As the green shoots of Spring gradually appear, we find ourselves in a position where we need to look to the future and begin to emerge from the strictures of lockdown. There is now a wealth of positive data to suggest that we should be cautiously optimistic. The Rossall Roadmap which we sent you yesterday demonstrates how the School will incrementally reintroduce those elements of our provision that have been suspended since March 2020. It is exciting to contemplate a summer term of outdoor fun and endless sports. Whilst it is possible that aspects of the Roadmap will need to evolve in accordance with regional and national circumstances, we believe that all within our community will benefit from the knowledge that our plans for the future are well-considered. For many the open-ended nature of lockdown has caused real uncertainty and a good deal of frustration. Hopefully, this plan will serve to answer the understandable questions that we all have regarding the loosening of restrictions.
As news about COVID begins to assume less prominence (at least in the UK), the headlines have been dominated by Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and the tragic death of Sarah Everard. Last night, I caught the end of a heartbreaking documentary about the life of the TV presenter Caroline Flack and it was difficult not to conclude that it serves as a powerful exploration of the extraordinary times within which we live. Helping young people to unravel some of the complex issues raised by this media coverage is extremely challenging but it is our role as educators and parents to be ready to discuss such matters with our children.
At times, it appears that COVID-19 restrictions have heightened our personal sensibilities and sharpened our collective sense of outrage. Perhaps after so much suffering there is a profound desire to create a better world, one within which racism and sexism are countered with a reflectiveness, sophistication and nuance that has been lacking up to this point. The last year has been dominated by useful discussions about race and unconscious bias. I have no doubt that the level of reflection that this has approached has been helpful. The invitation or challenge to think more deeply about the perspective of others has to have positive outcomes.
The murder of Sarah Everard was an act perpetrated by an individual who cannot and should not be considered representative of men in general. However, that women feel unsafe walking the streets should in itself cause us to reflect very deeply on how we bring up boys. It is a source of collective shame and one which should not be explored simply as a direct consequence of such a horrific act. Melissa Benn’s excellent book, What we should Teach our Daughters’ explores the role that casual sexism has on girls growing up. It considers the objectification of women and the lack of parity which still exists in so many areas of modern life. Last, the Headmistress of Magdalene School, Helen Pike, suggested that mothers should talk openly to their sons about sexual harassment. Recently she made the point that ‘consent’ is not necessarily sexual and, in reality, relates more to respect for others’ boundaries. This respect has been diminished in some instances by the misuse of social media. It seems clear that as a society we make progress when we are open to considering the perspectives of others. Sometimes, empathy and critical reflection can feel uncomfortable or unnecessary but the way we behave and the values that we impart really do serve to shape the future society within which our children will live.
The Caroline Flack documentary was heartbreaking on many levels. She had clearly made mistakes in her life but her position as a celebrity role model who thrived upon competitive social media made her acutely vulnerable. Her friends and family reflected upon her obsession with Twitter which meant that she sometimes struggled to be ‘present’. She courted attention and enjoyed the adulation that she received from fans. However, the fickle nature of such feedback meant that she was unprepared to endure the backlash that ensued following the dramatic episodes that led up to her death. Away from the public persona, Caroline was a woman who struggled with low self-esteem and was prone to self-harm. The savagery of the media’s pilloring of her and the cruel unkindness of comments left on her Twitter feed was too much for her to endure. Living life through the distortive prism of social media means living a life which lacks authenticity. It means exposing yourself to the judgement of those whom you do not know but profess to know you. Social media is ubiquitous and constitutes an aspect of teenage social discourse that is impossible to ignore or deny. However, it is the case that there remains a startling contrast between the way people treat one another in real life and the way they are prepared to behave online.
We are at an interesting moment in time. Perhaps it is a moment filled with angst and hope which will pass in due course. One thing is for sure, that once the heat has subsided from the current media debate, what really matters will be the quality of conversations that we have with our children. We need to help them make sense of the world around them. Whilst it is tempting to wince at the overused and peculiarly postmodern phrase ‘his truth’ or ‘her truth’, we do now need to listen and reflect.
I understand that the repairs to our gas supply have caused delays when dropping off and picking up children. However, I would urge everyone to drive with consideration. We are a School and at any given moment in time, we have babies from the age of three months and upwards being pushed through the carpark. We all know how toddlers and young children are prone to wander off in an instant. An unforgiving moment, a split second of impatience, and the consequences could be devastating. Please drive with particular care and it is worth all of us remembering that people who have caused serious accidents will never have thought for one moment that going into that situation they would be to blame for causing such devastation.