KIDS NEED GUIDANCE FROM MEN LIKE BROWN
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.