Wednesday, September 25, 2013

21st century education for young women in an ancient Tudor manor house

And yes, we were off again this afternoon with WFU banners and bookmarks in hand, moving through the Underground to find the appropriate train station to "call" at Kent--most precisely to land at Cobham Hall, a magnificent Tudor manor house set in 150 acres of historic parkland.  Again the historic proportion of these ancient homes and schools have continued to amaze me as I see these places of deep wisdom and challenge stretch forward to meet twenty-first century realities.  This school, Cobham Hall, located between Gravesend and Rochester in Kent, is situated in a manor house, ancestral home of the Earls of Darnley, and is described in the brochures as "one of the largest, finest, and most important houses in Kent."

How does this all-girls school meet the 21st century sitting in an ancient landscape belonging to the 16th century?  It was easy to see.  Founded in 1960, this school was a vision of an international brand of education long before Tom Friedman reminded us that the world was really flat. The International Baccalaureate program is a natural fit for this school and for these students.  Aiesha from Nigeria gave me a campus tour, and as we walked through the classrooms, the gardens, and the residence halls, (some of the rooms had been built precisely for a visit by Elizabeth I) she spoke of her love for Mandarin Chinese and shared her goal of completing a gap year in China learning the culture and language.  Her parents, still living in Nigeria, considered learning about China very important for her future.  So they sent her to a girls school in Kent, England, where she studies and dines in a huge and very beautiful Tudor mansion, where Pocahantas was supposedly buried, so that she can be prepared to live and work in China!  Go figure!

It is a flat world, Mr. Friedman!  And Wake Forest University is on the way to making friendships around this flattened world so that it will not be a lonely, flat world but one filled with people who engage the mind, the heart, and each another along the way.   Twenty-five students, faculty, and administrators from Cobham Hall and surrounding schools heard the WFU story tonight.  And the world once again just became even flatter!

September 24 and 664 CE

Yesterday I visited Cheltenhem Ladies College in Cheltenhem, Gloucestshire. What a delight!  For full transparency here I must admit that I am fond of women's education, having been awakened by own educational path at Meredith College.  For additional transparency, I must admit that I am fond of Celtic Saint Hilda and her primary role in the development of the medieval church as we know from the ancient Celtic tradition.  Hilda presided over the Council of Whitby in 664 CE, an important crossroads moment in the life of the church, when women had access and Easter could be any holy day during the week in the lunar cycle, to a church where women were excluded and Easter had to fall on a Sunday (plus many other decisions that changed religious life in Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales--particularly Ireland).

Now to the connection between Cheltenhem Ladies College--a premier residential community of young women from ages 11-18, who offer a strong International Baccalaureate program as well as A-Level study, was greatly influenced by Dorothea Beale.  Beale was an oustanding leader who helped to elevate the school into a progressive, academic learning community for young woman not just content to study arts and sewing. Beale was an active suffragette who co-founded the Kensington Society--a discussion group that became the London's Society for Women's Suffrage (that influenced our own foremothers in Seneca Falls (Stanton, Mott, and Anthony resulting in our full exercise of our citizenship rights in 1920--the right to vote).

But this is the connect---Beale left Cheltenhem Ladies College in good shape and then founded St. Hilda's College in Oxford in 1892!   This College, now part of Oxford University and serving both women and men, was given the name of St. Hilda.  Dorothea Beale must have "known" Hilda of Whitby too!   Like my own journey, Hilda, for Beale, must have stood as a sort of inspirational guidepost.  A woman religious from the seventh century leading men and women in literary, theological, and political insights, for both the church and government (Hilda was lead advisor to King Oswy), Hilda influenced Beale, who influenced women and men in educational communities in England in the nineteenth century.

The circle of influence goes on.  For the two women who I met from Cheltenhem Ladies' College are good examples of Beale's vision and Hilda's inspiration, the goals for women's education from both the seventh and nineteenth century continue to ring forward.  Thank you, Dorothea Beale!  Thank you, Hilda of Whitby!  Thank you, Cheltenhem Ladies' College!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Education--Medieval pedagogy still works!

Yesterday I visited Winchester College, UK.  What an experience!  This school, which was established in 1382, is one of England's oldest public schools, providing education for boys between the ages of 13-18.  I was there to introduce them to Wake Forest University.   I was welcomed with warmth and great interest.  I had lunch with the boys in one of the eleven houses.  The conversation was wonderful.  This is what I saw:  Young boys filled with energy, talking animatedly about the lessons of the morning as well as the football match to be played against Eton later on in the weekend; faculty taking time to have tea with an unknown university representative (me) in order to write a suitable recommendation letter for one of their top pupils; intellectual energy everywhere----AND NOT A CELL PHONE IN SIGHT.  OH, yes, the boys had them.  And the classrooms were equipped with state of the art devices.  But I walked the campus for almost an entire day, meeting with faculty, students, and administrators, touring buildings, seeing a demonstration of rackets (?), having tea in the headmaster's dining room----AND NOT A CELL PHONE IN SIGHT.

The primary mode of conversation all day long at Winchester was face to face.  Face to face teaching, face to face learning, face to face dining, face to face sports competition, face to face chapel worship, face to face debate.  Yes, it is a bit medieval--this ancient place of learning from the end of the medieval period.  But the face to face is working and has a special ancient charm to it.

 As we move forward with our digital platforms and all of the wonderful treasures that they bring, I hope that we can hold on to personal, face to face encounters.  It makes such a difference.  Even though we can hold the world in our palm now, we still need to see the face of another human being and know for sure that we are connected in deep and meaningful ways to our world--though flesh and blood, not just algorithms and  smart phones.

Much good remains in medieval education!  Human encounters are still valuable in learning.  See it here .