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It created quite a stir when first performed in May 1913, the Rite of Spring was contentious as much if not more because of the dancing than the music, but Stravinsky got over it and so did the Paris cultural elite, well in a sort of a way. The elemental force of nature and the irresistible force of human mechanisation are two driving forces in the piece. In some way the past year has seen a similar contest as science sought to identify, address and contain an irresistible force in nature. There is no doubt in my mind that this has affected us all and in varying degrees.

At our first assembly I asked the children what they thought they owned. The concept of ownership is a fascinating one. Pause here for a moment, I am not challenging the notion of private property nor am I advocating an anarchism of sorts but consider what I developed with the children. If we say we own something, does it mean we can do what we want with it, that we have power over it, that it is connected to us directly in some ontological way? The land we “own” existed before us and will most likely continue for generations long after we are gone. What does ownership mean in that context? We don’t possess it, it possesses us in a profound way. Is it possible to own a dog? I did suggest that no one owns a cat, a cat owns you!

If we own a car or a toothbrush and decide it is no longer of use or it breaks and loses its purpose, we might scrap it or bin it; does my ownership then end? If it does, ownership is an intellectual concept that I may choose as an act of will to place on some object and remove as I see fit. Items are described as stolen when other parties remove the object of ownership where I did not consent to or will it to be so. 

In any case, thinking of ownership as conferring the right to do as I like with what I have seems wilfully wasteful. It might be more helpful to consider our “stewardship” of what we possess. The house we live in and our dog or whatever pet is dependent on us looking after them. The relationship seems to be one of “responsibility” rather than “right”. Stewardship encourages us to take responsibility for what we consume after we have exhausted its purpose and to consider what condition it will be in for those who come after us. It is the appropriate way to consider that which we might purport to “own”. 

In this manner we introduced World Earth Day (though I suggested that every day is world earth day). The challenge is not one that goes away when other challenges befall us, and it is an area where I asked for the children’s help to do more. Embley has solar panels supporting our energy needs and in the current round of minibus contracts we looked at alternatives to the diesels. The market is not in a place where this is as accessible as we need it to be, but I suspect this is our next move with future rounds. We have replaced photocopiers with more efficient models and created processes for managing workflows and material production that limit the amount of paper and toner we need. Our digital drive has gone a long way to reduce our reliance on these consumables. We will be replacing the tanalised timber edging down the drive over the next few years with hedging, the better to support habitats for wildlife while also embellishing the aesthetic. 

When Nightingale and Crosfield after him developed the estate at Embley, neither saw the fruit of their labours as we do today. The Duke of Edinburgh began his awards scheme with an optimistic hope that it would make a difference, he did live to see the success it has become and enjoyed the fruits of that labour, but always played down the significance of any one individual in favour of the importance of the programme itself. It was never about “his” idea, but what was best for the children. Florence herself has left a legacy of stewardship through care, seeing people as ends not means in a world where the notion of stewardship is challenged by the sense of ownership as material possession.

The response from the children was characteristically enthusiastic, optimistic and forward thinking. In stark contrast to Stravinsky’s experience, they are busy about the woods, looking after chicks and challenging me to steward the institution to be more conscious that it is passing through all of our hands and we are well advised to conduct our own rite of Spring responsibly.

Cliff Canning, Headmaster, Embley (@EmbleyHead

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