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Headmaster's Blog - The Rights of Refugees

“Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 13:9

I listened with interest to the above passage, the topic of a recent sermon at Chapel, made all the more pertinent by the current refugee crisis – surely amongst the most “poor and needy” in our world today. No doubt you have your own views on the refugee crisis, on the issue of homelessness and the exploitation of the low paid in our society. Wherever you stand on the spectrum, I am sure you agree that we must all stand up for doing what is ‘right.’

Social justice is an issue close to my heart and something in which I passionately believe. As a school, I believe it is our duty to introduce our students to these issues, to help them to recognise their good fortune and to understand that – being amongst the privileged “few” in the world - they have a responsibility towards others and to fight for justice on their behalf.  

I believe that teaching is more than just a job; it is a privilege. And I believe that teaching young people to question and seek-out justice is every bit as important as teaching them algebra or poetry. As teachers, we can control the culture of the classroom and even that of our schools; we can influence our local surroundings. And while it is much harder to have an impact on the global problems we face today, we can at least play a part, by encouraging our students to go out into the world as morally responsible citizens.

For that to happen, our young need to understand society as it is. They need to face the conversation happening in our world right now with frank honesty. Teaching them about social justice is important not simply because it is topical, but so they can explore how their stories fit into the larger tapestry of a national and global narrative.

Later in the term we are looking forward to a visit by the Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti. Ms Chakrabarti, who has led the charity since 2003, has a justifiably strong reputation as a human rights campaigner and a great orator. She is coming to talk to our students about protecting the civil rights of the refugees caught up in the awful turmoil in Syria and the surrounding region.

It is a subject in which our students are already engaged and one which was passionately examined by our debating society last term. I find that very encouraging because one of things we constantly ask ourselves at Bloxham is whether we are doing enough to stretch the horizons of our students. Bloxham is a great place to grow up and makes for a happy introduction to adulthood and all that comes after. But if we are going to fully prepare our students for life outside the confines of our locality, we must find opportunities to open their eyes to the complexity and diversity of the world beyond Bloxham.

Talks like the one we’re expecting from Ms Chakrabarti will do much to give the students a broader, global perspective. Another way we can look to achieve that is through the international make-up of our student body. Like many boarding schools, Bloxham counts a number of overseas students within its group. Though the number here is small, the individuals are very much valued members of the community. Meeting and living alongside students from other countries, cultures and religions has many benefits and truly enhances their education. It introduces another perspective to their (sometimes narrow) experience of life and teaches them about other cultures and beliefs in a far more compelling way than we could ever hope to achieve in the classroom.

This forthcoming week is the 7th annual social justice week. Its aim is to raise awareness in the world of the injustice towards others through understanding. It’s not about guilt. It’s about being educated and making educated choices. At Bloxham we aim to do just this by exposing our students to other culture, through service, education and by teaching them to stand up for what is right. Perhaps this is our most important role as teachers and educators at Bloxham when it comes to preparation for life.