Nouse Events hosted commentator, author and headmaster Anthony Seldon on Friday for the first talk of this term. As a man of many interests Seldon was given carte blanche to talk on the themes of ‘politics, education and happiness’.
It represented the programme’s fifth talk and third in the Bowland Auditorium since being set up last October. In format it bore much resemblance to the event that evening, when former Labour minister and academy school pioneer Lord Adonis spoke on education, but in style Seldon was unique. He took the audience on a sprawling, ex tempore talk, allowing himself to wander way into each subject before switching to the next.
The improvised talk seemed to have the 100-strong audience captivated throughout. Focusing primarily on education, he called for a reconsideration of what we value in school children, calling for educationalists to ask ‘not whether a child is intelligent, but how that child is intelligent.’ He talked about the range of intelligences – how there are eight in total, from the academic we are excessively focus on, to the moral, creative, sporting, linguistic and logical.
He talked of how as head of Wellington College he had redesigned both the library and its accompanying water feature with eight pods to represent each type.
On universities, he suggested far too many were falling victim to the obsession with research and teaching to the exam schools now do criminally, at the expense of developing the minds of their students. He talked of how he, as an Oxford PPE graduate, only scraped a B when he took AS Philosophy a few years ago – his answers did not match the mark scheme.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the event was Seldon’s philosophical approach. Students, and the numerous local adults in the audience, were taken on a whistle top tour of his Zen. His spoke of how we would all be better humans if we embraced ‘stillness’ and stopped more often throughout the day. If only Blair and Brown had during their premiership, he lamented as their unauthorised No 10 biographers.
Renown for introducing happiness classes to Wellington, he took his discussion of wellbeing to novel lengths, at one point asking each audience member to send a text of appreciation or affection to someone that they care about. ‘The harder it is the more it will mean to them’ he implored. One audience member bravely recounted her sister’s response: ‘Er thanks. That’s nice. Who are you and what have you done with my sister?’
The Q and A followed up on Seldon’s points, some querying how in reality Seldon’s lofty ideas and philosophy on education can be applied to today’s schools and universities.
Lucie Parker, a second year Politics student who attended the talk, commented that ‘his formula of love being the answer to everything couldn’t be more apt’. Matthew Leech, also a second year, in English, conceded being impacted by the talk, describing Seldon as ‘awkwardly and subtly inspiring’.
After organising a unique meeting of all the top student papers in the country during Easter, it was a welcome return to the kind of early Friday evening wander into the philosophical and political Nouse Events was set up to create. Debates on intervention and religion and more high-profile talks are set for the coming months.