Periodically I am stopped in my tracks by a statement or question from a pupil. It is generally the sort of question that makes you consider what you are doing, it makes you wonder if you are doing the right thing or have missed the mark. Both Junior School and Senior School have been engaging in a period of remembrance over the past few weeks, it is an important part of the year and I hope challenges thinking. My pupil questioner is in Year 9 and returned yesterday from a trip to the battlefields of the First World War. She let me know that she’d been studying war poetry in English, the music of war and the history syllabus was, unsurprisingly, focused on World War I. In addition assemblies have been about remembrance and the art department has once more added to the remembrance installation on the front lawn. She mused that this was a lot of war. I would agree it is, by any measure, a lot of conflict. Too much? Possibly so but working out what is enough is not an easy challenge to meet.
When I was at school conflict seemed a long way away, but during my teaching career I’ve been aware of war creeping ever closer and affecting ever greater numbers of families. Most recently we’ve seen war in Europe in a way that was unthinkable to people like me who have consigned the idea of a war on this continent to being in the bracket of “nigh on impossible.” That we need to be reminded of the horror of conflict between nations is without question and November gives us a fixed point each year to consider its impact on a variety of levels.
This year we have extended the horizon to consider conflict in wider forms. In school most conflict is between individuals and its seeds are often found in cyberspace, the same may well be true of global politics. The danger of distilling complex discussion into soundbites and 140-character messages is risky – this is a place where nuance is necessary, reflection important and consideration vital. We as a school should be providing this space and teaching independence of thought. Sadly, it seems to be the case that we allow ourselves to be far more belligerent, far more aggressive when installed behind a keyboard than is the case when we come together to discuss and seek to appreciate different points of view. That we need a reminder of where all this could end up is without doubt, and so tomorrow I will be reflecting not only upon war and the horror it brings but also how conflict can emerge from poor choice of words and from thoughtlessness. I hope pupils who have had the opportunity to consider the scars that conflict causes will decide to use their words with care and kindness. We must practise patience.
Year 9 have seen a good deal of war this week but next week there will be less, I can only hope that all that has been said, and seen, and considered will lead to a safer, more tolerant, and accepting world.