As promised, here is the first of my accounts of my visit to Australia last week. Slightly more than a year ago I was invited by Richard Edlin to be one of two keynote speakers at the Transforming Education Conference, subtitled "Grounded in Christ... Engaging the Culture." I was given the opportunity to speak on three occasions and on three related topics, the first two of which are immediately related to the subject matter of my book. The first, delivered on wednesday morning, the 17th, was titled "Visions and illusions in politics and life." The second, the following morning, was titled "Liberalism and its alternatives." The third and final address, delivered on friday, was titled "Illusions and vision for education." After each address someone got up to give a reflection on what I had said. One of these was Henry Contant, a fellow Canadian who is Executive Director of the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia. Late friday morning I also fielded questions from interested conferees in a more informal setting. I found it a most enjoyable experience. My remarks were well received and I had fun engaging people during the break times.
The second keynote speaker was Dr. Stuart Fowler, whom I can only describe as the elder statesman of the christian parent controlled school movement, as it is known in Australia. He spoke on friday afternoon and presented something of a history of the movement from its beginnings in 1962, through the granting of substantial government funding a decade later, and up to more recent times. I was favourably impressed by the dedication of the parents and teachers who have spearheaded the movement and lovingly nurtured these schools.
Most of all, I was overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of everyone present. Australians are a most likable people living in a stunningly beautiful country. I'll write further about the people and their country over the next few days.
CPCS and NICE have produced two volumes containing essays related to previous Transforming Education conferences. The first of these, edited by Jill Ireland, Edlin and Ken Dickens, is titled Pointing the way: Directions for Christian education in a new millennium (2004), and contains essays by Fowler, Edlin and others. I was sent a copy of this early last year. The second collection, also edited by Edlin and Ireland (and with a much improved and more readable font), is called Engaging the culture: Christians at work in education, and was just released at last week's conference. I myself will be contributing to a future such volume.
Because Australia is such a huge country, people came, not only from the major urban centres on the south and east coasts, such as Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, but from as far away as Perth and Darwin on the west and north coasts respectively. An equivalent conference here in Canada would draw people from Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver, Yellowknife and Iqaluit. Attending such a gathering seems to be a priority for christian school teachers, who might otherwise find their geographic remoteness from fellow teachers lonely and discouraging. This is good reason to pray for future such conferences – that they might renew and strengthen participants to persevere in their calling, wherever they may be.
Next: Antipodean sojourn II: the natural environment.