Of the lakes of ink that have been devoted to the recent royal wedding some of the most thoughtful pieces have been in regard to what this seemingly most modern of relationships will mean for the future of the British monarchy and what it might mean for British society. It is fair to say that times have changed, it is not so very long ago that a member of the royal family marrying an American divorcee prompted a constitutional crisis. Happily such obstacles have not stood in the way of this particular union although the early reporting of the relationship showed the less impressive elements of the British press.
Even the most ardent of republicans seemed to be interested in what took place in Windsor last weekend. It was a royal wedding that differed from those that had gone before. Whilst it was undeniably British with the soldiers wearing distinctive uniforms, reams of flag waving supporters and seasonal flower arrangements picked from the Royal Parks, there were elements that were less expected. A Gospel Choir and a charismatic bishop promising to “get y’all married” to name but a couple. So will the marriage of Meghan and Harry fundamentally change the UK? Probably not. Is this a useful opportunity for Britain to reflect on what it means to be British? Undeniably. One sunny day in May will not change a nation, nor will it heal all the problems that the UK (like any nation) faces but it gives us a pause for reflection.
A couple of years ago, schools in the UK and British schools overseas were obliged to ensure that through the curriculum Fundamental British Values (FBV) were being taught. The concept of FBV is one that schools have spent much time considering. As a history teacher I am well aware that the UK has, at times, been involved in activities that now seem deeply troubling. It has been in the vanguard of the defence of liberty and championing of freedom. How history, tradition and thought is distilled into a few convenient value statements will I suspect be a source of debate for years to come.
If our school is to understand what FBV might be then we could do worse than look at some of the examples we saw last Saturday. There was an emphasis that the newlyweds are keen to be inclusive, they support the concept of service, speak out for those less fortunate and give of their time to help others. They have both championed educational causes, mental health organisations and have called for opportunities for all. Whilst Harry comes from one of the most privileged families in the world and Meghan is a successful actor they have both faced their fair share of challenges. They are resilient. They have an international outlook and like most things that are paraded as being British, they are in fact a coming together of culture, influences and traditions. It remains to be seen if with the increasing demands of public life they will change. The young people in this school are proud to share some of these admirable qualities. FBV in fact might not be a challenge to teach or indeed to define.
“Throughout human history, in any great endeavour requiring the common effort of many nations … we have learned – it is only through seriousness of purpose and persistence that we ultimately carry the day. We might liken it to riding a bicycle. You stay upright and move forward so long as you keep up the momentum.”
– Ban Ki-Moon
What distance actually represents “a long way” probably depends on the mode of transport that a person choses to take. By just about any measure 550km is a long way and by bicycle it can only be seen as a serious undertaking. This lunchtime the school community joined in waving off four intrepid staff members who are riding their bicycles from Croissy to London (and back) in 50 hours. The time limit is self-imposed – as far as I am concerned as long as they are ready to teach on Tuesday they can take as long as they like! Our quartet are raising funds for our partner school in Cambodia to ensure that the school has sufficient funds to provide further training for the teachers and for much needed equipment. If you would like to support Messrs Ball, Bates, Lockwood and Manville on their noble endeavour then stop reading and follow this link to donate https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/britishschoolparis To those who generously provided cake for the break time cake sales many thanks. So far the total is over 1200 euros and we are still counting…
Endeavour takes many forms and it is a value that we as a school prize. This week I had the distinct pleasure of watching the construction of a Sopwith Camel biplane by the Senior School Lego Club. What impressed me most was the way that the team applied themselves with quiet determination to complete what was a challenging project. They considered each other’s views and worked to a common goal. Their hard work has resulted in a model that speaks to us about the sacrifice made by so many. I am sure that it will be appreciated by those who will see it when it is displayed at the British Ambassador’s Residence in commemoration of the centenary of the RAF next week. Whilst mentioning the First World War it would be remiss of me not to mention the superb achievement of Georgie Green whose moving poem was the overall winner of the Never Such Innocence Competition for her age group. Her thoughtful work touched the judges as much as it did us and was a worthy winner. She will be collecting her award in London next week and we look forward to hearing about the ceremony which will take place just down the road from Buckingham Palace.
Endeavour is a value that at times can be seen as being a little old fashioned. It is not a word that is often heard in everyday conversation but here at the BSP it is often seen, appreciated and celebrated be it evident in poetry, Lego or by getting on your bike and pedalling a very long way indeed. So if you are thinking about donating don’t delay!
Enjoy the long weekend.
“I believe that every person is born with talent.” -Maya Angelou
There are certain days when I am reminded that I live an extraordinarily privileged existence. Yesterday I was able to have a meeting with M. Plazanet our Director of Finance while walking between our campuses. The sun was shining. We were treated to spring happening in the Seine Valley – an intense experience (spring that is not the meeting) and then we paused to enjoy the spectacular work of our younger students at the Junior School Art Exhibition before resuming our deliberations. Once I moved away from the day to day questions that make up normal life, I had the chance to consider something more important. As educators I and my colleagues can play a role in setting young people on their way. Parents play at least an equal role in providing not only the initial impetus but constant support. None of us know for certain where all this effort will end up. As parents and teachers we may have particular ideas, ambitions even but, truth be told we don’t know where all of this investment will end up. Our young people will develop their talents, they are like the trees and plants on our river bank in spring, and they will grow, all too quickly and in a way that we may never predict. Care needs to be taken to ensure that we do not expect young people to live the lives that we desire for them, they need to be guided to the realisation of their talents.
Gilles Caron* took some of the iconic photographs of the riots in Paris of May 1968. Without him this event would not be remembered in the way that it is. I wonder if his talent was spotted early, would his artistic eye have been evident while he was a student at the BSP? Yann Martel, the Booker Prize winning author may well have been a fiction prodigy, but were the seeds of his genius discerned while he was at the BSP? In a week where we saw remarkable artistic work rewarded by the Never Such Innocence judging panel, who knows where this talent will grow? I had the chance to ask this sort of question to another visitor. Professor Shawkat Toowara is a distinguished Yale academic. He’s also another alumni and he visited the School today to share his expertise, wit and insight with our older students. By his admission no-one could have known that he would become a world leader in his field or that he would be persuading students to come to lectures that have nothing to do with their nominated studies. But he does. Our aim as a school is to provide an environment in which children can grow. Our physical environment is stunning, our intellectual climate stimulating. We have an abundance of talent. There are plenty of examples of BSP students who have gone on to be leaders in their field, opinion formers and prize winners. We are never quite sure what it is many of our young people will achieve in the future; what I know is that having seen the quality and verve of our artists and our writers this week that the current generation will certainly go on to continue the BSP tradition of excellence and in doing so enhance the community in which they live.
*The Hôtel de Ville de Paris is currently exhibiting Gilles Caron’s work: https://quefaire.paris.fr/49910/exposition-gilles-caron-a-l-hotel-de-ville