Head’s Blog: Depth & Diversity

12 June 2020

Daily life under COVID-19’s lockdown can seem rather flat. 

In a literal sense, movement restrictions bring a sense of sameness to our days, sapping our experiences of vitality.  The reliance on our screens – a surface rather than an inhabited space – gives our interactions a feeling of 2-dimensionality.  Things can even start to seem unreal.

Thoughts of the horror radiating from Minneapolis across the globe in the wake of the death of George Floyd have jolted us out of any sense of comfortable ennui.  Initial reflections on this collide with restless musings on the possible positive as well as negative legacy of this circumscribed episode in our lives to prompt a broader, metaphorical exploration of the question ‘what makes our lives fully 3D?’

Two things spring to mind.  The first, and most obvious, is depth.  We cannot have depths without surfaces but the reverse is not true.   Superficial thinking is at the root of a great deal of unquestioning prejudice, fuelling the market for fake news and conspiracy theories, and turning a blind eye to iniquity.  At a time when expertise is as often suspected as it is prized, the rewards of intellectual curiosity and sceptical enquiry are often underestimated, even belittled.  How refreshing, then, to hear about the detailed studies by our Year 13 students, into topics as wide-ranging as the Amritsar Massacre, Ancient Greek dialects, Metabolism and the Metaphysical Poets.

Shallowness of knowledge and understanding robs us of the rich benefits of true appreciation, such as those gained from the close reading of a text, a deep dive into a research topic or a critical study of an artwork or performance.  The pleasurable chiaroscuro of daily life comes from the consideration of the small points of detail that only emerge when we take notice.  We may allow our eyes to dwell, for example, on an exquisite flower arrangement, such as those produced by OHS girls in the Magazine Committee’s recent competition, or listen intently to the ambient sounds beneath the surface quiet of what we take to be silence, as OHS students in Years 7, 8 and 9 have been doing in their music lessons with Dr Foster, in his ‘The Sound of No School’ Project.  The possibilities are limitless to the curious and open mind.

The second, and equally important, aspect is diversity and an appreciation of difference.  Lack of breadth is as harmful as lack of depth in flattening life’s experience and leeching it of its savour.   Our comfort zone can become a narrow seat and, safely ensconced here, our view is constricted, our opinions likely to become ever narrower – and self-referencing.  Exposure to the boundless variety of knowledge and creativity adds new perspectives to our world view, different voices to our discourse, unexplored literature and culture to our shared canon.  Reading is an exciting vehicle for taking us into new worlds, real and imagined.  Ms Stott’s Empathy Reading Day last Tuesday encouraged us all to enter into the lives and thoughts of others by exercising the ‘empathy muscle.’

Listening is a quiet power tool for doing the same.  The Black Lives Matter movement has challenged us all, and schools in particular, to listen and learn more deeply and broadly than we have done before to the full range of voices and viewpoints within our communities.  On Monday, I shared with the school community, through my weekly Notes from Deirdre’s Column, Michelle Obama’s contribution to the global conversation:

Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of colour to deal with it. It’s up to all of us – Black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.

In these pages, you will read about some of the initial responses we at OHS, as well as the GDST, have made to that challenge, with a promise to give the work the time and attention it deserves to achieve a deep and broad-ranging understanding to inform our plans and to commit ourselves to the sustained action needed to achieve our goals.

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