Headmaster’s Assembly – 3 March 2017

Phone calls to my Mother


One of my favourite books was given to me by a colleague. In the book “Letters from School”, a former Headmaster writes fictional responses to issues raised by parents – issues faced on a daily basis in schools such as bullying, substance abuse, peer pressure, difficulties with teachers and so on. He replies to these concerns in an open, honest manner, saying things that we often do not say to people for fear of offending them yet they represent the honest, hard truth. His responses come from the heart and are based on a genuine, deep concern for his boys and to help them from the very best educational basis.


I thought I would try to get my message across to you today using a similar method. The format I shall use is a phone call – one you would make to your parents to tell them about something that happened at school. This is thus called “Phone calls to my Mother”.


“Hello Mom, it’s David here. I’m sorry to phone you out of the blue but something happened at school that I need to tell you about. Don’t worry – I’m safe and not injured but I did something I’m not proud about and I am in trouble. Last night, a group of us decided to bunk out of the boarding house. There was a party at a friend’s house and we wanted to go. No-one pressurized me into going and I made the decision on my own knowing that I would be in trouble if we were caught. We were caught when we came back and we are now waiting for Mr Reeler to speak to us and to let us know what will happen. He gave us each a chance to tell our parents first which is why I am calling.


There’s one other thing. At the party, we were offered alcohol to drink and I had some – enough to make me feel a bit sick. I know you’ve told me many times that I mustn’t drink and warned me about what alcohol does but I just felt like it. Again, no-one forced me to do it – I chose to. I am really sorry about what happened and I know that I have broken trust with you and my teachers who I really respect. I know I may never be able to make it up to you but I really want to try. I also know that I must face this on my own. I would love your help and moral support but I did wrong and I must deal with this.


I may not become a prefect but that I would understand. My coach may drop me and I understand that too because I let down my team. I know you are cross right now but please be there for me, not to make excuses because there aren’t any but just to be my Mom. I know this has happened before to other boys and maybe they got away with it or were treated differently but that is not the point. I did wrong and I must face the consequences. I don’t blame Mr McBride who caught me either – he was just doing his job which I suppose is to make sure we are all safe. Please don’t make excuses for me or try to defend me. I did wrong and I need to face up to it”


Compare this to the following call:


“Hello Mom, its David. I’m in trouble and I really need your help. I was with a group of boys who bunked out and we were caught. It’s so unfair – hundreds of others have bunked out before and haven’t been caught. We were just so unlucky. You know Mr McBride hated me ever since Form II when he said I was rude to him and I bet he stayed awake just waiting to catch me. We are probably going to be in trouble and I need you to get me out of trouble.


My friends decided they wanted to go and they forced me to go too by putting pressure on me. They would have ditched me if I didn’t so I had no choice. I also had a few sips of beer at the party – nothing serious. You know what the school is like – they go crazy about little stuff like this and can’t understand that boys will be boys. The rules here are really pathetic and you guys let me drink anyway so I can’t understand what the school is getting tense about. This is such a minor thing and everyone drinks it anyway so what’s the problem?”


These two approaches are so different. In the second, the boy externalizes the matter, placing the blame on others, taking no personal responsibility and making excuses for his poor judgment. He says he didn’t have a choice when he clearly did, he blames peer pressure for poor judgement and tries to turn what is a serious situation into something small. He takes no personal responsibility at all. In the first, the boy accepts full responsibility and accepts that he did wrong. There are no excuses and he doesn’t look to get someone to extricate him from his wrongdoing.


One of our core values in Honour and part of being honorable is to take responsibility, not to look to blame others but to take full blame ourselves. Too many times we externalize our faults, looking for blame in others and trying to divert attention from our poor choices.


Stop looking outwards when things go wrong. Look inwards, accept that you were at fault, accept there may be consequences, feel remorseful for what you have done – don’t hide from the truth and don’t cover it up by misdirection. Face up to yourself, face up to the truth and, as the saying goes, the truth shall set you free.

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