The Tallis wreath at the Menin Gate, November 2015.
Poppies, ironically, are not in season in November so year 8 and 9s’ appearance at the Menin Gate on November 10th was accompanied by a wreath of red gerberas. Our wreath-layers acquitted themselves well and a short film was sent so we could see it back on the mothership on November 11th. We marked the moment respectfully, heard the bugle, and went about our break time business of hugging and sausage sandwiches. That was Wednesday. The following Monday we were at it again, silent in the yard, wondering quite what to think.
I’d arranged to do year 11 assembly on Monday morning in any case. I showed the symbols of the Republique and we talked about Marianne’s tears on some sites. The abuse of power comes as no surprise, I said.
Regular readers know that my year 7 groups act as a touchstone for the zeitgeist. We pondered Paley’s metaphor of the watchmaker and started to wonder in a more systematic way than in September if there was a God. Putting that on hold, we returned to our regular current affairs slot. I told them that I didn’t think Instagram was a reliable news source (World War 3 starting next Tuesday, targeting schools – God, I hope I’m right) and we thought a bit about the best response to terrorism. I don’t usually allow football as a news story, but the Wembley match was ripe for discussion. As was the breaking news from Paris: why do terrorists use bits from the Qur’an? It’s really embarrassing, said one. Why indeed?
These little ones are getting their feet under the table now. They’re relaxing and thinking, starting to see the seven-year path to adulthood unrolling in the wide corridors and high level walkways of this place. Every so often you get a glimpse of the adult within: a doer, a joker, a worrier. Some will take on the world, some may wish to abdicate responsibility for others. Some who’ll come to love money above all things and some who’ll be fired with righteous fury to change the world for the better. Their faces illuminate the future. Seeing a hall full of them is a wonderful thing.
Lots of adults who drop by under different guises also have children here in school. Sometimes the fates combine to give them a glimpse of the beloved child in a corridor or over my Juliet balcony (oh yes). There’s not a parent in the world who doesn’t grin from ear to ear when the young one flits by, so assured, so capable. Teachers do a lot of that. We seek out the faces in the crowd of the child we want to see, we can scan a thousand faces to find the one who needs a particular word, a helping hand, a reminder or reprimand, a nibble round the edges until the work is done.
I’m always worried that I won’t see the face I’m looking for in a crowd. That there’ll be someone close by who needs something I can offer and I’ll miss it through doziness or preoccupation. I have no idea how you go about blowing up a crowd. Looking at ours on Wednesday and Monday, how could you lay waste to people? I’m pretty sure that some people just love violence for its own sake and then have to find a way to justify it. Their arguments are vapid and cynical, looking for easy answers in a world of compromise. It’s not new, but it is newly awful.
I often quote the great Rob Coe of Durham University, a neighbour of mine in former days. After years of world-leading research, he’ll only say that children learn when they have to think really hard. The most important thing we can do in our schools is to teach them to think really hard so that when the inexplicable happens they have the wherewithal to reflect sensibly and find ways to resist and survive. To identify a good argument and reject a rubbish one. To care and serve, no matter how annoying, rather than seethe and hate. That’s why our happy communities, noisy with discussion and lit up by faces we love in the crowd might help to save the world. There’s a time for talking and a time for silence, but I don’t want to blow that whistle again for another year.