Headmistress’s Blog

21 January 2022

‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’  Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, as many of you may have been aware, was Martin Luther King Day and it was so special looking at the faces of our pupils as many of them, in assembly, heard his resounding voice and that mesmerising and biblically rhythmic call to action, to the world of his dream ‘where my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ My message was not just one of the beauty of his words, but focussed on how difficult it was for so many at the time to hear his views and to the importance, in school, of encouraging difference and diversity of views. There are many subjects out there on which everyone has opinions whether it is gender diversity, politics, the role of the police, vaccinations, the environment, animal rights and the responsibility of leaders to name just a few. I asked how many had changed views over the year, and the importance, in a school based on the values of a liberal education of discussing, debating and sharing opinions. There is, always, of course a limit and the law is very clear on the boundary of hate speech. However, just as youth has always experimented so it is with ideas and the time at school is a period to investigate one’s own opinions and views and develop those in discussion and debate with others.

I discussed the case of Professor Kathleen Stock at Sussex University and the way that books have been banned for numerous reasons over the years. I made it very clear that this is not about my own views or validating different controversial opinions but rather hearing and engaging with them positively. In a school such as Oxford High School it is important to foster the key qualities of a critical mind, to interrogate the sources of information and to assess and evaluate the validity of the source from which that information is derived (whether it is on social media or from friends) in as objective a way as possible. I suggested following different views and voices on and offline and engaging with different ideas, of using curiosity to question and challenge to come to one’s own individual world view. Too often over the past six months in our virtual world we have seen causes rise and then fall within a week never to be raised again despite their importance. It is action that changes the world, not clicking a like on a social media post and I urged our pupils to use their self-efficacy positively to harness the steeds of action, determination and courage in addressing some of the challenges that we face.

To quote Dr King again, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The answer to controversy is not silence, but curiosity and engagement with the conversation. It is vital that we ensure that your daughters are prepared not just to understand those times of challenge and controversy but to engage and question it – and from what I’ve seen when I have talked to our pupils, I can assure you that the future of our world is in very safe hands.

With warmest wishes,

Mrs Gardiner Legge


Tags: Head's Blog

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