From the Principal

Free to choose or a free rider?

“We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common good or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits.

While there has been a focus on the rights of young people, particularly in the light of the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, we believe that there must also be a focus on teaching individual and social responsibility to our young people.

The COVID pandemic has allowed the debate between personal freedom and personal responsibility to be brought into sharp focus.

Famous tennis players, “freedom” convoys and “influencers” have spent time, effort and money protecting what they believe to be their inherent freedom to choose their vaccination status and go where they want, when they want.

On the other hand, medical experts, some political leaders and what appears to be the majority of the Australian population, have focussed on acting in a manner that they believe shows our collective responsibility to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:31/Galations).

There is no doubt that what is going on in the world around the school has a role to play in this attitude of focussing solely on individual rights without the necessary balance of taking responsibility.

There appears to be an increasing focus for some people on individual freedom, on personal rights, and on allowing each person to “do his/her own thing.” Where independent individuals should be free to pursue their own individual goals and interests without interference from others, often without taking heed of any responsibility for the impact of their choices on others.

Paradoxically, the people who often question society’s right to set rules, limits and expectations and rail against them, often expect to be protected by the same policies, rules and procedures if they feel uncomfortable or wronged. These are people some writers call “free-riders”.  Free riders take the benefits of the common good and the protections a community provides while refusing to do their part to support the common good.

We are grateful that our families have chosen to support the school in its efforts to create a relatively safe learning environment in an increasingly uncertain health environment.

We are also aware that some of our young people have become somewhat blase about the risks of COVID, believing that they will be symptomatically less impacted by the virus and not recognising the risk their behaviours pose for the adults who turn up every school day to teach and support them.

As a school, we are required to act in the common good, act to avoid foreseeable risk, take care of the most vulnerable and generally act in the best interests of our community.

We hope that in this we provide a role model to our students, inculcating in them a sense of their responsibility to themselves and those around them.

“St Columba  is the product of the vision of a community – to build a school with access to all who want their children to achieve the highest standard of education and behaviour.”

Our enrolment contract with parents makes very clear the expectations of the school, and requires our students to respect our rules and processes. Very occasionally some of our actions can be met with hostility, anger and even abuse when students feel they should have more rights and less responsibility and when they see our actions as a form of unwarranted intrusion on their rights and freedoms.

This attitude can cause conflict in a school community that requires individuals to sacrifice some of their freedom, some of their personal goals, and some of their self-interest, for the sake of the “common good.”


The fact is that if the school campus is to be a safe and engaging place where great education is promoted, this is dependent on the creation and monitoring of an agreed set  of behavioural expectations that make safety and effectiveness possible.

That means that some individual “rights” are curtailed by the choice to join our community.

Without a commitment from students and their families to support the common good and respect our behavioural expectations, school life could descend into an ongoing battle of conflicting “rights” arguments that interrupt our core business (learning) and we could easily lose our way.

We aim to maintain a culture where responsibility for actions taken is the norm and school life is about building respect and positive relationships with people while learning and working together.

If an individual or family finds our expectations are antithetical to their construct of freedom, we believe it is possibly best for all concerned if they take advantage of the wider choice of educational models now available in our regions.

We acknowledge that our school is not perfect, but we hope it is the best choice for those who choose to be a part of its life and we respect those who see being an active part of our community as a benefit to their lives.

Terry Muldoon

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