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Old 17-06-20, 08:48 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default Warden Revd. J. C. Puddefoot?s Report,College Prize Day on July 13, 2011

Great countries need great schools
July 17, 2011, 7:26 pm


Excerpts of Warden Revd. J. C. Puddefoot?s Report, 2010 released on the occasion of S. Thomas? College Prize Day on July 13, 2011



Having been called to make many speeches during the past two years, I have regularly chosen to start them with the sentence "Great countries need great schools". I believe that to be true regardless of the country or the tradition in that country, but what is a great school? A school achieves greatness by responding imaginatively and creatively to the challenges posed by the world in which it exists and the world in which its pupils will live their lives. Great schools tend to have well-entrenched traditions, and those traditions can both underpin future progress and obstruct it, depending on how we deal with them. Schools must filter what is already known in order to present pupils with what is of permanent value in both their own traditions and the world?s vast knowledge, while also anticipating what will be of value in worlds which do not yet exist. Of course, there will never be universal agreement about what is of permanent value, and such differences help to define different cultures and different value-systems, even different schools, but there can be little doubt ? I at least have no doubt ? the schools betray the trust bestowed upon them when they prepare children for a world already gone rather than a world yet to be. Their pupils will need to live their lives solving new problems, not regurgitating solutions to old ones, however useful that may be in some circumstances. Schools should therefore aspire to an embodied intelligence: an institutionally realised and established capacity to use what is already known in order to solve the problems of the unknown.


My vision for S. Thomas? College has been based on the realisation that we live in a world of change, that the capacity to cope positively with change requires education to rise to the challenge of change, and that the physical environment in which education takes place makes a significant and potentially profound contribution to the power and effectiveness of that education.


I also believe that small things matter. It is easy to concentrate our attention in a school on things that are obvious: in our case, the beautiful quadrangle with its imposing Chapel, the setting by the Indian Ocean, the excellent sporting facilities in comparison with many other schools. All these things do indeed matter, of course. But small things also matter, and in some respects they matter more: how we speak to a boy as we pass him in the corridor; whether we are on time for our classes; whether rooms are tidy, well-lit and have interesting things on the walls; whether teachers? fundamental attitude of mind to the boys is benevolent; whether boys come to school to learn or to engage in some kind of social club. Schools need to create a total culture within which pupils will feel stimulated to learn. One of the things that makes Eton College one of the world?s greatest schools is that the vast majority of the boys there take their learning incredibly seriously, and nobody is ever ridiculed or denigrated for being committed to academic excellence. S. Thomas? College cannot say the same: far too many boys are not here with their minds set fundamentally on learning and academic excellence. And although I have said it many times before, this is not about academic elitism: it is about every boy doing as much and as well as he can. Nobody can ever expect more of a boy (or, indeed, of anyone) than that he simply does his best, however modest the results may appear if measured on an absolute scale: your best is always good enough. This is the real measure of the mythical "Thomian grit": that boys make the most of whatever gifts they have, refusing to lose faith in themselves or to give up just because others may be more obviously talented or successful. A very clever boy who achieves 50% of his potential has done nowhere near as well as a much less clever boy who achieves 100% of his. We need to remember that, especially at prize giving, when it is easy to run away with the notion that winning a prize is the same thing as realising one?s potential: it is nothing of the kind.


I made a similar point last year in my speech at Prize giving: everyone in a school is both a teacher and a learner; the flow of information and ideas is not one-way, from the teacher to the students; there should be a broader appreciation of the fact that everyone has a contribution to make to learning; schools cannot thrive ? cannot become at least academically great?until they reach critical mass in this respect, that all the staff and boys together create an ethos which makes learning something everyone takes for granted. Persistent and in some cases ridiculous levels of absenteeism threaten that critical mass and make it virtually impossible for this school to become a thriving learning-environment. Vibrant classroom discussion leads to learning that occurs in the immediate present; note-taking postpones that learning until a future date. Of course, as I have frequently said, the national assessment system needs to reflect this more positive emphasis on discussion rather than rote learning, and the expectations of examiners when setting papers must include analytical thought as well as regurgitation; without a change at that level children will constantly suffer from an out-dated notion of what education is.


The single most potent measure of our success as a school will be the manifest intelligence of our pupils as they live their later lives by affecting the world in which they work. There are many theories of intelligence and many intelligences, but all have one common characteristic: intelligence is a measure of our capacity to respond to new situations, to solve new puzzles, and adapt what we have already learnt and experienced to new challenges. A school as a place which embodies intelligence must similarly exhibit in all its dealings with pupils, parents and the outside world a rich capacity to adapt and respond to the unique challenges that they will present. That means that we cannot expect our pupils to be reflective unless we embody reflectiveness; it means that we cannot expect our pupils to be adaptive, imaginative and creative unless we are adaptive, imaginative and creative, too; it means that if we expect our pupils to have their faces turned resolutely towards the future as a place of possibility, hope and excitement, we too must be future-oriented with the same sense of possibility, hope and excitement we intend to instill in them; it means that if we are to embrace peace rather than violence, reason rather than brute force, our own leadership and justice must be based upon peace and reason rather than violence and ignorance.


The forces that the past can summon to defend out-dated approaches to life and especially education are formidable, and in adversity we are always tempted to revert to the tried and tested ways of yesteryear, but we must resist that temptation. While willingly learning from the past where it teaches us things that are worthwhile and valuable, we have to remain appropriately critical of the past insofar as it has brought us to the present while failing to solve many of the perennial problems faced by humankind. Perhaps the single most potent of those problems is at face value the simplest: how human beings can live peacefully together, sharing the resources of a finite planet in ways that are sustainable and equitable. In this context I am pleased that we have made at least some progress in raising boys? awareness of environmental issues.


To achieve this and much more we need the whole school to be staffed by those who share this selfless vision. We will need to be generous with our time, patient with our shortcomings, steadfast in our hope, and resilient in the face of obstacles and opposition. Perhaps the biggest obstacle will come from the forces that believe that S. Thomas? College is already everything any school needs to be, a school whose direction and values are dictated by what some with their minds set in the past want for the school rather than what the boys need if they are to adapt adequately to future worlds. We should not be interested in the sort of schooling that creates knowledge without values, Success without scruples, an uneasy compliance based upon fear: we should be interested in producing children who embody the ideals that a great school stands for, regardless of their academic or sporting prowess or the hand of cards that nature and nurture has dealt them.
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Old 17-06-20, 08:48 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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In a great school, everyone is a learner and everyone a teacher; all are engaged in exploration of the vast possibilities of life; all relish the challenges presented by new problems; all are at their best when the going is toughest and the tough can really, get going. Great schools do not narrowly predetermine their measures of success: they do not praise only those who are academically gifted; they do not despair of those who struggle; above all, they never give up on any child under any circumstances, and see children who give up on themselves as a measure of the school?s failure, not the child?s. It is just too easy to slap a boy and tell him to "behave" or "pull himself together" or "be a man", because it exempts us from facing the real question of what it is about the system we work in that has helped to make him lose faith in himself, or us, or life, or all of the above.


Jiddu Krishnamurti once characterised early education as having as one of its primary aims the creation of an environment in which children could live without fear. Fear destroys imagination and creativity; it suppresses questioning; it prevents ideas from being expressed and the world being changed; fear is a symptom of some kind of mental or physical violence designed to crush rather than free the human spirit.


You know, it is really very important while you are young to live in an environment in which there is no fear. Most of us, as we grow older., become frightened - we are afraid of -living, afraid of losing a job, afraid of tradition, afraid of what the neighbours or what the wife or husband would say, afraid of death. Most of us have fear in one form or another, and where there is fear there is no intelligence. And is it not possible for all of us, while we are young, to be in an environment where there is no fear but rather an atmosphere of freedom, not just to do what we like, but to understand the whole process of living?


Jiddu Krishnamurti, "The Function of Education" in Think on These Things, p.3


All the world?s great religions stress the importance of peace, harmony and oneness. Fear has no place in their vision, and however difficult that may be to achieve in the world as a whole, schools have a duty at least to try to ensure that they are safe places where children can grow and think and play and use their imaginations free from fear.


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; where knowledge is free; where the world is not broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; where the words come from the depth of truth; where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in dreary desert sand of dead habit; where the mind is led forward into ever-widening thought and action. Into that heaven of freedom, let us awake.


Rabindranath Tagore, from The Bishop Cotton School Prayerbook (adapted)


"Great countries need great schools" for many reasons, but chief among them is that schools can create in a safe microcosm the patterns of encouragement, enthusiasm and excitement that emerge when human hearts are open and human minds are free to channel the hope and energies of the young into creating a better world for tomorrow.

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