Well I suppose it has to happen doesn’t it, all things come to an end? The resigned declaration of ‘misintent’ that greets the start of the Spring term is not uncommon in most households, not in all of course because there are many who look to the start of term in the same way that others look towards Christmas… OK the Year 11s taking GCSE Mocks may beg to differ on that.

Over the past week and certainly during our first assembly back, I mused on this amongst other things with the school community.

The new year and the new beginning it ushers forth allows us to reinvent ourselves. Replete with resolutions and determined to make a change, many of us look ahead with hope. It was just this notion that I settled on for the assembly. What is Hope and in what way is it the same as or different to optimism and wish fulfilment?

Doubtless reader you will see where this is going (well I too live in hope). I thought it a good idea to illustrate my thinking with an example. In a story that is absolutely true but as with so many of my stories probably never happened, I set out the experiences of Pandora and Epimetheus. The latter being the lonely brother of the chap chained to a rock for an act of hybris, Prometheus having stolen fire from the gods and given it to humans. Zeus’ fury abated somewhat and he felt sorry for Epimetheus, so created a friend/companion for him in Pandora. She pitched up with a box and the instruction that it should not be opened under any circumstances. We might begin to intuit where this is going. Temptation was too much for Pandora and she embodied the counsel of the later Oscar Wilde who dealt effectively with temptation by giving in to it.

No sooner had Pandora opened the box than out poured all the evils of the world: plague, famine, war, and so forth until the box was nearly empty. The last item out of the box was Hope. Now a few questions pop up: Why did Zeus give Pandora the box? Why was Hope in a box containing all the evils of the world? Why did Pandora and not Epimetheus open the box? I did invite the school community to consider parallels with Adam and Eve on that question. But skipping over that one, I’m going to deal with the question of Hope here, but do feel free to write in with answers to the others.

One view is that Hope was in the box as a remedy to the ills; a source of consolation in the midst of woes. Another and really challenging view is taken by (amongst others) some French existentialists; Hope is in fact the greatest of all the ills, it is the most dangerous of all the evils in the world. Seems counter intuitive doesn’t it? But think on.

Why did the Greeks or at least tradition pass on a story where, unlike the hero of Greek tragedy, the saving grace is not arriving as ‘deus ex machina’. I would argue that a Hope which resigns the hopeful to passive expectation is the issue here. I do incline to the view that as much as we are authors of our own narrative, we can be hopeful without being passive. I may be reading Camus for my own ends and with my own perspective, but I suspect that we will agree that a passive Hope that exercises itself through inaction is mere wishful fulfilment, day dreaming or closing our eyes and crossing our fingers with the notion that this will affect the outcome.  

As I looked out over a sea of faces in assembly, I remembered Orwell and 1984. Hope lay in the ‘proles’. Over this week I have been interviewing scholars and students keen to join our school. I have been impressed by their passion for making the world a better place, inspired by the Sixth Former who shared her idea for a project which will see us engage with a UN initiative, encouraged by those straining at the bit to go to Ghana and the multifarious organisation of our Wellbeing Week in February.

We have students writing in the Hampshire Times on current issues, students engaged in developing the software for Sparkjar as part of our Digital Learning Strategy with the professionals, Prefects working with local charities and students supporting those who find some of their studies a struggle as well as meeting formally with the school’s Senior Leadership Team to set an agenda for the future.

We have in our school community the idealism that dares to make a difference and an understanding that Dickinson may have had a point. Writing in 1861 she described hope as “the thing with feathers”, an invitation to be freely optimistic. In so far as an active authentic engagement with the world allows us to issue forth in service of an end greater than ourselves, the Hope we speak of liberates us from petty self-interest, disposes us to look beyond our paradigm and with due regard to Dickinson, it is the thing without fetters.

Cliff Canning, Headmaster, Embley (@HeadmasterHCS)

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