Herald Sun - - OPINION - JON CARNEGIE DR JON CARNEGIE IS A FORMER TRIN­ITY GRAM­MAR SCHOOL STAFF MEM­BER If you wish to sup­port Ro­han Brown, go on­line to­dents-of-tgs-get-mr-brown-back

IT was 30 years ago last week­end that a much younger and fit­ter Ro­han Brown and I took a group of Trin­ity Gram­mar boys raft­ing on the Mitta Mitta River in Vic­to­ria’s alpine region.

I was fresh out of teach­ers col­lege with an out­door ed. de­gree and Ro­han owned a beaten-up four-wheel drive and a raft.

On ar­rival, it was clear the river was flow­ing fast but the lo­cal ex­perts con­sid­ered it safe for raft­ing and I had just spent five years at col­lege learn­ing ev­ery safety rou­tine known to man; so we set out on what was to be­come “the ride of a life­time”.

I can­not ex­plain the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of see­ing the kids in our raft pushed to their limit, over­com­ing their fears, and grow­ing in con­fi­dence with each set of rapids.

Af­ter five hours’ pad­dling, we reached our fi­nal chal­lenge, a rapid aptly named Dis­lo­ca­tion. We pulled over to the side of the river and dis­cussed with the kids the mer­its of ei­ther get­ting out of the boat and walk­ing around the rapid or tak­ing it head on.

We chose the lat­ter.

As we en­tered the rapid, I was re­hears­ing the “safety” plan in my head. And then, as if on script, the raft struck some­thing just be­neath the sur­face, veered left and be­came wedged be­tween the down­ward cur­rent and a boul­der. It is a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion to be in. The raft can fill with wa­ter and be pushed un­der. I had the res­cue ropes in place and fol­lowed text­book pro­ce­dure. Ro­han, how­ever, took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach and, with wa­ter start­ing to rush in over the edge of the raft, he stood up leaned his weight into the rock and brought the nose of the raft around un­til it caught the down­ward flow of the river, which cre­ated enough mo­men­tum to pull it to safety.

It was not a text­book move. But it worked. It wasn’t pretty but it was ef­fec­tive and, most im­por­tantly, it was done with due con­sid­er­a­tion, ex­pe­ri­ence and an un­der­stand­ing of physics which en­abled Ro­han to see a bet­ter so­lu­tion than the one I had in the text book. That is the art of ed­u­ca­tion: the cre­ativ­ity to see there are dif­fer­ent paths to a so­lu­tion.

Break­throughs, cre­ative solutions, al­ter­na­tive opin­ions and left-of-field think­ing are at the heart of great ed­u­ca­tion.

Some­times, in our quest to keep that heart beat­ing, we overstep the bound­aries. And when we do so in today’s cli­mate, the im­pact of the con­se­quences can far out­weigh the sever­ity of the ac­tions.

Fast-for­ward 30 years, and I am sure if Ro­han could have his time again, he would come up with an al­ter­na­tive way of deal­ing with hair length on Trin­ity’s photo day, which led to his dis­missal. But he may not get that chance and therein lies the seed of a deeper so­cial is­sue.

We are now so scared of get­ting things wrong that we have lost the courage to be cre­ative in try­ing to get them right. When Ro­han stood up in that raft and when he cut the

young man’s hair on photo day, he was try­ing to do the right thing. He was try­ing to teach a valu­able life les­son which goes be­yond the class­room. And while that kind of teach­ing has far more reg­u­la­tions today than it did 30 years ago, it is still an in­valu­able part of ed­u­ca­tion.

SACK­ING teach­ers like Ro­han Brown is short­sighted and un­der­mines the con­fi­dence of teach­ers ev­ery­where to take cal­cu­lated risks in push­ing the bound­aries of ed­u­ca­tion.

Ac­cu­sa­tions made from be­hind the pro­tec­tive walls of legalese and “best prac­tice” rhetoric are de­fin­i­tive and thus in­evitably di­vi­sive. They al­low no room for dis­cus­sion or com­pro­mise and, worst of all, they at­tempt to jus­tify them­selves un­der the false as­sump­tion that they are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of com­mu­nity val­ues.

Pri­vate schools have long been the bas­tion of self-pro­mot­ing mot­tos and words like “ex­cel­lence” and “in­tegrity”, and when sup­ported by a hum­ble, com­mu­nity-minded work ethic, those mot­tos are of­ten a source of great pride.

But when they are trot­ted out in the name of pompous self­in­ter­est, they ring hol­low and ap­pear out of touch with the com­mu­ni­ties they claim to so stead­fastly rep­re­sent. Sim­ply say­ing some­thing in de­fin­i­tive terms does not make it so.

When coun­cil pres­i­dent Rod Lyle sug­gested that Ro­han’s ac­tions on photo day were “in­con­sis­tent with com­mu­nity ex­pec­ta­tions in this day and age”, he may have been cor­rect.

But what he failed to ac­knowl­edge was that for the vast ma­jor­ity of Ro­han’s 30-plus years at Trin­ity, he, per­haps more than any other in­di­vid­ual, has been re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing those very com­mu­nity ex­pec­ta­tions by which Mr Lyle is now so in­tent on judg­ing him. Com­mu­nity foun­da­tions are built around peo­ple like Ro­han who spend a life­time ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing a bet­ter space for oth­ers.

There are peo­ple like him in ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion. They are hum­ble, they are strong, they are vul­ner­a­ble and they are pas­sion­ate.

You can’t mea­sure their value in a test and you sure as heck can’t dis­miss it with a plat­i­tude.

I don’t know how this sit­u­a­tion will un­fold.

But I do know this. When your house is burn­ing down and ev­ery­one else is run­ning out, you can pick the Ro­han Browns of this world be­cause they will be run­ning in.

And when your kid is stuck in a raft be­tween a rock and a rag­ing river, you want the likes of Ro­han Brown in there with them.


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