Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Personal Journey 25: Schools

It is a lovely sun-shiny day here today. I am quite excited as I have just had a delivery from Amazon. It is my order for the newish book by Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and two BBC Audio CDs, dramtisations of books by Dorothy Sayers. Bauckham's book looks brilliant. He is arguing that we can actually trust the Gospels historically.

I have been appreciating Dorothy Sayers more and more lately. I particularly like to listen to plays on the CD in the car. It helps to pass the time in traffic jams! I have quite a few of the Lord Peter Wimsey recordings. Dorothy Sayers was herself a devout Christian and wrote a famous series of plays about Jesus, The Man Born to be King. She thought the Gospels were reliable too!

She also wrote a paper on classical education, which most nearly correpsonds to my own educational philosophy. Sadly, we are both out of step with where education has been going for many years now. I wonder how many people in the future will have the ability to write a book like Bauckham's or a novel like Sayers. All of which leads nicely into today's blog!

I hope your week is good.

Personal Journey 25: Schools

Chinese people place a great store on education. It is taken very seriously indeed. At the forefront of educational provision in Hong Kong has been the Anglican Church. At the risk of an oversimplification, let me give you a brief history. During British rule the Anglican Church set up several institutions to cater for orphans. Some of the orphans were the products of unions between the British and local girls. The British had abandoned the girls and the girls were in no position to bring the children up. The children were not socially acceptable to either community being neither Chinese nor English.

These institutions provided schooling until schooling became their chief function. What is more they were very good schools so that locals also wanted to send their children to them. Entry to them became very competitive and tragically very exclusive. To put it bluntly, they became schools for the rich and connected. Places were, and are, much sought after. Parents will sell their souls to get their children into these schools. Money is not a problem.

If you have followed this story of mine, you will know that I believe in both academic excellence and I also believe in openness and opportunity, inclusiveness and equality. I do not believe in taking an academically poor child simply because his parents have contributed a lot of money to the School and live at an exclusive address. Does that happen? Yes. Do I know it happens? Yes. Do I think Christian schools should do this? Well, I think you can guess.

Christ Church for good and laudable motives had been very involved during its history in education. By virtue of my role as Vicar, I am a Council member of five schools. I am the Chairman of three and the Supervisor of two of those I chair. (The role of Supervisor is very important here. Please bear with me, this much background is necessary to set the stage for what follows.) Three of the schools that Christ Church is involved in are what are known as ‘elite’ schools. Christ Church Kindergarten (4-6year olds), Diocesan Preparatory School (a primary school for 7 year olds and above), and Diocesan Boys’ School (a very elite boys’ school!). The kindergarten is mixed and is one of the main ways in to the Diocesan system. This is true for girls as well as there are female equivalents to DPS and DBS.

DPS was again what was known as a feeder school for DBS. This meant that the vast majority of boys went on to DBS. DBS itself is held in the same sort of regard as the very top schools are in the UK and in other countries as well. Getting to DPS was seen as absolutely vital by many parents. When something is this important to people, then emotions have the potential to run very high. Happily for most of its history things had been tranquil and smooth.

Christ Church had greatly benefited from this connection with DPS. Christ Church had built it in the first place and the Vicar was automatically the Chairman of the Council. The relationship was extremely close between DPS and DBS. Now I thought from the perspective of the UK that this was a good thing and in many ways it was. But it meant that the life of the Church and School had become very tied up with one another. The result was that a significant number of people came to Christ Church because of the connection with the School and the advantage it was hoped going to Church would give.

I think the Church can cope with people coming for the wrong reasons - to an extent. It is a question of how many people. However, there are inevitably serious consequences for the Church when things go wrong between the two.

I had been told at interview that there had been some difficulties. Naturally enough, I thought that was always going to be true. I had no idea, however, just how serious the difficulties were. The first inkling I had of how seriously wrong things were, I mean seriously wrong, was sitting in my study in Banchory. My appointment as Vicar of Christ Church had been announced and everyone knew I was coming to Hong Kong. Bishop Bruce forwarded to me an email that he and it seemed all the Bishops in the UK had been sent from a parent in Hong Kong begging the Bishops to help because a well-established school in Hong Kong was in turmoil.

The School in question was DPS! The moment I arrived in Hong Kong, before I even had been installed as Vicar, I had people contacting me to tell me their side of the story and to try to get me to support them. The tragic events that affected the Schools still have their consequences and have coloured the whole of my time here so that even as I am writing this blog I can see emails coming in asking me to deal with part of the fall-out from the events that occurred just before I came.

If you are sitting comfortably next time, I will begin the story of politics and intrigue inasmuch as I can tell it without being served a writ for libel.

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