Changing Climate at Atlantic College

Neil Richards, appointed principal to Atlantic College a year ago, is introducing some quite radical changes to the community. The following is a student magazine INK  interview with James Mendelssohn, senior teacher at Atlantic College, discussing some of the new initiatives.

As more and more new regulations and initiatives are introduced, this seems to be a pivotal and challenging time period for AC. A lot of this, as Neil mentioned in the college meeting, is to deal with things that have been ‘creeping in’ which has apparently gone too far, and for too long. INK sought an interview with the longest-serving (after Paul Belcher of course if you add the 6 year break) teacher of this college, James Mendelssohn, who gave us another perspective. What we discovered is that the college has changed organically over the years, and what Neil is doing is some careful pruning…

“We can’t go on this way; ideals are eroding and we’ve got to regain the ground,” says James Mendelssohn. “Too much has gone too far, and Neil has stepped in to ask some very profound questions about some ‘fuzzy areas’, making us step back and look at ourselves. These Fuzzy areas, which include the school’s policies which may have been perfectly applicable at some point decades ago, but perhaps not any longer.

For instance, it used to be the school’s policy that monthly grades were for internal use only; now they are being used as transcripts for American universities. In fact, students were supposed to return to their home country for university, but that too has slowly changed.

When asked what has changed most over the years, James immediately answers: the amount of sleep students get. “It’s true,” he confirms. “A lot of time has been wasted due to unstructured time.” “Possibly, this is due to more activities, but back then people were far more ‘addicted’ to their service. This commitment has been eroded by personal time and self interest.”

In James’ opinion, a “we can do this ourselves” attitude from the students has led to AC being as “liberalised” as it is today. “Students wanted to be listened to and treated like adults—slowly, this has changed the college.” Back then, people could only practice their extremely liberal views (ie: I am a night-bird and I can’t change this about myself) in a discreet manner, but now people are imposing this as “a right”. This is not to say however, he underlines, that the students are becoming less considerate. It is likely that earlier students tried their best to adapt to the rules because of a fear of punishment, or “restorative justice” as it was called back then.

“You have to accept that students have to be naughty sometimes,” states James, “but you have to pay the penance if you do something wrong.” Restorative justice in James’ time used to be in the form of gardening, or cutting logs. This, he felt, was a good way of “giving back to the community what damage was done”, but this practice stopped while he was away on a sabbatical and while he was teaching in Italy. Now, this form of penance has been replaced mostly by “talking” as a way of handling problematic students, which he believes might not necessarily be the best solution for everyone For instance, talking could work with a troubled student, but sometimes all it takes is a good day’s gardening to set a student straight and that saves the time which could have been used to handle more complicated cases.

In response to how students feel being liberal is essential to AC, “liberalisation” it seems, has been twisted in meaning. “Liberal back then meant that you were free to express and voice your opinions”, explains James, “now it seems like more of a ‘I can do whatever I want’ selfish liberalisation.”

The way he sees it, Neil has two main issues to tackle. Firstly, the accreditation and the various new laws coming into force (ie: Child Protection Act). Secondly, he has to deal with the “general young person culture”.

“It’s not the students’ fault,” he stresses, “it’s more of the outside world seeping in; you see boorish young people everywhere in the world.” In the 70’s, AC only had two telephones for student use; houseparents’ telephones were used only in emergencies. The dawn of the Internet and mobile phones has made the world a much smaller place. Students used to have to depend on each other for life-support, as it were—now, with email and cheap phone calls, there is always the option of “falling back” on your old community if the new one doesn’t work out.

“Perhaps this is one reason why the community appears to be pushed apart,” suggests James, “sometimes, there might not be strong enough reason for some to try their best to make it work because friends and home are only an email away.”

Naturally, James does not comment much on Neil’s actions as he knows little of the student reaction, except that “some of Neil’s actions were necessary.” Instead, he notes, “Interestingly, Neil has spent most of his teaching career outside Britain never —   we are fortunate to have someone to import a different culture and mentality to this place.”

Naturally, James does not comment much on Neil’s actions as he knows little of the student reaction, except that “some of Neil’s actions were necessary.” Instead, he notes, “Interestingly, Neil has spent most of his teaching career outside Britain never —   we are fortunate to have someone to import a different culture and mentality to this place.”

– United World College Student Magazine –

 

 

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