Memorial to Assassinated Pupil Nigeria’s Abu Bakr Mahe Balewa Considered
An interview with convenor of the Chilton Cantelo School Oldies Clive Lewis-Hopkins
Your plan is to have a terminating Cotes-James Years reunion in 2019. Intriguingly you also intend to put in place an enduring memorial to the founding duo?
C.L-H: Nothing lasts for ever, not even us, and so 2019 has been selected because it is the 60th anniversary of the founding by the Cotes-James, Hugh and Eileen, of Chilton Cantelo House School, as it was known originally. In a practical sense this is also nearing the time that the veterans of these years can still be expected to be happily hale and hearty and sufficiently sound of limb to render themselves to such an occasion.
In regard to the lasting memorial, there seems to be an evangelical-style of determination to put the two late founders firmly onto the educational and indeed politico-sociological map.
C.L-H: We are seeking to enshrine their point of difference which made their applied educational practices so very different from the norms of their era, and also in a sense, from what is currently going on.
The Westminster sphere is not short of educational innovators especially in the liberal or progressive sphere. Can you be specific about what you intend to do here in order to make indelible for future generations this spirit of the founding duo?
C.L-H: The intention is to focus on their applied vision in the realm of what would now be described as “diversity.” Several generations before the current level of acceptance of multiculturalism and other such now commonplace doctrines of inclusivity, the Cotes-James happily and routinely applied them as a matter of course. So it is in this pioneering context that we seek to extend their memory.
You are saying that they treated everyone in the same way long before it became fashionable and indeed integrated into the conventional wisdom and consecrated in these high-minded words of politicians and social commentators
C.L-H: There is an acid test here. Let’s look at another exaltedly contrived practice of this current era which is that of the process of apologising for this or that collective wrong applied in a previous epoch… Would the Cotes-James have anything to apologise for today, were they still alive and were they asked to explain their management conduct of so long ago? The answer is that they would not. They treated all races and creeds in exactly the same way.
You claim that the diversity hysteria of today could have been circumvented if the rest of the educational society had done what the Cotes-James did which was to treat everyone in the same way regardless of their racial or religious roots?
C.L-H: Pretty much. They made it a non-issue. Because of this, so did everyone else at the school. Their point of difference was that they never made it a point of difference.
Still, you can hardly expect that in the times we are talking of, at the cusp of the 1950’s and 1960’s, that the rest of the educational and social planning world might have stopped in its tracks and taken startled notice of a small start-up school’s applied theories in what has become now this whole tortured area?
C.L-H: True and all the more reason why, in our small way, we must use such influence as we have to draw a line in the sand and in effect cry out Hey! Hold on! Before you began even talking about it, someone was doing something about it.
How exactly are you going to put the flesh on the bones of your concept?
C.L-H: Our thinking is that we will put forward someone who will personify the couple’s ground-breaking work. We must be careful that we do not add to this already fevered institutional modus operandi that we see and hear all around us which in its box-tick and quota form is so evidently having the opposite effect of the one intended.
We are looking then at a name and a person?
C.L-H: We are looking at a Chilton Cantelo pupil and a contemporary of mine Abu Bakr Mahe Balewa of Nigeria, one of a large contingent of pupils from West Africa at the school. He was of princely origin, and a good sport in every sense and who in our view encapsulates these pioneering policies of the Cotes-James. A fantastic future awaited him. Yet he was assassinated in a military coup, leaving only the sense of what might have been.
This is an area of public debate that in its contemporary form swerves between uncompromising proclamations of fanatical righteousness to the kind of grovelling collective apologies you referred to. Your critics, and they will certainly exist, might reasonably point out that you are living in a cloud cuckoo land based on an era when things were rather more clear cut than they are now?
C.L-H: Inevitably there will be this notion that we are converting through our rosy memories Chilton Cantelo into a Camelot. In a sense we are trying to get above the noise level, with its strident pieties and apologias, and point out the success of the Cotes-James in accomplishing a desiderata, a state of affairs, which so many other institutions with their different and usually self-serving agendas claim to be seeking today. Of course these vested interests do not want to be told or even reminded that someone was there before them.
Talking of agendas; what is your own plan of action in projecting into the wider world this snapshot of the work of the Cotes-James in the shape of the memory of Abu Bakr Mahe, your old school chum?
C.L-H: We have begun by talking about it and a study group of Oldies was convened recently at Bristol which has the added advantage of being my home town. It was quite an international gathering and there was a broad concensus on the value of Abu Bakr as a symbol of the achievement of the Cotes-James policies and thus of their own values. We must be very conscious of the fact that they did not just talk about their vision of diversity. They did something about it. So we too must ensure that we do something rather than merely talk about doing something.
Is there a feeling, do you think, that you have left your run too late? That this project should have started rather earlier when you and the rest of the world was a bit younger?
It is only in these recent years that the effluxion of time has allowed us to get a handle on their achievements. Only now has the clarity of their vision come quite literally into such sharp focus. It is quite true that as a group even our most avid admirers would not describe us as being in the first flush of youth. We must do though what we can, while we still can………
Hail and farewell.
We farewell John Price and welcome the new head of Chilton Cantelo Verity White; the third and the fourth heads respectively in the 54 year history of the school… Oldies will remember John for his enthusiastic support of the alumnus group. This was characterised most spectacularly when he broke off his holiday to attend the 2012 Reunion of Reunions. The long tours of duty by the heads of Chilton Cantelo emphasise the way in which it has become such an institutional fixture in education in the South West, and indeed in the UK as a whole. We wish John and Jane all the best for the future and we look forward to rendering in terms of historical support to the new head such energies as we may be able to summon in the years to come.