A Lifelong Commitment to Asking Questions

Found in: Principal's Message

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All Year 12 students have made their way across the stage on Tuesday morning, in their uniform, for the last time. Was it that long ago that you were sitting back with your fellow students watching last year's Year 12’s preparing to leave? Perhaps it seemed then that you still had a long time to wait.  Well here you are and looking back I am sure that moment doesn’t seem so long ago.

I have a special request to make of you: Don’t Stop Asking Why!

An interesting and important book was published in 2009 by Andrea Batista Schlesinger, a young woman, then still in her twenties. The book was entitled The Death of Why?: The Decline of Questioning and the Future of Democracy. Parents, you might appreciate its dedication: “For my parents, who have suffered the most from my love of questions.”

In the book, she argues that “questions have always been power.”   We know that throughout the history of free societies, questioning has been both essential and provocative: Socrates is famous for saying that a life without questions is not worth living, and he is also famous for being put to death for his relentless and pestering inquiry.

Yet, our schools, Schlesinger says (and she is NOT speaking of Swan Christian College), “send the message to children that the answer is all that counts.”

Seth Godin writes in his book Linchpin that schools must change their mission from training people to follow directions, to instead “teaching people to take initiative, become remarkable artists, and to question the status quo.”

I find it extremely interesting that the South Australian Education Department is currently completely rewriting their curriculum to move away from the traditional subjects such as you have studied here to focus more fully on the development of students with an enquiring mind embracing what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset”, and focus on encouraging students to work in integrated learning modules from an enquiry base.

Some of you may remember that around the time most of you would have been in year 5, the catastrophic effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in April, 2010. Some weeks after, an article in the New York Times by David Brooks titled Drilling for Certainty explored an interesting perspective.   In his assessment, the terrible tragedy that is the Gulf oil spill, is in large part rooted in systems thinking, and the failure by a series of people and players to stop and ask the necessary question.  He wrote, “A culture of silence settled upon all concerned, from front-line workers who didn’t want to lose their jobs to executives who didn’t want to hurt profits.”

As Schlesinger says in her most important passage:

There is no guarantee that our childhood curiosity will turn into a lifelong commitment to asking questions.   We have to send the message (just as I am sending this message today), that this journey, this journey of asking questions, of exploration—is as important as where we end up.   The journey is a risk that our children—that you, our valedictorians, moving out into the world—must be willing to take.”

Year 12 students, as you move into your much-anticipated post-school years, please take with you, and don’t let anyone or anything take away from you, your natural spirit of inquiry.   Please Don’t Stop Asking Why!

In a paper titled Spiritual Inquiry and the Evolution of Consciousness, Andrew Cohen poses the question: “What is the purpose of spiritual inquiry?" And he answers: "It is to make sense out of life at the deepest level. If we don't make the effort to deeply grasp who we are and why we are here, we will half-blindly stumble our way through life, like most people do. And that's not much help to the growth process. We are living in a time when nobody really knows what the rules are anymore. Now that we have more or less transcended traditional orientations, we really have to accept the fact that those of us at the leading edge, in so many ways, are in uncharted waters. That's why engaging in the deliberate practice of philosophical and spiritual inquiry is more important than ever”.

As we acknowledge you and encourage you as go out into the world, I would like to pray with you for the future ahead. Writing of God’s love, King David said in Psalm 103, Verse 5: “You satisfy my every desire with good things. You’ve supercharged me so that I soar again like a flying eagle in the sky”

So let us pray together:

Father God, thank you for the way you bless us. You delight in surrounding us with lovely things. You’re the hope that fills us, even when things look dark and difficult. When we focus on you, we are filled with optimism – our glass isn’t half full, it overflows.

The dreams inside of us come to life when we share them with you.  You always encourage us and remind us that everything is possible when it is done with you.  We are confident that our future is brimming with promise. Our lives are in your hands. The possibilities are endless.

Lord, thank you for the rich blessing each of these students has been to this College. We ask that you continue to hold them close as they go out from this place to continue to be a blessing to all they meet. May they continue to grow and seek answers to life’s many questions. We ask this In Jesus name, Amen.

So, it is finally time to say goodbye. Go well.  Know that we will miss you; we will continue to think of you and pray for you.  Don’t ever forget that you will always be an important part of Swan Christian College and Swan Christian College will always be an important part of you.

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