Revd Steve Chalke, in Schools for Human Flourishing, suggests the primary question, “… is not about what you do with your life (as important as that question is). It is about something much deeper: who do you become while you are doing it?”
In a chapter that makes particularly challenging reading this week, after the horrific and saddening events, the huge loss of life in Manchester, he quotes Kronman; “the fundamentalists have the wrong answer … but they’ve got the right questions”.
This week, teachers and support staff across the country quietly got on with ensuring children and young people felt safe and dealt with the immediate shock and sense of mortality that these sickening events bring. For the families involved their lives have tragically or dramatically changed forever; my heartfelt sympathy goes out to those who have lost loved ones. I can only try to imagine their pain and sense of loss.
Over time, for the rest of us, things will return to normal but the big questions of life will remain. In our rush to cover an overloaded curriculum or meet ever rising targets we need to pause and ask “what kind of future citizens are we helping create?” Unless you believe you can build a channel wide enough or a wall high enough or perfectly filter out all people who currently or in the future may commit an act of terrorism then schools and education must be at the forefront of continuing to build a cohesive and just society, as well as one that comes together, in solidarity, when we face adversity.
In lessons we ask children questions to find out what they know and can do; in careers education we ask questions about what they want to do but the more important question about “who do you want to become” is so often missed out. What does it mean to be a good citizen? A good Christian or Muslim in today’s World? If we don’t ask these big questions in a manner that opens up an honest inquiry, rather than reverting to prepared answers, we will do our children and young people a disservice. We will also leave a void that others may pour in their misguided and dangerous ideologies and actions.
“It is time to prioritise how we might imbue a deeper and more powerful sense of purpose, identity, meaning and belonging into the lives of vulnerable young people in our communities.”
Revd Steve Chalke, Schools for Human Flourishing
I’d tend to replace “vulnerable” with “all” though it’s arguably those young people on the edge who we need to engage with, with most urgency. Some may wish to side line a debate about the purpose of education, why we educate children and young people; it is in this vision we create “a compelling overarching story” It must be a vision which has at its centre the formation of a “a sense of who we are and where we fit”.
A current trend in the off rolling of young people, most pronounced in the mid-teens, may dangerously create an unconnected underclass who seeks belonging in the gangs or the warped chat rooms with extremists. The challenge is to maintain high standards in terms of outcomes and behaviour with thoroughly inclusive actions and thinking. We cannot have an either/or mentality
It is not enough to PREVENT; we must ENGAGE & PREVENT. Creating school communities where children can grow, challenge, change and flourish; be accepted for whom they are, by peers and staff, whilst growing to be the best version of themselves they can be. It is no small feat. When someone is in the darkest moments of life; we must have helped create for them a reason for living; a self valuing, a connectedness, an empathy for others that sees people through to the light. That is the challenge we face; it’s the challenge we must meet – #SpiritofManchester