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The values David Bowie left behind

I have to admit I was never a mad David Bowie fan, though I liked his music and admired his creative genius. Anyone who saw him perform live or saw the show of his designs at the V&A a couple of years ago couldn't doubt that.

But after he died at the age of sixty-nine, I realised something about him that I think is really wonderful - that he epitomises fundamental aspects of what (I hope) it is to be 'British'.

To millions of people across the world over decades he gave people the confidence to be different, odd and quirky. He gave people confidence about their strange and original thought. He gave people confidence to see the world differently - through music, art and even their own sex and sexuality.

He gave people - perhaps men particularly - confidence to break out of the constraints of gender and express the ambiguous nature of their sex and sexuality through performance, dress and make-up.

I think therefore, he helped us appreciate some fundamental values we now take for granted - particularly the values we now share about gender, sexuality, identity and the right to musical and artistic expression.

That's the nature of values in a free society - particularly those like individual liberty and tolerance - we soon stop noticing and forget where they came from and who fought to establish them for the rest of us.

Individual liberty and tolerance are values we take for granted, especially in relation to artistic expression. They are in fact extremely fragile - you only have to go back as recently Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union to realise that totalitarianism burns, bans and determines what kind of what is allowed. And how long do you think someone like David Bowie would last under the rule of the so-called 'Islamic State'?

In my view, David Bowie gave us something every bit as valuable as democracy and the rule of law. He gave us the right to be ourselves and to 'live and let live' - as unique, strange and as odd a concept as it may seem to be - as individuals with a right to our own identity. This is individual liberty and tolerance of the deepest and most fundamental kind.

We may not think of that as being particularly 'British', but thanks to David Bowie millions of people around the world do.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. 

You may be interested in his course in ‘The Foundations of Professionalism in Teaching’ – a 3-module course with over 4.5 hours of HD quality video presentations, additional course reading and materials, self assessment exercises and completion certificates.

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