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Pupils present persuasive arguments in Lectern Society: Arts v Science

Pupils present persuasive arguments in Lectern Society: Arts v Science
Winner of Lectern Society 2023, holding the winners cup

Eleven Sixth Form pupils took part in the 2023 Lectern Society speeches on Thursday 19 January, as part of the co-curricular programme. Upper Sixth pupil, Anna Marshall, writes about the competition:

'The arts and sciences have forever been viewed as the antithesis of one another. This is what inspired the statement for this year’s Lectern Society: ‘The arts are worth more to the advancement of society than science.’

It was a controversial prompt, and each of the eleven participants had varied and nuanced interpretations. With a blend of humanities and science students, the discussion covered a myriad of topics, from viewing physics through an artistic lens to the hippie and punk movements. Vivi Mayman, Jenni Harrison, and Yasmin Burgess drew upon their combination of science and art within their A levels, providing the audience with beautifully constructed, complex perspectives. Alternatively, the two scientists, Henry Hudson and Zac Stewart, took a pointedly pro-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) approach to great merit.

Harry Newbould spoke first, discussing ideas of humanity’s souls being recognised through art. Poppy Ducker covered the hippie and punk movements as responses to societal change, whilst Layla Bahay argued that accessibility to any form of art is crucial. Vivi Mayman illuminated the small influences the arts have in our everyday life, providing an introspective and personal riposte. The idea of journalism and reports being necessary to communicate scientific developments was expertly handled by Yasmin Burgess. The last speaker of the first half, Henry Hudson, used a photograph of a particle to express how the ideas of STEM are interpreted through an artistic lens, and that art can aid STEM.

The half time break was the perfect opportunity for students, staff, and guests to enjoy the refreshments provided by the catering department. It also permitted speakers to meet the three esteemed judges of the event: Joan Gough, OP and President of the Old Pocklingtonian Association, Simon Hickey, an OP and a judge of law, and the returning Mrs Hutchinson, teacher at Pocklington School. Once again, our judges expertly fulfilled their roles, providing detailed and informative feedback at the end of the evening. Thanks must go to Mrs Dare, OP Liaison Officer, and the Old Pocklingtonian Association for orchestrating the involvement of these judges. In addition, Dr McNamee, teacher at Pocklington School, inspired the attendees with an invigorating discussion of the networking opportunities for the Sixth Form, encouraging them to push themselves into new and beneficial situations. The Pocklington School community made this event possible, both through assisting with judges and attending to support peers.

Commencing the second half was Isobel Stones, who shared a poignant story from her visit to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. and reminded the audience that every speech was an expression of art. Jenni Harrison passionately described her affection for science being a product of her ability to see it in everyday life and encouraged science to be more accessible. The third speaker, Autumn Flanagan, spoke of the ill effects science can have, adding a critical lens to religion and using Marxist teachings to exemplify the importance of the arts. The penultimate participant, Laura Spencer, debated the incomparability of art and science, commenting on the value of poetry and literature in preserving and presenting humanity. Finally, Zac Stewart was steadfast and fervid in his belief that STEM was at the crucial core of instigating societal development.

Each speaker had a vibrant and captivating interpretation of the stimulus, evocative of the independence they had with their speeches. It was a daunting prospect, addressing a forty-person audience, yet everyone made the lectern their own. The audience also greatly appreciated Jess Kneeshaw’s spectacular music at the beginning of the evening. Ms Stone, Head of English at Pocklington School, said: “I am so proud of all the participants. The Lectern Society is a fantastic showcase of the culmination of skills Pocklington School has encouraged. This is an amazing opportunity, and I would encourage next year’s Sixth Form to get involved.”

This year, Ms Cheryl Hunter, a friend of Pocklington School, joined us as official questioner. She conjured complex and challenging questions for the speakers, which they responded to in a deft and intellectual fashion. Notable queries include discussions of social media, ingrained elitism in the fine arts such as ballet and opera, and the role television has in education. Mrs Wilson, teacher at Pocklington School, made a meticulous timekeeper, helping the evening adhere to a strict schedule. 

Courtesy of Sixth Former, Kai Swanborough, Lectern Society had an added prize to accompany the Sir Paul Bryan Public Speaking Cup: the People’s Choice Award. In his words: “This new system meant everyone got a say in their winner via scanning the QR code and were able to express their opinion. It was great to see such a high level of engagement for supporting the participants through the audience vote.”

Lectern Society winners holding prizes

Autumn Flanagan’s stunning utilisation of Marxist theory, flaws in religion, and blatant artistic expression resonated with the public, as did her focused delivery of her ideas, leading to her securing this novel award. She was more than deserving of this prize. Of her win, she said “The Lectern event was, and always is, a truly rewarding experience for me. It is something I look forward to and thoroughly enjoy every part of, from the preparation to the deliverance.”

The judges’ selection saw Jenni Harrison in third place following a pensive and inspirational stance on the tangibility of science and actively aiming to destigmatize it. Her speech was undoubtedly engaging and invigorated an alternative perspective regarding the relationship between science and art, as one can enrich our comprehension of the other. Second place went to Henry Hudson, who captivated the audience with a diligent analysis of cyber security, physics, and computing. He expertly simplified complex theories and asked attendees to reconsider the polarisation of science and art. The winner of the Sir Paul Bryan Public Speaking Cup for the 2023 Lectern Society was Zac Stewart. He confidently and assuredly countered the statement, highlighting the importance of mathematics and science in an intellectual manner without diminishing the value of humanities.

I would like to conclude my account of the evening by congratulating every one of the participants. It was a nerve wracking and challenging prospect, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the plethora of viewpoints proposed by each speaker. I am immensely grateful for all the help and support Mrs Tomlinson and Ms Stone from the English Department have provided in the organisation and execution of the event. It has been a great privilege to host two years of the Pocklington School Lectern Society.'

11  students competing in the Lectern Society 2023 gathering