The Case for a US College Education

by Jamie Bogyo, US College Consultant | Bonas MacFarlane.

It’s been a rough couple of months for US Universities. Students have had to pack up and leave campus, schools are still scrambling to determine how they should balance remote vs. in-person learning, and Ivy League universities are either suing the US Government over immigration laws or being sued by the US Government for discriminating against white people in their application process. The situation is – to borrow from the verbose tweets of America’s current leader – “Sad!”           

In this fraught time for US universities, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own collegiate experience, and the value of US higher education at large. I entered Yale fully expecting to major in Mathematics. Math was by far my strongest subject in high school, so when I walked through Yale’s gothic gates I imagined the wonderful world of Differential Equations, Combinatorics and Analysis would await.  

What I didn’t expect was to bounce between majors throughout my undergraduate career – careering between my interests in medieval history, theatre, astronomy, classical civilization, creative writing, and music – before finally settling on theatre studies with a playwriting concentration as my official major. Four years since receiving my undergraduate diploma, I’ve graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where I trained as an actor for three years, and am a playwright with a top literary agent. My life now has no resemblance whatsoever to the one I envisaged when I first arrived on Yale’s campus, cracked open the now digitised “Blue Book” containing more than two thousand undergraduate courses, and decided I’d done so much math in high school that maybe I’d give it a rest for the first semester, just to see if there was anything else I liked.  

This, in a nutshell, was what my college experience was all about: the freedom to explore and the opportunity to discover new passions. Also a whole lot of singing, but my musings on undergraduate a capella groups might have to wait for another time. Nowadays, as the chair of Bonas MacFarlane’s US Admissions Team, I help students gain acceptance to universities where I hope they too will uncover new interests from the smorgasbord of academic opportunities offered to them. Whether it’s in sociology, psychology, biology, Egyptology or something that doesn’t end in –ology, there is a whole world of courses and disciplines available at American universities, and I encourage every student I work with to make the absolute most of them during their education.  

Because that, in a sense, is their education – not just what they learn at university, but the experience of choosing what it is that interests them and pursuing their own interests, as opposed to following a pre-ordained path decided when they were seventeen. There are several hugely important differences between US and UK Universities (four years vs. three years, cost, Freshers week vs Frat life etc…) but the most fundamental pedagogical difference is the flexibility of the US system.  

Students at US Universities don’t have to declare a major until the end of their second year – and even then they still have the option to switch majors, as I continued to do until the fall of my senior year. Ultimately, a student’s chosen major – whether “declared” in freshman or senior year – will still only account for roughly one third of the classes they will take at university – which leaves a whole lot of room for exploration and discovery.  

If this sounds like a model that would work for you, you’re in luck. US universities have never been more interested in international students than they are right now. Top schools across America are fearful of the impact Covid-19 will have on their draw to international students and are going to great lengths to expand their international recruitment. Schools are also becoming increasingly flexible with their standardized test requirements. Some are even dropping the tests altogether, removing one obstacle that’s traditionally been a major deterrent to international students who aren’t as familiar with standardized testing as their American counterparts. Additionally, rising fees in the UK and falling fees in the US, not to mention the existence of several “need blind” US universities, means that the price- gap between the two countries is lower than ever. 

My academic journey at Yale was one I could never have foreseen when I was accepted. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. For international students who aren’t sure what interests them most, or are open to studying multiple disciplines in parallel, I always recommend they look at applying to US universities. These universities, in turn, look for an intellectual curiosity and proactiveness from applicants, as these are the students who will make the most of a university’s resources!  

I’m incredibly grateful for what Yale afforded me, and I would never have had the freedom to embark on the path I ultimately chose in any other higher education system. I encourage every international student looking at universities to look past the headlines and explore what the US really has to offer. As I learned from my own time in college, you never know what you might find.  

Kill the Black One First: An Intersection between the Police and Society

Gbenga Ojo-Aromokudu reviews A Search for Belonging by Michael Fuller

Over the past few months, you have likely heard many discussions about defunding the police, and calls to stamp out racism on an individual, and structural level. It is essential that everyone engages with these topics, or British society will never reach an equitable solution to the problem that is racism.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement began in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer.1 Since then, there have continued to be a disproportionate number of killings of Black people at the hands of the police, both within the US and beyond. Scores of names have unfortunately been added to the list of the deceased, while the perpetrators in many cases have gone unpunished, or simply lost their jobs.

The United Kingdom is by no means innocent when it comes to racism and racist policing. While it is helpful to make comparisons with the United States, it is important to say that being “not as bad as the US” is not inherently good enough. Racism very much exists here and is a problem that must be addressed irrespective of what goes on abroad. To give just one, very recent example, the current Metropolitan Police commissioner recently denied the existence of institutional racism in the force, in response to accusations of racial profiling.2 This is particularly important, given that the Macpherson report of 1997 did in fact label the force as institutionally racist.

For most people, our understanding of the police is based on the present, but not on the past that lead us to be here now. This is what makes Michael Fuller’s book so timely. A Search for Belonging (Bonnier Books), was first published in 2019 when it was titled Kill the Black One First. The book is a memoir by Michael Fuller, who in 2004 became the first Black Chief Constable in the United Kingdom. Fuller examines his experiences as a senior police officer, as well as his life leading up to this appointment. 

Fuller was born to Windrush-generation3 Jamaican parents, which provides an additional dynamic to his relationship with British institutions and makes his story particularly important to reflect upon. In this review I will focus on three crucial important moments in Fuller’s story: his decision to become a policeman; an encounter with skinheads; and coming face to face with rioters.

In the second chapter, Fuller recounts the moment he stated his desires to become a policeman to his father and his friends. “They all stared at me as if I had just announced I wanted to be an axe murderer.” Those in the room gave multiple examples why Fuller could not become a police officer, like Don’t you know they are our enemy?“. However as Fuller attests, the gap between the police and Black communities is not one straight border, but a nuanced and individual relationship. Black police officers do indeed exist. 

But when acknowledging the existence of racism in the police force, where does a Black police officer align themselves? 

Fuller describes going to a Black barbershop and choosing to conceal the fact he was a policeman, to avoid being ostracised amongst the other customers. The same day, he intervened when passing a Black man being attacked by skinheads, using his police status as a lever to defend the victim. This is a perfect example of the duality (or multiplicity) of the Black identity. Many people want to join the police force with a goal of helping others. While a noble intent, this will only be possible if you as an individual are accepted and supported by your colleagues. 

What happened next is both literally and metaphorically an example of the reality of being Black. Fuller entered a phone booth to call for help, and the skinheads continued to threaten and insult him, calling him a “Black bastard.” Fuller notes that Most criminals did that. It wasn’t enough to call me a bastard. My colour was an important part of their hatred and always had to be named.” Ultimately a police car arrived and the assailants scattered, but had they chosen to physically assault him or worse, his status as a member of the police would not have saved him. If you are Black in a racist system, no amount of accolades or titles can protect you from the danger that your Blackness might attract.

Later, Fuller describes the experience of being on a bus with colleagues and commenting on people on the road outside. These were the events that led up to the book’s title. It was a moment of multi-faceted intersections. While sat on a bus full of white police officers, hearing all manner of racist comments and slurs he had to decide whether or not to speak up. Crucially, he recalled advice he was once given to “not taking it personally” and “sit tight and complain through the official channels“. All the while his “official channel”, namely the Inspector, was engrossed in a crossword. This is so emblematic of discussions around race in the United Kingdom, both then and now. Black people have to spend energy bringing attention to the very existence of racism that is occurring in plain sight, before even getting into the possible solutions.

This episode evokes very clear imagery. Fuller was sat on a bus, with the glass windows reinforcing the metaphorical and physical barrier between the police and the public. Although both parties could see each other, it does not make them one and the same. The other officers spoke with full knowledge that there would be no negative consequences for their words,  rendering Fuller himself almost invisible. However, this is contrasted harshly a few pages later, when in a confrontation with rioting crowds, he was anything but invisible. Fuller recalls, “a strange lull and then suddenly a single cry rose from inside the crowd, ‘Kill the Black one first!'” Fuller’s Blackness separates him and isolates him from both the Black public, and the White police force.

The juxtapositions of being Black and existing in a racist environment are crystal clear throughout. By communicating his own experience to the reader, Fuller does an excellent job of holding the mirror up to his reality and allowing us to see it for what it is.

Further Reading

For a more contemporary example of what it is like to work as a Black police officer in Britain, I would really recommend the following episode of the Over The Bridge Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/overthebridgeuk/over-the-bridge-black-police. Topics discussed include: increasing representation within the Met Police, addressing the necessity of the police, and an insider’s perspective on the implicit rules of policing.

Chanté Joseph on ITV https://www.indy100.com/article/has-britain-changed-chante-joseph-debate-police-itv-institutional-racism-9624041

Account of a Black Police officer https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/15/black-police-officer-met-institutionally-racist-bame-officers

Sources:

  1. https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/
  2. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/met-police-cressida-dick-racism-bianca-williams-stop-search-a9607671.html

Kill the Black One First: An Intersection between the Police and Society
Gbenga Ojo-Aromokudu reviews A Search for Belonging by Michael Fuller

You can read a brief summary of the Windrush Scandal here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43782241, but I would encourage you to research this further

Residential Tuition

The educational landscape has shifted significantly in 2020, with online schooling and tuition becoming the norm. This has worked well for many and has highlighted the benefits, for some families, of a more flexible approach to schooling.

For a long time, I have worked as a residential tutor with children who are either home-schooled during term-time or receiving extra tuition during the holidays. Whether due to the pupil’s particular needs, complicated family schedules or simply down to personal preference, many children spend time being educated at home or while travelling rather than attending a formal institution full-time. The experience of working with a dedicated, residential tutor can be extremely positive and the results can be profound.

For many families, residential tuition provides an excellent solution when travelling abroad; a way of keeping their children’s development on track and in line with the rigorous standards at most British schools. Such was my first residential placement as a fairly new tutor several years ago, when I accompanied a family to Almaty, Kazakhstan. The two children had been attending prestigious London prep schools and the family wished to keep up with and expand upon the curriculum, enabling a seamless transition on their return. The trip was a great success; the children delighted in having their lessons tailored to their interests and abilities and made fantastic progress across the board. 

Since then, I have been fortunate enough to join numerous families on their travels across Europe, Asia and the USA. Some, like my pupils in Kazakhstan, were temporarily missing school; many others were preparing for exams or an imminent move to the UK. In these cases, residential tuition can be of great help in order to work on language proficiency and revise key skills and subjects. Likewise, many families take advantage of the summer holidays to ensure that their children keep up with their learning over the long break and return to school in September having filled any gaps and feeling ready for the year ahead. Despite the understandable reluctance of some pupils to have tuition during their holidays, most quickly come to appreciate the regular routine and to enjoy the one-on-one attention of a skilled, motivating tutor. 

One of the most unique advantages of residential tuition is having the scope to study and develop topics far beyond the school curriculum. My home-schooled students have often embarked on exciting assignments, frequently informed by the location. Favourite projects have included studying marine life whilst in French Polynesia, American History whilst in Washington, D.C, volcanoes whilst in Asia and the Great Fire of London whilst stopping off in the UK. This cross-curricular approach to research and learning is of huge benefit, and great enjoyment, to a young student. They learn to notice and appreciate their environment and collaborate on an extended piece of work, working alongside an enthusiastic and knowledgeable mentor. 

In the UK, we are fortunate in that most schools recognise the benefits of such ‘time out.’ Unlike in many countries, where each school year has to be passed in order to progress, British schools are usually happy to accommodate requests for a term or even a year to be missed in order for a pupil to follow a programme of enrichment. A residential tutor, or team of tutors, can help to optimise that time and ensure an outstanding experience for the family. As for the tutor, it is always rewarding to see the growth and transformation, both academic and personal, that can result from a successful trip. 

Lauren Williams
@laurensupertutor

Character comes first; academics come second

When your child progresses beyond formal education, how do you want them to sail through life? 

Happiness, inner peace and personal fulfillment often come high up on the list; with such admirable goals, why does it often go amiss? 

Schools ‘promise’ the delivery of a mind that is academically both analytical and creative, platformed in attributes that will successfully carve a path through career and personal life. What most education systems overlook (including the UK), however, is the immense value of character development. 

Why is this important? If you were to forensically examine the curriculums in schools, there is a huge divide between what you learn in school, and the ‘real’ world. For example, the curriculums in the two core subjects – Maths & English – are archaic; whilst there are certain relevant fundamentals that exist in each curriculum, the majority of learning is forgotten as it is never used past the exam itself. Why is Maths so far removed from the business / economical skills that are relevant in day to day life, and why is analysing a literary text taking precedence over effective communication skills (which are incredibly important to healthy relationships). 

Like with most social problems, Scandanavian education is pioneering. For example, Finnish schools instill a philosophy of holistic development, a growth mindset and a drive to develop the ‘self’ as well as society as a whole. This is how all education systems should look; whilst other teachers I speak to agree with this, change is hard to enforce as things get worse before they get better: the UK system, for example, will inevitably be overwhelmed beyond the point it currently is (Scandanavian countries are smaller, and therefore it is arguably easier to initiate change). 

So what can we do? The home is the most important place a child learns; of any environment, it is where they are inspired or ‘shut down’. Yes, some children are certainly harder to inspire than others (there is a spectrum), but well-guided effort can mitigate these challenges. What we can’t do, however, is continue to overweight our focus on academics. A razor sharp mind is vulnerable to the capricious rhythms and challenges of life if not anchored in a range of underlying characteristics. It is imperative that ‘soft’ skills are developed (particularly as they are neglected in our schools): organisation (sleep, food, time, exercise), resilience, a ‘growth mindset’, listening and speaking skills, teamwork, respect, courage, honesty, humility and independence are some that spring to mind. 

Like an iceberg is supported by what lies beneath the water, our minds are guided by these ‘soft’ skills. The biggest changes in my tutees have come about with this holistic viewpoint; in this light, there is life-changing value in thinking outside the box for select periods of your child’s educational journey. Weekly tuition with this holistic lens, homeschooling, residential tutoring or / and a well planned ‘gap year’ in these formative years can have meaningful and seismic positive effects for life. You can do this easily (as long as you take the essential formal exams like GCSEs and A-Levels); with a thoughtful plan, I can guarantee the rewards from this approach will reverberate through their life more than many of the things they learn at school. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.’

by James Frome
Bonas MacFarlane Tutor