Last week my oldest son went to a meeting in the centre of London to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which was the first step to the founding of the state of Israel. It was not a celebration but a public forum addressed by a variety of eminent politicians and rabbis and Palestinian campaigners from many different perspectives. I was delighted he went along and he was fascinated by it.
One of the things that I feel strongly about is making sure that Columbans do not live in a bubble, where the issues in the world and the suffering and injustice experienced by so many are not ignored. On one level I do want our pupils to be protected from the harsh world beyond our privileged gates, because childhood is precious and children need to feel safe…but on another level it must be right to take an interest in the wider issues in the world and I have written often about wanting to prepare children for a life of service as well as a life of success.
This week is a good example of the world coming into the school and I hope that the pupils will develop a fascination with the wider world. Tomorrow our Transition Year have a whole day of presentations on China, which will hopefully give them an understanding of the importance that China plays in the world today and the influence that it will increasingly have during their lifetimes. If they are like me I suspect that they are very ignorant of so many aspects of Chinese life and it will be good to at least get them thinking. Maybe it will inspire some to study Mandarin at university, as many of my friends did. That would indeed be a very good strategic move for their careers.
On Thursday we have a visit in the evening from the Mexican ambassador to Ireland, who will talk to the senior pupils in our latest ‘fireside chat.’ I also wonder what our pupils know about Mexico…what is it like to be a neighbour to the USA, to be told by Donald Trump that your country is full of rapists and that he intends to build that famous wall? I am sure it will be interesting to get a perspective from Mexico. It is an extraordinary country but I realise that I myself know almost nothing about it at all.
Then of course this week culminates in Remembrance Sunday, which will remind us again, in ways that I always find very moving, that many Columbans made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us from fascism and brutal racialism and anti-semitism. On Tuesday I’m going to a talk on the role of Ireland in the Great War, something else that I know very little about. We have to embrace the world and take time to understand those different from ourselves because so many of the conflicts in the world are caused by ignorance of other people…and ignorance leads to fear and fear leads to hatred. It is much harder to hate people when you really know them. Our school is very international and that is a great thing because it is preparing our young people for an international future where they will rub shoulders with people from every possible culture and ethnicity.
I wish I had taken more of an interest in the world when I was at school, but I want to make sure that at least some of the present day Columbans have their eyes opened to the needs of the world while they are still here.