Breaking through the cone of silence

Is there a culture of silence about issues of faith, religion and spirituality among students at Anglican Schools? Are students fearful of mentioning their beliefs or commitment to Christianity for fear of being teased or made fun of?

In the 2007 book “The Spirit of Gen Y” (Mason ,Singleton and Webber) Australian researchers found that 48% of committed students in Other Private Schools (Christian) were pressured at school about religious beliefs and practices compared with 40% at Government Schools and 26% at Catholic Schools. While the researchers indicate that the difference between the Government Schools and Christian Schools is not significant, it is unsettling that students should experience this at all in a school where the Christian faith is promoted and encouraged.

The findings intrigued the researchers. They were actually surprised that the broader findings focusing on pressure against religion weren’t higher. In face to face interviews they had been led to believe that pressure against religion was quite pervasive, more so than the figures indicated. In follow up interviews trying to gain some insight they discovered that the reason the numbers weren’t higher seemed to be because students were only likely to discuss their faith with close friends.

They wrote:

“It might not be expected that, in schools with a religious affiliation, a culture of silence would develop surrounding one’s personal beliefs and practices. But in an environment where only a small minority of fellow students share one’s religious commitment, it seems a natural defensive strategy, and also accords perfectly with the dominant highly individualised view of religion..” p164

Putting aside what parents write in enrolment documents about religious affiliation, what percentage of students in your school are connected with a Christian community beyond the school and would attend church voluntarily on a regular basis? My guess is that it would be between 5-10% (this is me at my most optimistic). But what if it was 15% or 20%? Would that be high enough for students to feel free to talk openly about their faith?

If this cone of silence exists in Anglican Schools it seems that it is something that we should be trying to address. Anglican Schools pride themselves on their ethos of openness, inclusiveness and intellectualism and yet if students are anxious to discuss their beliefs then it would seem to undermine these very principles.

If we hope that students might embrace the Gospel they need to feel they are free to engage with it and discuss it. If the committed Christian students are anxious to declare their beliefs I wonder how others who are less committed feel.

I believe chaplains, religious educators and school leaders work hard to promote the Christian faith in Anglican Schools and to create a culture that is open for the exploration of Christian and spiritual ideas. But is it possible that the more we work on this directly the more likely we are to increase the silence. Kind of like trying to be happy by trying to be happy. It doesn’t work.

Is it possible that we need to address this problem from a completely different angle? Or does it need to be addressed head on and named?

Whatever the solution is, it seems to me that if the cone of silence is in place and we don’t deal with it, the effectiveness of everything else we do in relation to the Christian mission of the school will be hampered.

I think there are some solutions that revolve around language, choice and experience but these a probably best left for another post.

How do you think Anglican Schools might overcome the cone of silence?
Stephen Harrison Written by:

Stephen has a passion for exploring mission and ministry. He has worked for the Anglican Church for the last twenty years mostly in the area of youth and children’s ministry. In this time he has worked for two churches, two Anglican schools, as a university chaplain and for the Brisbane Diocese as the Youth, Children’s and Families Officer. Currently he is the Director of Mission for the Anglican Schools Commission. He has degrees in Science, Theology, Community Welfare, Education and has completed a Doctorate in Ministry, focused on the church’s mission in Anglican schools.

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