By Tim Middleton
The Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast was deemed by CNN in 1997 to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world while being recognised as “the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms”, supporting a wild diversity of life (all according to Wikipedia). It is made up of almost three thousand small reefs (below the water) and almost a thousand islands (above the water) and in so being provides enormous beauty, attracting much tourism, but at the same time being potentially dangerous to boats. In a similar vein, the reef is powerful in its creativity but is itself threatened by many dangers, through pollution, climate change and even tourism, among many others.
There are clearly also many other dangers for ships on the sea, not least other ships. There is fog and darkness. There are storms and waves. There are icebergs and tsunamis. Each and any of these can potentially bring about great harm and grief to many ships and those on board them.
In previous articles we have seen education being like the sea or ocean, upon which various types of ships sail; we have considered scholarships, relationships, entrepreneurships, leaderships and “followships”. These “ships” are all different but they play an important and specific role within education. As with actual ships on the world’s seas, so within education there are many dangers to the “ships” listed above, as each one is involved in its own way in bringing children to the right destination safely.
When it comes to education, we can note that waves of popular opinion can be extremely dangerous, when the general public mount up in a tidal wave with increasing force to try to bring about change, though such change is often only damaging — they can pull people under and drag them from their true course or even bring about real disaster. Social media gathers increasing force, picking up flotsam and jetsam on the way, and pulling people and institutions under the water. So many of such storms stem from nothing of significance but cause great damage as the swell increases and pulls others in. These all post enormous threats to the education of our children.
However, there are even greater dangers to the “ships” of education including the reefs that cause grief to many. They are often hidden, lying beneath the surface; ultimately they may damage the lives of many people. They prevent a smooth, safe and successful conclusion to the journey that children embark upon in education. They may appear beautiful and appealing, like the coral reefs, but without due care or with little cognisance they will cause great damage to those aboard while at the same time education itself will become affected by the lack of care and consideration.
Prejudice is one part of the reef that will bring grief. The belief that some subjects are more important than others, that some children have greater value than others, that some schools are greater than others, that some careers have greater significance than others, and so much more, can all cause immense damage to the future development of our children. Too often we are not aware of this lurking danger and only discover its existence when it is too late, when the damage has already been done.
In a similar way, another part of the reef that leads to grief is arrogance. In some lights this appears to have great colour, beauty and hope, being confused with confidence and assurance, but when it leads to independence its ragged edges only offer potential disaster. It can slowly but subtly develop from “we don’t need no education” to “we don’t need no introspection”. Lurking under the surface it soon grows to become belligerence and ultimately to selfish convenience, thus endangering not only itself but many others as well.
Without question we need to protect the oceans of education and all the “ships” that sail upon them. If we do not, many will sink as a result. There are many lurking barriers along with the natural climatic forces that may prevent youngsters from sailing through life. Educational climate change may bring them down if we are not careful. Our job is to save them, as well as the Great Barrier Reef, before it is too late. While the reef is there, the grief may follow.