If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
The first and the final stanza of “If”, by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Perhaps Kipling’s most celebrated poem, “If” was first written in 1895, nearly two decades before World War One shattered our understanding of loyalty and devotion. Coincidentally, 1895 also was the year in which the founder of Barker, the Rev Henry Plume, relocated the School from Kurrajong to Hornsby. Decades have passed, but Kipling’s comments seem as relevant as ever, perhaps especially at present. Whilst Kipling’s words were addressed to males (who still need to hear them), they apply just as readily to our young women who now are entering the world on much more equal terms than applied in 1895 when Barker College established itself in Hornsby.
What if schools placed the education of character at the centre of our work?
Schools face complex demands. They must prepare students for assessments and examinations. They equip students with key skills in learning how to know and how to do. Ever searching for ways of comparing one school with another, governments and media outlets create charts and even design league tables for data literate consumers to discover what is meant by successful schooling. Schools also face the societal expectation to educate young people for responsible citizenship. Of late, much public commentary has been made about the failure of schools sufficiently to educate young people about “consent” in peer-to-peer sexual relationships. And more recently still, calls are being made for schools to provide education for parents to support their children to navigate the challenging passage from childhood to adulthood, especially in the formation of respectful relationships between men and women.
As each day dawns, I recall these demands with a thankful heart. The responsibility for all who work in schools is immense, but we are filled with a sense of the important work we are doing in every encounter with students and parents. It is an honour and a glorious obsession.
Nonetheless, one of the consequences of these demands is for schools to feel conflicting priorities. How do we allocate the right attention to the right matters at the right time? The Barker Co-curricular program is broad, captivating, and exciting, but it also expects a lively commitment from all involved. There are tensions about how such a finite resource as time is distributed. What time is left for the education of the heart?
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” (Aristotle)
The Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of countless thinkers across the centuries who argued that the centre of education should be the heart. From the Greeks to the Hebrews, to the rise of Christian institutions, to Confucian education systems and the rise of modern Universities, scholars have been conscious that a child is so much more than a mind or an intellect. As my much-admired former mentor, Rod West of Trinity, would say to me regularly in my early years of teaching that “the heart of education is the education of the heart”.
What if the education system in Australia truly believed this? Would we still be enduring the current anguish if, as a community, we encouraged schools to nourish the heart of each learner: to educate how to know, how to do and how to be in equal in measure?
The deeply distressing but topical issues of sexual assault and consent law are not confined to schools. They have impacted some of the highest offices in the land. These issues surpass one individual school or one type of school or sector. Neither are they confined to children and adolescents, as we see most days in the media. Schools are seen as a critical part of the solution, but the reality is that the conflicting demands of the system militates against setting the education of the heart at the heart of our work. If the outcome of school education is reduced to a commodity and placed on a league table, then it is reasonable for schools to hear that the expectation of our communities is to deliver results that lift the ranks, letting everything else fade into the background.
Perhaps it is not too late to reform Australian education to redress the imbalances. It is not a binary decision. We can teach wonderfully how to know and how to do. We are in a country that possesses a large cohort of brilliant teachers. It can be accomplished.
The missing piece in Australian life seems to be to teach how to be. As a school in the Anglican tradition, Barker sets morality in the context of the great story of Jesus. We do not demand assent to the Christian credo. This is a personal matter for all to examine. However, we demand that the ethics and morality that issue from this credo be respected and upheld in this community. In those times when we stumble from the way of goodness and kindness, we turn to the other great tenet of Christian expression – compassionate, forgiving and unrelenting love.
What, as Kipling said, if “… you can fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run” – and what if we made this unforgiving minute of our national life truly focussed on the education of the heart? What kind of land and people might we enjoy?