How was your weekend? Whitgift’s was characteristically busy, with 36 teams playing on Saturday, 135 boys from the Upper Firsts alone representing the school, and a satisfying sweep of wins against Hampton. And a DofE expedition for 24 boys. Then on Sunday evening our choristers sung beautifully at Evensong in the Minster.
On Friday evening, after the serious business of presenting ties to junior prefects, I was a bit disconcerted to hear Mr Michael tell me that some of these Thirds were now off to prison. Prism in fact, ‘Prism’ being the academic discussion forum, masterminded by Mr Miller and consisting on Friday of three contrasting talks about Truth. And indeed there were plenty of Thirds there, being encouraged to think outside their exam studies and indeed enter a competition to write most interestingly and thoughtfully about how the concept of truth applies in an area of their choice. (As a linguist, my thoughts immediately go to how truth depends on language, but I’m not eligible…)
Well, we’re all in favour of independent thought aren’t we? I’ve spent years as a Head banging on about it, and you can expect me to continue. Never has it been more important than today for our best young people to use their minds to know, learn and critically consider the world around them. Note the order: first you need to know and respect what others have said and written. Then you learn from it. Then you question and form your own ideas.
HMC, for whom I speak on Higher Education, commissioned some research last year into students’ attitudes at university. And though there was lots that was positive, as well as much to concern us too, I worry that in many areas a gap is opening up between open, academic debate, as it has always been championed in universities (and the best schools) and intolerance. Since our young people are, we hope, increasingly tolerant, they need to develop rigorous, thoughtful independent minds. Breadth of experience, breadth of reading and willingness to engage are crucial first steps.
So hats off to activities, enterprise, Prism, and to all the many things like it at Whitgift.