“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The daily news tells the consistent story of how leaders, in whichever domain they are to be found, have to rise once more to the challenge of command, having just received the bloodiest of noses. This week we have seen Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEOs and the rest receive ‘wounds’ that for many less strong could prove mortal, but because they have experience, strength or simply courage, they’ll pick up once more their challenge once more and, having learned from the experience we hope, not make the same mistake again.

And because my posts do get read over the arc of time, this week (commencing 1 November 2021) has seen

  • President Joe Biden lose the safe Democrat senate seat of Virginia to the Republicans
  • COP26 delegates chose to fly in from all other the world to attend in great ostentation the COP26 meetings in Rome and Italy, as a consequence showing they don’t really care for climate change if it involves not using their Jets as toys
  • President Macron having to back down in the France/Britain fishing squabble around the Channel Islands
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnston probably doing all of the above and trying to change the parliamentary standards process, ostensibly to save the Conservative MP Owen Paterson from suspension for ‘sleaze’, but rather pointedly perhaps to save his own reputation as he is soon to be up before the same process in parliament as well.

Frankly, the Westminster bubble of politics is so not important just at the moment, because the whole matter of Climate change is affecting all of humanity, and in the face of the change becoming Emergency, we need the concerted action of the whole of the developed world, and those we might otherwise wish to pull down are frankly the only people in play who have the power to make a difference right now. And to that end our own Prime Minister has rather rapidly stepped up to the mark. Critics are quick to state that all Boris can do is make rash promises, and there is no clear plan behind the rhetoric to ensure his proposals become deliverable. This is where I reach for Raplh Waldo Emerson once more:

“The good news is that the moment you decide that what you know is more important than what you have been taught to believe, you will have shifted gears in your quest for abundance. Success comes from within, not from without.”

Over the past 50 years perhaps only equalled by the Victorian era, the technological revolution is making things possible that we could previously scarcely believe. Computing power, artificial intelligence, manufacturing at scale in new technologies providing locomotion, power, energy and more, and as a consequence reducing our carbon footprint as rapidly as possible. From EV cells to hydrogen power, the market can grow rapidly if the powers-that-be open the right markets now – to expand the replacement of coal and petroleum products by green methods, or at least other understood methods that clearly do reduce the damaging air pollution, the prime cause of the current conflagrations and weather systems damaging peoples across the globe.

Schools in the UK are very well placed to lead the education required for the future we desire, and government here has a real part to play as well, changing the focus on the striving for the individual at the expense of others to ensure success of the next generation is most assured. The current employment crisis in the UK highlights just how much we need the skills of all of the people, and that we must value those skills differently. Why can we not recruit sufficiently into the area of care, health, education, service (be this civil, military or supply chain)? The obvious answer is that we have been importing these elements of the work force from overseas for so long now, we have forgotten how to develop from within, marked of course by the sheer unwillingness of ’employers’ to pay a competitive salary because it’s been so much cheaper to import.

In reviewing where our former Sixth Formers have gone since 2000 in terms of employment, it’s quite obvious that they have filled every niche, nook and cranny, from hospitals to Hollywood, welfare to waste management, military to manufacture, and they have skills in abundance to offer. Sure the police, military, education, health and care are well represented, as to every where else, in part because the families our children come from have themselves benefited from the joys and challenges of full employment and all that brings. What successful societies do (whether patriarchy or matriarchy, elected or dictatorship) is ensure every member is supported through their childhood journey and when vulnerable as adults too. It’s important to remember that everyone of our own pupil’s homes is likely to model successful economic employment and the security that provides.

One of the unintended side effects for democratic countries is when and where the individual is given greater freedoms to make their own choices but at the ‘expense’ of reduced public services. We’ve seen that in the UK with the ‘loss’ of council housing giving rise to reduced stock and higher costs to tenants, and elsewhere in the world where health care is not provided universally. As the arguments in the UK wage to work out where to build all the new homes we need for our growing population, we see our own government twisting and turning by the month. Not that long ago the headlines were speaking of removing the ‘protection of the Green belt for much needed house building’.

As the Financial Times reported last month “Boris Johnson last year promised to tear up England’s “outdated and ineffective planning system” to make it easier to build new homes. But his proposals have since run into strong opposition, raising doubts over whether the UK prime minister’s reform to fix the housing crisis will proceed. Johnson sacked Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary responsible for the sweeping planning reform, in September. He was replaced by Michael Gove, who has put the contentious proposals under review”. When we read the words ‘review’ this does mean further delay and, if nothing else, the Chancellor of the Exchequer pleased he has not had to reach into the tax pot to pay as early as he might have otherwise. But I digress…

In short, for a country that makes the rules and creates the boundaries within for its society, it is clear we need sufficient freedoms and opportunities to keep the twin flames of innovation and inspiration alive. Britain has done incredibly well with its recycling regimes, a clear example of rules to which society has concurred. I see no reason why we won’t meet ambitious Carbon targets even if the route to which have yet to be established. Many of us have already changed our behaviours, vehicles and purchasing to support local and home brew, but as educators we have to manage the expectations less by preaching and more by supporting the young whose voice is very much in favour of a ‘change for the better’. And so we do need to find even more time in schools for children to practice the skills of risk-taking and innovation, bearing in mind that most of these areas are actually covered by the ‘nice to do’ subjects such as art, drama, music and sport, because the core academic disciplines have been moved from practical and project-based to knowledge base for which there are ‘correct’ answers to be given.

In opinion terms I hear our new Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi talk about the need for state schools to lengthen their working days to encompass the opportunities to permit those most affected during the pandemic through lost learning to catch-up. What he must be very careful not to do is to extend the working day and ‘fill it with stuff’, because that is less needed than providing a secure school ‘working’ environment in which children can be challenged to try things, fall over, bounce back and have another go. I close with 3 further thoughts from Emerson:

“I like the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching”, a great reminder to us all to architect the environment and atmosphere and step aside…

and “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

What we don’t need are ‘clones’ in our children, but individuals of purpose who understand that “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Amen to that.

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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