Why do we teach and model ‘values’

When I found out that I was going to be a mum, like many parents-to-be, I experienced a crisis of confidence. Will I be good enough? Will I know how to look after my child? Clothe it? Change it? Protect it? Love it?

What will I teach my child? When? Should I be strict? Should I parent as my parent did? Should I ensure that I am absolutely nothing like them?! Whose advice should I take? And what do I do in the absence of advice?

Raising children is a huge responsibility to add colour onto the blank canvas of the experience of a person that you are responsible for bringing into the world. You aim to fill their lives with brightness and happiness. You aim for their experiences to be diverse, enriching, and educational. You set out to make adventures memorable, to make the best bits stick. You hope to inspire excitement, and curiosity and help them to develop an appreciation of the things that are good and beautiful. 

The longer I dwelled on it, the more my questioning reached a dizzying, confusing mess of contradiction. Who am I and what worldly wisdom do I possess that makes me qualified to impose my values and beliefs on another person? How do I know that I am right in what I believe? Ultimately, what do I believe? 

The world is a complex place, and there are always numerous perspectives to consider. To disregard any perspective is to teach my child that some people’s opinions and beliefs are less worthwhile than others. I could not do that to my child. Each person should have the opportunity, when they are old enough, to make up their own mind about things.

But does that mean that I don’t teach my child anything in the meantime? And if I don’t then to whom am I relinquishing the responsibility of doing so? And is that person any better qualified than me to give my child the foundations of thinking and perceiving of the world that I want them to have?

You might conclude that I was overthinking all of this somewhat…

So, in the end, I decided that it was my responsibility as a parent after all to make some decisions about what I judged to be important and the values that I wanted to teach my children to grow up with. And when I dug a little deeper, read a little, talked to other parents, talked to my parents, and observed other parents, I realised that whilst I might disagree with some of the specifics of approaches to parenting, there is a commonality in what we are all trying to achieve.

Ultimately we want to raise good, kind, considerate people. We want them to live happy and fulfilling lives. We hope that they live within a society that values the contribution that they have to make, that values them as people; a community in which they are safe and they have access to the things that they need. Individually, we may want to or hope for even more but no parent on this planet would not want the above for their children.

So where do we go as parents, as educators, as a school, to ensure that our children ascribe the values that shape the society that we want them to be a part of? And what are those fundamental values that we want our children to hold as their own?

  • We want our children to believe that they have a voice
  • We want them to be valued and accepted for who they are
  • We want them to have the freedom to express themselves and explore perspectives, to understand the wonderful diversity of this world before concluding what they believe and who they are
  • We want them to feel safe and be safe and to know that the rules and laws of a community will protect them

And so these are the pillars upon which Rossall as a School operates and we take our responsibility exceptionally seriously in this regard.

The values of

  • Democracy
  • Individual Liberty
  • The Rule of Law
  • Mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

may well be what the UK Government calls “Fundamental British Values” but they are moreover fundamental values that any society, any community will hold if it seeks to look after all of the people within it.

They seem like obvious pillars, but where they are shaky, their absence is felt and the resulting impact on society can be detrimental.

And this brings me to Harry Potter. A story that has captured the imagination of millions across the globe. The appeal – a magical, fantastical world, children on an adventure, the fight between good and evil. But Harry Potter is also a coming-of-age story. As Harry grows up, so the world around him becomes more complex and uncertain. The simple pillars of the happiness he finds at Hogwarts start to break away as the influence of Voldemort (there, I said it!) permeates every aspect of magical (and muggle!) society. What was an annoying and somewhat bizarre creature residing on the back of Professor Quirrel’s head, over the course of 6 books, becomes the biggest threat to all that Harry and his friends, and us readers, assume as permanent and unchangeable. The Ministry of Magic is infiltrated, the school curriculum is altered, punishments become severe, people disappear, and rules become unjust. The extent of the danger is realised too late. The whole government collapses to be replaced by the rule of the Dark Lord.

Yes, it is a story about magical people. Yes, it oversimplifies. But, what struck me as I read it for the first time, thinking back to my own childhood, is that it is undeniably real and possible for a society to fall apart, first quietly and slowly, and then dramatically and quickly. 

So we all have a duty and a responsibility to protect the fundamental values that we hold dear. It is something that we all must be mindful of in all of our interactions.

  • To ensure that everyone’s voice is heard
  • To ensure that everyone feels included, valued and respected
  • To ensure that everyone feels safe
  • To ensure that we are kind and considerate

You will have noticed that our school rules and much of how the School functions are based on these core values. This is the reason why we often talk about pupil voice and its impact, it is why we are so emphatic about challenging and reporting bullying, it is why we are firm in upholding the rules that ensure that pupils are kept safe, it is why we take every opportunity to celebrate the wonderful diversity of our community and the achievements of the individuals within it. 

The warmth, strength and generosity of our school community (that we are rightly incredibly proud of) should always serve to set the example of what a tolerant and inclusive society can be. Floreat Rossallia!

Dina Porovic
Senior Deputy Head