I recall Lorraine in the 90's inviting her parish vicar for dinner. It was an enjoyable evening, and I recall expressing the view that for many centuries in European societies churches provided the moral glue that bound us together as a society. I suggested that it was the failure of our churches in general to retain their relevance to people that has lead to a significant drop in numbers of parishioners generally, and therefore in their ability to influence values, to sustain a moral code that we might live by. I then suggested that this has accelerated a significant shift in our cohesiveness as a society because we struggle to hold shared values. Here is some recent NZ data, and I readily acknowledge that this doesn't reflect some of the changes happening with individual faiths.
I realise that that statement suggests that their values are the right ones, and all others are not. That is not my intention. It is merely an observation on what I think has happened in European based societies globally. Here too I stress that this is a very euro-centric observation, on which I'll say more later in this post.
The vicar certainly didn't disagree with me, and I have to confess that despite working for 15 years in an independent school with an Anglican ethos (and an excellent school, at that), I have at best 'flirted with faith'. That worried me, although despite that I like to think that I have managed to live a values driven life that reflects core values founded on respect for others.
I would also like to state that this is not a post promoting any specific set of values, Christian or otherwise, other than the values that are implicit in the New Zealand National Curriculum. I merely make the observation of the need for an agreed and shared set of values. As a state school in New Zealand, we are required to be secular in nature. We do however have a set of values (Commitment, Achievement, Resilience, and Respect), that are our own interpretation of the values spelt out in the front half of our National Curriculum.
Just last week I was in a meeting with Gary Roberts (Principal, Hornby Primary School) and Malcolm Gooch (Leader of our local Mana Ake team, working with the Uru Mānuka cluster). Malcolm made one of those statements that 'joined the dots' for me. I admitted that I felt deeply embarrassed that I hadn't made this connection, that I hadn't joined these dots, before.
He said 'schools are the new cornerstones of society', they are places in which society generally has high trust, they are gathering places for us, perhaps in much the same ways that churches were before.
That lit a number of light bulbs for me, reflecting a vital function that had lurked in the back on my mind like one of those ghostly memories borne of a half remembered dream.
It also brought me back to Simon Sinek's work on change, and the need to know, and keep at the forefront of our thinking, the 'why' of our work, our moral imperative.
Our moral imperative within Uru Mānuka is well represented in this visual representation of our work, one I've shared numerous times before:
The problem lies in that bigger piece of work, that new role for schools as the cornerstones of our society. You see, this is not something we are resourced to do. We are staffed with wonderful people who hold the moral imperative dear to their hearts. We are staffed by people who would (and figuratively, often do) give the shirts off their backs for tamariki that they teach. However as a wonderful former colleague was want to remind me, we are schools, not social work organisations. That is what we are resourced to do.
But what of our work? What can we actually do to make a difference, given that we are not actually resourced to be those 'cornerstones' of our society? We can be values driven, as we all are. We can be culturally responsive, culturally inclusive, welcoming to all cultures in our communities. Every child ought to be able to bring their 'cultural backpack' into the kura, to be who they are without fear or reservation.
These two ideas come together in a unique way in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have a true taonga in Tikanga Māori, in those beautiful values of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga, of kindness and relationship. By upholding the precepts of the Treaty of Waitangi we may yet save ourselves as a society. We currently have a Prime Minister who talks the talk and walks the walk about showing kindness, about rejecting the cult of the individual that has been an implicit part of the neo liberal right wing agenda that has driven much of western society for the past 40 years. We hear those messages abut inclusivity, about embracing diversity. Doing so makes us all richer, better off. A society that has extremes of wealth, a society that is divided along any grounds at all, is a poorer society both economically, culturally, and socially. Embracing tikanga offers us a path to greater moral and economic wealth. Why wouldn't we?
That's a big ask for schools alone. We must play our part, but we can't do this alone.