I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong. Leo Rosten
It is a paradox that cruelty, bullying, violence and mean spiritedness are the actions of the weak; and kindness, justice, tolerance, compassion and mercy are the actions of the strong.
Shantananda Saraswati was asked about tyranny and injustice in the world and he said that cruelty, totalitarianism and evil have the outer appearance of strength; but they are in fact fragile because they are based on fear and lies and, when, like Soviet Communism, they collapse, they can do so surprisingly quickly.
On the other hand liberal democracies, with government with the consent of the governed, which have open vigorous debate, and which value free speech and the tolerance of divergent, even heretical, views, can have the appearance of chaotic weakness. But, he says, they are inwardly strong because they are based on simple principles of mutual consent, freedom and truthfulness.
At school I often point out to the children the obvious fact that no one is hurtful or a bully or mean from a position of strength. Strong and confident people have no need to be unkind or vicious. And, further, the proper response by the strong to the weak is compassion and a helping hand.
We tell lots of stories to the children in Assembly, in Scripture and Philosophy classes; and all of them are intended to be lively and entertaining. Without wanting to be ponderous or heavy, we also want the stories to edify. We want the stories to be captivating and therefore memorable; and therefore lodge in the children’s hearts, and so be available when the point or principle embedded in them is needed.
These stories are often directly about God. Because God is compassionate, merciful and highly efficient, He comes to us in a myriad of ways, all designed to capture our attention and arouse our curiosity. God can come to us externally in the guise of an invisible, loving parent-like figure with carefully formulated rules for living a good and fruitful life.
Or God can turn up in a more intimate form as an affectionate friend and intimate companion, usually embodied as a Jesus or a Krishna, whose human qualities excite our warmth and admiration, and whose God-like qualities excite our devotion and reverence.
Lastly, God comes to us in that still small voice of inspiration, conscience or insight which appears in us as a flash of light, or as a steady guiding lantern of moral or ethical values. In this guise He is our own highest Self, readily accessible through inner stillness and meditation.
All religions speak of these three forms of God; and the stories we tell to the children cover all bases as well.
Welcome back to a new term. I hope everyone had a refreshing restorative break. Many members of staff spent part of their break on a week's meditation and study retreat at the School of Philosophy.
This term we have several highlights to look forward to. The School's annual cycle of special events and assemblies fulfil several purposes. They give the school a regular pulse or rhythm which is repeated every year and contributes to the "feel" of the school. And each has its own special significance - at the Easter Assembly, for example, we concentrate on sacrifice, redemption and forgiveness; on Anzac Day we remember the sacrifice of our fighting men and women and experience national unity; Teachers' Day honours the teacher; Founder's Day celebrates the life and work of Leon Maclaren and connects us to the history and founding principles of the school.
This term we have the Primary Shakespeare Festival, the Christmas Celebration - including the annual Nativity Play and Carol Service - and, wrapping things up for the year, our gala Speech Night at the Concourse in Chatswood.
Each of these annual celebrations is designed to lift our sights and raise our thinking beyond the day to day. They all exemplify some significant principle - so at Christmas time we focus on the joy of rebirth and the promise of freedom and salvation; and on Speech Night we not only celebrate the school and individual children's achievements; we also wish our graduating 6th class a warm and heartfelt farewell and best wishes for the future, with every confidence that they will continue to display the fine qualities and strength of character which make their parents and teachers justifiably proud.
“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” ― Heath L. Buckmaster
I rather like this quote on education. Making a child - or anyone - into a "new person" is not only impossible, but it is also impertinent. We can't turn ourselves into someone else. And if we are not able (and often are not willing) to do it to ourselves; it is therefore a bit rich to try to do it to someone else.
Life, I believe, is a "come as you are party". Children turn up with their own unique natures. Education is not so much about teachers moulding children's character; rather it is a matter of teachers (and parents) setting a living example of the virtues and values that are dear to their heart; and also providing to the children love, discipline and the finest food for their hearts and minds and spirits, such as Shakespeare, Sanskrit, Latin, Philosophy, Scripture and Mozart.
Having done this all we can do is cheer the children on as they use as much or as little of these influences, to build their own unique character. This means the children can grow into the people they already are.
Headmaster with 3rd class K on school camp, before they get down to the business of raftbuilding.
One of the issues I raised in the TEDxParramatta talk was the four things needed for education are: a teacher; a pupil; knowledge; and a flow or interaction usually involving language and speech. The teacher can be a paid, trained, skillful professional; or it can be…. anyone or anything.
For example, I was in a carparking area a few months ago and a kind lady offered me a parking ticket which still had some time on it. I was grateful and expressed my thanks. When she had gone I felt I had “gushed”, because of a slightly uncomfortable feeling of reluctance to accept other people’s generosity. It was a small thing but I found it instructive. That lady - and the situation – without knowing it, was my teacher.
But for a teacher’s lesson to work, it does require a willing pupil who is ready to learn. Shantananda Saraswati says that no one can learn anything without respecting the teacher. That respect, in the form of a willing ear listening to what the teacher has to impart, is crucial.
Hence our emphasis on respect, as one of our five core values. The teachers try to model this by respecting each other and respecting the children. And we ask the children to enact this by standing when adults come into the room, addressing adults politely and fully, and so on. All this creates a respectful atmosphere where the knowledge can flow easily.
On another note: the P & F stalwarts have worked long and hard to put together a Trivia Night which is a fundraiser and which is also fun and sociable. Sadly Mrs Mane and I were already booked to go to Brisbane to see relatives, but I would love to hear how mightily successful this event was on all fronts!
In the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday Dr Timothy Hawkes, the Headmaster of The Kings School, listed ten which things which he felt were not covered adequately by the standard curriculum. How to:
Live in a community and forge good relationships;
Know yourself and what you believe;
Handle intimacy and sex;
Control emotions and impulses;
Manage financial matters;
Do practical things, to clean, cook, make and mend;
Be good mannered and know etiquette;
Be resilient and deal with grief and loss.
I think this is a good list and, while all need family input and some are more appropriate for high school, I feel that John Colet School addresses many of them. But it did occur to me that, as in school so in life, you can’t pass a test you haven’t studied for. All the lessons in the world on kindness, for example, won’t get a jot of compassion out of someone who hasn’t worked to make it a natural part of their dealings with others. Making a virtue natural means hearing about it, seeing others live it and then, most importantly, practising it until it becomes natural. In this way the above list can become a practical guide for life rather than an unrealistic pipedream. We as parents and teachers help enormously when, for example, we model and encourage the children to control impulses, accept responsibility and be resilient.
As the Headmaster has been away sick this week, this 2008 comment is from the archive.
Also, because of illness and last minute timetabling difficulties, our final round debate with Alexander School has been postponed.
The Infants Shakespeare Festival, which saw each class give two full dress rehearsals and then three performances over a fortnight, was a triumph of organisation, creativity and shear hard work from all involved – parents, teachers and children. Profound thanks and congratulations to all involved. The Shakespeare Festival exemplifies the two fundamental elements which we believe will give children the tools to develop themselves into fine young men and women: first, the company of truthful, emotionally mature teachers; and, second, giving them the best possible input. Shantananda Saraswati, who recommended this approach said, the children should be in good company; and be provided with good material. Of the good material, such as Shakespeare, he says: “If they take it, they will be good enough to look for what they need and build their character accordingly.” In other words the individual child has a role to play here. The adults who love and care for the children – their parents and teachers – should, and do, give as much fine input as they can, and set as good an example as possible. But ultimately it is the child, and all too soon, the young adult, who will have to take what they can of this rich, stimulating and creative mix of influences, and build their own character and life in their own completely unique way. That’s the part that no one else can (or should) do for them.
When I took up the job as Headmaster in 1989, I had a vision for the school which included establishing it squarely in the fine tradition of education in the English speaking world; a tradition that has always had at its heart the rigorous teaching of classical languages. There is an erroneous idea floating about in education that what the children learn should be “relevant”. I have mentioned before that the idea of relevance is a red herring, simply because, in a world where the audio cassette is a museum piece, and the CD and the video store are on their way out as well, no one knows what the world will look like in ten or twenty years. The things a child needs to learn which will be relevant are things which don’t change like the ability to think and attend; honesty, resilience and compassion. I was recently asked to deliver an after dinner speech at the Classical languages Teachers Association. In it I listed some reasons for teaching Sanskrit and Latin, which make these subjects very relevant:
Imagine there is someone knowledgeable and willing to help you, available to you right here and now. Resting quietly, feel their wisdom and love. Feel that they are fully open to help anyone who asks. What question or questions would you put to him or her?...
Last week I spoke how finding unity is as easy as playing the game of comparing our best with another’s best. This works with religions and cultures and it can work with politics and social issues as well. You could try it, if you care to. The question then becomes how to teach this to children. There are quite a lot of ways...
Some years ago I was talking to a lady who happened to be from a particular ethnic group which had had historical, and to a lesser extent, ongoing difficulties with another dominant group. And she was saying how this other culture was terrible because of all the evils and persecutions it had visited on others. And how her culture was superior because of its inherent values of humanity and compassion and so on. And I found myself pointing out that anyone can play that game. Where we compare our best with their worst, and… Surprise! We win!