23 June 2015

Procrustes and his bed

Akshay Sanghrajka
This week we welcome Akshay Sanghrajka, teacher of Classics and D year coordinator, who looks at the positive impact of recent changes to the structure of the first year at Bryanston.

I recently chanced upon the word 'procrustean' in a novel I was reading and didn't know what it meant. It turns out that it's a great word, certainly in my pantheon along with the likes of ‘prolegomena’ (which is what these are - introductory words) and ‘smorgasbord’ (to which I shall come anon). Procrustes was some of kind of rogue bandit in Greece who assaulted people by forcing them to fit themselves into an iron bed that he hitched around the Greek countryside. So the word 'procrustean' comes to mean attempting to fit something of different size or proportion into one arbitrary standard; that is, attempting to diminish life's infinite variety by forcing it into one mould or framework.

Part of the reason I like this word is that it neatly encapsulates the precise antithesis of a Bryanston education. One of the things I think we as a school are very good at is nurturing a variety of individuals, creating the right conditions for a smorgasbord (there we are) of different pupils to flourish.

It was to this end that we recently made some changes to the structure of the D year, the first year at Bryanston. We made a decision to move the D exams from the end of the summer term to the end of the spring term. This may seem like a rather niggling procedural move but it was done in order to key into the centre of our educational philosophies.

The summer term now becomes a term in which teachers are freed from the shackles that exams necessarily impose. Our aim in this period, then, is to urge our pupils to make a step up from the initial D settling-in period to a more mature style of working. This happens in several ways, most notable among which is the requirements of assignments set. We try to elicit work from pupils which is of a more creative, independent nature. This might be by setting research assignments and encouraging pupils to use the Alexandrian libraries in our main school building; or by coming at a traditional subject from an oblique angle to provide our pupils with a fresh perspective. Thus, pupils feel more empowered over their own work and can complete it in a way which is idiosyncratic to their own style.

That fellow Procrustes, he naturally came to a sticky end. Panhellenic superhero Theseus happened to be passing by on his journey from Troezen to Athens and fitted Procrustes to his own iron bed.

Now, far be it from me to compare Bryanston to Theseus, who did all sorts of things from slaying minotaurs, to abandoning damsels in distress, to forgetting to change his sheets - with fatal consequences (as any matron of a junior boys' house could have told him). But as a self-declared foe of procrustean measures, Bryanston does have something in common with the wily old Athenian.

5 June 2015

Embracing change

This week we welcome Bryanston's Chaplain, The Rev'd Canon Andrew Haviland, who shares his thoughts on the importance of change.

It always surprises me how so many people don't like change, with many thinking that keeping the status quo is the right way to go about things. We so often hear, 'If it is not broken don't fix it'. However, I do wonder how society would have managed to evolve if there hadn't been people who could embrace and look for change. Watching a repeat of Top Gear one evening, I saw Jeremy Clarkson talking to Ellen MacArthur, who was the guest in the 'Star in a Reasonably Priced Car' segment. He summed it up well:
"What is it about some people that makes the human race so advanced? So many of us would still be in our caves saying, 'It is very nice here,' not wanting to go out and explore as it is quite comfortable here. If it wasn't for people like you wanting to explore, we would all be still in our caves eating deer and wearing fur."
It seems to me that embracing change is a vital part of our human development.

At school we are used to change. At this time of the year we start to prepare to welcome new pupils and colleagues into the school in September. This gives the place new energy, vision and opportunity. At the end of term we also say goodbye to those pupils and colleagues who move on to pastures new.

For those of us who remain, there are changes too. Pupils move year groups, new prefects are appointed, and our junior boys move to senior boys' boarding houses. For my colleagues exam boards change, schemes of work are altered, new colleagues are welcomed and we value the new insights and ideas that they will bring into how we can make Bryanston even better. As reflective practitioners we are constantly looking at how we can deliver what we teach more effectively. The motto 'et nova et vetera' is at the heart of how we operate.

The very basis of Christian living should be to embrace change as well. At times it can seem that new ideas and new ways of thinking are not welcomed: change seems to take an awful long time. The issue of women bishops in the Church of England is a case in point. And I for one thank God that at last we have a number of women who have been appointed to be the episcopate.

Being flexible and open to new ideas is something that I encourage pupils interested in being confirmed to do regularly. Good faith should be a living, dynamic, challenging and, at times, controversial way of life. Bad faith happens when one thinks one knows it all and is resistant to listening or embracing change. In his ministry Jesus criticised those who did not embrace new ideas and wanted to keep their feet firmly in the comfort of doing things as they have always been done.

We all recognise that change can be uncomfortable – going into the unknown can be unsettling – but that can be offset if we have around us a community who support and encourage conversation and recognise our anxiety. And at Bryanston we strive to do just that.