‘Fake news’ is a current obsession. Fabrication and false narratives undermine public discourse and confidence in institutions. David Clark, an advisor to Tony Blair’s 1997 government noted recently that some governments are currently trying to lead the world into a ‘wilderness of mirrors.’ My response to this would quite simply be, ‘Where’s Trotsky?’ (Above). The most disturbing aspect of this is not that individuals or governments might falsify or manipulate the truth – that has been a reoccurring theme of history – but the increasingly sophisticated manner in which it can be done.
The usual way to address this is to encourage students to go the origin or source of the information that they are accessing. To encourage scepticism, fact checking and the development of the ‘media literacy’ necessary to identify disinformation. This has been sound advice for decades. The two images above seem quaint now, but generated significant controversy when they were first published. Elsie Wright’s sequence of ‘Cottingley Fairies’ photographs were met with general bemusement in 1917 as it was common knowledge that fairies (Spoiler alert for younger readers)didn’t exist. This didn’t stop Sir Arthur Conan Doyle describing them as evidence of ‘a significant psychic phenomena.’ He also believed that Ada Deane’s ‘photograph’ of the souls of the British war dead rising above a London crowd on Armistice Day (11th November) had captured a ‘true spiritualist moment.’ Some people will believe anything, but most people have the necessary critical facilities to distinguish between fact, fabrication and interpretation.
In my first three years at Durham Johnston I taught A level politics. The American part of the course looked at the relative importance of presidential debates within the US political system. When I was training to be a teacher I was told by my grizzled, been there, seen it, done it mentor that the best measure of any prospective history teacher was, ‘whether or not they could tell a good story.’ The 1960 Presidential debate, between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon, offers such a tale and I would share it with my politics classes. Before the debate Nixon was convinced that he would win; he had been Vice-President and had much greater experience. In the run up to the debate, however, he had injured his knee; on his way into the TV studio he bashed his sensitive leg painfully against a door. In the studio the TV producer suggested that make up would cover his 5 o’clock shadow and make him appear more telegenic. He accepted the advice. In the actual debate viewers commented upon the gulf between the two candidates. Nixon, stooped over with his sore knee began to sweat under the studio lights, causing his make up to melt. He seemed shifty and untrustworthy. Kennedy, by comparison, appeared presidential. Television viewers believed JFK to be the clear winner, the majority of radio listeners however, thought that Nixon had won. It suggests, quite clearly, that what we see is different to what we hear, or read.
However, 1960 is not 2018. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 he had been planning to deliver a speech on education; historians often call it his ‘lost speech.’ It is lost no longer. In, what has been referred to as, ‘ an extraordinary piece of technical virtuosity,’ sound engineers have used 116,777 sound units from 831 of his speeches and radio addresses to create an approximation of JFK reading the text. It sounds a little clunky, but it is Kennedy delivering his speech. It is quite an advance from Trotsky being physically cut out of photographs in the 1930s, but at least they are his words.
There are examples of far more sophisticated, yet worrying, techniques that are now possible. Researchers at the University of Washington have managed to turn audio clips into realistic videos of people speaking. They chose Barack Obama to demonstrate this technological advance and created footage of him discussing fatherhood and terrorism; all generated from existing weekly videos posted by the White House on completely different subjects. They used a neural network to model the shape of Obama’s mouth and then, literally, put different words into it. Without context, it is real.
How can we distinguish between reality and rhetoric when such things are possible? The answer is that we probably won’t be able to. This is the world that our young people are growing up in and whilst they can use the technology, they don’t necessarily have the ethical framework in which to effectively critique it.
These things are on my mind because we have been discussing ‘What kind of people we are?’ in meetings this week. The Association of School and College Leaders have focused since last June on Ethical Leadership. They have asked fundamental questions, such as ‘What are Schools for?’ identifying 7 virtues for school leaders, based upon the Nolan Principles of Public Life. The seventh virtue is honesty; the need to be truthful. We are currently thinking about the best way to share these ideas with our young people, but it is worth considering the place of personal honesty in the wider societal context of deceit, fabrication and untruth. How can young people navigate a world in which technology allows us to hear a presidential speech from beyond the grave in one instance and the 44th President can appear to advance arguments that he has never made in another? Our duty is to model honesty and integrity and to develop that same virtues for our students.
Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world. Thomas Carlyle
Year 11 Study Leave and Single Lunch Service
Study leave for Year 11 students begins on Friday 11 May. Students will attend a Leavers' Assembly in James Hall at 11.00 a.m. and will leave school at 12.00 p.m.
Single Lunch Service
With effect from Monday 14 May, we will operate a single lunch service from 12.00 - 12.45 for students in Years 7, 8, 9 10 and 13.
Year 11 Intervention
Please click on the link below for the latest intervention timetable.
We are also running Maths and Pizza revision sessions which will take place the night before each of the maths papers. Please click on the link below to read a copy of the letter that has been distribued to students.
Please click the link below for important information regarding the forthcoming public examinations
The leaflet provides students with details of exam regulations during the examination period, dates when examinations results will be available to collect, dates when certificates and coursework can be collected and details of post-results services deadlines.
Students in Years 11, 12, and 13 will be provided with a printed copy of this leaflet in due course.
E-Safety Update - Fortnite
You may have heard of the game “Fortnite” which is a popular game with many young people at the moment. It is a free game that includes multiplayer and chat options. The website linked below from Parent Zone is a great guide for parents explaining how the game works and most importantly how you can help your child stay safe whilst playing it.
It’s worth highlighting the following section in particular:
What steps can you take to safeguard your child?
Mr Garside, Strategic Leader for ICT
All Year 7 classes have had a brief talk this week about Latin, which they can choose to take as their second language in Year 8 and Year 9. Students have been provided with a letter to bring home regarding the Latin Taster classes that will be held during Wednesday lunchtime from 16th May.
All students intending to take Latin need to attend these sessions and they are open to all those considering Latin.
In the event that pupils cannot attend, but still want to take Latin, they need to come to see me as soon as possible.
Mrs Bothwell, Languages Department
Word of the Week
If you would like to keep up to date with what is going on in the Sixth Form please click on the following link - Tuesday 7 May 2018
Big Band – Picnic in the Park, Saturday 23rd June, Durham Johnston School, 12.00 -13.00
An event for all the family - a chance to hear the Big Band perform a range of trad. Jazz standards, modern Jazz and Fusion in the open air. Picnic blankets and picnics are encouraged. No tickets required.
DJ Music Festival – Friday 29th June, James Hall
An opportunity for some of our musicians to perform their solo repertoire and receive some supportive feedback from an Adjudicator.
Class 1 (Grades 1-3) – 18.00
Class 2 (Grades 4-5) – 18.45
Class 3 (Grades 6+) – 19.45
Please do come and support these performers if you are able. No tickets required.
Music for a Summer Evening – Friday 6th July, James Hall, 19.00.
We would like to invite year 13 musicians along with their families and friends to an informal ‘cabaret–style’ event which will take place in the Atrium Café. If you would like to attend, tickets are available from the Music Department at a cost of £7.00. This includes food and your first drink and please note that performers still need to purchase a ticket to cover refreshment costs.
If any year of 13 would like to provide a musical item, please ask them to let a member of the music department know and it can be added to the running order. Similarly, if they would like to organise a group item as a last chance to perform with friends, then let us know.
Day of Guitar – Monday 9th July
Durham Music Service are organising a playing day for guitarists (of all abilities) on Monday 9th July from 9.30am to 15.00 at Framwellgate School. This is open to all pupils who receive tuition, either from Durham Music Service or privately. A letter with further information is available from the Music Department.
Mr Holmes - Subject Leader, Music
On Monday our U19 tennis team had a friendly against Durham School. In windy conditions we played very well winning the match 8 – 1. Tennis continued on Tuesday with league matches against Barnard Castle. Our U15 boys B team won 4 – 2 and our girls won 5 – 1. Also on Tuesday our Year 8 football team were taking on Woodham in a league cup semi-final. We controlled the game throughout going on to reach the final with a 8 – 1 victory
Our Year 10 football team were in semi-final action last night beating St John’s 6 – 2 to reach both the League Cup and Ben Potts finals.
Also last night our girls started the rounders season at Framwellgate. It was a great start as we won all four matches by the following scores:
Year 7 – 58 - 28
Year 8 – 77 - 36
Year 9 – 56 - 36
Year 10 – 78 - 9
Finally good luck today to our Year 8 cricket team who are at Sacriston competing in the Durham City “Chance to Compete” finals and our U16 basketball team who are taking on Phillip’s High School, Manchester in the quarter-final of the English Schools National finals.
Mr Hopper - Subject Leader, PE
The U14 girls' football team pictured above are getting in some extra practice sessions to prepare for the County Cup final next week against St. Bede's and also in the national cup final against Blenheim High School on 23rd May.
Mrs White, PE Department
Extra Curricular Activities