Brian Edwards Media

Irishman in Venice gets mad about Kiwi school!

It’s a beautiful day in Venice and the last thing I want to be doing is getting het up over some school in Northland whose Principal and Board of Trustees really should have chosen a calling more suited to their intellectual and pedagogical fitness such as drain-laying or running a borstal.

The school is Pompallier Catholic College whose credo appears to be that education is all about discouraging both their teachers and pupils from thinking for themselves and, more importantly, from challenging authority.

The authority in this case was the school’s Principal, one Richard Stanton, who wrote comments in the school newsletter opposing the Marriage Amendment Bill. Fair enough, he’s entitled to his view.

However, some of his pupils disagreed and set up a Facebook page “Support Gay Rights at Pom”. Goodonya!

There’s a science teacher at the school called Nigel Studdart. The Principal describes his teaching as “innovative and engaging”. He’s highly regarded by his students. Not the sort of bloke you’d want to lose then.

But Mr Studdart has a fatal flaw as a teacher: he thinks for himself and speaks his mind. At Pompalier only the Principal is apparently allowed to do that.

So when Mr Studdart supported the students’ Facebook protest against what the Principal had written, he was sacked. Pour encourager les autres, no doubt! Got to nip this free speech nonsense in the bud early, don’t you? Who knows where it could lead?

If I had a kid at Pompallier Catholic College – an unlikely scenario, I agree, for a Protestant atheist – I’d have him or her out of there tomorrow. You see, schools are about teaching kids to think and challenge. And good schools have teachers who are role models for thinking and challenging. The message the Principal and Board of Trustees have given the children at this school is that thinking and challenging doesn’t pay; it can even get you fired. Better to go along with authority. Better to conform.

As for Mr Studdart, I hope he takes them to the cleaners. And then finds a school worthy of his talents. His crime, by the way, was encouraging the kids to breach the school’s uniform code by wearing rainbow wristbands. Now that’s justice worthy of Henry VIII.

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  1. Funny enough I thought this was in Australia. Obviously didnt listen to the news properly. But the Aussies have voted against Gay Marriage so you’d think!!

    Hope this hasn’t ruined the beautiful Venice for you Brian?

  2. It raises the whole subject of how much freedom of expression is allowed. Pat Lynch is quoted in the NZH as saying “Catholic preaching on same sex marriage is part of the church’s moral preaching”. (I’m sure he said “teaching” but the journalist heard “preaching”). If no teacher can voice a contrary view even to the extent of supporting students looking for a peaceful way to make their point, surely there needs to be a freer system. There was a recent papal encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” about safeguarding freedom of conscience.

  3. I heard Nigel Studdart speaking about this on National Radio about a week or ten days ago. He articulated the issue very well and, I believe, very fairly. I have not heard the school’s official version.

    As I understand it, he commited two crimes. The first was guiding the pupils with their Facebook initiative, zas a moderator, to ensure it and its postings remained fair.

    The second was encourage the kids to tone down their protest at assembly, which was initially going to be a rowdy one. Instead he encouraged the pupils to quietly wear the rainbow wrist band if they wished to make their views known. They followed his advice.

    He was suspended for that input, on the grounds that the wrist band broke the school uniform policy. In the radio interview, he made the point that, in contrast, the kids were encouraged to wear a daffodil on Daffodil Day, and a poppy for Anzac Day.

    Enough said?

    I was raised a catholic. While that church spends good money on attempts to publicly encourage people back into the flock, incidences such as this continue to put me off what they offer. As a recently departed cardinal stated, the catholic church is 200 years behind the times.

    John Stokes

  4. What on earth is a Protestant atheist? Someone who doesn’t believe Protestantism exists?

    BE: I was stopped by some Belfast thugs as I was coming home late from university one night. They asked me which foot I dug with. (Was I a Catholic or a Protestant?) Giving the wrong answer can be hazardous to one’s health. I said I was an atheist. “Aye, but are you a Catholic or a Protestant atheist?” Considering the district I was in, I plumped for Protestant atheist. Fortunately it was the right answer.

    My comment here was intended to be humorous or ironic. I never learn, do I?

  5. The solution to this is easy. It is a total outrage these institution use government money to peddle their prejudice. If they want to do so, simply strip them of their state funding. Then the local Catholic community can be sure it’s children will get the priest-riddled miserably ignorant education the Church desires.

  6. Ah, but Sanctuary, the clergy have little or nothing to do with the administration of Pompallier, if they did there might be some compassion and a different outcome.

  7. “… the clergy have little or nothing to do with the administration of Pompallier…”

    Errrr… It is a Catholic school….

  8. I smiled at “protestant atheist”. I had a feeling of deja vu too, where had I heard that one before ? Now you’ve spelled it out I realise it was from your good self (on a previous telling of the anecdote). Of course.

    Was it in Trainspotting where someone is asked by some street thugs whether he supports Celtic or Rangers (a proxy for your situation) ? I think he replies “Borussia Monchengladbach actually”. I like to think of myself as an atheist Borussia Monchengladbach fan.

  9. If a company director joined in a shareholder revolt or joined a picket line, you’d expect the chairman to remove that recalcitrant individual from the board. Summarily.

    Having a divergent point of view to that of a headmaster, is one thing; undermining his position, quite something else.
    And we wonder, why, modern youth hold figures-of-authority with disdain? It’s because we encourage them.

    BE: Over the years I’ve come to realise that there is nothing more insidiously hazardous to logical debate than the false analogy. It sounds impressive but has no validity of any sort. We’re talking about a teacher’s role in a school, not about a shareholders’ revolt or a picket line. We’re talking about kids objecting to censorship of ideas and opinion and a teacher supporting them and being sacked for his pains, not about “recalcitrant individuals”. And as for “summarily”, the word seems to me more suited to repressive totalitarian regimes than the New Zealand education system. We don’t “summarily” sack teachers for their ideas here, comrade.

  10. A very volatile concoction, an Irishman confrontation with a incident of blatant injustice. One may as well wave a red rag in the face of a bull. I would think that encouraging students to wear rainbow wristbands is hardly a treasonable offence. At most schools, administrators, such as principals and Board of Trustee members guard their powers jealously and can exercise them with impunity. Maintaining a stable student enrollment is the life blood of the school. As a teacher one does not rock the boat and one must never speak to the media concerning the school’s activities, since a media spokesperson has already been appointed. Bad press can endanger the reputation of the school which may lead to declining enrollment.

  11. Incredible. Man gets sacked for adhering to human rights obligations. Will no one challenge teh Catholic Taliban – after all rumour has they have a gay bishop in NZ!

  12. As far as Im concerned the catholic church has no moral authority when it comes to matters to do with human sexuality.

    I’ve believed this for sometime, but this belief has just been reinforced again by the news from Victoria Australia where it has been announced that somewhere between 600 – 6000 children have been sexually abused, mainly in the 60’s and 70’s by catholic priests – many of these offences will have taken place in schools.

    The pompous hypocritical self righteousnes of the catholic chirch on such matters as gay marriage, or indeed any other matter to do with human sexuality is completely laugable if wasn’t so tragic

  13. Unfortunately Free Speech may not exist in the teachers contract with the school.Its a sign of the small minded world of employment nation wide when actions like this take place.Im glad its been given attention by the media.Good luck to Nigel,I agree with his stance(and yours as well Brian).No good can come of these actions by the church.

  14. It appears to be true.
    You can take an Irishman out of Ireland but you can’t take Ireland out of an Irishman.
    You have been here for about 50 years, and been a citizen for at least 40, haven’t you Brian, but you still call yourself an Irishman?
    Come on. Start calling yourself a New Zealander.

  15. @amelie o’hara: “we wonder, why, modern youth hold figures-of-authority with disdain?”

    Fairly simple answer: it’s because they so often act like arrogant, pompous idiots. Nothing new in that. It’s also why churches have been generally in decline since my youth.

  16. Oh, Brian; how I have missed you and your reasoned arguments. This convinces me that when you die (and you arrive at the pearly gates to explain your views) we are going to have to find some way of preserving your brain in the hope that one day science can find a way of unlocking its secrets.

    I agree with all you say 100% especially your response to Amelie O’Hara. Before I had children my wish was that they would grow up to think for themselves and not just parrot the views of their loopy father or an even more loopy school principal. Fortunately this has happened. It is infuriating and uncomfortable at time but mostly very satisfying.

    Amelie bemoans modern youth holding authority in disdain. The actions of this principal tell us precisely why authority is treated with such contempt.

    And, Alan, leaders of the churches do not have a monopoly on arrogance, pomposity and idiocy. Such virtues are quite well evident amongst the atheist community. Just because of the behaviour of some clown in northland, I d not think that you can conclude that this explains the decline in church attendances.

    Now, Brian go and have a dip in canal to cool you down follwed by a bottle of vino. Enjoy your holiday.

  17. Surely, encouraging pupils to wear any form of side-taking garb isn’t encouraging free thinking. If the kids were free thinking, they wouldn’t need a teacher to encourage them. They weren’t free-thinking at all – they were simply doing something naughty – and naughty is exciting, especially if it’s encouraged by a teacher!

    Although I agree that people need to question authority, I think a school principal and the Board of Directors should be entitled to think that the teaching staff won’t encourage pupils to breach pre-determined standards.

    I’m sure Studdart will find some school somewhere where anarchy is acceptable, and teachers with a tub to thump are free to rally their sheep-like kids to do their bidding. It’s probably in some trendy-left suburb somewhere in Sydney.

  18. For goodness sake, Zinc, you are as bad as the principal. Read what happened. The kids set up a Facebook page of their own volition to express their disagreement with the views of the principal. It was not disagreeing with how the school was run. It was challenging an opinion that the principal expressed. Naughty? What a stupid way to describe it. I suppose you would describe those who stand up to Assad or the guy from Iran (I can’t be bothered to try and spell his name)as ‘naughty’.

    We should be encouraging our children to challenge views with which they disagree providing it is done in a respectful manner and by all accounts Studdart tried ensure that was the case. As for wearing wristbands that is hardy the crime of the century. In the UK there have been several well publicised cases of employers refusing to allow employees to wear crosses on chains around their necks. That is equally repressive and abhorrent but I imagine this principal would not have a problem with that.

    It is the sheep like kids to whom you refer that turn into sheep like adults who accept without question the opinions of extremists of whatever religion or whatever political hue.

    I suppose Zinc, with your own children, you are still in favour of a clip around the ear if they dare disagree with you.

  19. Brian as you are in Italy why not go down to the Vatican and demand an audience with His Holiness on this matter.

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall when an ‘atheist protestant Irishman’ righted the wrongs of the world with an ‘ex Hitler Youth’ German catholic.

    The mind boggles.

  20. Ben, you make a strawman attack. I didn’t say or imply the churches have any such monopoly. Nor did I blame this individual, merely that kind of behavior.

  21. Ben, all I was trying to point out was that any teacher worth his salt can get a percentage of his kids to misbehave, and for most of those kids, it’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’. Kids lead each other on and the dimmer ones are the easiest – the huffing figures will confirm.

    The fool Studdart got his 15 minutes of fame – he may go on to become a loopy school principal, but let’s hope not. I don’t think that it should be the fundamental role of a school teacher to promote, encourage or condone rule breaking. Yes – a wrist band is a small thing but once kids can see a chink, they’ll go for it.

    Of course young people should question authority, challenge opinions and state their own, well-thought-out case: but wearing a coloured plastic bangle is hardly achieving that, is it? They must also appreciate that their place of work has codes and (often dubious) ethics with which they may not agree, but that they are duty-bound to uphold. They can’t all grow up to be shop stewards, Ben.

  22. I went to this school. It’s a good school with a good principal. I think a lot of people went about sorting out the problem the wrong way and it has ended in hurt for a lot of people. Mr. Studdart was a brilliant teacher, but anyone encouraging students to break school rules can expect unpleasant results.

  23. To be honest, I’m kind of amazed that a bunch of people in Italy would think that after reading a very biased account of events in tiny little Whangarei would think that they have any authority on the subject. But that’s just me.

  24. Yawn…. The real tragedy here is that assertions have become “truth”. Why is it that Nigel Studdart is unable to produce the letters he makes reference too? I can find no evidence at all to support his statements about students, the BOT or the Principal aside from his own opinion in the media.

    How honest it that? How gullible are you people?

  25. The kids can challenge matters to do with the curriculum, not to openly defy a school’s policy or authority. Don’t agree? then find another school that provides for defiance. Kids should be at school to learn and practise self-discipline; fundamental to respecting authority. For a teacher to so wilfully go against his employer, it is entirely appropriate he be dismissed.

  26. When authority is wrong it should be challenged.In this case the facts are not entirely visable.The Catholic churchs stance regarding the abuse of children by authority figures is a case in point,perhaps if a stronger challange had been forthcoming alot of children could have been saved from abuse.

  27. Alwyn, let Brian call himself whatever he wants.


  28. Tilbury, you must have been a pathetically submissive little kid. What are you now, still kowtowing to authority?

    Did the teacher protest against his employer or merely his manager? Anyway, he’s obviously better out of there but the kids have lost a teacher with a heart and brain.

    And you are happy because he has been replaced by a rule which you mistake for self-discipline.

  29. And it seems that the employing board (about eight adults) also agree that he, and the school, is better off with him out of there….. Win/win situation. What is the fuss about?

  30. Tillbury, I guess then Rosa Parks should have just moved to the back of that bus in Alabama then, and Ghandi should have just sumbitted to British rule.

    Personally the kids should have staged a walk out. Nothing wrong with a bit civil disobedience.

  31. Millsy, Rosa Parks was the genesis of the Black civil rights movement. I take it, you’d like to see the same thing with those schoolkids here by adopting positive affirmative action to impose their will on their school. They should have supported the sacked teacher by burning an effigy of the headmaster and then move on to trashing a couple of classrooms.

  32. @Tillbury, not very imaginative. At our school the kids put the unpopular teacher’s car in the swimming pool.

    JC: There should be a ‘Like’ button for this!

  33. Tillbury, what is your point. What I am saying is that students have every right to stage protests against that principal, who obviously thinks that homosexuality should be recriminalised.

  34. Alan, I generally agree with you, but I don’t consider that not being “a pathetically submissive little kid” is a precursor to proper manhood in later life!

    I was that kid – look at me now! I speed freely everywhere I go, and park anywhere without provocation; I invoiced SkyTV for removing the FIA World Championship from my contract in the 90s (they didn’t reduce my subscription, so they still owe me a fortune); I once paid an A&E doctor only half his bill, because I was only half satisfied with his performance (he didn’t find that funny at all, but I never heard from his lawyer); and I always make Mitre 10 undercut Pak ‘n’ Save by 15% on Coke from their Coke fridge, because they always say they will. That makes a 600ml Coke about $2.20 instead of $3.90, so tell yer mates.

  35. PS – some of those stroppy kids you seem to admire and with whom I went to school are or were in the slammer, for various reasons concerned with being unable to tell right from wrong…. :+]

  36. Zinc, stroppyness needs to be married to intelligence. In the case I instanced the “victim” was a thoroughly-deserving, sadistic, ex-army thug who, oddly enough, left almost immediately and was replaced by a lovely gentleman.

  37. Brian,not much to argue with here – low cost airlines have made Europe so accessible,but it’s the hordes of stag & hen parties which descend upon eastern European cities that I like least. However, I must come to the defence of Milan, where I spent a fantastic week in February this year. It was covered in snow, meaning all the city’s smart ladies were sensibly wearing their snow boots. Seeing Leonardo’s Last Supper in situ was a revelation. We walked in the parks, visited museums & castles – all within walking distance, or you could ride the charming trams. The cathedral is awe inspiring and the Mussolini-esque architecture a living history lesson. We spent a fantastic day at Lake Como, exploring the small villages on the lakeside, and a chilly but fun afternoon at the San Siro watching AC Milan. The food on offer is just what you’d expect in Italy, but the aperitivo – where you pay a hefty price for a glass of wine, but get to graze at the barside buffet for as long as you like – was a perfect end to the day (specially if it had included a big lunch). Then there’s the Design Museum, the Villa Necchi and, of course, the unparalleled shopping. I loved it!

  38. “The message the Principal and Board of Trustees have given the children at this school is that thinking and challenging doesn’t pay; it can even get you fired. Better to go along with authority. Better to conform.”

    I don’t mean to betray my Protestant bias, but the result of this case was always as inevitable as being thrown out of a bar mitzvah for bringing bacon crisps.

    The Roman Catholic Church is both hierarchical and authoritarian. Indeed, the key doctrines of Apostolic Succession and Temporal Authority define it. The Principal and Board in this case were only enforcing what their clergy have long decided are the only acceptable doctrinal and moral responses to the call for gay marriage. Like some have argued the Labour Party should have done with Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble when they departed from the “true” principles in the mid-1980s…

    Within the confines of what the hierarchy decides, Roman Catholics can exercise free speech, and creative thought – but not when they are in conflict with established doctrine. Vatican II has softened the appearance. The reality, even if it is hidden/not applied most of the time, will always surface if you cross that boundary.

    Roman Catholics know this, and if they disagree with the Church’s teaching on the supposed sacrament of marriage, celibacy of the priesthood, or contraception (to mention just a few RC distinctives) they are free to leave, whether from schools, teaching positions, or from the Church itself. Like Martin Luther :) But there is no place for you inside, when you disagree with head office. But don’t blame me. I don’t make the (supposedly unchangeable) rules. I just report them…

  39. It amuses me when people expect institutions such as the Salvation Army or the Catholic Church to quietly bow to the latest craze or innovation and change beliefs they have long held. If you support gay marriage then surely you wouldn’t send your children to a catholic school or work in one. children are still learning what they will eventually believe and should be heads down bums up. What would they know of marriage really.Something that annoys me a little is that if you say you are against gay marriage people immediately jump to the conclusion that you are anti-gay! Not so.

  40. Just a comment from the teacher involved. First thanks Brian for cheering up a rainy day. Second happy to supply copies of the letters in reply to ( truth really) , and have offered them to the press involved to be sighted. Do you think they would publish without this?

    Kind regards

    Nigel Studdart