In troubling times, felt even when living on the incredible Fylde coast, it is inevitable that people find themselves thinking about where and when we may find respite, and what we are going to do about it all. Certainly, in education, there has never been more of a sense of mission in this area: how do we prepare our young people not only with the knowledge and skills they need, but also with the capacity to thrive in the face of uncertainty and challenge?
None of this is new, of course. Aristotle wrote of phronesis, or practical wisdom; how it sat alongside aretē, or virtue; and eudaimonia, which broadly translates as ‘flourishing’. The concept of wellbeing has gained real focus in recent years, manifesting in various ways. Mindfulness is a good example although, recent research suggests that neither it, nor meditation, have much additional benefit relative to watching a David Attenborough documentary or jogging. It’s not necessarily what you do, exactly, but the fact that you do something to support your mental wellbeing and recuperation.
At the recent Round Square Heads’ Symposium, representing schools across the globe, there was some discussion of how educated people had perpetrated some of history’s greatest atrocities. Again, one can look back to the thoughts of one of Aristotle’s near-contemporaries, Confucius (who was closer conceptually than their one-hundred year age gap would suggest). In Confucian ethics, three key concepts are lǐ (broadly, doing the right thing at the right time), rén (fulfilling one’s responsibility towards others, mindful of our shared humanity) and yì (doing what is ethically best rather than acting selfishly). Environmentally, politically, or economically, the unsustainability of the status quo means that there’s an imperative to consider not simply what maximises personal gain, but how the consequences of our actions will pan out for the rest of the planet.
I believe that schools have a duty not just to give their students the appropriate leg-up for the next stage in their lives, but also to instil a responsible mindset that enables them to be aware of their impact on others and the world as a whole. We would do well to reflect on these venerable ways of thinking, and how they inform the kind of education the world needs now. I would argue that a purely knowledge-based curriculum, delivered at a breakneck speed with only stressful exams at the end to look forward to, is insufficient to generate either the compassionate, humane instincts we would hope for, or the eudaimonia that everyone deserves. Guided by the Round Square framework and a desire to turn these principals into action, at AKS we set our sights on delivering both academic results and socially responsible citizens, who will feel empowered to care for others as they do themselves, and to take responsibility for our shared stewardship of a precarious world.
D A Harrow