Monday, 29 August 2011


When we elect leaders in government, too often they fear actual leadership, prefering to consult opinion polls and marketing advisors to see what they should do; how best to follow those they ought to be leading.

In schools and in religious communities leaders are sometimes, I would suggest, influenced by this model of leadership too. And it does noone any good.

Finding myself in the the role of leader in an academic, spiritual and business context, I encounter the same temptation, and the same awful dilemma as the politicians. And the odd thing is that when one does actually exercise leadership and tell people what to do, how to run their lives, how to do their job ... the result is that they are - as often as not - reassured, and that one feels oneself thrown back on the great power, authority and comfort of Almighty God.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that leaders need to flaunt their power or authority. But when leadership is called for, one needs to answer that call. A couple of weeks ago I met some interested parents who came to speak to me about their son. It was clear that he wasn't going to be a candidate for our school, but I simply felt that someone had to tell these good parents what to do, and that this was precisely why they had come to see me. So I gave them the difficult advice that I felt they needed to hear, even if that advice was hard for them to listen to.

This morning the mother rang to say that the son was not going to apply for our school, but that she thanked me from the bottom of her heart for the advice that I had given her, and which she and her husband had put into practice, with visible positive fruits in respect of their relationship with their son. She said to me that she was going to pray for me every day ... Wow.

It's not always like that. But, in fact, most of the time it is. Even mediochre leadership, it seems, is better than no leadership at all. Moral: if you are a leader, lead.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

London calling ...

The Collaborator: A ThrillerJust spent a week in London, enjoying National Gallery (Italian altarpieces - Devotion by Design exhibition) , V&A, walks in Kensington Park and Hyde Park. I went along to Vespers in the Greek Cathedral (with about 5 or 6 other people ... quite a select congregation) and heard their very meditative chanting for the first time. Didn't see Prince Philip though. Found time to read a thriller (The Collaborator) about the Naples mafia, the Comorra. That was fun, if rather bloody. Not suitable for children ... And a rather odd book by someone whose name I have seen everywhere but had never before read: Paulo Coelho. His book, The Valkyries, tells of his self-obsessed search for weird, ritual experiences and quasi-mystical thrills.

The ValkyriesCoelho is a poet and musician who began his adult life in a mental hospital; then sold his soul to Satan and ended up being tortured in a Brazilian prison ... the plot of his book is that, justa  few years ago, someone called J, a mentor in some secret magic cult to which he belongs, sends him on a quest to meet his guardian angel.

He is helped to do this by a tribe of lustily promiscuous female bikers, whose leader was instructed to quit her husband and young children by the Archangel Michael, in order to take up an interesting mix of preaching and prostitution. All of this is treated with taste and discretion as might befit a spiritual work (!) and the weirdest of all is it professes to be all true. Sad thing is, it probably is true. Left me feeling exasperated, although all sorts of luvvies found it inspiring and energizing, according to the the blurbs on the back.

The book is, apparently, his most personal and autobiographical so far (he has written lots of novels). The most impressive mystical happening in the book is his memory of being freed from demonic posession by reciting the Our Father, Hail Mary and the Creed and asking Jesus to forgive him. He promises to give up his life for God in order to save his soul. From feeling he is about to die, in fits and spasms of  terror, he, and his girlfriend, recover their calm and feel the grace of God flow through them again. This is recounted as a memory of his distant past. Now, it seems, that kind of heartfelt prayer (which seemed to work!) has been mostly left behind, in favour or magical rites and half an hour of 'channelling' every evening.

The enduring impression it left me with was of a narcissistic lost soul, incapable of much love but loved deeply by his long-suffering wife. And the prose style was spare, not especially beautiful.  I cannot see why people think he is such a guru; but it has made him very rich, apparently, so well done Coelho. I can promse you I shan't be reading his next book.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Why the Humanities?

“We call those studies liberal, then, which are worthy of a free man: they are those through which virtue and wisdom are either practised or sought and by which the body and mind is disposed to the best things. “ Pier Paolo Vergerio,
The Character and Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth (c. 1402.)

At Chavagnes the study of the humanities is in the great tradition of liberal education. This kind of education is not simply a dry theory, nor is it restricted to those subjects now named humanities, although its principles are mostly clearly seen in our teaching of these disciplines.

Liberal education is the transmission of our great western cultural patrimony to our young. But it is more than that: its aim is to make every student his own man: free and capable of using his reason, fit to take part in the “great conversation” begun in fifth-century Athens and continuing to this day.

More at

Dumbing down of Year 12 French in French schools

National programmes for Year 12 French (la Première, as it is called in France) are currently undergoing revision. The government has asked for the course to be “centrée sur des études littéraires en phase avec le monde moderne.” We are troubled by this development, because whilst we believe that modern literature should be represented at this level, it should not form the central thrust of the course. A particular concern is that educationalists have stated that this reform is intended to make the study of French literature more attractive and relevant to modern youth. Our concern, as with other literatures, would be to transmit a love for a cultural canon worthy of study for its own sake.

We will be doing our own thing, of course. But our boys, if they are French, or good enough at French, will still be able to sit the French bac alongside their A-levels if they wish.