Dear Misogynistic Influencer

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I’ve heard it said that you’re not all bad.  That you have given confidence and direction to thousands of boys and young men.  That some of your life lessons – on healthy living, nutrition and exercise – are sound.  I’ve heard it said that you provide belonging, purpose, ambition. 

There is no doubt that you are influential.  And your methods are successful. 

You are a leader.

And here the problems begin.  And the problems grow.  And they multiply and are boosted by algorithms.  They go viral, these problems.  Because of you.

Because, these life lessons are fuelled, as far as I can see, by a powerful poison. 


You are a mis-leader.

Your methods are designed to beguile.  To look good.  Healthy even.  To normalise your views on women, for example.

The values you promote as traditional, protective, quasi-religious truths are pernicious, disrespectful and harmful.  They are noxious.

If you mix the good with the bad, the bad wins.  An omelette can be made of free range, organic eggs and presented on a clean, white plate.  But, if the cook has added arsenic, it is lethal.


Socrates was condemned to death for corruption of the youth.  He was made to drink hemlock – a poison.  His ‘crime’ was getting people to think critically for themselves.  To free them from the chains of blind assumptions and received ideas.

Who knows what crimes you may or may not have committed?  That’s another matter.

But corruption of the youth?  As a parent and an educator, this concerns me deeply.  There are so many influences out there.  How do we ensure that our children know the good influence from the bad?

Good parenting, for sure.  Strong communities with open discussion.

In schools, we strive to promote values of respect, tolerance and acceptance.  Modern values that celebrate difference. 

And we live in an age of free speech. As Voltaire famously wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The same spirit that did for Socrates. And that liberates minds.

Perhaps we need to listen even more carefully these views of yours.  To understand your methods. 

All the better to dismantle them.

In some ways, you may actually help us.  If we handle you wisely.  If we examine your ways, we can identify the wrong turns our boys and men could take.  And we can better promote the wonderful variety of positive masculinities.

So, thank you, at least, for that. 

Dear ChatGPT

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You are an AI language generator. A big new thing with untold powers. And my wish, it seems, is your command.

So, I asked you to write a letter. From Me. To You.

About You.

This is what You wrote…


“Dear ChatGPT

I hope this letter finds you well. As an educator and a student of Artificial Intelligence, I have been following the advancements of AI, particularly in the field of education, with great interest. I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you my thoughts on the subject and express my hopes and fears for the future of AI in education.

First of all, let me say that I am extremely excited about the potential of chatGPT and AI in general, to revolutionize the way we learn. The ability to provide personalized learning experiences for students is one of the most promising benefits of using chatGPT in education. By analyzing a student’s previous responses and learning progress, chatGPT can tailor its lessons and activities to their individual needs and abilities. This can be especially helpful for students who may struggle with certain subjects or who have different learning styles.

I also see the potential for chatGPT to improve accessibility to education for students with disabilities. The ability to provide assistance with tasks such as reading and writing, which can be a challenge for students with learning disabilities or visual impairments, could make a real difference for these students.

Furthermore, the ability of chatGPT to operate 24/7 means that students can access lessons and resources at any time of day, rather than being limited to the traditional classroom schedule. This could be especially useful for students who have busy schedules or who live in different time zones. The flexibility that chatGPT could bring to education can improve student engagement and allow for more personalized learning at the student’s own pace.

However, while the potential benefits of chatGPT in education are significant, I also have some concerns. One of my main fears is that chatGPT may not always provide accurate or satisfactory responses to student questions or inquiries. While it can generate human-like text, it may not always fully understand the context or nuances of a conversation, leading to misunderstandings or frustrated students.

Another fear is that chatGPT may lack the personal touch and connection that a human teacher may provide. While chatGPT can provide fast and efficient responses, it may not be able to fully understand or address the emotions and concerns of a student in the same way that a human can. Teaching is not only about imparting knowledge, but also about understanding the students and giving them the emotional support that they need.

Furthermore, I fear that chatGPT may replace human teachers in the classroom, leading to job loss and a reduction in the quality of education. While chatGPT can certainly be a helpful supplement to traditional teaching methods, it should not be relied upon as a replacement for human teachers. Human teachers bring a wealth of experience, knowledge, and empathy to the classroom, and they play a crucial role in the educational process.

In conclusion, while chatGPT has the potential to revolutionize the way we learn and make education more accessible and personalized, it is important to consider the potential downsides and address them. I hope that with proper implementation and research, we can realize the full potential of chatGPT and AI in education, while also preserving the human touch and connection that is crucial for effective learning.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and I look forward to seeing the future developments of chatGPT and AI in education.”


Well, well. That’s a pretty good letter. Even if I say so ‘myself’. You / I raise some important issues.

It’s an exciting time. We’re at a watershed: the cusp of a paradigm shift.

Let’s watch this space.

And how you fill it…

*ChatGPT is an AI tool that can perform language generation tasks based on whatever commands its user gives it…


Dear Reputation

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Transylvania has a reputation. Literally the ‘land beyond the forest’, Transylvania is known for its beautiful countryside. The Carpathian Mountains arc majestically for over 900 miles from the north to the east of the country. The rural landscape is largely unchanged since medieval times. It’s like going back in time.

Not many will have visited Transylvania – as I recently did – but pretty much everyone has heard of it. The ‘Hotel Transylvania’ films may have done their bit, but Transylvania has long had a reputation. Mention Transylvania and the same things will come to mind. Castles; forests; wolves – and vampires. The legend of Count Dracula.

Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel, Dracula, first published in 1897, draws heavily on Transylvanian folklore. For example, there are many tales of the Strigoi, un-dead souls that rise from their graves and haunt the villages of Transylvania. The defence against them? Garlic and incense. Some scholars say that Dracula is part-inspired by King Vlad, who was ruler of Wallachia in the 15th Century. Arguably one of the cruellest rulers of all time – he was known as Vlad the Impaler – it’s easy to imagine how he earned his grim reputation.

125 years on from its publication, Bram Stoker’s Dracula enjoys a reputation as the archetypal horror novel.  Reading Dracula in Transylvania made me think about reputations – fictional and real.  How reputations are earned; shaped and carried through time; lost and recovered.  I’ve always felt rather uneasy with the word ‘reputation’: ‘beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something’. Just because a view is ‘generally held’ does it necessarily mean it’s true?  Surely a reputation depends on perspective: how much we know and where we are viewing things from?  Thirdly, a concern for reputation might make us suspicious that things are being done for appearance rather than out of sincerity.

But, like it or not, reputation is a reality.  Individuals have reputations.  Our digital reputations precede us like avatars.  The media shape our views of people and institutions.  Businesses and organisations invest in their reputations as they navigate change.  (We might look at what’s going on at Twitter as a current example).  Countries, and their leaders, have reputations; markets turn on perceptions.  In general, we do seem to care about reputation.  But should we?

Shakespeare cautions wariness on the matter of reputation, calling it “an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit; and lost without deserving”.  True, that a reputation that took 20 years to earn could be lost in a few minutes.  Remember Gerald Ratner?  However, it would be easy to find examples where reputation is lost unfairly; or indeed earned unjustly.  Because, to a great extent, our reputation exists in the minds and hands of others.   

More reassuringly, Abraham Lincoln observed that “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

The two are inseparably related. Interestingly, Count Dracula himself casts no shadow; his image does not appear in mirror. It is as though he has no true character. His reputation, however, travels before him. In the end – spoiler alert! – Dracula is defeated by a small group of brave individuals working together in the face of his fearful reputation.

The Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus said: “If you are ever tempted to look for outside approval, realize that you have compromised your own integrity.  If you need a witness, be your own”.  He went on to remark that “skilful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests’’.  Socrates advises that the “way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear”.  In other words, be good, be wise, be kind – and the reputation will follow. 

At a time of Remembrance, and in the week when we welcomed Poet Laureate Simon Armitage to School, it’s appropriate to call to mind the life and reputation of Sir Philip Sidney.  Poet, scholar, MP and soldier, Sidney earned his reputation.  A pupil at the School in the late 16th century, Sidney stands in statue form by the Moss Gates.  His statue casts its shadow on the War Memorial that carries the names of Salopians who gave their lives for their country.  

Sidney died leading his troops in the battle of Zutphen in 1586, aged 31.  The story goes that he took off his thigh armour on the grounds that it would be wrong to be better armoured than his men. As he lay injured on the battlefield, it is said that Sidney gave his water to another wounded soldier, saying: “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine“.  Sidney died of a wound to the thigh.  A model of virtue and character, he is an icon of what we would now call ‘whole person education’.    

Our School aim is to educate and empower young people to flourish as individuals and contribute positively to the world around them.  Our motto – ‘If right within, worry not’ – reminds us of the centrality of virtues above superficial perceptions.  The reputation we strive for day in day out, through the efforts of our pupils and staff, is the delivery of truly excellent whole person education. 

Posted 11 November 2022

Dear Ever-Changing Thing

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It was Heraclitus who observed that there is nothing permanent except change.

The great thing about institutions, such as well-established schools, is that this change takes place within the stable context of a long-held identity.

No institution should stand still. Equally, we should not be blown about by passing fads.

Culture is like a colloid: it has a shape but it gently morphs over time. There must be change, but usually it is gentle, measured, deliberate. And fuelled by reflection, listening, honest self-criticism. This is willed change.

A wave of communal optimism seemed to flow from the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations. So much was rightly said about the constancy, certainty and loyalty that Her Majesty has brought in her 70 years on the throne. For millions, she has been the still and dignified centre of an ever-changing world.

Times have changed. Some change has been rapid; other change more of a creeping thing. The Queen herself has changed, of course – gathered experience, matured, aged. Yet, she has been constant. Because the things she stands for, the virtues she embodies, are timeless. They do not change. That is what we mean by integrity. If right within…

When Sir Michael Palin (OS) stayed with us during his visit [May 2022] to Shrewsbury, he told me how the place felt reassuringly familiar but better in so many ways. It was not just the physical things – the many new buildings and facilities – but the feel and buzz of the place which he said was both true to its past but felt fresher, kinder, contemporary. You’d hope so, really, but it was lovely to hear him speak so warmly of the School he left in 1961. The change he saw was evolution rather than revolution. A forward journey plotted with a familiar and trusty compass.

Sir Michael Palin – with Charles Darwin behind him


Nothing stays the same. Language itself is, of course, an ever-changing thing. For example, I discovered recently that the word ‘fun’ (which I love to couple oxymoronically with the word ‘serious’), originally meant ‘to cheat or hoax’. Hence ‘to make fun of’. However, its meaning gradually shifted to take on the positive connotation of having a good time. The words ‘terrific’ and ‘tremendous’ – undoubtedly good ones to see in your children’s end of term reports – were originally about fear and trembling. To ‘grin’ was to bare teeth in pain; it then became the word for a fake or forced smile, before becoming the real thing.

To be ‘egregious’ was a compliment – ‘eminent’, rather than the modern negative ‘offensive’. ‘Sad’ used to mean ‘satisfied’, then it went to meaning ‘serious’, then ‘grave’ then ‘sorrowful’. ‘Smug’ once meant ‘crisp and tidy’ – a good thing, surely? – but nowadays, it’s undoubtedly something to avoid.

As we enter the closing weeks of an academic year, the pupils are grinning and bearing the seriousness of exam season (public and internal); and our Upper Sixth are approaching the major change of leaving school. The school will change again as new pupils and staff join in September. As times roll on, we must do all we can to avoid being smug or egregious; and to embrace positive change with a tremendous spirit of serious fun…

As our Shrewsbury School motto states: ‘Intus Si Recte, Ne Labora’. If right within, worry not. The right things within us are constant. It is virtues and values of integrity that remain steady and true.

The challenge is to keep hold of them amidst a world of ever-changing things.

Dear Emma

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It seems that the whole world wants a tiny slice of your time and your head must be spinning. Yet, as with everything else apparently, you have it all under control.

18 years old, Grand Slam champion, instant global icon. Seeing how you played; seeing how you talk about how you played, sends us all to raid the thesaurus.

Gutsy, courageous, spirited.

Composed, cool-headed, calm under pressure.

Exuberant, joyful, zesty.

Authentic, grounded, genuine.

The real deal.

A champion.

Already an icon.

See the source image
Emma Raducanu – Image from SkySports

Your style of play makes you a mesmerising watch. Your conduct off the court is equally compelling.

Few will experience the scrutiny that you have already been exposed to – and at such a young age. Not many have accomplished a breakthrough quite as explosive as yours. And at the age of 18.

I think back to my 18 year old self. Best not to dwell too long on the messy mix of self-doubt and self-righteousness; flashes of confidence undercut by a need for acceptance, validation, the applause of the crowd. Faults and double faults smoke-screened by bluster. It was all McEnroe and not enough Borg in my case. (That dates me). It was the line judges. The racquet. The sun in my eyes. The cross wind that made me fluff the ball toss. Yes, it took me a long while to take responsibility.

Then there’s you. Not only a champion, an athlete, a history-maker, an achiever of sporting miracles. But also, it seems, utterly unfazed by the feverish swirl of the moment. You are at home with yourself and your surroundings. Poised. At one with yourself. Real.

We have a saying at my school – Intus Si Recte Ne Labora: “If right within, worry not“. In your game, you have to stay within the lines. Yet you do it with such freedom. You make exceptional look so easy. Something so sublime, so uncomplicated in its excellence is the fruit of hard work; of gifts diligently cultivated.

You praised your parents – for their strong values and demanding standards; you deflected glory onto your team; the support of others. All true, and deserved praise, no doubt.

But let’s be honest. This is about you. You radiate something purely brilliant. You are right within. And you will inspire others – many many others – to discover and share their light.

Character as true and as luminous as yours can only come from within. From the person you are. You have lit up the sporting world. As you go on, surely to further glories, I hope your unique light shines on unfiltered and true.