Headmaster's Weekly Comment - image  on https://www.johncolet.nsw.edu.au

Headmaster’s Weekly Comment

I am often asked why we teach Sanskrit, Shakespeare, Latin and so on.  With a little probing the question becomes something like this:  Sanskrit (or Shakespeare, or Latin) are odd subjects to teach primary aged children, who are a bit young for the level of difficulty these subjects present; or, taking another tack these children will end up as accountants or lawyers or teachers or doctors or IT consultants or Business Managers and these subjects will not help them in later life.

So Sanskrit is either too hard, or not relevant.

Let’s look at the first issue.  Perhaps we can generalize the question and ask: Should we teach subjects to children which they find hard?  Put another way, should we assess each individual child’s learning style and level of ability and tailor the curriculum to them by only giving them work which they find easy?  I find the answer pretty clear.

Education, by definition, is the effective communication and ultimate mastery of facts, figures, skills and abilities which, by the very nature of the process, the learner did not know before they started.  If you already know the subject, you are not, in fact, being educated. 

This process always involves a certain level of difficulty because, again, by definition, the mastery of the unfamiliar requires some level of mental, emotional and, at times, physical effort.

And this process has a beneficial spin-off for the learner.  Besides the mastery of the nuts and bolts of the subject, the student also acquires the skills of patience, perseverance, courage and the ability to confront difficulty and overcome it with a mature repertoire of emotional powers.

These are the skills and strengths which go to create a life-long learner : someone unafraid to have a go when they meet, in life, the unfamiliar, the demanding, the difficult.

That’s why we teach Sanskrit or, at least, one of the reasons.

Gilbert Mane