As the sad news that Mr Baskett is leaving Runnymede this year came to light, Samuel Pañeda and Micaela Gortuzar decided to take the opportunity to hear his thoughts on Spain, life and education. The results do not disappoint.
INTERVIEWER: How long have you been working in the school?
MR BASKETT: I actually came to Spain in the 1990s, but I came to Runnymede in 1996 and I worked here until 2000. Then I did a series of other jobs. So I was writing quite a bit at the time; I was a part-time sports writer and I had written a book called the ‘Rough Guide to Madrid’. I wrote it during the summer holidays once. I was getting so much work writing that I thought maybe I should give it a go, so I did. I enjoyed it, and did that for 8 years 2000-2008. I originally wrote freelance for British Newspapers: BBC, Sky sports, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sunday Mirror. I did high brow, low brow stuff, mainly sports, and I kept writing the Rough Guides (this was a period when books were still going great).
But then I actually missed teaching; I really did. I enjoyed the journalism stuff but I was just writing about sport and travel, nothing earth shattering. I wasn’t a war correspondent or anything like that, so I decided to go back to teaching because I love History. Even when I wasn’t a History teacher, I was reading history or literature. I worked at the British council for a few years and then there was an opportunity at Runnymede in 2012 so I’ve been here 11 years.
INTERVIEWER: Did you think you were going to be a teacher when you were young?
MR BASKETT: No, my mom was the teacher, my dad was doctor, and my grandad had taught a little bit at university. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, all I knew was what I liked doing. So at school I liked all subjects but as my Dad was ‘Science and Medicine’ I thought ‘no, I don’t want to do that’. I did History, English and Geography A-levels. I regret not doing French because it was a language I used so much later on and I regret that my French wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. At University I decided to do what I liked doing and that was History.
INTERVIEWER: Sorry, where did you study?
MR BASKETT: I studied at Oxford, I didn’t really know anything about Oxford. I just applied and thought ‘Oh I’ll go there, should be interesting’ and I went to a college that was more down to earth than others. You always feel a little bit of ‘imposter syndrome’ when you get to these sorts of places. It was actually perfectly doable.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any particular hobbies as a child?
MR BASKETT: I loved sport when I was kid. I was obsessed with rugby. I played rugby all the time. I was also very interested in politics from an early age so I belonged to - in those days the biggest issue in politics for me was South Africa and apartheid. In fact, I was 12 when I belonged to this group called the Anti-Apartheid Movement. I was very active. For example, I participated in a campaign to stop the teachers and the school banking with Barclays and they did! They actually stopped.
INTERVIEWER: Sorry, did Barclays have-
MR BASKETT: Barclays believed that there shouldn’t be sanctions against South Africa and they were a big bank involved with South Africa. I was in a bit of trouble because I was meant to give a vote of thanks to a conservative MP who came to the school (he was not in favour of sanctions) and I gave him a hard time. I got a bit of criticism from the headmaster. Anyway, I loved school. I absolutely loved school. I really enjoyed all my lessons and I loved being there. I used to write letters to MPs and to the radio and stuff like this. It was a bit embarrassing really but I was quite involved.
INTERVIEWER: Is there any historical event that you remember very well?
MR BASKETT: Well, I am very old. I’m older than I look. The earliest thing I remember was the landing on the moon which was in 1969. I remember my Dad waking me up from my little bunk bed when I was tiny and telling me ‘get up, you watch this - you’ll remember it the rest of your life’. And he was dead right. I have remembered it for the rest of my life, watching it on the black and white TV. I was a bit obsessed with the space race. That was one thing. Something else I remember… again this is a bit revealing of how old I am… is that all the time on the news was the Vietnam War. All the time. I remember that vividly early on. The images in the early 70s. I also remember things like the election of Margaret Thatcher. It was quite significant in Britain with the strikes that preceded. It was the Winter of Discontent. I remember that the strikes would go on for so long that the power would cut off nearly all the time at home. I remember my mum cooking quickly before the power went off. Then we would eat in candlelight, which was quite exciting. I do remember things such as the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Collapse of Communism. It was not a first hand experience but a lived experience.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a specific role model growing up, somebody you looked up to?
MR BASKETT: Another issue I was interested in was Black Civil Rights, so Martin Luther King was someone I looked up to and people talked about at school. My headmaster was quite an interesting figure. He had been in the United States and met Martin Luther King. In fact my headmaster taught an important historian called Simon Sharma. So I think there was quite a strong political and historical element in the school with issues like that, so that would be someone I looked up to.
INTERVIEWER: Black Civil Rights was obviously a big issue in the USA. Is it any different in the UK? Was it as big of an issue?
MR BASKETT: I was too young to remember this but there was a sort of copycat campaign in Bristol during the 1960s when my Mum and Dad moved to Bristol. It was called the Bristol Bus Boycott. What was happening was that in Bristol they were not hiring people of colour as bus drivers. Basically, excluding them when they applied to jobs because of the colour of their skin. There was a boycott consisting of Bristol University students and local people. It was influential and what America was doing influenced Britain but Britain had this almost superior attitude of ‘well... that doesn’t happen over here’ but there was as much racism, in a different guise, as there was in the United States. There were things that we would see that were completely unacceptable with regards to behaviour towards people of a different colour.
INTERVIEWER: What were your first experiences as a teacher? Did you make some mistakes? Did you learn any tricks?
MR BASKETT: Yes, lots of stuff. Well, I did some teaching in London before I did my teacher training, to see how it was. It was a retail college where people took exams and would cram in all the work. When I did my teacher training in Bristol I was given a couple of rough schools. Very rough. The teachers gave me this equivalent to the Year 11 History lot who didn't want anything to do with it. What they did in those days was some people did the exam and were good and some people didn’t do the exam. So it was very mixed and I did have quite big, tough boys. What I did early on was try to confront them and deal with them that way rather than convincing them. I was really lucky because one of them- I used to have a very small selection of ties that I wore to school. I had a rugby tie that one of them made the mistake of thinking it was a tie from the SS. So he thought I was slightly a madman and this got around the school so it was excellent. They became a bit worried about me. The other thing I did when I first started teaching that helped me massively was I used to teach PE as well as History. So you got to know some of the likely lads on the sports field. This helped to learn how to deal with them rather than try to face them down, which doesn’t work. Especially now, it doesn’t work. You are always going to lose.
INTERVIEWER: I wanted to ask about coming to Spain. You said you started working at Runnymede in 1996.
MR BASKETT: Right, but I came before that. I worked for four to five years in Britain before qualifying in a school just outside Bristol. There was a language assistant in the school who came in and I - she’s my wife now. So she came to work at the school for a year. We started going out. Anyway, I thought I was going to work abroad. So I applied to some schools. To Hong Kong, to Kenya (because I had done some voluntary work there when I was younger) and to Spain. I got offered the job in Kenya, I didn’t get the one from Hong Kong. Although later I was rung by the Foundation School of English - English School Foundation or something like that. But I got one in Spain and it was an opportunity to learn the language. So I worked here for two years in King’s College and then I thought ‘Oh God, I better do something for my career’ because it was a bit of a dead end job in a way. Then I went back to Britain and worked in a state school near Oxford and I was the Head of History there. I got married there but my wife doesn’t really like living in cold, damp environments. We lived apart for one year. I think England just didn’t suit her. I was thinking ‘Oh well I’ll just move back to Spain, I wasn’t really thinking about career or anything at that point.
INTERVIEWER: When you first started working at Runnymede, what was it like?
MR BASKETT: It was very different. Completely different school. Arthur Powell was the Head. It was mainly- what you would call Expat. A lot of British, American with mixed parents. A big Indian Community. Korean. Scandinavian. It was small and family-like. The class sizes were small and the groups were small. Everyone knew everyone. It was very much a small family enterprise. There were lots of really nice things about that, getting to know the people. It is a lot different now, obviously it was easier to manage as it was on a smaller scale.
INTERVIEWER: What do you like the most about being a teacher?
MR BASKETT: I really like my subject. I love History. I think it is important for people to understand it. I think it is more important than ever before. Living in the world we live in with the nature of information. I think historians are very good at sifting through and being critical thinkers. It is important to not just believe what people say because they are influential. It is a very important question for the principles of understanding. So I love that. I really enjoy interaction with students. The fun part of my teaching is being in the classroom. When you get a nice class and by nice I don't mean able, I mean a class that is interested and wants to debate and learn about things. As you know, I often go on a tangent -
INTERVIEWER: We don’t mind, we don’t mind.
MR BASKETT: Obviously I want excellent results. But what is really important is for students to come out with that learning mindset, that inquisitive nature which is really nice to see. I love it when students come back, and we talk about what they are doing and they still remember things. That’s really satisfying. I think there are not many jobs where you get that satisfaction of having played a part in the development. So that is very interesting.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything about you that you think your students would be surprised to find out?
MR BASKETT: There is one thing that people already know. I was interviewed to be a spy for MI6. Then I turned that down and got an interview for MI5 which I didn’t go for. I got the ‘Journalist of the Year’ award when I was at Reuters for the world exclusive scoop of David Beckham leaving Real Madrid. So David Beckham was in Real Madrid when I was working for a Sports journal and I used to cover things he did. I became friendly with his representative. I knew him (Beckham) reasonably well. I did some translations for things they did in press conferences with another guy called Sid Lowe who came later. He is a correspondent for the Guardian now for Spanish football. I got along well with them and I was working for Reuters so he gave me a scoop, when there was all this discussion on whether he would leave Real Madrid. He rang me up, with the representative and Beckham there as well on the phone. They told me what they were doing before they told Real Madrid and before they told any other media. So I had half an hour advantage, head start on everyone else. It was really exciting because you are whacking this out really quickly and it goes BREAKING NEWS everywhere on all the TVs. Reuters was really happy and very pleased. So that was good and exciting. I got an award for that. Not much else, I am a pretty dull person apart from that.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any hidden talents?
MR BASKETT: Not really. Do you know what? I have a lot of friends that are really talented and I am really positively envious. I know people who are musical. I love music. I have a huge music collection but I am totally talentless. I wasn’t even allowed to audition for the choir because as soon as I opened my mouth they said ‘no no’. I did get into the recorder group at school by miming. But then when they asked me to do a solo and I was found out and thrown out. I have no musical talent whatsoever. My great grandfather and my great great grandfather and my aunts were all artists. I have no artistic talents either and I love paintings. I like the stuff but I’ve got no talent. So I have no talent at all, apart from that I’m quite good at quiz shows. Like university challenge, mastermind -
INTERVIEWER: Who wants to be a millionaire?
MR BASKETT: Yeah, those sorts of things. I’m quite good. But if I went on television I would be rubbish.
INTERVIEWER: You said you had an extensive music collection. Any favourites?
MR BASKETT: Lots of groups, I really like, The Clash, that sort of a thing from when I was young. I really like The Smiths. I quite like a lot of punk rock, but I’ve got a lot of stuff from jazz to soul. I like soul music, the older I get the better it is. My favourite singers are Kate Bush and Billy Bragg. But I don’t dance. I’m rubbish at dancing. I like disco. My secret ambition is to secretly learn how to dance and then surprise people. So I’d go to these ‘bailes de salon’ and then surprise my wife by dancing properly.
INTERVIEWER: How about movies?
I don’t watch them as much as I’d like to but my wife is a really big fan of the cinema. We do try to go occasionally and there are lots of great films that I’ve been to. I really love those Vietnam films, ‘Deerhunter’, ‘Apocalypse Now’, which I really liked when I was a kid. Recently I really enjoyed ‘Argentina 1985’ about the Argentina trials after the military dictatorship.
INTERVIEWER: A lot of historical ones I imagine-
MR BASKETT: A lot of historical ones. I like Spanish films. Not all of them but I like them. I like Almodovar. I think it’s too much in some instances but I like it. But my favourites are drama type films. I actually have trouble with historical films because I think ‘Oh that’s not right though. I don’t like that bit, or they’ve missed this bit out’. So I quite like just the normal drama but I hate horror and violence. I just can’t take it and if anything is too emotional I cry all the time. Ever since I had kids, I cry really easily. It’s not good because I watched ‘La Vida es Bella’ and I was just in tears just to think that - anyway.
MR BASKETT: This is a big influence on me. I had a brilliant English teacher. Brilliant English and History teachers at school. I still remember my History lessons because they were so good. I had a teacher called Mr Cap who actually knew Philip Larkin when he was working in Hull. Mr Cap was a genius. You couldn’t speak to him outside of the classroom because he was in a world of his own. He instilled the love of Literature. We read so much when we were doing the equivalent of GCSE. Books and books. We read lots of Shakespeare. I loved ‘Middlemarch’ which was just an amazing book. George Elliot’s ‘Middlemarch’. I really love the poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins. I think I was just copying my English teacher. Whatever he loved, I loved. He was so enthusiastic about it which I loved as well. Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ as well. It was a book I really got into. I read it on a holiday quickly. When you read books quickly, they really get under your skin. I read all those classic teenage boy books like ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘Metamorphosis´ and ‘The trial’
INTERVIEWER: And you teach a lot of 20th century China and Russia and pre-World War II. Is there a historical period which you find the most interesting?
MR BASKETT: I wouldn’t say the most interesting. I would say my preference is for Modern History. By Modern I mean 16th or 17th Century onwards because I think you just have more about the people, the motivations and a deeper understanding of them. The other area is like having a jigsaw with not many pieces. With Modern History, you have more pieces in the jigsaw, so you can get more of an understanding that is why I like it. History is about people, motivation and mistakes, and it’s about some really horrific things as well.
INTERVIEWER: This is a completely different question but would you say you have something you live by?
MR BASKETT: I try to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as a basic thing. Everyone is selfish, you just have to put that to one side to a degree. Just behave towards people as you’d like them to behave towards you. That’s all. I think that is a reasonable way of living your life. Also, doing your best. I am from a background with my parents being from Northern Ireland, where they’ve got this work ethic that I think I have sort of inherited a bit.
INTERVIEWER: So, you’ve told us that you have been interested in politics from a young age. If you could start an organisation with an infinite budget and extensive resources what would it be and what issue would it tackle?
MR BASKETT: I think the real issue now, to be honest, is climate change. I am dismayed - I think we all go through those different feelings. One, we’ve got to do something, you know, act local, think global. Two, is just dismay and depression thinking, ‘Wow, this is just too big, what the hell are we going to do about it?’. And three, blaming other people. I think that there needs to be some urgent action on that but also about how to live with climate change because it’s already happening. I would start a political organisation that doesn’t have the old-fashioned labels of left and right and actually looks at the problems from first principles. So things like climate change, cost of living, wealth inequality and distribution, and challenges that politicians just take from the position they're in and don’t really think about solving the problem. I think education would be one of those things as well because our education model is something that has been tinkered with but never really looked at seriously because of course all politicians look at things with a 5 year window of opportunity rather than looking 10, 20, 30 years ahead. But that’s what I’m interested in. Obviously I wouldn’t be any good at it but the idea is that you look at it and you’re an engaged citizen.
INTERVIEWER: What changes would you want to instil in the education system if you didn’t have to worry about political myopia?
I don’t like the way it’s going in terms of ‘you educate just to get a job’ do you know what I mean? I don’t like that; it’s a utilitarian approach. The idea that you all need Maths because Maths will get you a job. Let’s think about it a bit more deeply than that. We want to create people who are critical thinkers, who think about the world in front of them, who can look at the picture in front of them and be able to make decisions. There are lots of routes to do that. I think we need to have less fact-based exams, and even though in Britain it’s meant to be more skills based it’s still very much learning based and I think that we also need to take into account the fact that we’ve all got a massive computer in our pockets, a mobile phone. We need to teach how to navigate through that and make sense of it and at the same time remain critical thinkers. But also, still sustain the love of learning which is just so important because we’re all going to have to learn and relearn as we go through life. There is no set body of knowledge that will hold us through another 20 years. I think that love of learning - seeing also that learning is not just what it'll allow you to do in the future but understanding the human condition. The human condition comes from understanding literature, art, drama as well as science and maths. I don’t like this artificial divide into camps of arts and sciences. I think we overlap our interests in those things the better. Loads of great scientists were really interested in the arts and culture and loads of great writers were really interested in the sciences and maths. And there are massive philosophical overlaps in maths about concepts like zero and infinity which philosophically are really interesting. So obviously different people have different talents, but education needs to stop that division.
INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you very much for your time and for teaching here at Runnymede for all these years.
MR BASKETT: It’s been really enjoyable, and it’s always good to see people who are interested in the world around them in different ways. People that are curious and inquisitive, it’s amazing, and you hold onto it for life because I do still remember some things I was taught while I was at school and I do think about it quite regularly. I’ve got a group of people I went to school with, there’s probably about 15 of us. It’s funny, the other day, that English teacher actually came up. Even the people that hated English remember him and respect him.
Micaela G. and Samuel P.