Archive for November, 2016

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

18 Nov

‘Feminist’ can be perceived as a bit of an ugly word. Associated with protests and man haters, it has earnt itself an unjustly harsh reputation and is now often used as a rather derogatory term against women who, in some cases, merely express an opinion on the issues of rights or gender equality. A misunderstanding of the word has caused a fear of those who would identify themselves as feminists, conjuring up stereotypical images of angry women with hairy legs or prompting others to make snap judgements and incorrect assumptions about their sexuality. Hairy legs and sexuality are just two of a long list of completely irrelevant connections to the word, so why are they there?

 

germaine-greerGermaine Greer “We are not feminists because we hate men, we are feminists because we love and respect men and we don’t understand why they don’t always return that respect” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon typing ‘feminist’ into a google search, I was immediately bombarded with images of the above as well as numerous pictures of female protesters in various different stages of undress. Is this really how the world views feminism? Dismayed and irritated, I confronted my sixth formers and upper fifths with the issue and was greatly relieved to find that this is not how they viewed things. Many said that they associate the word as positive but several girls highlighted the fact that many people often interpret it incorrectly. For those still unsure, feminism is simply the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. In other words, men and women are equal and should be treated as such. So despite the negativity of the internet that I had experienced earlier, if my 17 year old students have a more positive outlook on feminism, then perhaps there is hope yet.

 

Another common misconception is that feminists are all women. Perhaps because of the obvious link to the word ‘female’ and the fact that the most famous feminists, such as Germaine Greer, have been women.

 

prince-harry daniel-ratcliffe benedict

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

emma-watsonBut, in her speech to the UN, Emma Watson spoke openly about the gender inequalities faced also by men. She said, “we don’t often hear about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes”, but those challenges are there for men, unable to express their true self, just as much as they are for women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My musings on feminism over the last few months have stemmed predominantly from the furious political battle, raging on the other side of the Atlantic. Thousands of American citizens have voiced their opinions about both candidates for a multitude of reasons and one of the most dominant arguments to span both the Democratic and Republican voters include the issues of Gender and Sex.

 

Since the results of the US presidency were announced last Wednesday, we have seen a torrent of social media posts about the concerns that many US citizens have about women’s rights. Many would argue that the USA have elected a chauvinist (amongst other rather unflattering adjectives), which could be significantly detrimental to the progress for global women’s rights that have already been made. However, I want to put more of a positive spin on the US election and highlight some of the details that the media has conveniently forgotten to mention.

 

 

hilary-clintonLast week Hillary Clinton lost the US election for Presidency. This is a fact and in my opinion, a great shame, although as President Obama wisely identified over the weekend, “no one ever said democracy would be easy”. But I don’t want to focus on her loss. I want to focus on her incredible achievement. Women have put themselves forward for Party Nomination since the 19th Century, when Elizabeth Woodhull attempted to represent the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Since the early 1900’s there have been only 10 separate females who have actually been General Election Candidates, Clinton being one of them. But Clinton,  is the only woman to have ever won the presidential nomination of a major party, in her case, the Democratic Party.

 

Regardless of her overall defeat in the 2016 election, Clinton continues to chip away at that thick ‘glass ceiling’, showing women across the world that they can make a difference. Fifty years ago, men and women alike would have scoffed at the idea of a female president. But as Clinton points out, if we don’t try we will never know. As women, we should never be afraid to fail. A failure is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to learn from. We should however, be very afraid to never try. One of the most surprising statistics to come out of the election was the number of women who voted for Trump because they did not believe that a woman’s place is in the White House. It is therefore not just criticism from men that women must overcome, but criticism from ourselves.

 

In striving for progress rather than perfection, Hillary Clinton has paved the way for the next generation of women to move up the ranks to positions of seniority, not necessarily for presidential election but for life in general. For that next promotion at work, or election to member of parliament, if we don’t try we will never know. Emma Watson argued that “It is time that we all see Gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are.” Celebrating and supporting each other, regardless of religion, gender, sexuality or race is the only way that we will ever reach our true potential.

 

Back in September we took the girls in 6:1 to Cambridge for the day to hear from a number of speakers and take part in various workshops. Our headline speaker was Hayley Barnard who spoke of the importance of using failures as learning points to move forward. She also gave the great advice of “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”. This links well with the idea of ‘if you don’t try you will never know’.

 

The message that I want my students in school to take from this is that as women, we are often the under-dog. This does not mean that we should shy away from challenge and allow our male counterparts to assume roles of responsibility over us. It also does not mean that we should see ourselves as in direct competition with men, fighting for the right to call ourselves the best. It means that we should face those challenges head on, supporting those around us, regardless of gender. Now is your time to take to the global stage and continue the journey of great women who came before you. Whether your strength is academics, sports, the arts, etc…. your time has come to make your mark. Do not dwell on the failures, but learn from them and move forward. Pick yourself up when you fall and adjust to face the next challenge more effectively.

 

So remember in those moments of self-doubt, that we all experience from time to time, ask yourself, just as Emma Watson did,

 

“If not me, who? If not now, when?” (Emma Watson, 2015).

 

Miss Rebecca Kneen, Deputy Director Sixth Form

The science of education

4 Nov

img_0794lrIn 2009, after a year’s work, the Science Council agreed the definition that

“Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural

and social world following a systematic methodology

based on evidence.”

 

 

 

Whether or not you agree wholeheartedly with this wording, the scientific methodology is both beautiful and practical: objective observation and measurement, evidence, formulation of a hypothesis, experimentation or observation, conclusion drawn from facts or examples, critical analysis and finally verification and critical scrutiny.  If we are entering a “post-truth” world, our students need to be armed with all the tools they need to separate fact from fiction.  Science is by no means the only subject in which Northampton High School girls are trained to do this, but the scientific method provides a concrete framework around which to build those crucial thinking skills.

 

image_previewInterestingly, the Science Council’s definition includes the “social world”.  Schools are certainly a social world; so should scientific research methods be applied to education?  The University of Cambridge think that not only is there is a place for Science in education but also for Neuroscience and in 2005 opened the Centre for Neuroscience in Education.

 

 

 

In addition, the Centre for Educational Neuroscience was established by University College London, Birkbeck University and the Institute of Education as a research centre with the aim of combining the expertise of researchers in child development, neuroscience, and education at the three world leading universities. The website states


cropped-cen_logo_trans_wide“Education is about enhancing learning, and neuroscience is about understanding the mental processes involved in learning. This common ground suggests a future in which educational practice can be transformed by science, just as medical practice was transformed by science about a century ago.”

 

But how is the gap between university-based academic research and the day-to-day craft of teaching bridged?  “We need better systems for disseminating the findings of research to teachers on the ground,” was Dr Ben Goldacre’s response when asked by the Department for Education how to improve the use of evidence in schools.  A variety of bodies have taken up this challenge including the GDST who have set up a Research Learning Community project to give teachers the opportunity to become research engaged and establish effective evidence-informed interventions that can be employed to improve girls’ confidence.

 

The teacher in me and the scientist in me are thrilled by the potential huge benefits to the staff and students of Northampton High School and beyond.

 

Mrs Rachel Fenn, Subject Leader Chemistry

 

http://sciencecouncil.org/about-us/our-definition-of-science/?gclid=CKarw8T4hdACFasy0wodhp0Pcw

https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2016/sep/19/the-idea-post-truth-society-elitist-obnoxious

http://www.educationalneuroscience.org.uk/?page_id=169

http://www.badscience.net/2013/03/heres-my-paper-on-evidence-and-teaching-for-the-education-minister/

Entertainment or exploitation – what should we make of modern Halloween?

1 Nov

halloween

 

 

p1250224The latest of Mr Attwood’s now-legendary Pumpkin Assemblies on 3 October heralded the start of preparations for Halloween while the switch back to Greenwich Mean Time last weekend has created the early dusks which best suit Halloween rituals.

 

 

The popularity of Halloween as a festival in the UK has increased exponentially since the start of the millennium, largely as a result of growing American influences on our popular culture. For several reasons, however, Halloween has as many detractors as enthusiasts.  Some deplore the apparently unquestioning adoption of a transatlantic festival as just another example of the British susceptibility to American cultural borrowings.  Others decry the flagrant commercialism of an event which provides opportunistic retailers with a chance to cash in during the traditional shopping lull between the summer holidays and the pre-Christmas spending spree (beginning now, of course, on ‘Black Friday’).  Some practising Christians condemn Halloween as a form of dabbling with the occult and some psychologists have argued that it is too frightening for young children and causes them psychological damage.

 

While noticing the retailing frenzy building up and watching the ping-pong of opinion play out in the news media (as I write, for example, the newspapers carry headlines about the latest attacks in the clown craze), I ask myself ‘what might the educational value of Halloween be?’

 

Looking again at the four lines of attack, a counterpoint for each is ready to hand.  While we may feel uneasy at the speed with which fashions in popular culture change, especially when they do so through imports, we may remind ourselves that one generation’s import becomes the next generation’s tradition.  Just think of the Christmas tree, for example. Halloween has overtaken Guy Fawkes’ Night in popularity in the UK, which – by upstaging a festival with its roots in anti-Catholic xenophobia – may have its positive side in today’s multi-faith society.

 

pumpkinsTrue, Halloween is a bonanza for sales of the tacky and the synthetic, with UK spending on its paraphernalia increasing about 30-fold since 2001.  On the plus side, however, it brings with it opportunities, increasingly rare in our time-poor lives, for families to share a crafting session together as they construct jack o’lanterns and for children to go and play outside after dark – and even to meet the neighbours.

 

While some extreme excursions in Halloween mayhem undoubtedly tap into dangerous undercurrents of occultism, the festival itself has its roots firmly planted in mainstream Christianity – in the vigil on the evening (or ‘even’) before All Hallows or All Saints Day, which marked the beginning of a two-day period dedicated to remembering the dead.

 

And this dimension of Halloween may be the most valuable to us, beyond the mere pleasure of the party. As Atul Gawande has so persuasively argued in his recent book ‘Being Mortal’, we live in an age when dying and death have become taboo subjects, banished from sight in a sanitised world.  Might it be that Halloween provides a unique shared cultural forum in which fears and feelings about death can be safely explored?

 

The recent backlash against Sainsbury’s ‘Dark Side’ promotion of axeman costumes for three year olds reminds us that for retailers, as for writers and film directors, there is a fine line between entertainment and exploitation in the world of ghosts and ghouls, and the potential for things to be taken too far is ever-present.  However, provided the tall tales and antics, the imagery and the influences at work remain true to the feast’s time-honoured traditions, the customs of Halloween can provide the kind of serious fun, with a message and a meaning, that we associate with the best lessons.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

 

Sources

http://www.cityam.com/227637/halloween-2015-could-be-worth-as-much-as-400m-to-retailers

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/halloween_1.shtml

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/721389/Sainsburys-customers-horrified-at-shocking-and-offensive-Halloween-kids-costumes

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/10/29/halloween-have-things-gone-too-far/

Atul Gawande, ‘Being Mortal’