of fear and uncertainty
1 Education • Antony Sutch
S article is a warning ▪ to us all and certainly a
• cry against compla
. cency. As educators, v/e can very easily forget that the children in our charge are the sans and daughters of parents. We can too often assume that we know the answers. Some of u.a have been in the educational Vvorld for so long that complacency has set in. . We have seen it all before. We have policies on how to deal with everything. This is the way adolescents behave, or this the sort of thing that always happens: so bullying can be seen as "that is what children do", Non-achievement and lack of drive can be seen as concomitants of growing up because we have always seen it as such. We can hear a mother's concerns as "mothers always having an inflated view of their own children and we know better".
These thoughts came into my mind because 1 received a letter from an American mother who lives in France. Her son is registered for Downside, and she states that that registration takes a load off her Mind: "It makes it easier to gracefully overlook the shortcomings of the French school system." You can imagine that such a comment thrills a headmaster. but it is also a challenge to ensure that her expectations are met. She expresses concerns over the educational system her son is undertaldng at the moment, and brings up a series of points that are worth pondering.
She states in her letter that her son does "brilliantly" but she finds "the general indifference, the lack of any sense of community and communicadon amongst students in the faculty hard to bear". She says that the children in France are working nine hours a day with no encouragement, no inspiration, and she finds that sad.
She goes on to be fearful for the children who are in academic difficulty because they are "simply scorned". She lets me know that there have been several articles in the French newspapers over the last few years dealing with depression and despair among adolescent boys. and linking it to poor performance in school.
She is unsurprised by that, because she says that boys are under an enormous amount of pressure to perform and may feel lost. She then says that "girls are thriving, maturing at a frightening pace, empowered by the energy of the women's movement and are fed by a newfound liberty". This boy/girl divide is one that should be taxing the minds of all of us as educationalists. My correspondent sees the traditional place of boys in society changing, with the structure of the workplace and the family. She then goes on to pose the question: "Who would not feel lost?" She thinks that girls are reaping the benefits of changes in society, but suspects that, in the long run, they too will be forced to undergo a major =evaluation of their place and role in the world. She looks around and sees boys who lack confidence and ambition, and there are parents and teachers who, in the face of this, push "machoism and aggressive behaviour".
She puts herself in the place of her children and wonders what it feels like. The prospect of war, terrorists ready to strike any moment, in any place. and the idea of biological warfare wiping out centuries of medical technology and an entire population. She says: "There is no safe place any more." She muses that in the past there was family structtur, but even that structure is breaking down. She ends by saying: "Big changes are ahead for all us and I am afraid it is going to get worse before getting better."
My letter replying to her was in full of agreement with the sentiments. My reaction was to hope that Downside, and indeed all schools, are places of security, liberal education, inspiration, and concern, and places where responsibility and community are important, where there is encouragement and understanding, and a place for everyone. I hope that the motto that each hair of the head is counted and each of our names is known by God is a motto that echoes through our schools.
Dom Antony Sutch is headmaster o f Downside School