Trump, Federer, beauty and political engagement

Posted on 10th February 2017

In a recent blog for the Independent Schools Council (ISC), Keith Budge reflects further on the challenge of an illiberal age to liberal educators, and examines the value of the ‘appreciation of beauty’ as a way by which they might engage politically.

The days following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States dashed any hopes that he might adopt a more thoughtful and conciliatory approach once in office. Instead, he proceeded to lay claim to Iraqi oil, lambast the media for reporting the size of the crowd at his inauguration in a way that he did not like, and signalled a desire for America to get back to winning wars – accompanied by what Keith describes as “hubris of quite staggering proportion”. The week then proceeded with his announcement that planning for his border wall with Mexico would begin shortly, at that country’s eventual expense. In no time at all the agenda moved on with his executive order suspending visas and immigration benefits to certain nationals and refugees, and closing the country to those fleeing Syria. How might educators usefully respond?

Prior to Keith joining Bedales, the school had the single declared aim of inculcating an appreciation of the beautiful. Although this aim was subsequently broadened, the school was conscious that it remained relevant. “Are we just fiddling whilst Rome burns, or does it give us something we can use?”, asks Keith. He believes the latter, and challenges teachers to interpret and apply it through their various disciplinary and pedagogic prisms. He says: “We must continue with our students to seek out and relish beauty from as many different perspectives as possible (we must give our students many stars by which to navigate this world), and so become increasingly sensitised to its obverse.”

Keith concludes that in accepting the Australian Open men’s singles trophy with such heartfelt appreciation of his defeated opponent, Roger Federer unwittingly threw a light on the poverty, the deep lack of generosity – of beauty – in what Mr Trump has had to tell the people of America, and indeed the world. 

See the Bedales Difference for more on the school’s aims. Keith Budge writes regular blogs which can be read here.