Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Christianity a public danger? (2017 Term 1 Week 9)

I have been reflecting recently on a significant societal shift that can be seen in our media and in the public discourse of our society. My thinking was crystallised at an event last week by Karl Faase, the guest speaker. His argument was that in Western society, Christianity is being viewed less and less as a generally benign and irrelevant anachronism and more and more as an actual and positive danger. He cited three ways that this reframing can be seen. 


The first is that love is being redefined. Recognising that love can and has been defined and manifested in all sorts of ways, and that Christians have often fallen short of their ideals, a Christian understanding of love has included the concept of unconditional commitment to the good of the other person, regardless of whether or not you agree with them. However, it is increasingly common for love to be understood as an uncritical acceptance of the other person and their views. In this framework, anything other than unconditional endorsement is seen to be an action arising from hatred.

The second way that this reframing is taking place is the emergence of the belief that Christianity is damaging to children. Richard Dawkins famously likened forcing religious beliefs onto children to child abuse. The argument suggests that religious ideas, including Christianity, genuinely damage a young person's capacity to think for themselves, to discern truth from error, and to participate meaningfully in a pluralist society. In its more extreme expression - religion poisons everything.

The third catalyst in this reframing is the emergence and growing awareness of the horrific abuse scandals that have taken place in Christian institutions and churches. As the nature and extent of these scandals have emerged, particularly through the Royal Commission, the church's social license - that is, its acceptance and approval in the community - is coming under threat. The church is no longer seen as an agency for good in the community.

Faase's point, which I accept as increasingly true, is that our Western culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity.

What does this all mean for Inaburra School? After all, we are a Christian school, and unashamedly so. Our foundations, our history, our staffing and our vision for education are all Christian. However, as a school with an open enrolment policy, our students and our families are representative of the wider community, being constituted of many faiths and of none. If Faase is right, the Christian faith embodied in the school is likely to become more and more 'on the nose'.

In a hostile culture, courage becomes a more vital virtue. In the Christian worldview, courage is seen both in word and in deed. Courage will be seen in our resolute commitment to, and articulation of, our convictions about the dignity and worth of the individual, the fractured nature of the creation, the fallenness of humanity and the hope offered by God in the Christian gospel. Courage will equally be seen in the way we work to make a real and concrete difference to the daily lives of individuals. In the context of a school, this looks like the humble, painstaking, sacrificial effort to know, love and serve our students. The first flourishing of the Christian faith took place, not when Christianity occupied a seat at the table of power, but as Christians took seriously the commands of their Lord to 'love your neighbour' and, more pointedly, 'love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'.

One of the values of Inaburra School is that we will commend and cultivate faith in God. This has been an enduring commitment of our school community, in partnership with Menai Baptist Church, since our founding. My hope and prayer is that, whether your stance towards Christianity is positive, neutral, negative or a complex relationship of all three, what you see and experience in this school community might lead you to question the emerging hostility toward Christianity that can be seen around us.



Friday, 17 March 2017

Shaving, peers, and exemplars (2017 Term 1 Week 7)

I imagine that the school community is well and truly aware of the efforts of many of our students in the World's Greatest Shave this year. Yesterday, as thirty-odd Year 12 students had their hair cut or shaved in the Science courtyard and hundreds of others cheered from the balconies, I was immensely proud of our community. As I reflected on the event, there were three things that really stood out.

My first observation is that this particular fundraiser is a really good example of fundraising done well. My reflection has nothing to do with the worthiness of the cause - which is obvious - or the effectiveness of the initiative in raising awareness - which is equally obvious. Rather, there is a natural and obvious connection between the fundraisers' action and the cause to which it is directed. 

Along with all the other side effects, the loss of hair that is experienced by the chemotherapy patient is unwanted. It stands out. It changes their appearance. It draws attention. By voluntarily losing their own hair, the fundraiser expresses solidarity with the sufferer and steps - temporarily and in only a small way - into their shoes. As such, there is a cost to the fundraiser. A gift that costs nothing is worth nothing.

My second observation has to do with the power of a peer group. Social dynamics are a reality in life, for good or for ill. From a Christian point of view, we understand that we have been created for relationships, and relationships are where we truly acquire our identity, purpose and meaning. What this means in practice is that our peer groups play a significant role in shaping us. Over the last few weeks, Team ZNMOOR have shown us the power for good that can be exerted by peers. As a team, our Year 12 students identified and worked towards their goals, encouraged and supported one another, and lifted one another to surpass their expectations. Peer groups can be powerful forces for good.

My third observation is about the importance of the senior year in a school. One of the key ways that we learn to be a human is through role models. Initially and primarily our parents, as we grow we look to a wider group. In a school, the oldest students have a powerful formative influence on the younger students. The camaraderie and mutual support evident among the Year 12 students yesterday showed others how to be there for one another. Likewise, their willingness to work hard in a selfless cause was potentially inspirational to younger students.

All of which is to say, yesterday was a wonderful day and we can justly be very proud of our students. They have done well.

Post-script - at last count Team ZNMOOR have raised over $100K. Donations can still be made.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Children learning to become adults (2017 Term 1 Week 6)

One of the themes that we need to remember, as both educators and parents, is that we are playing the long game. We are raising children to become adults. As I wrote last week, this is the goal that we need to keep in mind. The experiences that young people have at home and at school are formative; they shape the character and the capacities of the individual. It is a reasonable question for reflection on occasion: how is my parenting shaping my child?



I recently read a blog post on this topic: Quit Doing These 8 Things for Your Teen This Year if You Want to Raise an Adult. In the post, the writer identifies eight things that we should not be doing for our children as they grow.

  • Waking them up in the morning
  • Making their breakfast and packing their lunch
  • Filling out their paperwork
  • Delivering their forgotten items
  • Allowing their failure to plan to become your emergency
  • Doing all their laundry
  • Emailing and calling their teachers and coaches
  • Meddling in their academics
She unpacks each of these in the blog; it may be worth reading her thoughts if you find the bullet-points above provocative. For what it's worth, I can think of lots of other points that could be added, including:
  • Driving your children everywhere
  • Cooking and clearing up meals for them
Without wanting to endorse everything she suggests, I support the tenor of her post. I can reel off examples of each of these suggestions, from my own household, those of friends, and those of the school community. I remember one mother who was slogging away at her daughter's Mathletics account, because "She is so much more motivated when she is about to win something". Thankfully, this is (I believe) the exception rather than the rule.

Many parents are very happy to see their child experience the natural consequences of their actions. My favourite note from a parent read along the lines of "X did not do his homework last night because he was distracted by playing computer games. Treat him as you will!"

Obviously each family has its own dynamic and needs and parents will make the choices and decisions in these matters that seem best to them. There needs to be an age-appropriate staging around the responsibilities entrusted to students.

However, the point is a valuable one. At some point between infancy and adulthood, our children will need to learn to do these things without us. When and how do you plan to help your children grow into that responsibility?