Education for what?

The Head's Study, Royal High voices

The shocking news this week of the murder of MP David Amess has once again coupled nationwide grief with questions about schools’ roles in education in values.

The tributes to Sir David demonstrate what a remarkable man he was and a role model to all of us in the way we live our lives. He was a family man. I imagine I am not the only parent who has drawn my family that little bit closer this week. He was an exceptional communicator with a great sense of humour; the image of the papally blessed ‘holy’ cough sweet has stayed with me since I heard it on the radio. He believed in service and being accessible to his constituents with accounts of him attending evening events after long days in Parliament and at an age many would have already retired. He was loyal – to family and the people he served.

Yet this week has also highlighted the extent of vitriol, actual and virtual, and danger to which our MPs are routinely subjected. And here we need to distinguish clearly the difference between disagreement that is so key to democracy and disagreement that results in violence and hurt. I admit to irritation at some parliamentary debates – the point scoring and dissembling seem petty - much as I admit to silencing the radio when some interviews descend to rudeness. Neither seem productive ways of debating. However, I understand the need for lively debate in a democracy just as it is needed in family and work settings. We need people to play devil’s advocate: it is fun but it also ensures we think beyond our immediate point of view.

But devil’s advocate is a long way from actual hurt and actual violence as witnessed this week.

The media has shifted quickly to the role of education in preventing more names being added to an already heartbreaking list: Jo Cox, Ian Gow, Anthony Berry, Robert Bradford, Airey Neave. We educate our students about the dangers of radicalisation; we teach them the power of technology but also how easy it is to step from right to wrong, from legal to illegal. It is too large a leap of the imagination, as some of the media are suggesting, to say that today’s abuser of Instagram postings, for example, could be tomorrow’s murderer. However, we can continue to reinforce those values that ensure a strong moral compass is embedded in all our students so that they learn from getting things wrong at school and have absolute clarity now and beyond about what is acceptable and what is not. At the heart of that moral compass is kindness.

A parent this week asked me why we have to teach kindness. We don’t. We celebrate kindness. We shine a light on acts of kindness. We remind students every day to be kind to others and consider things from their perspective; how they would want to be treated. We embed this now so that no student will ever be in any doubt about what is right and what is wrong, and that includes how they will act in the future when they disagree with someone or something.

Kate Reynolds
Head - Royal High School Bath

22 October 2021

Portrait Sir David Amess
Above Sir David Amess MP, photo credit: creative commons