Bedales and QI thinking

By Clare Jarmy, Head of PRE and Head of Academic Enrichment and Oxbridge

On Saturday, two 6.1s, Taran Llewelyn Bradford and Thea Sesti, took part in a pilot scheme to bring ‘QI Thinking’ into education. Bedales is hosting this pilot, and is working with six other independent schools. The hope is to develop an approach that can be rolled out into classrooms in both the independent and maintained sectors, building inquisitiveness.

QI stands for ‘Quite Interesting’. You might have seen it on TV (this clip on ‘what is the roundest thing in the universe?’ is quite representative, if you haven’t seen it), but actually, its creator, John Lloyd has a much broader, and idealistic aim for QI than that. QI is not only about TV, but also books, podcasts, talks to industry leaders. In short, QI is not a show, but an approach to thinking and learning.

Parents might remember that we hosted John Lloyd ‘in conversation with…’ Harry Enfield in aid of the John Badley Foundation. There is clear overlap between QI’s focus on inquisitiveness, and Bedales’ first aim to ‘To develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought’. Because of this, Headmaster Keith Budge, in his role convening the HMC conference this year, worked with John to formulate a scheme for ‘QI boot-camps’, designed to reinvigorate curriculum with interesting, fascinating facts, rather than dull, obvious material.

John Lloyd argues that ‘nothing is boring if you spend enough time looking into it’. On Saturday, this was modelled for us. John, and two of the ‘elves’ Anna Ptaszynski and James Harkin, demonstrated, pretty conclusively that there is something fascinating, even about a topic as seemingly dull as fire-escapes!

In the afternoon, we spent our time in our wonderful library, with both online and paper resources (books, periodicals and newspapers) at our disposal. Students had to seek out anything fascinating relating to a ‘Q’ word (the elves are currently compiling material for the ‘Q’ series of QI). Look out for these facts we discovered!

  • Did you know that Tyrannosaurus Rex actually had feathers?
  • Did you know that when The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) followers were exiled from Mecca, they used to pray facing Jerusalem?
  • Did you know that there is a disease that humans can get from eating a quail that has eaten a poison, even though we would not get ill from directly consuming the poison?

Taran and Thea will now be working as ambassadors for this approach in the school. Look out for prompts for QI thinking in the next few weeks!


What is Good?

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By Clare Jarmy Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics

On Wednesday, Bedales was very lucky to welcome Professor Simon Blackburn to speak on the subject ‘What is Good?’ in the newly renovated Lupton Hall. Mainly aimed at the Sixth Form, Bedales PRE A Level students were joined by around 70 students from Churcher’s College, Alton College and Queen Mary’s College.

Professor Blackburn, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, started with a very contemporary dilemma. On the one hand, it is hard to say that ‘good’ or ‘evil’ are part of the world in the same way that dogs, chairs and pizzas are part of the world (as GE Moore would say, this is to make something non-natural into something natural –a naturalistic fallacy), yet, don’t we also want to say that there are things that are good, and things that are evil?

Many students are faced with the dilemma that perhaps in ethics, it is all just subjective: just a matter of taste. On the other hand, we also feel passionately about ethical issues. Students want to convince others about the morality of veganism, or the immorality of factory conditions in less developed economies. No problem, Blackburn says. We can meaningfully talk ethically, even if we are dubious about ethical ‘facts’. Look to the practice, he says: what would someone with practical wisdom, someone who is good at ‘acting well’, do?

After a great talk, there were some excellent questions, and some meaningful discussion. Professor Blackburn was extremely generous with his time, staying into the evening with a smaller meeting of the Philosophy Society. In this talk, he was trying to convince us to become ‘infidels’ – something beyond atheist – we should not care about the question of God’s existence. To read more about his views on religion, see here (site-wide access at Bedales; subscription required elsewhere).

Bedalians head to Oxford

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy and Head of Academic Enrichment and Oxbridge, Bedales

Every year, 6.1 students at Bedales have the opportunity to attend the Oxford University Open Day. This gives them the chance to attend lectures, see some of the colleges, and get a feel for what an Oxford education, and the application process, would be like. This year, as part of the 3i programme, students in Block 3 and 4 were invited to hop on the bus for a trip that we ran in parallel: an Oxford experience that introduced them to a top university, and to find out the differences that Oxford and Cambridge present, compared with other universities. For the youngest students, it was a chance to iron out some misconceptions ‘If I’m at this college, am I still at Oxford?’ or ‘Which college does English?’ For some, it was a chance to start setting their sights high for study after Bedales.

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Whilst the 6.1s were traipsing from college to college in the afternoon, Block 3 and 4 got a chance to see some of Oxford’s excellent museums, including the Museum of the History of Science, and the Natural History Museum (including the shrunken heads in the Pitt Rivers). The Block 3s had a photo competition, with categories such as ‘most intriguing object’ which you can see above.

This is just one of the many opportunities that students in 3i get. 3i (after Badley’s happy phrase ‘intelligence, initiative and individuality’) is a community of engaged, interested learners at Bedales. It includes academic scholars, those nominated by staff, and those who nominate themselves. 3i runs a regular bulletin, which publicises events, competitions and trips.