Thursday 26 February 2015

Becoming An Adult?

Last week someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s a question that stopped me in my tracks because I haven’t been asked that for some time. In the context in which I was asked, it was a clever ‘getting to know you’ question from someone I was meeting for the first time. But it got me thinking about what we mean by being ‘grown up’ - or ‘adult’.

It’s certainly clear that this is something that we all aspire to from our early teenage years onwards. I can remember longing to be old enough to be adult, and enjoy all the things that that meant. But what does it mean, and crucially what does it mean for young people today? And, just as importantly, what doesn’t it mean?

When I was younger I tended to think that being an adult was about self-determination: I thought that, as an adult, I would be able to choose when to get up (whether to get up) in the morning, what to wear, what I wanted to do. I saw independence as the goal, but it was independence of others’ control of me. When others trespassed into areas that I wanted to control I was resentful, whether the trespass was related to my appearance, to the appearance of my room, to my work habits, or my other choices.

But it’s striking that experience of being an adult is not of the independence that teenagers seek. It’s not of being able to work when we want, how we want, or dressing how we want. To a large extent the way we look, and the way we work, and the hours we keep are governed by conventions, by the desires and needs of other people and by our larger longer term aims.

Adulthood is about knowing when to be smart, and when to be scruffy, it’s about when to get up early, and when it’s reasonable, or wise, to stay up late. It’s been about understanding not only our independence, but also our dependence, and the interdependence we experience with those around us. The simple everyday decisions we make reflect the acknowledgements we make about our dependence, and our interdependence as well as our independence.

So here’s the challenge? How do we talk to teenagers about ‘growing up’? How do they think about adulthood: is it about simply doing what they want? Or is it about living responsibly and constructively within the web of dependence, interdependence and independence with wisdom. And how does this also relate to all the other decisions and habits that we acquire which make up the adult person we are, or are becoming? How will our decisions today influence this person we are, or are becoming?

I think that schools need to teach young people that adulthood is living within the reality of those we depend on, those with whom we interact, those who are dependent on us, as well as our independence, and being able to make decisions which are consistent with our longer term plans, and not just our feelings at any one point in time.  A discussion - about what adulthood is, and what it means for each of us, as well as how to get to it - is one that all pupils should be having with their parents, older siblings, teachers, tutors, houseparents, and any other people whose opinion they respect. I have encouraged our pupils to get involved in this dialogue, with each other, and with those they know already in adulthood.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Random Act of Kindness Week - an Assembly Reflection

Just before half term, it was Random Act of Kindness Week. I spoke against it. It's not that I am not in favour of kindness - I think it's the glue that holds a community together. And I am not against the idea of having a week to promote kindness - on the contrary I think it's an excellent idea.

What I spoke against was the idea was that there is something particularly laudable about a random act of kindness. I encouraged our pupils to think of it as routine act of kindness week. What really ought to distinguish a community like a school as a good place to live, and learn, is the total normality of kind treatment from others. Habitual kindness is, it seems to me, a vital skill. For as long as the kindness requires a particular effort, or a particular initiative, it will take an intentional decision to exercise it.

Most of all this seems to be evident in the other end of the spectrum. There is nothing laudable at all about a random act of unkindness, but worst of all would be routine acts of unkindness.

Our manifesto is for habitual kindness, as a routine.