Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 20 October 2023
Michaelmas isn’t known for its idle moments, but I recently took advantage of one such moment to catch up with the new Beckham documentary on Netflix. Don’t judge me, but I’m happy to admit that I really enjoyed it. Not because I particularly care about Manchester United or Brylcreem, but because it effectively evoked the social, cultural and sporting scene of the 1990s. These were formative years for many of us, and it was enjoyable to luxuriate in some nostalgia at a time when we have plenty of other things to worry about in the present real world. The first episode, titled ‘The Kick’, actually had lots of kicks – well, two kicks in particular. The first was the 60-plus-yard shot that the 21-year-old Beckham took from the half-way line to score one of football’s greatest goals, in August 1996. The second was the kick that caused Beckham’s temporary but dramatic fall from grace, when he lashed out at Diego Simeone during the 1998 World Cup, earning himself a red card in the process. Especially notable in the talking heads’ discussions about these events was the fact that, for the first kick at least, the news was not instant. Rumours circulated that a wonder-goal had been scored but most people had to wait until ‘Match of the Day’ that evening to see it. Today, of course, it would be on Twitter (I refuse to call it ‘X’) or the equivalent within seconds, viewed hundreds of thousands of times within minutes.
The way we consume such information, popular culture, news – everything – has clearly changed significantly since those days of the late 1990s. In a streaming culture where everything is instant, we don’t need patience to get our gratification. There have been some honourable exceptions to this – releasing ‘Succession’ one episode per week, for example, seemed positively antediluvian, but it reminded us of the suspense and enjoyment of ‘event’ television when somebody else slowly controlled the flow of content. There are, of course, many positives to the (theoretical) democratization of information, the transparency that can potentially come from taking away the flow of news, information and entertainment from the privileged few. At the same time, though, we can easily enter a world of cacophony, of disinformation, of sometimes too much information and communication and not enough patience, digestion and perspective.
While this can be difficult for an adult to cope with, we can only imagine how bewildering and confusing this must feel sometimes for children. In an ideal world, I’d go back to the days of the 1990s (would I?) when all of this seemed much more manageable. But, considering that time travel isn’t an option, we need clear strategies in place to help make information and news digestible and manageable. When we have our news round-up assemblies, I carefully curate the news stories that the boys can hear, understand and process in an appropriate way. As they get older, we give the boys and their parents advice on how to deal with the curse of the smartphone – getting the settings right to minimise the pings and to ensure that, while we can be connected to the rest of the world 24/7, most of us really don’t want to be, don’t need to be, and shouldn’t be. That is, we are fighting the WhatsAppification of modern culture (don’t get me started). We are, of course, dealing with media and phone companies that know exactly how to get us addicted to the ‘likes’ and whatnot, but it is a fight worth pursuing. So many things are tied up in this process: how we work through thickets of disinformation that are often designed to destabilise our democracies; how we navigate healthy relationships with devices which can be a powerful force for good, but also a potential source of tension, hatred, and division. It will be a long battle, but it’s one that none of us should give up on.
Have a great half term break. I look forward to seeing you back at the gate after what I hope is an enjoyable week of rest (if you can; I appreciate that many of you can’t) and catching up with your friends and family.
Please find attached to the newsletter Parentmail the brochures for Hilary’s Enrichment Activities.
From Brett Morrison and the Charity Committee: A huge thank you to pupils, parents and wider families for their generous support across charity week. It has been amazing to see the impressive array of sweet treats, engagement with various competitions, and joy this week has brought. To those of you who baked, shopped, supported, reminded pupils of hygiene requirements, cycled precariously with carefully decorated delights, and indeed were left with messy worktops: thank you, I'm mindful of just how much time these tasks can take in an already busy week. Earlier today we sold out of every item so generously donated and we are delighted to have raised almost £1000 for Core Arts. The pupils were passionate about supporting such a worthy charity. The Teachers vs Year 8 dodgeball match was won by the teachers, two games to one. Jai was the star of the pupil team and Izzy Rose the teachers’ MVP. The standard of cakes and the creativity shown was phenomenal this term. The catering team had difficult decisions to make and have awarded the following prizes in our little competition: