The Heart of Education is the Education of the Heart
Good evening St Thomas More, it’s always a pleasure to be here in this wonderful school community, a jewel in the Wood Green community crown. I will focus my remarks on two things this evening: freedom and empathy.
This October month is Black History month and in amongst all the celebrations of black culture, music, writing and sporting achievement, we must never forget the stain on our collective history which is slavery. The twin evils of slavery and colonization continue to have a lasting negative impact not just on black and indigenous communities across the globe, but on our own, here in London. Tragically slavery is not a thing of the past, there is such a thing as modern day slavery, and much debate takes place in Parliament regarding the Modern Slavery legislation to stop the scourge of trafficking in people which is still prevalent in modern cities like London. We must redouble our efforts within faith communities and schools to do all we possibly can to bring to book modern slavemasters and criminals who exploit the vulnerable.
What does the opposite to slavery or imprisonment look like? Freedom. The truly liberal education is one that sets you free. And children, liberal comes simply from the word liberus which is what the Romans called an ex slave or freeman. A good education gets you to think profoundly and feel deeply and set you free. Without a doubt there is a correlation between the dire state of our overcrowded prisons and the fifty percent reduction in spending on Further Education.
Here at St Thomas More, I have seen the importance of the arts and music in having students think profoundly, whether it was in the 2016 Xmas passion play where even the most lively students performed, gaining confidence and thinking deeply. The concentration on the face of the wind section of the orchestra was truly something to witness.
Or the first class musical production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor coat last year, where the depth of feeling was clear on the face of every child alight with wonder at the intrigue of the story and the inspiring songs.
Today is St Luke’s Feast day. Fittingly for this school, where music, languages, drama and the arts are so integral to the children’s experience, St Luke is patron saint of artists.
He’s also patron saint of physicians or doctors. In the second part of my remarks, I wanted to focus on healing. We live in a city where so many experience pain. Despite the fifth largest economy in the world, there are increasingly high levels of homelessness, begging, mental ill health, loneliness anxiety, stress and violence, even amongst our youngsters. St John Vianney parish church hosts a drop in soup kitchen, immigration advice surgery, and second hand clothing store for newly arrived communities.
In a recent visit to St Martin of Porres school, I was so impressed to hear the efforts of very small children to bring in beautiful food for harvest festival. At Coldfall Primary School the teachers have introduced an empathy project, promoting the gateway to teaching children about empathy. This aims to ensure children can recognise and understand the feelings and needs of others through their body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and words, teaching children and young people to look at each other when they are speaking, encouraging children and young people to share and talk about their feelings and developing a feelings vocabulary.
Friends, occasionally as the Member of Parliament I see a great deal of pain, whether it’s the worrying wait for an NHS operation or the terrible effects of overcrowding or a family’s grief over a youngster affected by violence. As the recently canonized Bishop Oscar Romero said: “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried”
― Oscar A. Romero
But I also see much healing in our faith communities and schools, where empathetic teachers model the meaning of freedom, an education which engenders deep thinking and deep feeling, often most evident on occasions like this where we see the end product. Our schools give me great hope that our unequal society and the pain which is so evident at times, will be healed. Because public progress begins with private character.
To sum up, at St Thomas More school, the Heart of Education is the Education of the Heart and long may it continue.