BEING a stutterer I was never called upon at school to try out for the debating team – the warning bell would have gone before I had got past “Good evening ladies and gentlemen!”
But I love debating and believe it is one of the essential life skills taught in our schools.
One of my more memorable moments teaching Religious Education occurred on a Friday afternoon in the last period of the day when the majority of my Year 11 class were casting their minds to the weekend and I was raving on about the context for the writing of Luke’s Gospel, his audience and themes.
A young man put up his hand and politely said: “Sir, you’re not a bad bloke but I just don’t dig all of this religion stuff you rave on about!”
The Holy Spirit gently nudged me and I responded: “Thanks for that Danny, what do you dig?”
It was one of those privileged moments where Danny recalled getting up in the wee hours, driving to the Gold Coast and the awe, beauty and peace of him and his mate surfing at Duranbah.
His description of the sets of waves, the blue, purple and gold colours of the sunrise on the water, the companion dolphin that occasionally surfed with them and the quiet and peace was powerful.
It was truly a sacred time for Danny – his God time.
Danny’s response sparked the rest of the class and there followed a most powerful discussion about the sacred and the longing deep within all of us for purpose and meaning.
Over the years I have deliberately invited young people to critique and break open aspects of our present-day culture, especially our youth culture.
I am not a great television watcher but one of the things that really fires me up is the term “reality television” – programs that could not be more removed from reality if they tried.
Sure, I get that they are cheap and easy to produce and that they appeal to an unthinking, critique-lacking audience.
Reality is getting out of bed when an alarm sounds, going to study or to work, engaging with the mundane, putting in the hard yards in real relationships, dancing your day between the boring, the exciting, the interesting and the dull, and getting up and doing it all the following day.
Reality is not sets of six-packed, mirror-fixated male models engaging in hormonal-driven superficial trifle with equally mirror-fixated, scantily clad young women with neither chores nor responsibility nor toilets nor commitment nor other-centred awareness in sight.
Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, invites us to “Know thy enemy”.
It is of no value our mocking this modern youth culture and world (for in every time and in every culture the same phenomena is there) but we owe it to our youth and to future generations of generous, forgiving, loving, sacrificing young people who seek to leave this world a better place for all – to teach them, deliberately teach them critical thinking, at both home and in school.
Teach them the skills to step back, to look objectively, to think laterally, to unpack the hidden values, to see the lack of logic; to see the reality for what it really is.
It is not about teaching or telling people what to think but rather to truly and deeply think for themselves.
Sure, debating is a great skill that does this when one has to argue, logically, a case one does not necessarily believe in.
But the skills of social analysis and theological reflection are great gifts at school or in the family home – just to choose the right time and gently revisit with the youth what was said or engaged in and wrap the conversation with the skills of stepping back, critical questioning, seeing the bigger picture and unpacking.
But pick the right time, play the ball not the person and trust that ultimately “truth” will win out.
After some time these skills will become personally owned and they, in their own good time, will critique the self-centred, hedonistic, shallow and respect-lacking culture, and name it for what it really is – anything but love-centred reality.
Christian Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace; St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe; and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.