Mr Webber led full school assembly a few weeks ago and something of what he said stayed with me. He said, ‘…that when we learn, we have a richer experience of life. I believe that our experience of being in the world is greater when we strive to understand it. Our experience of being in the world is enhanced when we equip ourselves with the tools of learning that allow us to try and understand what is happening around us; to really ‘appreciate’ the beauty of the world.’
Over half term, I was lucky enough to have a few days away with my wife. During this time I read a book called ‘The Reluctant Disciple – Daring to Believe’ by David Wells. I have met David a few times and heard him speak on numerous occasions so I was keen to read his book. In one chapter he referred to a speech given by Cardinal Hume in which he said that “Education is Holy”. David goes on to say:
“By that he didn’t mean that learning about religion is holy. He meant that all education is holy, including why ice floats, how to warm muscles before a race, learning French verbs ….. He was teaching us that ignorance generates fear. Education on the other hand leads people to become more fully alive; its fruits include dignity and confidence. When I have greater knowledge it becomes a more challenging world, not a fearful one.” (The Reluctant Disciple – Daring to Believe P.91 David Wells)
Both Mr Webber and David Wells share their belief that knowledge, understanding and learning leads to a more interesting world and a more fulfilling life – though not an easier one! Knowledge challenges us and this is a good thing. It also protects us from fear.
I have recently been giving a series of assemblies to each year group. At the start of each of these assemblies I have asked students if they know what the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year was for 2016. As a one-time English Teacher I like to stay on top of these things. In 2016 the word was ‘post-truth’. This is defined as follows:-
“Circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals”.
Also in the top ten was the term ‘Alt-Right’. This was defined as follows:
“An ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterised by a rejection of main stream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content”
So, two of the top ten words of 2016 are concerned with spreading lies, dishonesty and rumour. I ask the students where this sits with our values as a school? Where, in all this, does trust and respect live? I ask them whether winning is ultimately more important than winning the right way?
What, when we are near the jumping off point of this life, when we are sat in an arm chair in our dressing gown and slippers by an open fire with our grandchildren sat around us while we feed them Werthers Originals and tell tall stories. At that point, what will we truly want?
- A big house?
- A beautiful car?
- A successful job?
None of these things are bad but do they really make for a life that is worthwhile? Rather will we really want love and respect.
The majority of students agreed that love and respect, at that jumping off point, will mean more than everything else. The question is then – how do we achieve it?
A few years ago Fr. Michael Holman SJ came to speak at our Sixth Form Awards Dinner. He told us then that ‘to be truly Catholic means you have to be revolutionary. To swim against the stream of prevailing wisdom.’
Surely then in the current circumstances this means that we need to reject post-truth, to reject Alt-Right and make sure that we are arm ourselves with the tools to do it.
The key tool is knowledge which is linked to learning and understanding.
Education is holy because it allows us to be truly ourselves and understand ourselves and the world around us.
I tell the students that there are what I call three spheres of influence that look a bit like this:
Over each of these spheres we have different levels of influence and control but the one sphere over which we have total control and influence is the one in the middle. The me!
If we get ‘the me’ right, we can worry less about the other spheres and start to control their response to us.
But, and it is a big but, to get ‘the me’ right takes courage, it takes a rejection of prevailing wisdom (if necessary) and this sits is recognising the importance of knowledge, learning and understanding.
Education is truly holy and Educating young people is truly holy work.