Recently I was returning to Sydney by plane. In the three seats in front of me sat a young girl, her little brother and father. Across the aisle from them sat the mother. The boy looked to be about three years old and looked quite sweet – until he opened his mouth. He leant forward and looked over to his mother and said “Why are you sitting over there? You’re a loser mummy!”
His father said nothing.
What troubled me about this incident – apart from the fact that a child so young would take this attitude to his own mother – was the language of division and opposition that he so readily used. This perspective of the world, shaped by the idea that there are winners and losers and that the losers are to be jeered at, troubles me greatly; that there are sides to be taken and there is strength in numbers. A single instance such as this is disturbing on its own but it is not isolated and it is a broader social problem. I am one of many in our community concerned by the tenor of public discourse, such as the language of our politicians or prominent figures in the media, or the language used via social media.
Schools are often burdened, sometimes unreasonably, with the expectation that they can and should be educating students about all manner of subjects that sit outside the core academic curriculum, the latest example being childhood obesity. Nevertheless, it is right that school leaders and teachers reflect on how students’ perspectives are shaped by their experience of school. What kind of school is our school?
As we began the school year, our staff took time to think about what it is not only to be a Christian school, but specifically and uniquely, to be a Uniting Church School. The Rev Alistair Macrae, then President of the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, posed the question: “Is there a DNA which belongs to the Uniting Church in Australia which … is evident across the breadth of the life and work of this church?” And if so, would that “DNA” that be apparent in the life of a Uniting Church School. He suggested four key points: being inclusive, engaged in reconciliation; working for justice and peace through experiences that expose students to the call “to serve the least, the lost, the lonely and the little.”; having a multicultural perspective – seeing the world and appreciating difference; and expanding the horizons of students through international partnerships. Alistair Macrae expressed his wish that through education, which he defined as “the purposeful activity of love”, children develop three values: curiosity, confidence and compassion.
My hope is that all schools, whether secular or faith based, work to foster these values: curiosity – the love of learning; confidence – learning to accept and love ourselves; and compassion – the love of others.