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Roland Martin - Issue #50


Roland Martin

April 25 · Issue #50 · View online

Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Never complain; never explain … looking at the Queen Mother’s mantra on the Queen’s birthday, and the School Chaplain’s thoughts on Fake News.

Never explain?
We’d be pretty rotten teachers if we adhered to this one in entirety!
I suppose the rationale when applied to leaders is that you do not have to justify every last detail of a bigger plan. And for the most part, one doesn’t have to. 
But hey, I write a blog most weeks of the school year, and I chose a career where I started off explaining the finer details and nuances of great writers. Yes, I now find myself increasingly out of the classroom, working on strategies to improve the school experience of 900+ young people, hopefully.
Never complain?
It’s an interesting one this. In my line of work, I believe that healthy discourse can be both productive and progressive. It challenges a status quo for status quo’s sake, it allows stakeholders to have a say and be heard. I run a consultative management team. All good things, I think.
Apparently, HM the Queen learned this maxim - ‘Never complain, never explain’ - from her mother, the late Queen Mum. And as the Huffpost writer and blogger Hugh Salmon states, there is a lesson here for all who lead:
If you are in a position of leadership, perhaps you should say less than you do. You do not have to justify your every decision. You should not speak ill of anyone you work with. You need not criticise any of your customers or suppliers. You have no need to impress. Or preach.
Just get on with your job, set yourself the highest professional and personal standards, stand by them for the whole of your life and, while doing so, keep your mouth shut - and, certainly, never speak or write ill of any other person.
Pretty powerful polemic, I think. But I don’t want to explain too much … 
What is important to me as the head of a school is always to try my very best to keep in mind the very best interests of the children in my care. In doing so I, and my colleagues, do invite parents to express concerns; we have open channels of communications and we have a parents’ forum, like most schools, where parents and guardians can bring to our attention their misgivings, anonymously.
There are problems when we do invite criticism, though, as highlighted all too sharply by the emergence of the latest social media rating website at the end of the Easter holiday. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s another one of those invidious, odious inventions online that encourages spite and malice and inappropriate online behaviour. I’m going to avoid naming it here, as that would be to promote it, but it was mentioned in the school newsletters on Friday if parents want to check for children’s usage.
I must admit that I don’t ‘get’ the instagram generation’s need for ‘comments’ and ‘rates’ on their ‘recents’, but then I’m not a fifteen year old girl. Although I don’t understand it, I understand all too well that it is a problem. This problem is made all the worse when online commentators are allowed to ‘troll’, ie. to post anonymously. Which leads me to wonder if we should actually be encouraging parents to submit complaints to the school forum anonymously? Wouldn’t it be a better model to continue to suggest that parents should feel comfortable bringing concerns and complaints to the relevant member of the school community, be it a Head of Department, Head of Year, Head of Boarding, a Deputy or Head of School? Why is there a need to hide behind anonymity?
Maybe there should be further tweaking of a format here, worked through by all parties.
Maybe, too, we should be working harder to discourage our children from feeling the need to parade a perfect ‘Instagrammable’ life on their social media profiles, emulating as they do, the celebrities whose publicists are paid a great deal to manage their image and fake their perfection.
Fake news in assembly
This week, Reverend Prior talked to the senior pupils about fake news.
He began by showing a clip from a 1957 broadcast of Panorama, the investigative BBC programme which aimed to expose truths, but on 1 April, 60 years ago, duped at least some of the nation with its story on the Swiss spaghetti harvest. A famous early example of fake news, one which may seem ridiculous to us now, but seemed reasonable back then, presented on a reputable channel.
He suggested, furthermore, that since, there has been a proliferation of individuals unscrupulously aiming to deceive those of us not trained to spot what’s true and what’s false. He also posited that children are not as savvy in spotting lies as they are at promoting themselves online, as studied by Stanford University, drawing information from 8000 students across the gamut of school and university stages. 
Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite to be true.
Rev Prior quoted a very recently interviewed Tim Berners-Lee: “Fake things, false things tend to propagate more than truth and, in a way, maybe hatred tends to propagate in some cases more than love,” speaking this month to the BBC technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones.
Check your source
Obviously, we will continue to tell the students to check their sources, and throw our hands up if we get it wrong too. 
There was a Christian message behind Rev Prior’s assembly: fake news is a problem in religion just as much as it in other areas of our community life.
Talking about Easter, he dwelt on Thomas, often dubbed Doubting Thomas, but defended his position as a skeptic, suggesting a more kindly epithet for him - ‘Thomas the discerning’. Thomas needed hard, first-hand evidence, and if John 20: 19-20, 24-31 is reliable as an account, he got it. Christian believers today, who weren’t there among the 500 or so who met Jesus after the resurrection choose to believe what they consider to be a reliable testimony from those who sought to find the truth. Followers of other religions make that same decision to believe their prophets and recorders.
His final message was that checking sources, just like Thomas, is as valid today as it has ever been. Thomas, he concluded, found an amazing reality that he could never have realistically hoped for, by not accepting others’ words without some skepticism, but also by not rejecting it without a thorough investigation.
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