Towards the end of last year, the College Executive, along with the wider Leadership and Development Team decided to invite the Australian Council for Educational Research’s (ACER) School Improvement Team to visit us, analyse our work, and help us identify the next steps in improvement. This was not a decision in response to a perceived problem but rather, it was a decision made in recognition that outside-eyes are always a good thing, however successful the organisation.
As a result, I have spent the last few weeks preparing for ACER’s visit. Part of that preparation has involved my digging into the College’s history, and this digging has set me thinking about two things.
The first reflection that this historical delving prompted is that it is remarkable how closely the school has stuck to the vision of its founding Headmaster, Mr Colin Young.
In 1985, Mr Young spoke of his desire to establish a school which offered a “distinctively Christian education of the highest standard, at an affordable cost, whose educational philosophy is based on the absolute values and principals of the Bible”.
Our education is still “distinctively Christian” – although our understanding concept of “Christian Education” has matured significantly since the 80’s, becoming more service-learning orientated, more open-minded and more international in perspective. We still aspire to the “highest standards”, although Emmanuel now judges its success by the standards of the very best schools in Australia (and, to be honest, the world). Our fees still sit below many of our fellow APS schools, and significantly below others of our neighbours (although defining an “affordable cost” is always going to be complex). However, perhaps most importantly, we are still guided by the Bible, and the example of Jesus. As Mr McQueen puts it: Jesus is still front and centre in all we do. So my first reflection is that we still offer something very close to Colin Young’s original, and inspired vision.
My second reflection is slightly different….
When Emmanuel began, there was still a broad belief that there were “absolute values” (as Colin Young put it). This meant the College could speak of its intention to “teach the ability to recognise truth from error”.
Today, this is not so simple. Apparently, (according to politicians and the media across the developed world), we live in a world of “posttruth” and “alternative facts” where the concept of an “absolute value” appears to be hopelessly out-moded. As Barak Obama put it (in instituting National Information Literacy Awareness Month), “over the past decade, we have seen a crisis of authenticity emerge”; a crisis both caused and characterised by the fact that “We now live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion or perspective, whether true or not, and have that opinion amplified within the information marketplace”.
If there are no absolute values, then there can be no absolute measure of what is true and good. That means the very notion of truth and goodness becomes negotiable; and when goodness or truth become negotiable, we open the door to hedonism, egotism, and (as history has demonstrated repeatedly), the abuse of power.
So, I hear you asking, what has this got to do with Emmanuel? Well, as a Christian School, that belief in absolute values – in truth, rather than “post-truth” – is core to all we do. That doesn’t mean we always get it right, but the very centre of our Faith is the belief in a God who is Truth. As Christians, we live in relationship with the risen Jesus – who is, for us, the embodiment, the incarnation of what is right. And that is a huge comfort, because the goodness and the truth that He embodies is, quite simply, love itself.
And as a Christian School, because that belief in absolute values – in truth, rather than “post-truth” – is core to all we do, we have always taught skills needed to “recognise truth from error”. And we will continue to do so.
How? Not by indoctrinating students, but rather by teaching them to think, to argue, to weigh opinions, and to investigate through such things as our STEM program, our Foundation Studies, our Journey programs and our Information Literacy lessons. All of these are designed to teach students the skills Barak Obama predicted we would need eight years ago, when he said: “Rather than merely possessing data, we must also learn the skills necessary to acquire, collate, and evaluate information for any situation... Though we may know how to find the information we need, we must also know how to evaluate it”.