Of blood and numbers
Of blood and numbers
On 9 May, Elizabeth MacBride wrote an article for Forbes magazine about UWC after visiting UWC Atlantic in Wales and speaking with students there. Entitled “Beloved by Entrepreneurs, A School that Could be an Anachronism Thrives”, the article describes her impressions of her visit, along with her views on the nature of the UWC movement and, in particular, its attraction for entrepreneurs and others such as Shelby Davis who have committed large sums of money to supporting UWC students. Chris Edwards, Head of College at UWCSEA, writes below of his reaction to the article and his pride that a magazine mainly concerned with business and investment is drawn in by the ideals of the UWC movement.
I cannot pretend to be a regular reader of Forbes magazine. My forays into the bi-weekly publication on money, marketing and industry are unpredictable. I’ll take a look every now and then to see if I can pass the dummy’s test on what’s new in finance, but to be honest I’m more likely to be checking on the extent to which Madonna is catching up with Paul McCartney and Andrew Lloyd Webber on the annual musicians’ rich list. However, last month saw Forbes springing a mighty surprise which delighted and challenged me: they published an article by Elizabeth MacBride on UWC.
Now I must say, my initial response to finding UWC in Forbes was akin to how I might behave if I saw a lungfish alive and well on a school library shelf: it takes a moment to process. But once the shock subsides, you take it in your stride and start exploring circumstances. One of my fears for the UWC movement is that it has the unwitting capacity to be seen as an enemy of, or perhaps an antidote to, the corporate world. Now while I’m the first to admit that the corporate legacy may well be but a footnote to history in a few hundred years’ time, I am very concerned that UWC has been slow to learn from corporate social responsibility, so I feared that Forbes might have taken the ‘UWC-as-Dinosaur’ approach and berated us as an arrogant anachronism.
I clicked on the article with some trepidation, and although the dreaded “A” word was in the title, my fears were misplaced, for the banner headline read: “Beloved By Entrepreneurs: A School That Could Be An Anachronism Thrives.” So far so good. And then the article took us on a journey from the mothership, Atlantic College in the UK, to UWC-USA in New Mexico. We got the old joke about Atlantic College once having been owned by US newspaper tycoon WIlliam Randolph Hearst (which it was), who on telling his mistress that he had bought a Norman castle was promptly asked “Who’s Norman?” But for the most part we had a worthwhile trip around the UWC bay, with Atlantic and New Mexico as ports of call.
Having briefly described Kurt Hahn’s vision for UWC, the author quite rightly observed: “It could feel like an anachronism in today’s world. Populism is sweeping some of the most important countries, from the United States to Great Britain to Turkey, and the world seems awash in disturbing headlines about the Trump administration—which could hardly seem more in opposition to the ideals that shaped the 20th century.” Indeed, this is a valid observation: UWC is a child of the 20th century, and now that nationalism is back in the mainstream, is the movement’s mission looking like an increasingly tattered flag around which only a few diehards are likely to rally? Enter a brilliant soundbite from incoming Head of UWC Atlantic College, Peter Howe, who was quoted as saying: “What UWC stands for is the power of diversity, not the threat.” Apart from wishing I’d said that, I suddenly felt as if the flag was as bold and bright as ever. The movement has grown by a third in five years, with five new schools opened since 2014. How can that be?
All became clear very quickly. We met students from Palestine and Israel living harmoniously in the same college; we heard about Syrian students affected by President Trump’s travel ban and from those people who fought on their behalf; we listened to Wall Street entrepreneur Shelby Davis who has poured millions into UWC scholars; and to Amal Clooney whose help with UWC Dilijan in Armenia especially has raised the profile of the movement. There wasn’t time for detail—like I said we were on a trip around the bay—but sometimes you really do see more from the boat: it depends what you’re looking for. Against a backdrop of narrow national interests, here-today-gone-tomorrow-news, and posturing and preening from world leaders, the UWC shoreline looked calm, sane and inviting.
The conclusion was powerful and true. A student says to the Forbes reporter that he is thinking about becoming a journalist. Does she have any advice? The reply is rooted in the zeitgeist: you have to chase the blood and numbers—and do that well—before you’ll be allowed to write about things you want to write about. Follow the violence, the disasters and the money and, eventually, you may be afforded the freedom to do otherwise. Or, in Elizabeth Macbride’s words: “it will be a long time before you can write the stories that aren’t driven by blood and numbers. Those stories, like the things that happen to kids when they are 16 or 17, are the more important ones.”
Easy to say, difficult to do. There may be times, as we read, hear or watch the news today, when it seems as if that UWC flag—tattered or otherwise—is being flown before grotesque peacocks, infatuated with their own garishness. But the growth of the UWC movement, the unwavering UWC mission, and the passion that same mission instils, suggest to me that there is another force at work: quiet, but mighty and essential. And it’s not frightened of peacocks. It seeks a peaceful, sustainable future where social justice and respect for environment transcend national boundaries.
As Forbes might say, it’s core business.