The Leaky Boat

While I agree (sort of 😉) with Nick Cave, that “now is the time to be cautious with our words” when considering the cultural and societal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard not to consider the possibilities given how different everything seems. Not least when you step outside into quieter, calmer streets; greeted by the sounds of nature literally calling out a song of reclamation.

David Byrne, on the site ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ has been considering the potential for change after taking a “long bike ride”…

“I ask myself, is there something we can learn from this, something that will prepare us to better weather the next crisis, some different way of being that might make us stronger? Is this an opportunity to change our thinking, our behavior? How can we even do that? Are we capable of doing that?”

Such existential ruminations may seem trivial as we try to come to terms with our new existence amidst this global crisis. But, it is hard not to dwell on such notions when you are isolated, alone with your thoughts; faced with a daily increasing count of the people who have died; and no end in sight.

That said, there is hope and reason to be cheerful. People are coming together in solidarity, as Byrne notes…

“It’s ironic that as the pandemic forces us into our separate corners, it’s also showing us how intricately we are all connected. It’s revealing the many ways that our lives intersect almost without our noticing. And it’s showing us just how tenuous our existence becomes when we try to abandon those connections and distance from one another. Health care, housing, race, inequality, the climate — we’re all in the same leaky boat….”

“In emergencies, citizens can suddenly cooperate and collaborate. Change can happen. We’re going to need to work together as the effects of climate change ramp up. In order for capitalism to survive in any form, we will have to be a little more socialist. Here is an opportunity for us to see things differently — to see that we really are all connected — and adjust our behavior accordingly.”

The response to the pandemic in the UK has given me hope. A government that favours privatisation and decentralisation has been forced to unite the country and recognise that the well-fare state is a very, very “leaky boat”. Over, half a million people signed up to help the NHS when the call was put out. That is not the voice of a people who still believe in Thatcherism or the false ideals of Brexit. On the contrary, it is the chorus of a nation who recognise that our socialist values and institutions sit at the very heart of our society. And, in a time of crisis, they rely on our interdependence. After all, it is doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, police officers and bus drivers (to name a few) who will get us through this crisis.

Byrne closes his article by asking the vital question:

“Are we willing to do this? Is this moment an opportunity to see how truly interdependent we all are? To live in a world that is different and better than the one we live in now? We might be too far down the road to test every asymptomatic person, but a change in our mindsets, in how we view our neighbors, could lay the groundwork for the collective action we’ll need to deal with other global crises. The time to see how connected we all are is now.”

It remains to be seen if there will be lasting change but the selflessness of the British people over the past week has restored my faith in humanity and filled me with optimism for the future. I’ve seen the altruism and solidarity first hand in the actions of my colleagues. They have been nothing short of miraculous, keeping school open for a small number of children whose parents are key workers; emailing out hundreds of voucher codes for pupils on free school meals; and making calls (on the phone and in person) to check-in on our most vulnerable pupils and families.

To say I am proud is an understatement.

We must open our eyes and see!

As I walked to work1 along the sea front this morning, with the sun shining down, I could not help but think of this passage from Nick Cave on the beauty that we too often miss…

“If there is sadness in Ghosteen, perhaps it is the recognition that we are often blind to the splendour of the world and indifferent to its attendant wonder. Perhaps the sadness is the recognition that the world is indeed beautiful, that it spins within the palm of our own hands and its beauty is available to all, if only we had eyes to see.”

~ Cave, Nick, The Red Hand Files2 (2019)

If anything good comes out of the Covid-19 pandemic, I hope it is this. I hope that we emerge with a renewed appreciation for each other and the world around us. Society has been consumed for too long by capitalist and commercial ideologies – resulting in a moral decline – that has contributed to the creation of an inequitable, fractured society and a broken planet.

We must not allow ourselves to be blind to the beauty of the world any longer. We must open our eyes and see!


  1. I’m Vice Principal of a Secondary School, and we were opening for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.  ↩
  2. The Red Hand Files started in September 2018. Nick Cave responds to questions from fans. The results are deeply intimate and thought provoking.  ↩

I’m standing “on the side of the egg”!

2020 seems to have begun where 2019 left off; already charged with sorrow, anger and uncertainty. Leaders, systems and structures are failing us, we must therefore rely on each other…

“If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals . . . We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us — create who we are. It is we who created the system.”

~ Murakami, Haruki, Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2009

21st Century Literacy: Two Words

There are no films, TV programmes, advertisements, books, paintings or radio shows. Nor do we watch, observe, gaze, inspect, listen or study. There are only ‘texts’ which we ‘read’.

Sometimes the language we use in the classroom is peripheral, complicating meaning and/or understanding. After all, words such as ‘film’ and ‘advert’ are only generic terms, used to classify texts, in our dumbed down world, where we clamour to have everything fitted neatly into little boxes. Words such as ‘watch’ and ‘gaze’ do nothing more than describe states of being.

None of these terms are helpful in preparing young people to be literate in the 21st century. The values placed on texts such as ‘films’ and ‘TV programmes’, when combined with words such as ‘watch’ or ‘listen’, are predominantly negative. The implication being: ‘no reading is required’. However, any student of Media Studies, Communication Studies or Linguistics will tell you that, this is not true.

Moreover, children are being born into, and are growing up in a “media-saturated society” (Strinati, 1992) where the boundaries between high and low culture have been eroded almost entirely. This is a dangerous world in which young people are growing up. That is, if we don’t begin to treat supposed ‘lowbrow’ texts with the same critical reverence as we have paid to fine works of art, classical music and plays.

It is my contention, that we can take steps towards achieving this, by redefining (and using) just two words. Those words are ‘text’ and ‘reading’.

With my semiotic hat on, I would suggest:

  • Text: Any work containing one or more sign.
  • Reading: To decode the meaning within a text through the understanding of signs.

If we reduce our classroom language to these two terms and help our students to appreciate the above definitions then we can change the way they look at the world; opening their eyes to the depth of meaning that can be found within a Shakespeare play and Call of Duty. Moreover, we can remove hierarchal precepts and establish a level of equality, in which both (highbrow and lowbrow) texts are read (critically) not watched or played.