Why it is important to want to be different

It is a tradition at Ascham that in the run-up to Easter the youngest children make hats out of newspaper, decorate them themselves, and then show off their creations to their parents in a ‘Grand Parade’. Teachers enter into the spirit of the occasion and create their own hats, as well as encouraging their charges to stretch their imagination; the result is an explosion of colours, sparkles, wafting pieces of material, and lots of proud creators. This year’s parade was magnificent – a triumph of ingenuity, with much deserved parental applause.

Sometimes a theme emerges in a class, and such was the case in one particular class whose teacher is to be married over the upcoming vacation. Her hat sported a long veil, and white netting fabric adorned the hats of the majority of the pupils in her class, some of whom took it upon themselves to walk in solemn procession behind their teacher as self-appointed flower girls. As they entered the hall, they explained what they had chosen to do, and clearly felt the weight of responsibility on them to ensure that their teacher’s ‘big day’ was a great success. Service in action, clearly.

One girl from the same class, however, was not bedecked with a veil. Her crowning creation was black, striking, and very different. As she passed me, she piped up cheerfully, as an adjunct to the explanations of service and help given by her peers, with the words: “and I’m Darth Vader”.. Indeed, her headgear did bear a remarkable similarity to Darth Vader’s mask; and, yes, she carried this off remarkably well.

And as a host of bridesmaids paraded around the hall, with an encouragingly jolly Darth Vader in their midst, I was struck by how very, very important it is for schools to encourage their children to be different. Team work is essential in life – we will not survive as a human race without it – but of equal importance, sitting in harmony with the need to work together, is also the need to be authentically ourselves. We are all unique and distinctive individuals, and our society most definitely needs too the creativity that comes with exploring and extending this uniqueness and distinctiveness.

Schools have an enormous role to play in balancing and drawing out both teamwork and individuality in the young people they are helping to educate, and the real skill is in enabling this to happen at exactly the moment that is right for each child. Each of Darth Vader’s classmates will have the opportunity to explore her difference at some point; each will have multiple opportunities during her school years to extend her capacity to be able to be more ‘different’ and more ‘same’; and each will learn that we must all value this difference as much as we value this sameness.

When schools get to work, it is a great sight. And we all benefit.


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