I had the great pleasure and privilege of attending the EREA Principal's Conference for the greater part of last week. The conference was held in Hobart and was themed around the notion of advocacy. Conference speakers included Fr Frank Brennan, Sr Helen Prejean and Br Brian Bond. Fr Frank Brennan is probably the best known of these presenters through his writings and social justice advocacy works within Australia. He is a Jesuit priest, lawyer and author and well known to many prime ministers and politicians of Australia, both past and present, for his work for the marginalized...
I had the great pleasure and privilege of attending the EREA Principal's Conference for the greater part of last week. The conference was held in Hobart and was themed around the notion of advocacy. Conference speakers included Fr Frank Brennan, Sr Helen Prejean and Br Brian Bond. Fr Frank Brennan is probably the best known of these presenters through his writings and social justice advocacy works within Australia. He is a Jesuit priest, lawyer and author and well known to many prime ministers and politicians of Australia, both past and present, for his work for the marginalized within Australian society. Sr Helen Prejean is better known in America and is the author of the book Dead Man Walking. She has spent a significant number of years campaigning against the death penalty across the United States. Br Brian Bond is an Australian Christian Brother who is presently stationed in Geneva as the Director of Edmund Rice International. In this role he does a great amount of work in regard to international human rights. All three guests were fascinating people with many messages, but some clear and collaborated statements on advocacy were evident.
The many EREA schools across the country are serving their communities through their service programs. St. Patrick's College would be one of the more active groups. This service is appreciated and acknowledged by the communities that our schools serve. There will always be a need for us to support our local communities in this manner. The notion of advocacy adds another layer to our service program. In a respect, service programs react to community issues to assist in the "here and now". Advocacy programs ask us to look beyond the issue to the root cause and question whether certain social actions are right and to look to the cause of the problem. In essence, it allows people to inquire as to why this issue has arisen. As a Catholic school, our judgements around the "right or wrong" of an issue are based on our own Church teachings. In many cases this may be counter-cultural to the political mood of the time. On some occasion, this can make the role of advocacy quite uncomfortable. Br Brian Bond said it so well when he commented "… sometimes we will receive flak when we are over the target".
The obvious question for the principals at the conference was about how schools engage in advocacy as we do not carry any great political clout such as those that addressed us. Firstly, I think that we need to be clear that advocacy at St. Patrick's College is not about politicising our young men or using students to promote a political agenda. However, we must also recognise that matters of social awareness and justice will almost always be political by nature. At St. Patrick's we strive to develop young Men of Action. Our College student pledge reminds us that a man of action is a man of faith, knowledge and humility. They use their faith and knowledge to "… make the world a better place". Learning is central to all schools. It is important to us that we develop learners who are critical thinkers, not just students who regurgitate facts but young men who have the ability to acquire knowledge and make informed opinions from this knowledge. A significant role in any form of advocacy is to gather information and discern facts from fiction in reaching conclusions. As a Catholic School in the Edmund Rice tradition we respect that each of our young men is an individual and learner who brings many gifts to our community. Advocacy within St. Patrick's respects that each young man has the ability to make his own decisions around any matters of social justice and our role in assisting him comes through promoting and teaching the skills of inquiry, information gathering and discernment of information.
If our young men are going to make a difference and try to make the world a better place, one of the many ways we can assist them is to give them the skills for advocacy and a strong base around the central beliefs and teachings of our Church and faith. This is done through our Religious Education curriculum and service and advocacy program such as ERA for Change. Learning is a life-long activity. If our young men can leave this College with a knowledge and understanding of what is meant by peace, justice and compassion and have the skills and want to ensure that these values are central to all that they do and what can be done in the communities where they become a member, then I believe that we will have achieved our aim to develop Men of Action.
We are just about to start the final week of the term. It is most important that students are in attendance until the final day of the term so that they can complete all of their assessment requirements. The final week is always one of exams, revision and new teaching. Our senior students in Years 11 and 12 move into a period of block exams whereby they are only required at school for exams. I urge all students, with assistance from parents, to ensure that the next week becomes a week of preparation and study. Hopefully all of the hard work has already been done and the study of these coming days is around retention and final understanding of work.
This week also marks the end of a very busy co-curricular program. We have had so many students involved in Football, Chess, Rugby, Musical, Debating and Theatresport. We have also had so many staff coach and offer these opportunities to the young men. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all involved, particularly Mr Doug Locke and Mr Geoff Samuels as our Heads of Sport and Culture respectively.
This weekend we play our last sporting games against St Edmund's in Ipswich. It is most important that every young man meets his last commitment to his team if he has to travel away to play. As a school, we have offered transport to students if they are unable to go with family or friends.