What do we mean by identity?

This term started on (depending on who you ask) the patron saint’s day of Malta, Portugal, Georgia or England. On Wednesday ANZAC Day was widely celebrated commemorating the sacrifices of both Australian and New Zealand troops in this the centenary of the end of the First World War. Groups, be they national or cultural are often keen to build some form of identity around individuals, institutions or notable events. Around these talismanic totems spring customs which all build an identity and sense of belonging. Sadly, such identity building can be used to exclude as much as it is used to include.

international kidsThis year we have more than fifty nationalities in the school. Many students will identify with what they see as their home nation. Others are less defined by nationality, indeed some claim no nationality at all, the “third culture kids”. We have young people who identify themselves according to their musical tastes or football teams. Happily we don’t as a rule have to deal with the cliques so clearly identified in the Senior School Musical earlier in the year. Where students express concerns about identity we seek to support them as they decide what it is that matters to them. I was recently asked to identify myself as being either a DC or a Marvel fan… there will always be newer and ever more specific classifications that we need to consider. In this week in which the latest Avengers film is released I chose Marvel…

Our young people have an opportunity as a consequence of our diverse and varied community to develop a broad world view. A perspective that is shaped by an understanding of other people rather than by suspicion and misunderstanding. I hope that by learning together our students have the confidence to reject narrowness of thought and build their own sense of international mindedness. What price can be put on the ability to see both sides of an argument? To understand where others are “coming from” is undoubtedly a rare gift. How valuable will it be to them to be able to understand what it is that drives other people’s thinking?

At the start of a school term teachers often take the opportunity to think about what it is they are aiming to achieve through their teaching. The development of skills and the transmission of knowledge generally register towards the top but in a school such as ours it would not be unusual to hear discussion of the development of character. We aim to make the best use of the variety of views and experiences that are to be found in our classrooms. Part of our job is to create space for our young people to develop as people and within it make the most of the international nature of our classes.

When I spend time with our students, be it in class, waiting in the lunch queue or simply as they go about their daily tasks I am filled with hope. They have the capacity to go on to play significant roles in their future communities. Their experiences here should allow them to lead lives of integrity and understanding. They will make our world a better place.

Nicholas Hammond

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