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Principal's Blog

2020 Term 4

The Railway Children

One of my favourite tasks is selecting and writing the school play. There are many classic stories, but finding one that can be adapted to an FCS production is something that is yet to come quickly or easily. Choosing the play involves matching the range of personalities, strengths and proclivities of the specific Biggies to a story; a process of sifting and matching; of finding the right tale for that particular group.

I also want the play to be built around a story with a positive and life-affirming narrative. The plays produced at our school acknowledge the variability of experience and the breadth of personality types, yet also demonstrate that kindness, courage, perseverance and love eventually carry the day

The Railway Children begins with Father being taken away and the family losing their home and breadwinner. The family becomes destitute. While there are moments of sadness, Mother does not complain or dwell in self-pity, and so her children – Bobbie, Peter and Phil – do not feel sorry for themselves either. There are no complaints, just a spirit of endeavour, a spirit that flows from and through the character and demeanour of Mother. Hope embeds itself in the story through Mother’s belief that, with courage and perseverance, things will come right in the end.

Mother makes a decision to keep the nature of Father’s absence to herself, reasoning that it is not a topic for children. In the story, the disappearance of Father is surrounded by a sense of mystery and suspense. Mother’s omissions represent a common parental decision to keep certain challenging events from the young, who would only be upset and not gain anything through hearing the distressing news. Bobbie, Peter and Phil are not demoralised or disempowered through learning about the nature of his absence, and neither are they burdened with any possible belief that they are somehow responsible for finding a solution. My observation is that we adults need to be wary of sharing worries and anxieties with our children through the sharing of difficult events, the sharing of which bring no gains or benefits to children. Mother raises happier and more empowered children through exercising discretion in what she shares, and what she keeps to herself. [No spoiler here, as I’d recommend reading this book with your children, so will leave this mystery unrevealed.

The family are forced through diminished economic circumstances to give up their home and move to a small, ill-equipped and impoverished country cottage, wherein the story of their country life begins. As they roam and explore their new surroundings, we quickly learn that the children are of the ‘free-range’ variety and have old-fashioned manners. Their explorations entail traversing new landscapes and engaging with many locals, especially those who work at and frequent the local train station. As the story progresses, they become much loved by all whom they encounter through their earthy goodness, their kindness to friends and strangers alike, and their acts of initiative and courage.

The word pluck is used a number of times. I love this word, this quality, and the attitude that underpins it. Pluck implies an understanding that life will throw up unavoidable challenges, but that with courage, hope, and determination, a better outcome can and will be achieved.

The free-ranging of the children – through the village, over hills, through tunnels, on the railway lines, at the station, along canals – brings to life the joy of adventure and the gains to character and self-belief that accompany the parental position that children are competent (enacted through the parent leaving children to organise themselves, through getting out of their way). In her no-fuss benign neglect, Mother both creates and re-affirms her children’s strengths: she raises strong children.

The kindness of strangers, and what can be gained by extending kindness to strangers, is another central theme of The Railway Children. The children expand their friendships and build happy, empowered countenances through engaging with those beyond their kith and kin. Through their openness and acts of care, the children quickly become both well thought of and well connected in the local village. The modern worry about ‘what could go wrong’ denies so many children the connections, joy and confidence experienced by Bobbie, Peter and Phil, who make friends unknown to Mother. This is a central tenet of free-range parenting: an understanding that children are more than able to manage social interactions and friendships on their own.

Mother does not deny that tragedy strikes, but lives the belief that kindness, hope, and courage are its antidote. Pluck, perseverance and care define Mother and her three children: Bobbie, Peter and Phil. I hope that our young actors also gained some insight into the qualities and character traits that shone through this play, and that they bring these increasingly into their lives in as beautiful a manner as they brought them to the stage.

Timothy Berryman (Principal)

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