“The memories of childhood have no order and no end”. Dylan Thomas
I seem to have spent a lot of time this year searching for hope and light. Looking for a better narrative to tell students that it will get better. To be able to tell my own children that there is a good future ahead. As many of the moral and societal certainties people held onto have now gone in the 2020s, or just become uncertain, even the strongest of characters, with near iron faith and will, are not so sure in their reasoning and arguments. Especially when confronted with the amount of hypocrisies, injustices and sheer nihilistic brutality that we have all seen around the globe and closer to home. On the plane back to Moldova in early December to finish the semester and 2022 in the schools, I kept looking from the plane windows at the winter sunlight over Europe for inspiration and to put perspective on these weeks and months.
It was whilst I was attending the reception for the Kazakhstan ambassador to Moldova in early November, that my sister messaged me to tell me my father had just moments left to live from his hospice bed in Shropshire, less than one year since my mother died. I cannot even begin to describe the avalanche of grief and emotions that went through me. All the time, smiling, chatting, being basically too British in the moment knowing I couldn’t do a thing. The drive home through the dark, cold empty streets of Chisinau seemed appropriate for the mood and moment. I wanted, I hoped, my father, a fighter for social justice, his community and family all his life, would be raging against the dying of the light. But his fight had ebbed away in 2022.
From start to finish, the year 2022 has been a mixture of emotions from despondency and fear to elation and joy. From both a professional and personal perspective, there are so many lessons to have time to learn, understand and reflect upon. Even from my colleague’s car on that drive back to my Chisinau apartment, still processing the news that my father was gone, I was thinking of John Dewey’s words about experience is meaningless without reflection.
With a funeral date set for early December, I was able to use the time in Moldova to watch a society confront the next challenge with the energy crisis from the war with Ukraine and the senseless Russian missile strikes in a senseless war on civilian infrastructure and the subsequent power outages. It was scary, always with the 2022 permanent question of “what is next?” but people got on and coped. I stand at the front of the school to watch the main gate, as any good school leader should, every morning and every evening. Those moments of greeting families, children and staff coming into school, into their certainty, are worth more moments of light than anyone who has not experienced it can ever imagine.
There was definitely light in the incredible way the international community are continuing to support Moldova and at the Latvian ambassador’s reception a week later, the power of a global community and the sense that Moldova is not on her own, pervaded. Despite everything and a still uncertain cold winter ahead for Moldova, it is clear the country is not on its own. The president, Maia Sandu, is representative of a whole new generation of female leaders in eastern Europe and around the world, who are bringing light to tired politics and challenging the status quo. One of the reasons the Financial Times has nominated Sandu for “Woman of the Year”.
Maybe there are new certainties emerging and we need to see them more. Scaring the white old males in the process. It is a fantastic moment to see the direction the future will take more and more. Watch Jacinda Arden and Sanna Marin treat the fatuous question from the journalist who suggested that they were only meeting as leaders because they are women and the same age. You will see both light and hope in their withering responses, with just the right amount of justifiable contempt.
In school, the Heritage students seem to have found a few new gears and there is pure light in their student agency as they engage other schools in debating competitions, supporting the international charity bazaar in Chisinau, to have a food drive for the more vulnerable in society showing their values of social justice and responsibility. Heritage is on the ISC Awards shortlist for “Sustainability” and this is a fantastic honour to the incredible work of our school here. These last few weeks are now about making moments to end the long semester. And yes, the emphasis in our schools will be on joy and engagement for all the students (and staff and families) rather than a strange masochists’ approach of gradgrind learning to the last minutes of the term.
The student leadership is a lasting legacy for these young people and the Founders of our school really are planting metaphorical trees of whose shade they will not sit under. We celebrated a wonderful Thanksgiving and for the first time since we started this tradition, no one asked why an international school with so many US students would be celebrating an event like Thanksgiving. Personally, it is one of my favourite of all the events we have in the international calendar.
I have been speaking and working with colleagues throughout these past weeks, school leaders in COBIS, the British Council, Global School Alliance and in the wonderful Varkey/TTF203/UNESCO group whose energy and agency have given so many school leaders fresh perspective and light this year. When the power went off for the whole of Moldova on a cold, wet Wednesday in November, as I looked down a dark Dacia Boulevard, I thought of David Cole and his BISU community, continuing lessons online, in the shelters, without electricity but not without the light of hope in the darkness. This is where we get our renewal, inspiration and fight.
The old, ill dictators, clinging onto old and sick ideas, on the wrong side of history, with a mangled view of history, know that their moment has long gone. Unfortunately, they won’t just shuffle off quietly and we know there will be more pain and destruction in 2023. But the future and hope is there by looking at the incredible bravery of the people of Ukraine this year or the women and girls of Iran. Both honoured by Time Magazine as people and heroes of 2022. I cannot wait to use this in my last assembly for Gymnasium and Lyceum to close semester one. Watching Brittany Griner return home to her wife and family for Christmas is also a wonderful moment of light at the end of 2022.
The feeling of deja vu accompanied me on my flight back across Europe until I saw the coast of England with brilliant sunlight coming through the clouds. My wife Gen had a much needed operation with NHS doctors and nurses who are still the envy of the World, but for how much longer as their profession is blithely told that taking a pay cut will “help defeat Putin”.
UK schools are choosing between heating and salaries this winter with even moderate education trade unions now considering strike action over pay and poor conditions. For once, the damage of the politicisation of education in England over a decade with a perverse neo-liberal experiment is not the centre stage of the debate over the future of schools. The news released of around 40% of new teacher recruitment for this year being missed in the UK illustrated the catastrophe awaiting the education sector as more teachers and school leaders leave our noble profession. I fear there is not much light here for 2023. I hope I am wrong but when a recent TES interview with schools Minister Nick Gibb, had the veteran minister more or less blame all educational problems on “progressives” I won’t hold my breath. I wrote about the teacher who influenced me most, Les Jones, a brilliant progressive educator, for the International Schools Network, hoping my children are fortunate enough to meet good teachers on their educational paths:
For the first time in nearly 4 years, I have managed to be involved again with that crucial symbol of light at Yuletide with the Christmas tree, the lights, the ornaments and to be immersed in the joys of my own children excited as the year comes to a close. Even the cold and dark can be ignored, especially the cold as everyone in the UK seems to continue to be bewildered at some truly self destructive policy decisions over the last 12 years that have ripped apart the social fabric of the UK in one of the worst acts of modern hubris. I have taken to switching off facile news reporting on food banks or warm centres when there is no link to the reasons why we have them in terms of policy decisions. Like the Truman show, where this will end is anyone’s guess. Someone once wrote that leaders seem very secure in power until the last moment.
I have nothing I regret about my relationship with my father. The time we had and the lessons and love he gave. Reading the words of so many people who described him as kind, decent, genuine and a good man, is a tribute any of us would gladly take at the close of play. My younger brother told us that when he came out and was scared of how this would be received, my father simply walked up to him as he sobbed in the garden, put his arm around him and told him he loved him because he was his son. My wife Gen and I wanted to get his ordinary but not so ordinary story shared and not just to have a focus on a personal relationship he had with all his children and grandchildren. The light in this darkness of the past few weeks has been his story in local papers, the interviews I gave on BBC Radio Shropshire and the piece in The Guardian’s “Other lives”. If there is a greater light beyond this world then I know he will be there with those he loved. And if there isn’t, the time and the life he led whilst he was alive for 82 years, was a very decent one with a powerful legacy being carried on by those who knew him. My daughters were very fortunate to have such a grandfather and grandmother. I was very fortunate to have such a father and mother.
Link here: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/dec/02/jim-ford-obituary
Again, in December, this Shropshire Lad headed back to that old Marcher county of Salop, making the return from Moldova to Madeley, to say a final goodbye to my dad. I have wrestled all my life with the uprooting I experienced by leaving Madeley and Shropshire at 18, to go to university and follow a pathway no one in my family had experienced or could guide me on. Home is not just a place, this much I know. I stood in my parents house, my family home, and watched the hearse arrive to carry my dad on his final journey from his home, to the church he was married to my mum in. I realised what the words of Dylan Thomas’s quote at the start of this blog means to me. Childhood memories have no order or end. We are left with the value of precious time and our memories. My prayer is that children have precious memories and moments of these times, full of hope and light.
As I stood in front of my father in the front garden of my family home for the last time, I was filled with good childhood memories. A time of light. As the undertaker, top hatted, solemnly walked in front of the hearse, carrying my father down the road he had walked for so many years, from the pit or with his paper or after he had had a pint and watched the football in the club or played cricket and football with local lads, friends of mine and my brothers, another Shropshire lad, poet AE Houseman, came to my mind;
“Into my heart an air that kills From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highway where I went And cannot come again.” Poem XL - A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad
1 thought on “Light is stronger than darkness, even in darkness”
Thank you, Rob Ford, for this inspiring text, and the references to those poems. And thank you,too, for being the teacher to my daughter Rosie, that every child deserves to have in life. Best wishes with your endeavours; perhaps there is yet hope for the future of our reeling planet. Condolences for the loss of your parents, small comfort, as I know full well. Bob Hair.
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