As we approach December, we reflect on another very successful year at Sacred Heart College Marist Observatory. This has been a turbulent and difficult year in the educational arena. The unrest and protest, that was the challenge of the universities and tertiary education institutions last year, spread to many secondary state and private schools in 2016. This was possibly both inevitable and overdue. The debate about access and culture is one that is going to take many years and blood, sweat and tears to resolve. Throughout this turmoil we are a school that stands out, because many of the issues causing conflict in these schools have been dealt with at Sacred Heart College over a decade ago.
In my speech to the class of 2016, I told the learners that they “are also unscarred by the slow-burn disaster unfolding in our country and the world. It is a world engulfed in chaos and filled with neo conservatism, the promotion of blind patriotism and denial of the richness of difference.
At this school, we teach (and our learners exemplify) the embracing of diversity. It is not tolerance, not even acceptance, because both these words imply that, despite our willingness to indulge the other, we still believe that we hold the correct or superior position.
Embracing diversity means that you are sensitive to the possibility that other cultures and mindsets can be different, even diametrically opposed, to your own and that these differences act only to strengthen your own. Together, they create a social web where the difference of others complements the weaknesses in your life view and makes your own more complete.”
Sacred Heart College is, without doubt, a place that prepares our learners to confront and try to solve the social challenges that face our nation. They are used to questioning and being questioned. They have learned to think critically and creatively. Our children fill us with an optimism and hope for our country’s future. They are the entrepreneurs and risk takers. Our children are given the skills and tools they need to turn what they are passionate about into a significant and successful way of life.
On the wall in my office there is the saying that running Sacred Heart College “is more a paradox that we manage than a problem that we solve”. The paradox is that the College does not enjoy the same reputation for excellence that many untransformed schools – some of whom still use 19th Century approaches to teacher-student relationships and outdated teaching methods – enjoy. We are still something of a hidden secret in Johannesburg.
To succeed in the future, we will need to shed our anonymity and become the thought-leaders in society that we are in the educational sphere. We need to share our insights and approaches; the wisdom earned from the struggle to be relevant and responsive to the needs of our community; our approach to restorative justice and community engagement; the challenge of dealing with the complexity that being a multicultural school engenders, and the rich tapestry of knowledge that arises out of all the winning and learning that we have done.
As always, I stand on the shoulders of giants. I have to thank a team of teachers, administrative staff and a backstage crew of cleaning, field, security, maintenance and events staff who make my work pleasurable and possible. I have to thank the Board, College Executive Council, Marist Council and Marist Brothers who care deeply for the school and give freely of their time in service of the children here. I have a family who loves and supports me, and I have to thank a God who has helped me find my purpose, and a way to express the talents She has given me.
Colin Northmore, Head of Sacred Heart College