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The circus of life

One wisecrack once said: “Marriage is a three-ringed circus: engagement ring, marriage ring and suffering.” Leaving that argument aside (debatable, after all), it may not just be marriage that is a circus. Different writers and bloggers have commented on how the circus is in many ways a metaphor for life — it is crazy, unexpected, filled with a wild range of emotions and some odd characters.

By Tim Middleton

The advice given is relevant, as offered by one blogger: “Be the ringmaster; it is your life. You are on a tightrope; keep your balance. Toss your hat in the ring; get involved. Set up a sturdy net; you will need back-up. Clown around; life is too short to be serious.”Many will see education as a circus, not least the teachers.

A teacher will feel they are often juggling, keeping so many different things in the air (different classes, different pupils, subjects, sports, clubs, duties, meetings, departments…) while an eager anticipatory crowd of parents watches on.

They will at times feel they are like the lion-tamers or elephant handlers. At other times, they will see themselves as trapeze artists (performing incredible balancing acts), as daredevils (breathing fire or being fired from a cannon), as acrobats or just plain clowns involved in making people happy.

The most well-known and popular circus, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, closed down in 2017, but the award-winning musical film The Greatest Showman told the compelling story of Mr Barnum, the founder of the circus.

While it is interesting to note that there have been many articles written about Leadership Lessons that can be taken from the film, it is certainly worth reflecting that it is not just leadership lessons that can be learned from it, but also powerful lessons on education and life for our young people today. Each one of these quotes should provide profound and provocative inspiration for our children.

Mr Barnum says : “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.” That is a powerful reminder for every child that the people who really make a difference are those who are prepared to try and be something different. Elsewhere in the film he says: “Everyone is special, and nobody is like anyone else. That’s the point of my show.”
A circus certainly brings out extraordinary characters, even if the world chooses to call them “freaks”, but that is the whole point of the show and indeed of life. How much do our schools make each child “special”? That is a challenging question, just as Barnum challenged many people with his idea of a circus.

The thought is perhaps most vividly defined in the highly evocative song sung by the bearded lady with its resoundingly strong title: This Is Me! Consider some of the lyrics: “When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out. I am brave, I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be.This is me!” People, especially children who do not know better, look to bring others down by their words, but the best response that can be given is for such people to stand up and declare boldly, bravely, even if bruised, that: “This is who I’m meant to be. This is me!”

Another key lesson from the film is that people are scared of new things; they like what they are familiar with. Thus Mr Barnum comments with wise words: “Comfort, the enemy of progress.” He himself was recognised as an early example of extraordinary entrepreneurism.

His advice remains incredibly valid for our young people looking to go out into the world: “Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.” Above all, though, we need to take on board the wisdom that “Everyone is a freak as everyone is different, everyone has an act.” Every child has a part to play, a person to be.

The Disney film The Lion King had the beautiful song The Circle of Life as its theme song; perhaps the film The Greatest Showman sings of the Circus of Life and the message of that film should go on and on, round and round. One of the critics in the film commented that the idea of the circus was risky: “Putting people of all shapes, sizes, colours. Putting them on stage together and presenting them as equals, another critic might have even called it a celebration of humanity.” When it comes down to it, is that not a wonderful picture of what our schools should be about? All sorts of people together, being treated as equals, celebrating humanity — this is school! This is me!
lTim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.



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