One of the most transformative experiences in our school life, in the last 5 years, has been our involvement with 6 partners in European schools and kindergartens. This ended nearly two years ago with our visit to Fryslan in the Netherlands and the maturing of a wonderful friendship and the completion of a lovely piece of work that really appealed to the children in Daisy, Poppy, Sunflower, Conker and Thistle classes.
When 52% of eligible voters persuaded the government last year to take us out of the European Union and into a future where the current hostility could easily have been predicted, it was as though someone had hacked into my identity. I “became” a European through the good offices and generous kindness of the European Union, and I was and am and will be a convinced European before I feel British. It was a deep sense of loss when, for what I still hold to be largely selfish and xenophobic reasons, the “country” voted to leave.
So today, I took down the display that has graced our foyer describing all the wonderful, colourful and stimulating work that 12 of us experienced fully, and another dozen experienced virtually, over the 2013-15 period. It was a joy in every possible way, and, talking to a friend today, we both reflected on the homesickness that it felt like in saying good bye to such a rich part of a shared inheritance, even one that was only experienced by some in a short, 4 day visit to another country.
And it is an inheritance. Everything we are as a nation has been created because of Europe, because of our proximity to Europe and because of our willingness to share and learn from nations even when we were at futile war with them.
On top of this sense of loss, we are losing, at the end of this term, two fine members of staff who have come to us from a rich European culture and background. Both are thinkers, both are rooted in the importance of culture-informing-education that seems to have deserted so much of the UK teaching workforce, and I shall miss both terribly, not just for the wonder that they themselves are, but also because I feel at home with the cultural strength that they have brought to the school and to me personally. With both, I have some of the most satisfying conversations; with each there is an unspoken respect for the cultural hinterland we have each grown up in or learnt from reading, listening, experiencing. The Oakeshott quote which I have used over and over again comes into the picture again: the “whole of our inheritance” is a rich, heady cultural mix that spans a variety of cultural influences from around the world, but which is principally shared with many in Europe, simply for reasons of geography, war and trade.
So taking the display down felt a little like a betrayal, the loss of a holiday romance, one more disjuncture in lives that already have enough. The European imperative remains one of the central drivers of my educational life, and I shall have to find a way to respond to it.