by Catherine Delahunty
A Northland Catholic school has sacked a teacher for supporting students. The students challenged the Principal for writing anti marriage equality remarks in the school newsletter and wore rainbow wrist bands with their uniforms as a protest. The students stood up for human rights against an interpretation of Catholicism which is by no means universal. They didn’t march down town in Whangarei, they wore wristbands with rainbow colours! The teacher lost his job for backing them.
This sad story shows that some schools are not safe places for dissent or solidarity and that a teacher who supports dissenting students on an issue of human rights can lose their rights. Some would argue that this is predictable in a Catholic school but I know many Catholics who are progressive and passionate about human rights and justice and who have a robust commitment to challenge and debate. It seems odd that a church school in the 21st century doesn’t feel strong enough to allow debate on this issue within its walls and cannot value a teacher for supporting students expressing their views.
The excuse for sacking someone who stood up with the kids on homophobia is his support for a breach of uniform rules. Why is it that authoritarian power structures are so afraid of the rainbow wristband?
Do they think the entire school infrastructure is at risk if students protest in this manner and that an excellent teacher should always side with authority rather than model respect for human rights and legitimate dissent?
I have often heard Christians raise the question, “What would Jesus do?” and in this situation I cannot visualise Jesus sacking the teacher and silencing the kids. It is more likely that he would support the idea that love is more powerful than fear and ignorance and that a right to publicly commit to that love belongs to us all.
The true role of a teacher is to demonstrate the highest commitment to critical thinking and human dignity, anything less is just power and control.