From the Headmaster

Michael Parker began as Headmaster of Newington in January 2019.

A message from Michael Parker

We have a lot of photos of boys on this website – peering through microscopes, scoring the winning try, playing that sublime note on a violin. What we can’t show you in those pictures is how much we know them and care about them. To us that is Ned with the test tubes, deep in a Science experiment but very possibly thinking in French. It is Andrew playing the violin. He won the Concerto competition because he practised hard for years, even when he would have rather watched Netflix, and performed at Rockfest. That is Max scoring that ‘hero’ try and showing he is as adept on terra firma as he is in the pool (Max captained our victorious 1sts water polo team in 2019).

We know and care about the boys dotted throughout the website – and all our other students too. I know as many of them as I can (and I teach a different class almost every day), their teachers care for them, their Heads of House look out for them and their mentors nourish them as whole, vibrant, people. The boys know, care for and accept each other too. Year 12s came up with this year’s motto based on our school colours: ‘In White and Black we’ve got your back’. We may be lucky to have beautiful buildings and state-of-the-art facilities, but Newington’s spirit of support and guidance would still be immediately recognisable if we were a collection of log cabins down the back of a track.

Because we care for our boys, we are ambitious for them. We want every day to be engaging and enriching and full of academic curiosity. We want them to be ready for the rapidly changing future though a focus on critical thinking, creativity, ethics and collaboration. We are ambitious about their entry into a university, course or career of their choosing. We are also ambitious for them to be excellent employers, employees, friends, husbands and sons.

We want them to discover what’s possible by sampling the many things we have to offer here and also by zeroing in on something that allows them to thrive. We want them to find their passion, their principles and their purpose here within these walls. We want them to have a good time too – after all, it is up to 15 years of their lives that they don’t get back.

All in all, we want you to be proud of the men of substance and resilience that they become.

We are proud of our College here at Newington, and at the same time we are grateful that several thousand parents in Sydney and beyond have entrusted the education of their boys to us. It is a big responsibility and we take it seriously with every new boy who joins us.

Welcome to Newington …

The climate strike and our students

Statement from Newington at the end of the article.

Damn these Year Elevens. They come into my office asking me to support the climate strike. They tell me that it is their planet too and that they should be able to protest about what is the most important issue of their lives. They ask whether the school will stand up for them.

I don’t want to catch the political nuclear-grade hot potato that is the climate ‘debate’. I have a strategic plan on education to write and a Council retreat to prepare for. As well, I have always prided myself on being able to teach current affairs without my classes being able to work out which way I would vote in an election. I stay neutral and allow all points of view – sometimes to a fault. And, anyway, I am not a scientist.

But these kids say that they are probably going to live into the 22nd century and they are terrified about tipping points and a runaway greenhouse effect. They say that the climate science is overwhelming. They say that leaders in my generation are not doing anywhere near enough about it.

Heavily I consult my own conscience about climate science.

We teach our kids in Year Seven that the scientific method, whilst not irrefutable, is the best thing we have to work out physical truths about the world. We teach them that when there is a consensus amongst almost all reliable scientists, then they are probably right.

To prepare for the meeting with these Year Elevens, I have read the beginning of the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the ‘IPCC’ – a pretty reliable group of scientists). Their chief point is that that human-made effects are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century (SPM 1.2, p4). When they say ‘very likely’ they mean with 95–99% confidence.

Even more strikingly, the IPCC say ‘continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.’ That’s severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for the kids sitting in front of me – as well as my own children.

I think that accepting the reality of climate science is different to expressing political views. It’s a (pretty settled) opinion about a fact, not an opinion of evaluation. The IPCC may all be wrong in some bizarre mass hallucination or corrupt stitch-up job, but I very much doubt it.

But another climate strike?

I ask what’s going to happen when they want to march about immigration or abortion or any other issue. What’s to stop them marching out for that? They say I am committing a ‘slippery slope fallacy’ (damn those critical thinking lessons we teach them) and that climate change is different in kind to any of these issues because it affects the lives of everyone. Anyway, they say, all these other issues have all been prominent since the last climate change march and there have not been any student marches.

I point out the lessons that students everywhere will be missing – that they all need to be in school to get an education. They say to me that the very vision of Newington is for boys to make an active and positive difference in the world. Going on a march for climate fits the school’s vision better than one more regular day around the classrooms, they tell me. (Damn the school’s vision  – I should have seen that one coming). 

Why not Saturday? I say. Show your commitment that way. ‘It’s not a strike if it’s on a Saturday’ they say. They get passionate now. They say they have no voice, no vote, that those in power have deserted their generation. They say all that they can do to be heard is to stop doing the thing the government expects them to do that day – going to school.

This isn’t going well. What about ‘slacktivism’ I ask – kids who don’t care and just want to skip out of class. But they are ready for this one too. One of the boys says that he went to the previous march and that everyone he met was committed. Then they say that it is a chicken and egg argument – that going to a march is what will make some kids care passionately and then do more about it. (Damn those critical thinking lessons again). They point out that they have put their own money where their mouth is. They run the school’s sustainability and recycling groups.

They point out that the NSW and ACT Synod of the Uniting Church – the church with which we are affiliated – has supported the strikes. (Hmmm… damning the Uniting Church is going to be tricky). If the church can do it, why can’t their own school? they say.

I’d rather they went away. I’d rather get back to the school’s strategic plan and the Council retreat. But these kids are passionate, they are smart and they have thought it through. They have put their money where their mouths are and they are scared about their future. Students who have shown they care about this should be able to march about it. If their parents have allowed them to be absent to go to the strike, then the least we can do is give them the school’s support too.

Damn these Year Elevens. Because they’re right.

STATEMENT ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY, CLIMATE SCIENCE AND THE CLIMATE STRIKE.

Newington College encourages our boys to act positively through our Sustainability Group and school recycling programs. We engage in sustainable practices such as installing solar panels, recycling, efficient building management systems and grey water reuse. However, there is always more that we can do. We plan to focus on further measures such as food and packaging waste and upgrading plant to more efficient systems in our 2020–2025 Strategic Plan.

Newington College also accepts the reality of climate science. We consider that climate change caused by humans is an urgent issue, particularly for young people. We understand the importance of student critical thinking and student voice in addressing this singularly important issue. We thus support the decision of our boys whose parents have given them permission to be absent to represent their views about climate change at the climate march on 20 September.

About the Headmaster

Michael holds a combined Arts/Law degree and a Masters of Education from the University of Sydney. Whilst at university, he worked in one of Australia’s leading law firms before pursuing his passion for education.  He taught English and served as a Housemaster at Cranbrook before travelling overseas to take up an exchange position at Eton College. 

In 2002 he joined Newington, where he was a highly successful Head of English and the subject of the SBS documentary ‘Inspiring Teachers’. He has a healthy level of Black and White running through his veins as a result of his time here.

 After five years in that role, he was appointed Deputy Headmaster at Cranbrook, where he served for seven years before progressing to become Headmaster at Oxley College, Bowral, in 2014.  Under his leadership, Oxley’s academic performance and survey results across students, teachers and staff rose markedly.

Michael is the author of 10 books, most recently Talk With Your Kids:  Conversations about Big Ideas and Talk With Your Kids:  Conversations about Ethics. His YA novel Doppelganger (Penguin) was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award in 2007 and his children’s book You Are A Star (Walker Books) has been published in the US, UK, Brazil, China and Korea. 

He is widely travelled, particularly in the Himalayas, with four major treks under his belt, including past Camp One at 20,000 feet on Mt Everest in Tibet. He is married to Fiona, an English literature academic at UNSW, and has two teenage daughters, Julia and Elena.

Michael is committed to open engagement with students and the school community at large.  He is a strong believer in creating a teaching environment that engenders critical thinking among the boys. His aim is to foster a culture that combines improved academic performance with enduring pastoral care programs to ensure our boys are prepared for an unpredictable and constantly changing workplace.