Recently, Korowal High School students were challenged to explore themes of belonging and reclaiming a sense of real community with renowned social commentator, Hugh Mackay.
“It’s Christmas time, get out and meet your neighbours,” Mackay, 70, who is a strong believer that healthy communities heal people, said.
Mackay, arguably one of Australia’s most eminent and respected authorities on what it means to be a good neighbour, delivered a comprehensive critique on the challenges facing young Australians as they negotiate friendships in the modern digital age.
Mackay is well known for his commentary about why we as humans have a deep need to belong. In his most recent book; The Art of Belonging, Mackay encourages readers to build reliable and supportive relationships; to connect with neighbours and get to really know the people in your own street.
Korowal’s current cohort of senior students examined themes of ‘belonging’ as part of the HSC English syllabus. The students discussed the importance of community, family and how to navigate authentic connections with the online phenomenon of social media interaction.
Students questioned their own experiences of finding a sense of place within their own social structures and the broader community.
“If we continue to rely on social media for the majority of our connection with other humans and continue to withdraw from face to face relationships, what will society look like in 20 years’ time?” questioned one student.
“It would be a disaster, my worst nightmare,” was Mackay’s response. “We need face to face, real human interaction in order to experience real empathy. We need eye contact, a hug, a smile.”
Leveraging his research into the role screen-time plays in increasing anxiety in some young people; Mackay affirmed the students concerns and acknowledged that whilst social media and online activity can be useful, research shows that genuine belonging is built by being physically present and engaged with one another.
The conversation progressed to examine our biological need to belong to a ‘tribe’ and pondered the impact that artificial intelligence may have on our experience of belonging in the future.
The session provided a learning opportunity for senior Korowal students to investigate the most recent scientific research into social inclusion and how communities can facilitate good learning.
Hugh Mackay’s visit coincided with Korowal School’s 40th Anniversary celebrations. The school was established in 1978, with many Blue Mountains residents having a connection to the school through teaching, learning or having family members at the school.
At a celebration picnic in the school’s grounds at Hazelbrook, Principal Barb Fitzgerald reflected on the topic of ‘belonging’, saying “we are preparing our students for a rapidly changing world. As educators we are both challenged and excited about the initiatives we are introducing to equip our students to be good friends, citizens and neighbours.”