Extract: Mind Their Hearts – David Boddy writes about warm-heartedness

In this extract from his latest book, Mind their Hearts, David Boddy writes about where the idea of ‘schools of warm-heartedness’ originated from. 

I arrived home on a late-night flight from Iraq and was exhausted the next day, as most of us would be. I had travelled there to look into educational opportunities, and events during my visit to the war zone had been tense, but exhilarating.

Friends in London had secured tickets for a talk by the Dalai Lama at the Royal Albert Hall that afternoon. I was tempted to phone and say I would have to bypass his wisdom on this occasion despite his being one of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders. Fortunately, I did not do so. Sitting amidst five thousand people, with many teachers and educationalists among them, I felt a fresh burst of energy when the bespectacled monk in a slightly dishevelled robe wandered onstage, clearing away the microphone cables scattered in his path. Before he spoke a word, his humility boomed to every corner of the auditorium.

When he reached the microphone, he hesitated, looked towards the heavens, and started to speak. Within half a sentence, he was talking from inside my heart.

‘Many of you here know that the education system you support is broken’, he said.

At the time, I was the headmaster of a somewhat eccentric senior boys’ school in West London. We taught the GCSE and A Level curricula, but our eccentricity lay in our addition of meditation and philosophy to the core curriculum. Our ethos was that every boy should come to know himself, first as a brilliant being and second as a member of a single human family that transcended divisions of religion, race, nationality, and gender.

‘Some of you may want to change the system of education but don’t know what to do. Today I want to tell you what needs to happen’, he continued.

For the next two hours, I had no sense of His Holiness being a Buddhist and a monk. Instead, he appeared in my vision only as someone universal—a benign force of supreme goodwill, speaking directly to me.

For over thirty years I had studied the ancient Eastern philosophy of Vedanta, often misinterpreted as a limited form of Hinduism. Vedanta has at its core an essential message of unity of spirit. I have also studied Buddhism and Christianity in depth, read the Koran, and had many discussions with imams and intellectuals from the Islamic faith. All of this has led me to conclude that beyond the form of each major world religion rests a single truth, which all human beings are capable of realising, whether they brand themselves religious or secular. This truth is that a pervasive intelligence and love is available in every human being and that the point of education is to realise it.

‘What the world needs are schools and homes of warm-heartedness’, the Dalai Lama went on.

In me, the penny dropped. It wasn’t gentle. It was a thunderbolt. If my work in education was to have any lasting value, it had to uncover what a ‘school of warm-heartedness’ would be in action and how it could be supported in a home of equal warmth.

Futurologists at the UK Department of Education predicted that seven out of ten jobs that would be available in the future to today’s young people had not been created yet; that they would be new and dynamic; and that they would require a new set of emotional and mental tools. Technology would advance so rapidly that many of the core subjects in our present curriculum would be redundant and of so little intellectual value that were we to persist in teaching them in the traditional way, our pupils would atrophy in boredom. Learning languages would no longer be needed, because new telephones would be invented that would simultaneously translate the language of the speaker into the language of the listener. The Tower of Babel would be demolished and replaced by the Tower of Vodafone.

If this was to be true—and the Dalai Lama supported such claims—how would we learn to listen to each other as human beings? Would we still know how to exercise diplomacy for the sake of everyone in the world? Would we be able to learn how to comprehend the subtle dynam- ics of culture so that the peace of human existence could be realised in practice? Would we even know how to be happy?

I looked back to the stage from my seat, about twenty-five metres away from the Dalai Lama, and saw him looking into me. I would not be able to rest until I picked up his challenge to give shape to a school of warm-heartedness and make it practical. Though I did not know it at the time, I would soon be given the opportunity.

Not long after that talk, a group of leading headteachers from the UK Society of Heads invited me to be the chairman of their organisation. This was an enormous privilege, particularly for someone who had never been trained as a teacher and who had spent most of his professional life in journalism, politics, and business. The position gave me the chance to meet remarkable men and women who were true educationalists and who felt passionately about delivering the best opportunities to their pupils. As one of them said, ‘Our schools are not schools of privilege—they are schools of obligation. Our pupils are obliged to serve their societies and, if they are capable, the world’.

Indeed, the world has shrunk. It is easier to serve the world and its human family than ever before. We can learn more easily from one another and share more immediately.

I could see from the perspective of the headteachers I represented. They had a desire to step out of the familiar and into a world of real independence—independence that allowed them to teach what they knew was necessary to prepare their students for leadership in their communities, no matter what changes the world might present. These teachers knew they had to offer values that not only allowed their charges to survive, but also to make a significant difference in the quality of life in the world around them. To do this, the headteachers needed help.

I thought establishing a curriculum of warm-heartedness alongside the academic curricula they were already teaching might work. I decided to write one to act as a catalyst for further debate, hoping I would not appear so arrogant as to think I had the final solution, but rather that I could help these intelligent women and men shape our young people’s education for generations to come.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to put these ideas into practice. A group of educational entrepreneurs in India extended invitations and me and my colleagues to develop a new kind of school in their country, blending the dynamics of British educational discipline with Eastern wisdom. The aim is to create model schools of warm-heartedness.

Just focussing on schools and teachers, however, would miss the other vital cog in the wheel of human development—parents and family, and the role they must play. Over the last thirty years, many parents have asked me about coping with the developmental needs of their youngsters. Perhaps they thought that as a father of three boys, and more latterly a grandfather of eight, I might be able not only to give advice, but also to tell them of my mistakes and encourage them not to make the same ones. Experience has shown me that children are exceptionally perceptive; if they find a value difference between school and home, they will exploit it. Therefore, schools of warm-heartedness gain extra power in their mission if parents support them and their activities: the best course encompasses a sense of unity between these two fundamental institutions.

We should not go to sleep thinking that schools and homes as we have known them can survive without change. We live in an age of change. I believe the Dalai Lama was pointing to this fact above all else. Accepting impermanence is not just a core philosophical principle of Buddhism—it is awakening to what is happening around us. Change is inevitable. Having the skills to adapt and direct that change in a positive manner requires conscious wakefulness in all warm-hearted men and women.

I sincerely hope this book fires such warmth.

A final note: Some of my closest friends have been kind enough to call me ‘a hopeless old hippy’ and ‘full of idealism and stuff and nonsense’. Having spent years studying Eastern traditions, I realise that I come to this subject with a philosophical bias. Many readers will not have the same belief system, but I truly believe the ideas and approaches I outline are accessible and can be of benefit to everyone. If at any time my language or assumptions seem unfamiliar, please forgive me, take whatever you find of value, and put it into practice in your own way. If you find any of my ideas too unconventional, I would be grateful if you would just think of me the way my friends do.

For nearly 10 years, David Boddy was Headmaster of St James Senior Boys’ School in London. In 2012 he was elected Chairman of the UK Society of Headteachers and instigated a number of new initiatives to enhance still further Britain’s standing as a world-class provider of education. Author of ‘Mind Your Head – An Emotional Intelligence Guide for School Leaders‘, his latest book ‘Mind Their Hearts – Creating schools and homes of warm heartedness‘ has just been released.

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  1. Tom Grubb

    I wonder if Mr Boddy’s new book contains any mention of the dark history of his school and of the other schools run by the religious cult to which he belongs.

    About twelve years ago, after sustained pressure from former pupils, an independent inquiry was commissioned into allegations of mistreatment of pupils at the St James schools (and also the St Vedast schools, now defunct).
    Here is an extract from the resulting report, written by Mr James Townend QC,:

    “As a result I am satisfied that several boys were subjected to rough handling. They were criminally assaulted by being punched in the face or stomach, cuffed violently about the head, had blackboard rubbers thrown at them causing injuries in some cases, had cricket balls thrown at them violently when they were not looking at the thrower and were struck with the end of a gym rope. Other students were kicked, struck from behind, slapped about the face, thrown across a classroom. Whatever the provocation, nothing could justify this mistreatment. It was clearly unreasonable and criminal.”

    On Channel 4 News Mr Boddy responded to the findings of this report with the insulting statement that “perhaps there were occasions when teachers were rather overzealous in trying to apply that balance [of love and discipline].” Teachers named in Mr Townend’s report were allowed by Mr Boddy to continue teaching. Boddy also invoked Archbishop Desmond Tutu and appeared to promise a process of truth and reconciliation. Since then, former pupils have received precious little of either from Mr Boddy and his cult.

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