Keith Budge delights in debate
In a recent article in Independent School Parent magazine, Headmaster Keith Budge traces the roots of debating skills as an essential component of a liberal arts education, and discusses their place in school life at Bedales.
In the classical context, the focus of education was on the subjects and skills deemed essential if one was to take an active part in civic life – for example, public debate. Essential were the disciplines of grammar, logic and rhetoric – the art of speaking persuasively. Cicero, the Roman lawyer, philosopher and politician, was famed for his rhetoric. He believed that the ability to speak well was the very basis of civilisation, and was inextricably bound up with the development of a virtuous character.
A liberal arts school education is a relatively rare beast nowadays, although Bedales is devoted to such an offering. Keith explains: “Through an arts and humanities-heavy curriculum, we seek to develop inquisitive, creative and critical thinkers who cherish independent thought. We celebrate individuality, although this is tempered by a strong focus on mutual obligation and civic responsibilities.” This also applies to Bedales scientists, many of whom adopt a hybrid approach to their subject choices, combining the scientific with what are seen as more creative disciplines.
Any effective contribution to public life requires the exercise of rhetorical skills, and Bedales encourages both public speaking and debating, and enters teams into debating competitions with success. Students can also take advantage of weekly evening lectures at school, which have seen presentations from former heads of MI6, TV producers and novelists.
Bedales can claim a real influence on British public life through contributions to politics and public service. In 1934, Bedales founder, John Haden Badley, was invited to 10 Downing Street to discuss his educational thinking with Ramsey Macdonald (himself a Bedales parent). More recently, students who have gone on to work in the public and third sectors include current MP Rebecca Harris, recently retired Minister Jeremy Browne and Gyles Brandreth. Keith concludes: “We like to think that Cicero might have approved.”