Presbyterians still place strong emphasis on good, sound education, says Ian McKinnon, deputy mayor of Wellington and former Headmaster at Scots College. “The purpose of education is to produce a person who is trained, to produce thinking people who think creatively and to produce civilised people who respect the differences in each other.”
People are mistaken, says Ian, if they think that schools are the only providers of education. “Schools can’t do it all by themselves. Family, community and school are the providers of education. The family’s role in education is to give a warm, nurturing environment where a young person develops the confidence that comes from feeling secure. If a young person doesn’t feel secure they are not necessarily going to give expression to their talents and abilities. The community provides the young person less-structured experiences. If you see those three as a triangle with the young person in the middle, one side of the triangle non-functioning impacts on the other sides.
“We know we have too many young people slipping through the net of the schooling system. Is the breakdown in the family? Is there a breakdown in community? When there is a breakdown, schools can become a less appealing and less successful place. Part of the reason why is that schools are having to concentrate on countering the shortcomings of the other two and not give enough emphasis to what they are there for.”
While young people today can look more adult, Ian says, people should not mistake this for genuine maturity. “Though young people look considerably more sophisticated than previous generations, often because of the experiences they are having, it doesn’t mean they are any more mature in being able to cope with the pressures of life. Just because young people now can jump into bed with each other because we give them condoms and a sex lesson in the fifth form, it doesn’t mean to say they’ve got the maturity to manage what that means in terms of a relationship. Just because young people can drink alcohol furiously doesn’t mean to say they have the judgement to realise when to stop. It’s maturity that allows people to stand up to the pressures of life, not being sophisticated.”
Ian is unconvinced that studying youth issues is the most effective way to help young people. “I get so frustrated; nobody has been more analysed than the adolescent. By the time I finished headmastering, I had shelves on adolescent development and if even half the energy had been extracted from that and gone into a direct connect with young people, it would have been better. Everybody who writes deep tomes about how to manage the adolescent should have to teach a class of 15 year olds on a hot Friday afternoon.”
The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) has launched an election-year information programme to raise public awareness of social justice issues, under the theme “Let us look after each other – Aroha tetahi ki tetahi.’’ Working with the six major denominations, including the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, NZCCSS aims to promote social justice and compassion to church congregations around the country. Five awareness-raising booklets will be sent to all parishes this year, starting in May and ending in September. They will cover support for families and communities to nurture and protect children, dignity for an ageing population, poverty elimination, access to affordable housing, and government support for community-based solutions. Presbyterian Church moderator the Right Rev Pamela Tankersley says the Church fully supports the call for more action. “We support local churches to become involved in public issues and social action, to speak out in our communities, to respond to the call to serve those on the margins of society and to bring important issues to the fore. It is as a Christ-centred and community-facing church we bring our faith to everyday life.”