Summing Up

On the final morning, weary participants gathered in the library — the same room where Winston Churchill negotiated the Lend-Lease agreement with FDR’s emissary Harry Hopkins — to try to pull together the disparate strands from the three days. (Note: clicking on any picture throughout this blog will produce a full-size version of the picture.)

Groups A (primary education), B (secondary education), and C (higher education) presented excellent summaries. Brian Gallant, Chair (Member of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick and former premier of the province) and Jon Yates, rapporteur (Policy Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education, England) spoke for Group A. Group B was ably represented by chair Raaheela Ahmed (Prince George’s County Public Schools board member) and rapporteur Pamela Dow (Chief Reform Officer, Catch 22, a non-profit community development agency in London). Indira Samarasekera, (Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia) served as chair of Group C, supported by rapporteur Edward Brooks (Executive Director of the Oxford Character Project).

Participants listened intently, taking notes, paying close attention to what was being said, while adding commentary and introducing new insights. Below, Indira Samarasekera (University of British Columbia) brings focus to a discussion. To her right is Edward Brooks (Oxford Character Project), to her immediate left, in order, James Arroyo (Director of the Ditchley Foundation); Professor Stephen Toope, (Conference Chairman and Vice President of the University of Cambridge); John Stackhouse (Senior Vice President, Royal Bank of Canada); and Brian Gallant (former premier of New Brunswick).

Some discussion arose around the relative lack of attention to technology in education, with some feeling it was one of the great hopes of the future and others worried about privacy implications and the effectiveness of much of the technology that is on offer. An emollient solution suggested the need for authoritative vetting of emerging technologies. Below, the Roundtable’s James Harvey chimes in on technology. To his right are Ellizabeth Esty, (former Congresswoman from Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District) and Ethan Gudge (Sixth Form student, The Warriner School, Bloxham, England). To his left Tony Hawks (a professional comedian who serves as an ambassador for Britain’s National Literacy Trust) and Paul James (Chief Executive Officer, River Learning Trust, England).

In an intellectual tour de force the conference rapporteur, John Stackhouse, Senior Vice President, Royal Bank of Canada, outlined his plans for a summary report that would focus our discussion in terms of  traditional journalistic questions: Who? What? Where? Why? And When?

Who? Who is education for? It is for all. There are issues of who controls it — teachers, students, parents, or the people who pay for it. But there seems to be agreement that we need to invest more in students, while protecting education from increasing politicization. Leadership is essential. Perhaps a Ditchley Prize for outstanding educators is warranted — while we should give some consideration to a Bretton Woods-like international convocation to examine the “what” of education.

What? What would this Bretton Woods Conference do? It should set out to ensure confidence in the system by examining content, setting international standards, measure how well we are doing, and focus on the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next.

Where? Schools and universities need a place. And places need schools and universities. We need more attention to digital and virtual transmission of knowledge, but education is primarily about relationships. Convening is important as we learn from the pull and tug of different opinions and debating issues. It would be useful to consider how to create an international system that takes education outside school walls and introduces new programs in, for example, retirement communities to offer increased learning opportunities to the elderly and perhaps inter-generational learning programs that introduced retirees to young children, to the benefit of both.

Why? The answer is clear, the challenge of change, and cited in every major report on education for decades. It is particularly critical today as we live on the hinge of history where machine learning and artificial intelligence promise to transform the world. We are not adequately addressing the issue of the relationship between education and technology.

When? There is a real issue that we are conducting schools and universities around an agricultural calendar. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses ) have their challenges, but offer some promise for the future. We should be examining not only new locations but new options for the time in which education and training are offered to young and old alike.With that, the attendees agreed that they might have done more about the rise of education around the world, outside North America and Great Britain, while paying more attention to diversity in all its dimensions. But they adjourned for a group picture on the Ditchley steps with a sense that education and access to schooling for more and more people had been essential to the long history of humanity’s progress, and a hope that the summary statement might outline a blueprint for how to look to the future with confidence.

A Black Tie Dinner

Dinner at Ditchley means dressing up. Although tuxedos and formal dresses were not de rigeur, we were encouraged to dress to the nines and most of us did.

I threatened to show up in jeans, but Anne would not have it. Here we are, the two of us, Anne looking resplendent in a beautiful gown and me pretending I dress for dinner like this every evening.

The dinner and reception were a wonderful affair. Wine flowed. Conversation sparkled. And the service was impeccable. A grand time was had by all. Some others at the affair included, below (l to r): Lord David Willetts, executive chairman, the Resolution Foundation; Esther Mead, Ditchley Foundation staff; and Paul James, CEO of River Learning Trust, England.

We were delighted to meet also a group of new friends from Canada (l to r): Professor Maryse Lassonde, President, Higher Education Council, Quebec;  Mohamed Lachemi, President, Ryerson University; and Indira Samarasekera, Liu Instute for Global Studies, University of British Columbia. The man in spectacles to the left of Maryse and behind her is James Arroyo, director of the Ditchley Foundation.

Amidst such spectacular surroundings it was not difficult to have a wonderful time. But the hard work of making sense of the fountain of good ideas we had heard over a day and a half still lay before us.

A little history and a bit of scandal

It is nearly impossible to overstate how impressive the Ditchley home is. Ditchley’s history dates back to the 16th century when Sir Henry Lee, first owner of the Ditchley Estate, became one of the major courtiers of Queen Elizabeth I. The home is practically a degree-granting institution in history and art in its own right. Lee commissioned what is known as the “Ditchley Elizabeth,” now hanging in London’s National Portrait Gallery in 1592, when she visited the estate. The picture shows Elizabeth’s feet firmly planted on Oxfordshire soil with the thunder and lightening of Spanish Armada (1588) behind her and the bright sunlit future of England stretching ahead:

The grounds, located in Oxfordshire, were once the site of a Roman villa and served as a royal hunting grounds for the Stuart dynasty that succeeded Elizabeth and her Tudor predecessors. The picture below shows several antlers on the wall; each is mounted as trophy with a brass plaque below celebrating the hunt, sort a royal conference championship banner, if you will. Each plaque celebrates where the stag was cornered, who was in on the hunt (including names such as the Prince of Wales or King James I ) and how the end came. Close inspection revealed that all of these antlers were dated between 1608 and 1623.

Ditchley also served as a weekend retreat for Winston Churchill during World War II. The Prime Minister’s official country home, Chequers, had a long driveway leading up to it, almost a road map during moonlit nights for German bombers during the London Blitz. When the moon was likely to be high, Churchill spent his working weekends at Ditchley. The room in which we met was where Churchill negotiated the Lend-Lease agreement with Harry Hopkins, FDR’s personal emissary. The picture below, from the Ditchley Foundation, shows Churchill on the Ditchley grounds during the war.

A Very English Scandal

There’s another Churchill connection with Ditchley. It’s a bit of an open secret at the home, but perhaps not so well known outside it. Blenheim Palace, home of the Duke of Marlborough, lies only a few miles from Ditchley. And symbols of Blenheim are prominent in the art throughout the house and in the “Blenheim Water” served to visitors. What’s the connection?

Two giant portraits offer a clue. The first is a portrait of King Charles II (1660-1685). Charles II was the son of Charles I, beheaded by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. The son, restored to the throne, in what is known of course as “The Restoration,” hunted down and executed the regicides who had killed his father. He actually had Cromwell’s corpse disinterred and beheaded.

Across the room one finds Barbara Villiers, one of a dozen mistresses to Charles. She bore him five royal bastards. Modern moralists have nothing on royal portrait painters who offer up Villiers with noticeable decolletage and a louche expression.

The Churchill connection? It seems Ms. Villiers believed turnabout was fair play and adopted some lovers in addition to the king. One was an impoverished young country gentleman named John Churchill. When she put him aside at the king’s request, she paid him off with a large fortune of 5,000 guineas. The value of this fortune, probably worth close to $1 million or more today, can be understood when one realizes that the cost of building Ditchley was estimated to be 2,000 guineas when it went up. (A guinea amounted to one pound sterling plus one shilling.)

Mr. Churchill went on to fame and fortune as the First Duke of Marlborough. The duke was renowned for leading victorious troops in the Battle of Blenheim (1704). Blenheim was a major victory ensuring the protection of Vienna during the War of Spanish Succession, a significant European conflict that ended in 1710. The Treaty of Utrecht reconciled the differences between France and Austria (and their allies) over who would govern Spanish territory. Below, a mounted John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, signs dispatches on the field at Blenheim.

A grateful nation rewarded Churchill with Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874. Winston was the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough and the son of a gifted Conservative Party politician, Lord Randolph Henry Spenser Churchill and Jennie Jerome, an American. (Randolph Churchill as a third son could not inherit the dukedom.)

So there we have it. The amorous adventures of an ambitious young social climber, John Churchill, and a royal paramour, Barbara Villiers, link the English regicide and Restoration of the 17th century with a major European battle in the 18th, and to Winston Churchill, one of the great leaders of the 20th century, who used his time at Ditchley to cement the Atlantic Alliance — at a time when England faced its gravest peril since Elizabeth I turned back the Spanish Armada.

Digging in at Ditchley

The heavier lifting began on Day Two at Ditchley. The four-dozen participants were divided into three working groups: Group A worried about primary education; Group B, secondary education, and Group C had a challenging remit: preschool education, education for seniors, and out-of-school learning. I was assigned to Group B, shown assembling below.

Although more narrowly focused than the prior evening’s discussion of all things educational, the conversation about primary and secondary education of necessity covered a lot of ground too: preschool preparation, student mental health, content and curriculum, testing and assessment, the role of the traditional “trivium” (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) in a liberal arts education, along with choice and student trauma. The importance of teaching came in for a lot of attention and, late in the discussion, the significance of leadership at the school level arose as significant.

Three 90-minute sessions were allotted to Group B (and to Groups A & C) interspersed with short breaks for coffee and snacks (below).

A suggestion was made that we understand the connection between education theory and practice “through a glass darkly,” in the words of Corinthians as picked up by film maker Ingmar Bergman. Another was that one way to pull together this sprawling discussion would be to consider schooling within the journalist convention of “who, what, where, when, and why?”


Later in the day, we received a couple of free hours for a quick visit to Oxford. Oozing history from every pore, Oxford is a delight to the eye. Even on a brief visit, the sights are stunning, the history impressive.

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin has been the official church of Oxford University since the year 1200:

Meanwhile, Balliol College, one of the oldest colleges in the university, was founded in 1236:

The Ashmolean, the first university museum in the world, was constructed starting in 1678 to house the “cabinet of curiosities” of Elias Ashmole. It has grown to be a stupendous collection of art and artifacts from antiquity to the present day, with impressive Greek, Roman and Egyptian collections, including a statue of Hercules subduing the Nemean Lion in the first of his twelve great labors.

It’s not every theater that’s as eye-catching as The Sheldonian, built in 1664 and designed by Christopher Wren, the architect who rebuilt London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral,  after the Great Fire of 1666.

Finally, The Bodleian Library system is the largest university library system in the world, housing more than 13 million volumes:

That’s a lot of food for thought and the mind on a quick tour of just a couple of hours.

A First Look at Ditchley

Lets be honest, who’s going to turn down an invitation to Ditchley House? It’s like being invited for a weekend at Downton Abbey. Ditchley’s history dates back to the 16th century when Sir Henry Lee, first owner of the Ditchley Estate, became one of the major courtiers of Queen Elizabeth I. The grounds, located in Oxfordshire, were once the site of a Roman villa and served as a royal hunting grounds and a weekend retreat for Winston Churchill during World War II, where he spent part of his time negotiating the Lend-Lease agreement with FDR. The place just drips history.

The pictures below show the main house and, inside, one of the many splendid rooms, the White Drawing room. The third picture is taken from one of the bedrooms and shows a portion of the handsome grounds surrounding the house.

In recent decades, Dtchley has served as an international conference center to examine ambitious topics.  This conference on modern education included delegates from England, Canada, Jordan, China, India, and, of course, several representatives from the United States. Participants include a Member of Parliament, a former member of the U.S. Congress, leading academics from Oxford and Cambridge, a columnist from Financial Times, and the long-time editor-in-chief of The Guardian.

Opening Discussion
The “Ditchley Rules” prohibit attributing comments or statements to individual participants, but a summary report will highlight the main topics of conversation. On the opening night, a roundtable of nearly 50 participants (below) engaged in a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion that covered the waterfront from early childhood education, primary and secondary schools, and higher education and apprenticeships. Prominent themes included the two-track system for elites and the forgotten half, the challenges of inequality, funding inequities, the human effects of high-stakes testing, the emerging admissions scandal in U.S. universities, and the purpose of education, including the tension between assessment and accountability, on one hand, and developing whole human beings, on the other.
Following three hours of discussion, we adjourned for dinner and then a reception in one of the house’s great rooms (below).
On Friday, we are supposed to stop doing what did on the first day — admiring the complexity of the challenge in a large group — and turn to an even more intimidating task, working in three small groups to develop practicable and actionable steps to improve today’s schools.

A Visit to the House of Lords

This is an extraordinary week to visit the British parliament as Great Britain faces a genuine constitutional crisis — whether and under what conditions to leave the European Union. On Tuesday, the House of Commons voted to reject the agreement Prime Minister Theresa May’s had struck with the EU on the conditions under which Britain would leave. On Wednesday, it voted to refuse leaving the EU without a new deal (of some kind). And on Thursday it is scheduled to vote on extending the deadline for officially leaving. Fascinating for historians and political scientists, but all very confusing.

The British certainly know how to protest around the Houses of Parliament. The first two pictures below shows protestors eager to Remain in the EU, easy to identify as they carry the EU flag. The third is a picture of Leave supporters, eager to reclaim British identify and willing to accuse those determined to remain of treason.

The picture below shows James Harvey trying to stay out of trouble outside the House Of Lords as Leave supporters march past wearing the Union Jack.

The Houses of Parliament, known formally as the Palace of Westminster, were rebuilt following a fire and re-opened in 1852. The nearly 200-year old Palace, one of the great, iconic buildings in the world, is in urgent need of refurbishment. Last year, Parliament agreed that it should plan on moving out of the 1,100-room Palace for five years so that it can be rebuilt, at a cost estimated to be between $4.6 and $6.6 billion.

Roundtable executive director James Harvey and his wife Anne Paxton joined long-time education analyst Alison Wolf, now Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, for lunch and a tour of the House of Lords. Photos, unfortunately, are not permitted within the Palace of Westminster. Undaunted, Anne managed to sneak a few in. The first, showing Jim and Baroness Wolf on a Lords’ staircase, offers a hint of the elegance of this great building. The second is taken in a reception pavilion alongside the River Thames.

Smack up against the river and Westminster Bridge, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben certainly make a handsome sight.