Friday 22 February 2019

The Voice of Provocation

In the foyer of the Christopher Brennan Library on the Senior Campus is an exquisite artwork which so succinctly captures the spirit of Jesuit education. Created by Alex Seton (OR1994), the sculpture is a silent but cogent witness to both the teleology and the aspiration of Jesuit endeavour. For those who are yet to see it, please do so when next you are visiting the College. Framed against the manicured surrounds of the spacious stairway and the illuminating light from the glass walls that encase it, is a sculpted facsimile of school paraphernalia – a blazer and a bag, replete with the school crest, a desk and two books taking prominence of place on the table. One is a bible: the repository of Christian teaching and the gospel values associated with it. The other is an exercise book – open, with two words etched into the stone: Question everything. It is a window into the mind of the creator, one who spent six years in the classrooms and corridors of the College learning his craft while absorbing the greater intellectual and social impulse that came with it. It was, and remains, a work of provocation and a voice that disturbs. It inspires the penetrating questions; it eschews assumptions; it resists the status quo for the sake of it, and it speaks in a very distinctive way to the call for social conscience and through it, social action. So ostensibly benign, but equally so disquieting. That is the Jesuit way.

Over the last 12 months the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus has promoted a campaign, the bookends of rejection, to respond to the plight of disadvantage experienced by First Nations communities and refugees. In the case of the latter, Wednesday 13th February was a landmark day; for the first time in nearly 80 years a sitting Government lost a vote in the House of Representatives on a matter that has caused deep social division. Unfortunately, the cause is one that has largely gone unreported and, in many quadrants, unnoticed – a Parliamentary Bill that guarantees medical care for sick refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. This has been a festering sore in the social and ethical landscape of Australia for too long, and thankfully, the political process was forced to surrender to the changing will of the Australian people. This is about people more than politics; men, women and children in need of acute medical care that has been denied them. Whether on Australian soil or beyond territorial waters and boundaries, it is something that we should reflect on and celebrate, for in this instance, the voice of provocation has prevailed. While national security is of the highest priority, and I don’t underestimate the work that is being done in circles beyond the reach of most, we are in desperate need of humanity. Question everything is the powerful mantra of Alex Seton’s artistic exhortation, and it found resonance on the national stage last week. May it be a call to action for so many of the social justice issues that are part of our world, and may we respond to where the dictates of conscience direct us.

As we settle into the middle stages of the term, there is an abundance of activity both throughout the school day and in the many twilight and evening gatherings that are part of the Riverview calendar. As the year gains its own momentum, the boys in the graduating class undertook the Elevate Study Skills program during the week. High performing undergraduates at university level attend the College and share their insights and wisdom about study and revision techniques that have been instrumental to their success. Each year these are evaluated; it remains a feature with this particular program that it is rated at 98% approval from the students for the way that it assists them to take the lessons learned from high achieving students into their own schedules and revision programs. The Study Skills program will filter down to each of the year levels as the weeks and months unfold in order to assist the boys with organisation and structure, as well as to promote tried and tested methods such as mind maps and mnemonics. Integral to the success of the learning enterprise is the importance of advice and supportive frameworks that will allow the boys to capitalise fully on their cognitive understanding of key concepts and skills, ones which are rigorously tested through the assessment regime.

The Year 10 community is making preparations for their Service Week, with particular regard for those who will be involved in the Country Placement Program. Significant numbers of boys will find themselves in service programs throughout New South Wales and across Australia late in Term 2, so extensive preparation is required to ensure that maximum benefit is extracted from the experience. House Masses, most recently Ricci and More, remain a weekly activity and it is uplifting to see families celebrate the spiritual dimension of school life. On Wednesday evening, the first of the Immersion Reflections was held: the boys and their families who were part of the intensive faith in service program in Cambodia came together to learn from each other and hear the enormous growth and discernment that has taken place across the summer. These experiences in many ways are the crucible where life perspectives are forged and character formed; they will stay with these young men over the latter part of their adolescence and into their adult years. And, may these same young men become the voice of provocation in their families and communities, as they respond to the Ignatian ideal of being ‘men for others’ and agents of change in their world.

Dr Paul Hine