by Paul Hess (revised, originally published in 2014)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider how faith can encourage us to break the shackles of conformity.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the song ‘Another brick in the wall’ by Pink Floyd and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly. It is 3.52 minutes long and is available at: https://youtu.be/9p1_-R_8Fsc
- Play the song ‘Another brick in the wall’ by Pink Floyd.
Read out the lyrics.
We don’t need no education.
We don’t need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom.
Teacher, leave them kids alone!
Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.
- Explain that these famous words from the song ‘Another brick in the wall’ come from Pink Floyd’s iconic 1979 album The Wall. The album revolves around the character Pink and speaks of loss and how incidents that cause suffering are ‘bricks in the wall’ that add to isolation.
The song suggests that one of the things that caused Pink pain growing up was an out-of-touch education system, run by cruel teachers who had no awareness of Pink’s true, inner self.
- Among many provocative images in the video that accompanies the song is that of students travelling along a factory conveyor belt. The message is that a rigid education system enforces conformity and crushes personal freedom and creative expression.
- These are bold concepts to consider. There are probably people in this school and beyond it who have a sense of being on a conveyor belt, controlled by the adults in their lives, and who feel that they are not allowed to give expression to their true selves.
- Of course, it is not only adults who might restrict our freedom as young people. Very often, the most powerful force that controls our behaviour is the opinion of our peers. Are we someone who thinks, behaves, dresses and speaks as our friends do - someone who follows along blindly - or do we have the courage to be different?
- Education and religion are both often criticized as being systems of control, ways of making people conform to the values and ideals of the Establishment. In fact, education and faith, at their best, are about freedom of the spirit and mind. They are about developing a critical approach and asking challenging questions of the prevailing assumptions, values and beliefs of our day.
- Søren Kierkegaard was a great philosopher who lived in Denmark in the nineteenth century. He had no time for what the press called ‘the public’. He thought the idea of ‘the public’ was just an invention that forced everybody to follow the crowd. Rather than following other people, he believed each of us should act freely and independently.
- In the Gospels, Jesus often took the lonely and difficult path. He did not conform to other people’s expectations of what the Messiah should be like, and he certainly did not conform to the religious system of his day.
- The big question for each of us is whether we have the courage to strike out on our own, possibly risky path rather than travel the road that others want us to take. Are we prepared to challenge rather than conform, ready to dismantle the bricks in the wall?
Time for reflection
Christians today are often regarded as acquiescent and conservative rather than people who present a challenge to society’s values. That is why we need to hear afresh the words of Paul to the Romans: ‘Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12.2)
Let’s spend a few moments thinking about how we may conform without even realizing it. How might we be more true to ourselves today?
Please liberate us from the pressure to conform
So that we may be free to be who you have made us to be.
Help us to see the path of truth and justice,
And grant that we may have the courage to follow that path,
even if it means going against the crowd.
Help us to stand up for what is good, honourable and right.