by Julian Fox sdb

There’s always someone ready to question the ‘status quo’! Galileo torpedoed the old theory that man is the centre of the universe. Macchiavelli put paid to any role for ethics in party politics. And now Fox is about to turn pastoral care on its head. Oh yes!

You see, there is (has been) this unquestioned assumption that pastoral care is something beginning with the Principal, and seeping down through the ranks to teachers, all for the benefit of students. Education, it seems, is the last of the institutions to admit that the old Elizabethan hierarchies have gone. There was a time when it was the Monarch’s duty of care to his/her subjects which was all ye knew on earth and all ye needed to know! The French Revolution however, and not a few other revolutions since, proclaimed the rights and duties of the ‘ordinary folk’. I wonder have we missed a very obvious conclusion of the new social contract that came out of all this? That he who has rights, also has duties, for starters? Could it be that the ‘ordinary folk’ of schools (I am thinking of the students) have the duty of pastoral care towards their teachers and their principal?

Let me suggest that there is an essential item of social and moral education in this matter. Indeed, let me suggest that there is a social contract of some importance at stake here. On the students part, if they create a healthy and safe environment (includes litter, tidy rooms, absence of banana peels in corridors, and such like); if they create a pleasant and understanding climate (not just in terms of what students don’t do, but what they do do - smile, offer help, say ‘good morning’, ‘thank you’); if they realize the great pressures that a teacher can be under and treat their teacher with care and sensitivity, THEN they enable their teacher to give more of his or her presence and time. Teachers for their part continue to pledge their duty of pastoral care, which runs the whole gamut of teaching, instructing, counselling and correcting.

Students need to release their teachers - from policing and controlling: let them be teachers!

This is not a whinge, but a fair dinkum appeal to the very best in our youthful charges. Just how much time in the encounter between adult and adolescent in classrooms and courtyards around our nation is absorbed in power-play and petty polemic, instead of that other vision of human relationships that we call Christian? It is worth reminding ourselves of that vision once again in Paul’s words (Paul of Ephesian fame):

"I…implore you therefore to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together…If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each separate part to work according to its function. So the body grows until it has built itself up, in love."

Who cares? We all care - for one another!