Flat White

St Greta’s school for the environment?

29 May 2022

4:00 AM

29 May 2022

4:00 AM

It is conceivable that sometime soon a group of parents and teachers will establish an entire school devoted to the environment (rather than specific courses).

The pioneers will be very sincere, and very convinced in their beliefs about the state of the globe, human responsibility, and action plans for the future.

They will articulate the faith statements about who we are as humans in relating to each other, who we are in relating to the planet, and the sanctity of what ‘the science says’ as their main guiding force.

Their core beliefs will be derived from these articles of faith, which will be consistently built around the message of prophetic alarm about our futures. Those belief statements will provide the basis for articulating what they describe as morally right and wrong for humans in terms of how they should live.

From their beliefs, they will determine what is more important when it comes to establishing life priorities, or what some call ‘values’.

Their school will be fully registered and accredited to deliver the State syllabuses because those syllabuses allow schools to teach through the ethos that reflects their community. And because they are acting in an internally consistent way, the teaching and community traditions of their school will all be focused on their environmental faith, beliefs, and values.

But here is the dilemma.

Let’s jump to the future. In the pioneer phase of the school, it only enrolled ardent, passionate, and convinced believers. As the school became better equipped educationally and in resources, people paid more attention to it. It became a genuine alternative to the pseudo-neutrality of the State schools in the area, and a broader range of families became part of the community.

These families were dealt with honestly and transparently. The school was careful to put its core belief and value statements on their website. They conducted individual interviews with each family so that they each understood how their faith and beliefs impacted their values and their teaching practices, while fulfilling State requirements. The families kept coming.

Then one day, a year 9 student raised some questions in class that questioned the use of the scientific method in some of the core research on which the school was based. She was joined by another student who suggested that there was too much prophecy of doom in the application of the environmentalism at the school – and that the students were being unreasonably expected to undertake behaviour that was simply political.

The Head of the school was very pastoral in her response. She sat and listened to the students and responded in a careful and caring way. Her final comment to them at that first interview was, ‘We want you in our school. You are free to ask your questions, as long as it is respectful within our school ethos which your parents agreed to when you enrolled.’

This same Head was confused and disturbed when she heard that these two students were wanting to start a ‘Climate Change Deniers’ club at the school. She had told them that she wanted them there. The parents knew the core beliefs and values of the school and on what those beliefs and values were based. The Board of the School did not want any drift from those foundation statements. 

So, the Head had many restless nights wondering how to accommodate students who had become activists, railing against what the school stood for, without the school losing its distinctive purpose, which was the reason why parents enrolled their students there.

She had a number of meetings with the parents of the two protagonists. They seemed to understand at first, but as time went on, become more demanding of the school. They wanted exemptions to what was expected of other students – for example, to not march in the compulsory ‘St Greta Celebration Day’ parade. They did not think it reasonable for their teenagers to have to write to politicians about matters in which they did not believe. They were all right with their students doing competency tests, but they wanted freedom for their students to act out their personal beliefs, and to encourage other students to do the same.

Eventually, the Head asked the parents if that school was still the right choice for their family. Imagine her surprise and horror the next week when she read the following headlines in the local newspaper: Local School wants to Expel Students and Staff for Different Science Beliefs… 

A fantasy? Surely this would never happen to a faith-based school…

Not really, especially if one considers the current situation in which faith-based schools find themselves. State-run schools pretend that education is neutral. They confuse instruction (learning ‘about’ and learning ‘how to’) with teaching (‘what will I do with what I know about, as a human being?’). This reductionist view of life is why parents are routinely drawn to schools that give a deeper vision of life that supports their faith, beliefs, and values. The scientism that can drive the State-run rhetoric can also be exposed when deeper questions of humanity are asked. 

So, when a school has families and staff who want it to deny its faith and force it to leave its central vision, what are they to do? In our current political climate, the socialist members of Labor, Liberals, and Teals would have you believe that what the politicians decide can be mandated for all educational communities. That is centralist control. It is not community building. 

When those to the left of politics say, ‘You can be free to enact your faith beliefs in a school…’ what they really mean is, ‘You are free unless you stop someone doing what we believe in.’

It is a con, a lie, a deceit.

The problem is that the best lie is one close to the truth. Under the cover of compassion, such politicians scamper, hint, and suggest discrimination when it does not exist. They talk of harm to individuals while destroying a community where no one is forced to belong. They scream that vulnerable individuals are being hurt when in fact, there is simply a personal disagreement on aspects of life over which we all make choices. 

The solution? Get a real education by visiting one of those so-called terrible religious schools and talk to the people there. Maybe then we can share the compassion around a bit more.

[With thanks to James Dalziel for first using this kind of metaphor.]

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