Redefining School: A School That Takes Sides



One thing that bothers me about international schools is the fear of taking a strong stance on any sort of issues. We persistently flap about in the no-man’s land of opinion, belief and – most worryingly – ethics. We have wonderful mission statements, visions, learner profiles, principles, codes of conduct etc… ad infinitum… but we don’t take a stance on anything that really matters.

Imagine working at a school that explicitly took sides against one, a few or all of these things that exist outside and/or inside the walls of most of our schools:

  • corruption
  • consumerism
  • massive gaps between the rich and the poor
  • environmental destruction
  • waste and the production of rubbish
  • racism
  • maltreatment of refugees

Imagine a school that refused to accept the children of parents who were in the country for dubious or destructive purposes – industries that caused pollution of the destruction of the environment, for example. Or a school that refused to accept the children of powerful local “dignitaries” or owners of the construction companies that are turning many of the cities we work in into nightmarish visions of “progress”. Or a school that refused to accept the citizens of countries waging wars on foreign soil. Or a school that insisted on paying its local staff decent wages. Or a school that would not tolerate seeing people living in distressing circumstances within a certain radius of its premises. Or a school that gave disadvantaged local people scholarships or new career opportunities.

Or, basically, a school that does more good than harm… and is fiercely proud of that fact. Is that how we can make sure our schools are “human”?


  1. Stephen Martin

    This is not something that individual teachers could, or even should, try to effect. No lead in this direction ever comes from the Administration; understandable perhaps as it may be viewed as being critical of the school’s patrons/sponsors. The role of leadership however, would be paramount in the decision making and implementation processes if such a direction were deemed to be at all desirable. We are after all, working in a system that serves to preserve the status quo.

    • sherrattsam

      Yeah… that’s the bit I’m not comfortable with – the preservation of the status quo, ‘cos I’m not that convinced by the status quo! Yes, this must come from leadership and, indeed, the existence of the school must be built on such stances in the first place.

  2. Chad Walsh

    Agree with all the points you made Sam. Sadly, you just have to look at the state the world is in to know the side you are talking about will never be. I’m constantly caught between wanting and understanding that schools need to be more like you are talking about – yet, as defeatists as it is, unless you are going to start up your own ethical, green-minded, morally grounded school what you are talking about is a pipe dream. Wish it was different. There are those who can claim that education is the answer and we must keep trying. I say, show me a school that has two feet in and is truly committed themselves to be what they say they are. Again, the mission statement and vision of a school is an advertising ploy to fool the foolish into believing otherwise.

    • sherrattsam

      I believe there are people out there trying to set up ethical schools – I spoke to someone this morning who wants to do exactly that. Of course, the only issue is money.

  3. jelena100janovic

    Interesting, somewhat I agree, but … If you are so good-minded person to wish for school impact on people behavior, just imagine this situation:
    There comes father who can’t enroll his son in school to try. And brings his 5 or 6-year-old. Will you really tell that child that he can’t go to your beautiful school because his father makes big mistakes in life?!?
    I agree with you in form of wishes, but I couldn’t do that job. 🙂

    • sherrattsam

      I know what you mean, but I guess my point is that we keep compromising and compromising until our schools stand for pretty much nothing. An alternative I came up with when chatting with someone yesterday was that there is a sort of “Fees Rubric” and parents working in ethical careers, or working for companies with clear social/environmental responsibility policies, would pay less than those who don’t – even to the point where parents devoting their lives to the improvement of life for others would have their children educated for free.

  4. teaton

    Agree with where you’re going here Sam; however, we all make choices. Ultimately we have chosen to work and live where we are. As teachers, we are not destitute; we could all choose different places of work if we simply made a choice to do so.

    Sure, the institutions could do a lot more in the countries we live in, but so could we.
    …Imagine a school where more of us helped local families to pursue their passions by giving them micro-credit loans.
    …Imagine a school that supports community agricultural projects to preserve farmland and help farmers.
    …Imagine a school that supports its auxiliary staff by pitching in for grants to fund further education.

    It could even be more simple:
    …Imagine a school where the teachers stopped drinking individually packaged bottles of water!

    Better yet, imagine a school where people come together outside the realm of their professional obligations to support others. Instead of focusing on what the community doesn’t have, re-imagining a school where people work with the community to find sustainable economic opportunities on a larger scale. Isn’t this authentic learning?

    At what point do we stop complaining that our places of work aren’t doing enough and take what simple steps we can in the evenings, on the weekends or during our plethora of holiday breaks? This needs to be done as human beings, not as teachers.

    By showing how to care about the world and modeling good behavior, the next generation might not be more concerned about getting money than where it comes from. If we can’t lead by example then how can we expect others to? If we aren’t willing to sacrifice some of our humility, free time or spare money then how can we expect our students to?

    • sherrattsam

      How about turning your comment into the next “Redefining Schools” posting for us? There’s plenty of juicy stuff in there that you could elaborate on!

      One thing to consider, however, and what I guess I’m really trying to get at, is that it shouldn’t just be the school’s responsibility to make things better – or the reality, a few teachers in a school. Schools should be able to take a strong stance on issues and then parents should indicate their belief and support by choosing to enroll their children in that school. Make choices about where to educate children based on ethics, not based on getting them into university or because they’ve got the nicest swimming pool.

      I would also say that teachers, in general, have sacrificed so mucn humility, free time and “spare” money that – worldwide – they have become completely depleted. This is less true, of course, in many international schools where we live “the life of Riley”, have domestic help and binge drink every weekend. But, it is still generally true… don’t you think?

  5. Gareth Jacobson

    Hi Sam,
    Your post reminds me of a seminar i attended by David Wilkinson (Mahindra UWC) when studying for my MA in Bath… the dichotomy between an ideologically driven school vs a pragmatically driven school. Of course all stakeholders have their part to play as they seek to influence each other, about which way the directional moral compass of a school should point in order to lead and grow the culture. I guess the UWC movement comes pretty close on the ideologically spectrum, but even they probably fall prey to the vicious and all conquering power of economic forces.

    Ultimately, schools mirror many underlaying human shortfalls, because we work in the people business. The one I often see in schools is hypocrisy, especially in IB schools! For me, as an educator who is ideologically driven this can be extremely demoralising. A school that does more good than harm and is willing to stand out from the crowd has to be prepared to weather themselves for ridicule and criticism. Therefore, they need very strong, inspirational and even heroic leadership – a rare commodity in international schools.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s