This week I gave an assembly in virtual form. The Headmaster beamed into every classroom. Such are the approaches that have to be taken when faced with a major building project in the middle of the school. I’d been given the challenge of speaking meaningfully about The International Day of the Mother Tongue, an excellent UNESCO initiative. My conclusion was that we are right to maintain all the languages that we can, as long as we use them for constructive purposes.
Schools are places where we spend a good deal of time in the business of communication. Teachers communicate in the classroom, students communicate with each other (often on multiple platforms) and about once a week we communicate with parents through this newsletter so ably produced by our own school Communications Department.
Communication is a risky business. It can all too often go wrong. As Headmaster I would say that the majority of the disciplinary issues that I deal with have at their core mis-communication. Hurtful things are written and read. I’m not sure all of these comments are actually meant, often they pass under the banner of “banter” (a way of excusing just about anything). Our young people face a challenge when handling the powerful devices of communication they control. We could insist that they are put away and in the case of mobile ‘phones we do, but through the iPad we open an even wider range of communication opportunities. One only has to consider the issues that some political leaders have with social media to perhaps appreciate why our students might go wrong.
At the end of the week I had the great privilege to attend the Anglo-French Summit reception at the Victoria & Albert Museum with some of our older students and two teaching colleagues. A chance to meet with the political communicators of our age. Earlier in the day we visited Carlton Gardens where de Gaulle penned his ever resonant “À tous les Français”. Thereafter we dropped in at the Cabinet War Rooms, the spot from which Winston Churchill mobilized the English Language in defence of Britain. We reflected on how many of his speeches we remember today. Our encounters yesterday evening enabled us to listen first hand to both President Macron and Prime Minister May talking warmly about the strong bonds that exist between Britain and France. Reassuring words at a time of uncertainty and whilst I’m not sure that either of the speeches that we heard will be remembered as those of de Gaulle or Churchill, it was certainly positive to hear that both governments envisage a future in which co-operation, shared culture and common heritage is vital. Curiously this message has been lost amidst the reporting of Mr. Johnson’s bridge. Perhaps another example of a well-timed comment made in the correct ear drowning out other messages.
Our young people study in an environment in which they have the opportunity to hear many voices and myriad perspectives. As they grow to be the leaders of the future I hope that they will consider, with due caution, the power of the words they have at their command. Our aim as adults should be to teach them to use their language to build hope and understanding. To adapt one of Churchill’s lesser known quotations:
“We are all worms. But I do believe they can be glow-worms.”