Up to 30 percent of students in Catholic schools may be experiencing some alienation from their peers and from the school system. Br Pat Lynch explores the connection between this problem and the uninspiring nature of the school curriculum.
A sense of alienation from others which is increasingly experienced by a growing number of individuals, is an insidious poison which has a number of manifestations. Adolescents and young adults are the most vulnerable to the phenomenon, especially if they feel that the adult community doesn’t care too much about them. However, this is not exclusive to younger people as talk-back radio often reveals.
Unfortunately, human beings too readily engage in anti-foreign, anti-stranger, anti-ethnic/cultural group behaviours, simply out of ignorance or out of a failure of tolerance for legitimate societal difference. We don’t automatically, positively engage with others who are different.
Any democracy is based on the premise that every human being has worth and deserves respect. However, no democracy is going to work very well if the individuals who comprise it are not fundamentally people of basic virtue who connect with others. In other words, if people are not mostly honest, truthful, courteous, trustworthy and so on, no democracy will survive, since virtue is the oil of good relationships and trust building between individuals and groups. Obviously, wise laws go a long way to help keep people virtuous. We have come to realise this fact, too.
In a school setting the numbers of disconnected, disengaged students could well vary from 10-30%, depending on how well the leadership of the school can generate a sense of commitment to the values and goals of the institution.
A big part of a school’s role in society is to explore with students, the wisdom and the knowledge of the ages. If significant numbers of students mostly feel disconnected from their school, the nation has a big problem. Currently, we do not teach civics or ethics in our education curriculum; we don’t teach philosophy; we hardly mention the ideas of the great civilisations and the great religions. We tend to emphasise skill development which is not enough.
Is it any wonder there is down stream aberrant behaviour and alienation among some of our young?
Over the last two generations adults have not taught our young people enough about the fundamental reasons why they ought to respect other human beings. Only spiritual, religious and philosophical reasons are strong enough to build the foundations which enable individuals to do this, otherwise, fear of the consequences of breaking the law becomes the only motivator to do good and this is not very inspiring.
More specifically, students who experience connectedness with their school will better like being there; will feel they belong there; will believe that educational success matters to life success; will develop friendships and will participate in a range of school activities, ie, they will become engaged with the place and will learn to respect their peers and other citizens. This is the way successful schools bring students to the realisation that they do have a reason for living enabling them to see that they can make the world a better place for themselves and others.
Social isolation, intimidation in classrooms and playgrounds; non-effective teaching and a non-individually focused school culture, all equals non-connection for students, which is disastrous for their achievement and life success.
The Northern Hemisphere’s schools from time to time produce alarming stories of children and young people torturing and harming one another and basically telling the world they are moral zombies – we do not want to go down that path which illustrates social dislocation and non-connection with others.
Wise parents seek out schools where students do experience connectedness and thrive as individuals. Personal growth is a combination of intangible and tangible resources coming together in a complementary way. Human resources which enable young people to experience connectedness in a variety of ways are vitally important for a healthy New Zealand society.