I’m always very conscious in my blogs that I will be sharing something that will be new to me but may not be new to you. It can be very difficult to gauge how widespread a particular anecdote or quotation is known, and so please accept this as a blanket apology for any and all of the content that I’ve posted in the past that has been “old hat” and all content that is to come in the future that may be likewise. The only way around this problem is to, frankly, ignore it and simply post things that mean something to me personally. So, without further ado, here’s this month’s offering:
I stumbled across an old piece from “The New Yorker”, dated 2008, which reported on a speech given to university graduates by David Foster Wallace, an American author, essayist and lecturer. I am always keen to read such speeches and was drawn into doing so by reading the wonderful “If this isn’t nice, what is?” series of speeches given to university alumni by Kurt Vonnegut, which I would highly recommend. Anyway, back to David Foster Wallace. He began this particular speech with a parable:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?“
The message here is straightforward enough, and I am convinced that it would chime with the new graduates in attendance that day – who will, and should, see themselves as the “young fish”. It can be very easy for us to be so absorbed in our world to the point where we normalise even the most important features of it out of existence. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt.
Our family of schools is diverse. Including schools with fewer than one hundred children to those with well over a thousand, some in rural settings and others in urban contexts, some church schools and others non-denominational, we try to ensure that our collaborations encourage all those in our schools to look elsewhere for inspiration, and then to look again at their own environment with fresh eyes.
Our Trust values include “a passion for excellence”, “restlessness and curiosity” and “courage to innovate”. None of these values can be lived with any true authenticity if we fail to look beyond our own experience and then view our work sceptically and forensically as a result. It is the learner, not the learned, who will be successful.
Finally, I’ll end with another aquatically-themed message that drew my gaze this month. In his dialogues with leading academics via his “Making Sense” podcasts, neuroscientist Sam Harris spoke with eminent cognitive scientist Anil Seth. Their discussion ventured into the neurology of the sea slug (and I read this stuff for fun!). Apparently, young sea slugs have active brains which they use to transport and guide them to a desirable feeding point on the seabed. When they arrive at their destination, they fix themselves permanently and feed. The first thing that they feed upon is their own brain, as it is no longer required for them once they have “arrived”. Seth quipped that this was analogous to academics when they secure tenure! I’ll leave you to figure out whether this grim but salutary message applies to anyone you’ve ever encountered!
As always, thanks for reading.