Life; it goes on

In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life; it goes on” Robert Frost 

I’ve decided not to go all out with New Year’s resolutions for 2023.  If the 2020s has taught us anything so far, it is the sheer unpredictability of our global society and almost the fear of it cannot get any worse as well as the fear of what comes next. 

I have certainly had a lot of time to reflect over the past year, and the decade so far and like any good student of life, I have tried to see some patterns, some rhymes and reasons, as well as hope.  Always looking for a more hopeful future.  

This short decade has thrown so much at everyone, uncertainties, destruction and destabilisation, that there seems to be a weariness vacillating between acceptance of this permanent turbulence, these “normalised” existential threats, and simply to try and get on with life as best as possible.  

Before my father died in November, my wife and I sat with him for the last time, not knowing it was the last time, drinking a good malt whisky together, and he pointed at my children, his grandchildren, as we were speaking about the state of public services, the cost of living, and he exclaimed “what is going to happen to them?”. A question every parent carries about their children and everyone in education carries about their students. Especially in these turbulent years. 

The one year anniversary of the war in Ukraine is next month and it gets harder and harder to make sense of the nihilistic decision to go to war on a neighbour by Russia last February. A senseless war.  One of the most destructive and pointless wars in history for the vanity of an old dying man removed from the reality of the real world as most see it. The courage of the people of Ukraine, the countless stories of hope, resistance, defiance and strength that comes out of this war can only be a good thing.  The unity of peoples, societies and countries, whose shared values and growing unity in the face of this dark moment of our decade, has given us all hope.  

As someone who saw eastern Europe long ago as something a lot more than a poor relation of its western brethren, it has been extraordinary to see these countries move away from their past and embrace a future where they have a stronger voice and are leading the way in making sure there is resistance and support for Ukraine against tyranny, often shaming their western counterparts where such values are meant to be an intrinsic part of their collective culture.  

It is a real coming of age moment for eastern Europe and especially for Moldova. This goes beyond the EU candidacy status and the wise leadership of its president.  I have seen in four years of close ties living and working in Moldova the small country with the big heart, despite all the known issues around stages of development, corruption, soviet mind sets, step into a brighter future for its peoples. Especially its young people.  

As we go into 2023, this irreversible momentum and hope only gets stronger. The support and wise leadership of Joe Biden, a Harry Truman in the making, as well as the Herculean work of Europe, Europe at its best. All realising that its values are not a warped Kremlin cliche of revulsion and hate, are supplying everything from generators to winter boots and now it seems to tanks and sophisticated and much needed air defence systems.  

The voices who claim that Ukraine needs to stop fighting and talk to Russia are silenced when confronted with the horrors and barbarism of this war with so many awful, inhumane stories coming from liberated Ukrainian territory. The unilateral call for a truce for Orthodox Christmas was met with the incredulity it deserved as Biden pointed out, when nurseries, hospitals and schools were bombed on Christmas day and New Year’s Eve.  President Macron spoke for so many around the world and in Ukraine this January when he called for ultimate victory and peace.  This is what we need in Europe desperately. 

Not just in Europe.  The damage to the international rule of law, international institutions and global collaboration this decade has often seemed irrevocable. Too many conflicts, famines and repression exist in the World. Anyone who believes in our interdependent global society and a common international framework will work to ensure that countries stay focussed on climate change, inequalities of wealth, gender, sexuality, power, for more social justice in the world and for conflict resolution.  That would be a good thing to emerge in the 2020s as a narrative going into the 2030s.   

This is what my father meant looking at his grandchildren.  A man who thought it was natural that we support and help one another in our communities. A man born in global conflict but benefited from a cradle to grave approach to welfare provision for all. These values are not about “cost” they are about policy decisions based on moral outlook.  I am still trying to find the evidence and link when the UK government uses the war in Ukraine to justify appalling policy decisions that have made the UK struggle through a winter with a health, cost of living, transport and education crisis.  A government who thinks small boats in the Channel bringing refugees or destroying trade union rights with threats of sacking nurses or teachers who strike are part of the top 5 priorities for the British people. I am at a loss for words trying to find the right words here.   

At the start of January, as I walked my daughter to school and saw her siblings off on the bus to secondary school, a letter from the latter came home announcing that the Headteacher who started in September, the one who stands on the gate each day to greet the students, the one my children said was really nice, is resigning because of ill health.  Because of her mental health.  I want to weep just thinking about the loss of this person to her school, to her profession, to education. I know what I had to deal with at my last school and I have every sympathy here.  But at what point will this government put education at the centre of its strategy for the UK and not in some nonsense gimmick about math to 18? Tells all you need to know about education in England right now.  

We sat with my old teacher and dear family member in mid Wales at the start of January, to celebrate his 90th birthday. Still living very independently and thinking very independently. A rich life from a childhood in the 1930s in poverty in the Welsh coalfields but who benefited from a society’s commitment to social mobility in the 1960s that allowed a Welsh miner’s son to get to Magdalen College to read PPE. And now in a long retirement, surrounded by family and friends to celebrate a tenth decade. But with the fears of a broken health service and a society where foodbanks are the norm.  We are all fed up with the BBC calling them “food pantries”.  We did speak to friends from all over the world as they wished Les “happy birthday”, including from Siberia and Russians who want a better future and a future that shares the global values we first met on nearly 20 years ago.  This made me so hopeful of a future when countries, all countries, work and collaborate together again.  

Life really does go on and there is the hope. I saw in Moldova, in Heritage, in the faces of my students at their Winter Ball, at their primary play, in their talent show. I saw it in the faces of my brilliant colleagues who have been through the mill more than once worried about their own families and what the immediate future might look like.  I saw it in the faces of my school community, happy and grateful to see the normality of school and how we have to work together to ensure hope, certainty and continuity going forward into another year.  We celebrated the remarkable 5th anniversary of Heritage as an international education project and the incredible changes and mark it has made on Moldova and the global education world.  

Life goes on in our families as we mark the moments at the end of the year and the start of the year.  I did this with mine and loved the simplicity, togetherness and appreciation of what we are and what we have.  We need to hold onto this always, especially in this decade. I am looking forward to getting the new semester underway at Heritage for 2023, with lots of hope and the belief that life goes on because we make it have purpose and we know the values we stand for. The world we want to make for our children and for them to live in is not the one of the tyrant, the charlatan, the fraudster or the corrupted. We need to continue to make sure that 2023 continues the challenge of 2022 to this narrative that people are literally dying to defend from Peru to Palestine to Iran to Syria to Ukraine to Afghanistan. Life, decent life, it goes on. That is the message we tell our children for a new year.  

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