young people to effect what they have recognised to be right, despite hardships, despite dangers, despite inner scepticism, despite boredom and despite mockery from the World” Kurt Hahn
It is not very often I start a critical thinking lesson asking students for their thoughts about the ongoing events in Republic Square, Yerevan, as I did this week with my sixth formers. The “Velvet Revolution” being played out peacefully, in Armenia, currently illustrates well the thoughts I have been rolling over about whether or not our education system and curriculum really allows the development of young people to take up the reins from the previous generation. The huge crowds of protesters in the streets of Yerevan that peacefully called for the removal of the former president, Serzh Sargsyan from becoming PM and effectively continuing his rule, largely came from the young people of Armenia in a spring like, almost carnival atmosphere as they decided they wanted their future to be determined differently. I know the well known quote attributed to the Girondist, Vergniaud that “revolutions devour their children” but the educator optimist in me is seeing more and more signs that the next generation are showing more and more signs that the mistakes and mess of the previous generation across a range of global issues from power, climate change, sustainability, refugees, technology, war, human rights etc., are going to be led differently, more ethically. What is happening in Armenia right now speaks volumes about the people of Armenia, especially its young people.
Education should not be in some abstract bubble as we teach our students not only skills and knowledge in their formal and informal curriculum, but also through our values and ethos that underpin the collective spirit and purpose of our education and schools. I witnessed so many examples last weekend at my former school, Royal Wootton Bassett Academy. I had the pleasure of attending their innovative “Empowering young people” conference with the added privilege of being the keynote speaker that closed the conference on Saturday afternoon. There really cannot be many schools that have taken Human Rights and Holocaust education and put them at the centre of a curriculum that brings together every age group and subject in the school in a meaningful, educational and empowering strategy. The work of its lead and founder, Dr Nicola Wetherall, is awe-inspiring and is a powerful example of grassroots leadership influencing the school organisation and community in a positive way. The ripples from this work has linked Holocaust and genocide survivors, academics, other schools, organisations and most importantly young people. The leadership of young people evidenced in this conference and through the awards evening on the Friday evening filled the well of educational optimism about the next generation of leaders and the values they want to see underpinning the world. The young people in the streets of Armenia are also the descendants of one of the very worst and first horrors of modern systematically killing a whole race of people through hate and that was the 1915-16 Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire in WWI. History and the link to building a better World with human rights and human values is not lost on this country.
I would recommend looking at this US article and study on the work of RWBA: Please click HERE to read the article.
The drive back along the M4 to Bristol on Saturday teatime made me think about one of my education heroes, Kurt Hahn, and the importance and relevance he placed on the development of the next generation of young people in all the schools he established from Salem, Gordonstoun, Atlantic College and movements like the DoE, Round Square International and of course UWC. Hahn’s concept of “experiential learning” meant children should not just sit and do things to “receive” education they should be “doing” things in school. The concept of “project” education is an everyday part of education but when Hahn introduced it at Gordonstoun in the 1940s/50s it was very innovative education that would enable young people to develop independent learning skills, self-esteem and build their leadership capacity. Linked to this is Hahn’s belief in the power of failure in education and how as educators we develop a lens of common humanity through creating compassion in our school experiences.
I have spent this week so far thinking about how we put this into practice as educators. I took my last assembly with Year 11 on Monday just before they go on study leave for the summer examinations. They are a great year with brilliant tutors and led with complete compassion and an educator’s heart and year head in my brilliant colleague Claire Rush. I chose not to do the traditional Headmaster “Work hard for your exams; don’t fail; you get out what you put in…” etc. but instead talked about self-esteem and status as they are about to leave this significant stage of their lives by leaving school. I even managed to get will i am singing, “What I am” on Sesame Street into the end, I think they appreciated it. I know the next generation of leaders at Wyedean are already leading; the sixth form group that have worked tirelessly with local charities collecting clothes for Syrian refugees is another great example of the compassion and the values we want to see our young people develop and own. The British Council and the NAHT delivered a very strong case to the government this week concerning the issues around schools visits and opportunities for global learning by visiting our own continent of Europe post Brexit. I made the case again at Royal Wootton Bassett for the importance of international education and global learning for “Global Britain” post 2019. I hope we do not have to fight for this powerful intrinsic education model of curriculum enrichment, lost in the narrowness of bloody-minded politicians. With this in mind, we have welcomed two French partner schools in the last week to Wyedean to work, visit and share with our school community. On Monday, I had the pleasure of working with the Moldovan English Teachers Association as I delivered a webinar on the importance of global learning for our young people. It struck me how important it is for this post-Soviet country to engage in the wider world and create a society and opportunities for young Moldovans to thrive. I am honoured to be delivering a seminar on global learning for COBIS 18 in London in May. The same theme in a recent TES article I contributed for the British Council:
Please click here to read my TES article.
In more than twenty years as a teacher and a school leader I have found myself returning constantly in times of doubt to the direction of education to Kurt Hahn’s ideas as a global educator and about the direction and development of young people in our duty of care and who will take the torch from this generation and carry it forward to the next. Hahn felt education should be to develop young people who were ready to be citizens of a new kind of world and as we approach the 2020s, we see these young people more prepared to lead with integrity, spirit, foresight and humanity in the World. There is so much more in them than you and I could dare to imagine and that is why the well of optimism for the future is full.