Sunday, March 15, 2015

Downside School

Only the second time I have ever visited Downside School and Monastery. The authorities were kind enough to arrange for the head boy and girl to give the three of us a guided tour without  the monks or staff limiting them as to the areas which  we could visit.

The difference between my recollection of  education in the 1960s at Beaumont College then a Jesuit  all boys boarding school and  education today at Downside a Benedictine mixed boarding school was very interesting.

The Jesuits then   to the best of my recollection appeared to be more individualistic characters than the  Benedictine monks do today. Of course appearances can be superficial and doubtless there existed then and do today individualistic Benedictines and community orientated Jesuits. The effect of what must have been in the 1960s and still is in C21, the privilege of being involved with  some of the  best education in British society is clearly at least potentially, largely significant.

 In my humble opinion such education can be very beneficial for the individual child provided of course that he or she matures enough to appreciate the need to share the benefit of  that privilege rather than follow the self centred approach that can seem  albeit superficially so tempting. One often  takes time perhaps years, to realise that self centredness is  a superficial temptation.

A difference  I perceived which may of course be specific to me rather than  more general  is that the Benedictine educated students today seem very much more aware  of and empathetic to the Benedictines' religious ethos than as I recollect many of us were to that of the Js. That Downside educates boys and girls whereas Beaumont was an all boys boarding school is probably  an advantage for C21 students at  the former though  there must be some  difficult ssues arising from the generally faster maturity of girls over boys especially in their late teens. The girls' houses we were shown seemed very happy safe civilised places  for the students with adult house mothers present but without inhibiting the students. The boys' houses I guess were probably through untidyness less attractive.

Downside Abbey Monastery school  and Grounds are    huge and impressive. The children have the benefit of acres of land to roam safely upon and for multifarious sporting activities.  Nonetheless the two students were quite happy to show us  areas which are probably  normally off limits  to visitors such as buildings and other areas which have outlived their usefulness and are likely to be redeveloped in due course.

The school   to my eye at least,  concentrates upon and succeeds in providing an excellent boarding education, which these days seems far less available at other major private schools than used to be the case.

 Clearly the monks have their work cut out in maintaining such extensive and beautiful buildings and school whilst simultaneously  providing the best education that can be offered to the young men and women in their care. They have recently appointed Downside's first lay Head Master to assist them in maintaining those  high standards.

I was  humbled by the experience and very much enjoyed speaking with all those who provided the very thought provoking and entertaining visit and overnight stay. Especially informative and appreciated, was staying overnight in a monastery room opposite the other visitor from London. We spoke  informally and at length in the common room provided for us both.

The next day silence at Breakfast with  the community  followed by singing at Lauds  in the beautiful abbey  afterwards was very moving, especially as I have not attended Lauds sung by both men and women in a monastery previously.

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