Image from faithit.com
This may well have been the most unpopular assembly address I made a few years ago when the Biebs was here before, but I have never shied away from speaking my mind on important matters and as a teacher, a principal in charge (now) of 153 staff members, a mother of 5 blood children, 2 step-children and nearly 1700 learners I am responsible for, I am used to being unpopular:
“Contrary to some of your assumptions based on the title of this speech, I bear Justin Bieber no ill will and despite cringing at some of his inane utterances like ‘I want my world to be fun. No parents. No rules. No nothing. Like no one can stop me. No one can stop me.’
And: ‘Ann Frank was a great girl. I hope she would have been a Belieber.’ Besides the fact that he’s not quite my cup of tea, I think he’s cute. Not sexy cute; sweet cute. Although I must say I dare anyone to say we had big hair in the eighties…
But your parents have entrusted you all to this school and we have promised them that we shall provide you all with a values-based education. The values we teach are based on Jesus’ life and teachings. This week’s Bieber Concert has raised some issues that I cannot remain quiet about and still claim to be the leader of a faith-based school.
So what did I have a problem with? Here are 10 things that worried me:
- Why did people feel the need to leave school early? Or bunk a whole day? Fans who queued all night told reporters it was to be the first to see him; to be the closest to the stage; to have what no one else had. Yet Jesus teaches us ’the first shall be last; the last shall be first.’ Our faith teaches us to stand back generously for others; not to be the first through an intersection or at the front of a queue, not to demand the gratification of our own desires.
Contrary to what many of you were grumbling about, we had no desire to deprive you of the joy of the concert – it was only due to start at 8 o’clock however. It worries me that scrambling for places suggests a need to trample on others or need to get there first to get what you want – that is contrary to Christ’s teachings. It was fitting therefore that Ashley gave a Golden Circle ticket to someone who made the effort to be at school. She ended up with a better ticket than many. Good things really do come to those who wait. Patience really is a virtue.
- I know some of you planned long in advance for this concert and many took on odd jobs to save up for it. That is good. And I am glad that you have had the opportunity to enjoy the spectacle of someone you admire. It worries me however that often we only work so hard for ourselves. Jesus said: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Will you work so hard to benefit someone else? Do you love other people enough to work for months on end in order that someone else may benefit? Matric students are encouraged to donate evening wear to the poor after their dance so that their fun benefits someone else too – that is this school’s way. Ashley’s devotion on Wednesday also points to this principle – could you have given up your ticket to give joy to someone else? Jesus gave up His life for you. # just saying
- Reporters commented on how diehard Bieber fans braved the rain in the morning and John Maythem on Cape Talk commented in Afrikaans that a good caption for his photo would be: Beliebers bibber in die koue. Jesus speaks of giving our life for others. Would we stand in the rain to feed the homeless or protest abortion or speak out against human trafficking or child soldiers. Would we stand in the rain to worship if our churches had no buildings? No one wants to pray at lines when it rains.
- Idolatry is a sin according to the Ten Commandments. Folk are quick to point out to Catholics their distaste for the statues that abound in our schools and churches, suggesting that we worship Mary and idols. We do not of course – statues and pictures of the Sacred Heart or Divine Mercy are mere reminders of Our Lady’s good example and the glory of Christ’s life, much like photos are reminders of those we love. But think about shows such as ‘Idols’ whose very name points to how we treat celebrities like The Biebs who become more than just heroes, but figures of obsession. When our behavior becomes extreme, we should be worried. When we disengage our brains and blindly follow our heroes, we should be worried. ‘Derek Watts’, a satirical journalist interviewed Beliebers outside the stadium: when asked if they thought whether Justin Bieber was a tool for change in society, they squealed, ‘Yes, yes.’ When asked whether they thought he was an ‘absolute tool,’ they again bleated ‘Yes, yes.’
Do we hang on every word of the Bible and sing worship hymns with as much gusto as we sing ‘Baby, Baby, Baby,’ or ‘As long as you love me’? Not in this hall we don’t. That worries me.
- I worry about the sexism inherent in teenyboppers and groupies. It is a fact that most Bieber fans are girls as have been fans of most popstars over the years. In your grandparents era female fans were throwing their knickers at the stage when Elvis Presley and later on the Beatles took to the stage; in fact they reckon that Frank Sinatra was the first such idol – all these men seem to have the same packaged popularity: safe sexuality; easy songs to sing along to and a dream-like allure. Why do boys not throw themselves at the stage of female stars in the same way too? Perhaps because men do not see themselves as needing to be completed only by a fantasy person? They are happy to be themselves. We women should consider that? All people should crave the love of God alone to complete them.
- I was annoyed and it took me a whole Tempo bar to unannoy myself that despite the ruling that no one would be given permission to be off school on Wednesday, given verbally to you in lines and in writing in my newsletter to your parents and you, if you read it on the noticeboard, many of you bunked, ignored my instruction or had your parents send me notes/calls instructing me to release you for the day. Let me make it clear that neither your parents nor even I have the right to give you permission to be off school. Only the Minister of Education may do so by law. And just because you may get away with the law, does not mean it is ok morally to break the law. Laws are there to benefit society. If you miss school for reasons other than illness or a death in the family, you are breaking the law. Schooling is compulsory. The minister’s representatives in the Department of Education made it clear that Wednesday was a school day. Added to that even though you are students at an independent school, you are required to adhere to the College Code of Conduct. That includes obeying instructions of the principal. Why would you think that you were exempt? We live in a society though that seems to think that the laws apply to everyone else, but not to me. We are angered by taxis which ride on the pavement, but gleefully break the speed limit ourselves when we are late. Dagga is illegal, but if you think it’s not dangerous it should be ok; night clubs and movies have age limits, but ‘really, the bouncers should stop all those other young people.’
There is an inherent self-centredness in this. I wasted over an hour of my professional time dealing with those who believed they were exempt from the rules. I was then faced with trying to deal justly with those who quite correctly felt aggrieved that some simply bunked or came at the last minute with notes from their parents, when they had obeyed the rule. Strictly speaking, all who disobeyed the ruling should spend those hours in detention Will I do that? Not this time, but most definitely in the future. But of course since this ‘once in a lifetime experience’ has happened – there will be no need to do it again. No absentee note will however have resulted in a demerit. That’s the rule. It’s how we keep note of attendance. And if you have missed a test, oral or task deadline, no opportunities will be given to make these up. There are always consequences to one’s choices. Do not even think of asking my teachers to give up their free time to teach you work you missed. When Jesus was asked whether the Jews should pay taxes to an occupying power, he told his disciples to ‘render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.’ This teaches us that civil laws must be obeyed. None of us is exempt.
- I worry also about the damage we do to young people who give themselves over to the Big Business that is the music industry. One only has to look at damaged child stars like Michael Jackson, Brittney Spears, Drew Barrymore and Macauley Caulkin, and megastars like Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix and Whitney Houston to see that the media industries do not care about the person of the star. What damage is done to young people who are treated like gods? It is our adoration that does this to them. Even too much love and attention can be bad. How can a nineteen year old survive intact? Already Justin Bieber is showing signs of the arrogance (look at the time he started – an hour late is rude) and possible substance abuse that comes from the adulation of millions – how would you react if 35 million people wanted to follow you on Twitter, yet it’s not the real you they know? If Justin Bieber caves to a celebrity syndrome of self-destruction, his fans will be partly responsible. Jesus said: ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’ We are required by our faith to look after each other. His mother has tried really hard to keep him real with chores etc, but she is no match for the showbiz machine. Agents, like Scooter Braun who discovered Justin Bieber on Youtube when he was 14, care far more about how much the star is worth to them than about their emotional stability or eternal souls.
- It worries me that the wholesale avoidance of school, to be over 12 hours early for a pop concert shows a casual disregard of the value of your education and the teachers and authorities who administer it. It may annoy you to be reminded of the relative suffering of others, but I wonder if you would be so careless about school if you understood how truly privileged you are to attend a school like this. No under-qualified teachers who take off when they feel like it, no over-crowded classrooms or violence in the playground. Just last week in Heideveld a Grade 9 student was stabbed by a group of other girls with a pair of scissors.
Your parents would definitely have objected if the staff members attending Bon Jovi on Tuesday night had left early to catch a glimpse of Jon Bon Jovi. I would have been inundated with complaints that their children were losing out on their education. Why is it different if you choose to be absent? Saying that you pay school fees, so you can choose to go without a day of school shows an arrogance and foolishness that no student of this school should have. Wisdom is so respected in the Bible that there is an entire book dedicated to it. Why would you waste the time of those dedicated to impart wisdom to you; why would you disrespect that? In the seventies and eighties students ‘bunked’ school to protest injustice and bring about change in society, not to be early for a concert.
- The Bieber Fever reminded me of how superficial some of our heroes really are. Last week there were complaints about celebrating the life of a man like Edmund Rice in a mass; yet we glorify Lady Gagga and Madonna, who dedicate themselves to anti-social and sometimes immoral ways. In the same year that Diana, Princess of Wales died so tragically, Mother Teresa also passed away. Yet the passing of the woman who alleviated so much suffering and made the world a better place paled in comparison to the death of the media idol of a princess. Please do not get me wrong – I am not condemning celebrities, but am saying that we treat them so differently from those whose lives have so much more gravitas. Shouldn’t all people be equally important and shouldn’t we recognize those who make the world a better place. How many of you would have queued for hours to meet Madiba or be in the Dalai Lama’s presence? Do we only want to be around those who entertain us? Our faith should teach us that a meaningful life is more important than the frivolity of fun alone.
- Some of you were outraged that you were not given permission to have the day off before the concert; yet fail to be outraged at moral injustices in our country. This was brought home to me when I heard someone complaining that the MyCiti buses were not running and that this would affect transport to the concert. The bus strike meant nothing until we were affected. Did you know that hundreds of domestic workers in this area alone travel from Khayalitsha daily to clean our houses. They now have to spend nearly half of their income or more paying for taxis (R20 each way) Did you know that the bus drivers on strike are complaining that their take-home pay is less than R2000 per month? What did you spend on your ticket to the concert? A girl I heard being interviewed on the news spent R4500 on a room at the ‘One and Only’ Hotel to be close to ‘The Biebs’ and then R6000 to meet him. Whew! How many bus drivers’ families could have eaten off that? What about protesting conditions in Cape Flats schools for a day? Or is that not important enough to risk the consequences of bunking?
No one is saying that we should not enjoy ourselves, but we should be aware of the relative value we place on things in life. And that there are really important issues that face society. For example did you know that the amount of money needed to feed everyone on Earth for a year is spent every 8 days on the world’s military. Would you buy food for the poor with the cost of your ticket, or donate it to the class charity?
We criticize the Guptas and deplore the R40 million spent on a recent wedding in Sun City, but are we thinking carefully about the morality of how we spend our money?
Remember the story of the widow’s mite in the gospels? That woman gave all she had to the temple collection. Do we give even some of what we have?
So I must disagree with Justin in this: Life should not be about fun alone; parents and those in authority like your parents here at school are important; rules do exist – for a reason, even if you do not agree with them, you are obliged to obey them. ‘No nothing’ actually suggests that there should be matters of substance upon which we place importance. Wanting to have no boundaries is not true freedom. In fact true love requires that we prevent those we care about from losing themselves in limitless abandon.
If you are sitting here rolling your eyes and thinking how lame your principal is, you have missed the point of this address.
If you think I hate Justin Bieber and want to criticize him, you have missed the point.
If you think I am trying to guilt-trip you, (ok I’m a Catholic mother so perhaps there is a slight element of truth in that), but if you think that’s all it’s about, you have missed the point.
If you think I am still angry with you or condemning you, you have missed the point.
If you think I don’t understand what it is like to be young and crazy about someone, you have missed the point (To be honest I confess I gave John Travolta’s poster a kiss every night when I was 14. Another teacher who ‘cannot be named’ admits to going gagga over Cliff Richard).
If you think I am just an old killjoy trying to put a dampener on what was for many of you a fabulous evening, you have missed the point.
If you are sitting there complacently thinking this does not apply to you because you’re not a Bieber fan or didn’t attend the concert, you have really missed the point.
My point is we must think carefully about what our choices say about us. There is a saying which states that we should choose wisely because our choices become our actions; our actions become our habits and our habits become our character.
I would be a very poor mother of this school if I did not speak out about character. Because it is people of character and principles who make a difference in this world. I want you to be people of such character. And true happiness comes from God. I want you to have that real, deep, soul happiness.
I shall risk unpopularity to guide you to God.”