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I Am Known: I Am More

The Oratory marks Anti-Bullying Week

This year's Anti-Bullying Week at The Oratory began with a talk from Oratory Chaplain Fr Rocks, who invited us all to think about what we can do to 'Reach out' (the campaign theme for this year) and make bullying history.

Tutor groups then discussed this issue further with pupils encouraged to watch the short video below, whilst the Oratory Library has displayed books focusing on what it's like to be someone else, somewhere else, at another time. The message being that pupils should not feel that they are alone and that there is always someone available at school to 'Reach Out' to.

Our Deputy Head Pastoral, Matthew Fogg took this week's Anti-Bullying week assembly with his insightful talk 'Newman and Conscience', which you can read here: 

'Newman and Conscience' an Anti-Bullying Week Assembly Talk by Matthew Fogg

"I am standing here today in my “Odd Socks” and it has been wonderful to see the garish combinations that many of you have worn.

I wanted to take this opportunity to explain a little bit about why we are doing this. I have spoken about some of this before, but most of you were not here, and anyway, I think that this is so important that I would want us to be thinking about this every day.

Most schools are having an odd socks day because it is National Anti-Bullying Week. We are taking part in this as well and I hope that you have a chance to speak to your tutors about being a bystander this morning – the theme for this year. However, I would like to argue that there is a more fundamental reason why we should be thinking about this (and indeed wearing odd socks!) at The Oratory. For me this all links to us being St John Henry Newman’s school.

To start with I think it is worth us all remembering that this last sentence means something. We are not just a school named after Newman, or a school in the spirit of Newman. We are actually his school, the institution that he set up himself and he had some clear ideas about what that education should be. A key part of this was the development of the idea of CONSCIENCE.

In the 19th century there were still many laws prohibiting the roles that Catholics could fulfil; and it was not that long since being a Catholic was illegal in itself. Therefore, at the time of Newman’s birth, you only really found three types of Catholic in England – and all were viewed as both odd and deeply suspicious.

First of all you had the recusant nobility. These were members of a small number of noble families (such as the Dukes of Norfolk) who had insisted on keeping their Catholicism all through the years of persecution. Society viewed them as being ridiculously old fashioned and rather odd.

Then you had the Catholic populations of Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. These groups were often viewed as being, at best, troublemakers and, at worst, downright treacherous. Always rebelling and never reliably loyal to the crown.

And then finally you had foreigners. Victorian England was deeply suspicious of those Catholic parts of Europe (Italy, Spain, France and Austria). Historically these were enemies and Imperial Britain viewed them with distrust.

I hope this helps you to realise that, when Newman decided to become a Catholic, he was therefore moving from being the very stereotype of Britain’s governing class to becoming a real outsider. Somebody who would be viewed as suspicious, potentially disloyal and a source of embarrassment to both family and former friends.

People also tried to trap him in order to show that being a Catholic was alien to being a good Englishman. The Duke of Norfolk, his close friend, wrote to ask him advice about just such a situation. People kept asking him whether or not he would toast Queen Victoria or the Pope at the end of dinner. This was clearly a trap – if he said that he would toast the Queen then he would be rejecting his obedience to the Pope; but if he toasted the Pope then he could easily be accused of being disloyal to the Queen. Newman’s Catholic friends would all be hoping that he would toast the Pope; his old colleagues at Oxford would have been hoping he would revert to the traditional toast to the Queen.

Newman’s response was genius – he replied that, rather than toasting either, he would first of all toast CONSCIENCE. By this he meant – I will use my God given ability, informed by the gift of reason, to come to an honest decision.

Well, this is all interesting, but what does it have to do with us gathered together here this evening.

As Deputy Head Pastoral I have to deal with issues when pupils make bad choices. Sometimes we act or say things so that another pupil is made to feel unwelcome or made to feel that they are not deserving of respect. In many cases (in fact in nearly all cases) the bully acts in this way because he wants to appear cool in front of his friends.

This is where Newman’s example is priceless. It is always easy to go along with the crowd: sometimes positively like toasting the monarch or negatively, such as when we choose to bully the unpopular kid. But this is Newman’s own school and he would have demanded far more from us. It is clear from his life and his writings that he would have expected us to use our conscience. He would have expected us to use our reason to think about whether this is the right and proper thing to do.

We all want to be popular, this is an understandable human need; but blindly following the crowd and causing harm to others is wrong and, at its worst, it is cowardice.

Newman would have wanted his school to be a place where we all take time to think about what we do and the impact that our actions have on others. Surely this is one way of understanding his and our motto of “Heart speaks to Heart”. He would have wanted us to use our God-given faculty of conscience to think about the impact that our actions have on others.

There is challenge here. For some of you, perhaps just a small minority, I am saying that you need to think about your own actions and be willing to challenge yourself about the way you behave towards others. You also need to accept that we may decide that we don’t want you to carry on as a pupil here.

For the vast majority of us, however, there is still a challenge. Honestly, how often are you a bystander? How often do you watch somebody being isolated or made to feel uncomfortable? How often do you watch people being unkind to somebody else. In most of the cases I have dealt with there was a bystander – somebody who watched it happen and has chosen to do nothing. They did not try to stop the bullying. They did not check on how the bullied pupil was. They did nothing.

In his teaching on conscience, Newman challenges all of us, teachers and pupils, to use our reason to reflect on our behaviour and to ask ourselves – am I doing this (or letting this happen) because I want to be part of the group; or is this truly what I believe is the right thing to do.

This week is anti-bullying week and so a great opportunity to be able to focus on this aspect of our community life here at school. Today, like many schools around the country, we were all invited to wear odd socks as a way of announcing that we have decided that bullying (making another feel bad about themselves) is not right.

Like Newman, I did not ask you to do this simply because every other school is. Rather I am asking you to use your reason to think – is it right to bully? Is it right to simply be a bystander when someone is being unkind to another. If, as I hope, you decide to reject bullying behaviour, then wearing odd socks is an outward sign that you will not accept such behaviour.

I would like to think that St John Henry would choose to wear odd socks under his cardinal’s robes. Thank you.

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