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False (and true) Friends

12 September 2012

I spent the Olympics period out of the country, brushing up on my Italian, amongst other things. One of the warnings that language teachers enjoy delivering is that of the “false friend” – words which have the same root as an English word but have developed a different meaning. Others are close to the word in English, but have diverted slightly. Hence voluntario is fine for volunteer, but “a volantà” which looks close, is to do with Free Will more widely.

Upon my return, those who stayed were eager to recount tales of their experiences. However, few of them thanked me for my absence from London Bridge station with the enthusiasm of Transport for London. Many told me stories of how marvellous the volunteers were, and indeed, one member of the ASE’s staff was already on duty for the torch relay before I left, and was enjoying the experience, and the natty uniform.

Well, that got me thinking about volunteering, and how it applies to me, and also to the ASE’s members. I’ve worked in the charity sector for around 18 years, but haven’t always considered the community activities that I’ve taken part in as volunteering – being secretary of a physics society at university, the PTAs, showing people round gardens. All of these were activities I was interested in and I exercised my Free Will to engage with them – I didn’t think of them as volunteering.

I don’t think that many people who give their time and expertise to ASE activity necessarily think of what they’re doing as volunteering, either. Perhaps that is because the word is sometimes taken to mean something you do which is more menial than your usual work activity. However, volunteering for the ASE – on a working group, a committee or a consultation email group – can take the best of one’s brain. There is also a small element of personal gain, which some might think makes the volunteering less altruistic and maybe then less of a voluntary activity. It is true that more than one illustrious career has been launched on the pages of School Science Review, but this is by no means guaranteed, and is anyway a long-term investment of time and effort.

So, while the Olympic and Paralympic volunteers are rightly celebrated and we move into a new and challenging school year, I’d like to celebrate ASE’s writers, conference presenters, committee members, trustees, ASE chatters, speakers and others who put in time of their own Free Will, and volunteer for the good of the Association. 


Martin Hollins

Tue. 25/09/12

A nice point you make here; I am now able to say to people who ask how I spend my time - 'I exercise my Free will'!
We have also been trying to learn Italian this year, due to several scheduled visits, so thanks for the little lesson.
Best wishes

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