Schools are human constructs to assist learning. What is their purpose? Thomas Arnold, famous 19th Century headmaster of Rugby gave three reasons: religious and moral principles, gentlemanly conduct and intellectual ability. In 1969 the PPTA working party arrived at the same three though in a different order and jargon: the urge to enquire, concern for others and the desire for self-respect. In other words, education was, is, and will be about a mix of values, behaviour and knowledge and the skills all three require.
To outsiders teaching appears a simple task. In reality it is extremely complex one, requiring considerable professional expertise, emotional labour and commitment. The Chinese have a proverb. Give a man a fish and he can feed his family for a day. Teach him to fish and he can provide for them every day. I add a further twist. There are many ways to catch fish, not just one way.
Sometimes talking about education I tell a fable. A teacher wandering along a deserted beach finds a washed-up bottle. The cork removed, out pops a genie who makes the old three-wish offer. The teacher quickly decides, “a long happy healthy life and at the end a quick and painless death.” “Very sensible” says the genie. “Most people ask for eternal life and after a few centuries that gets rather boring”. Second wish. “I wish the same for my partner and that they die at the precise moment I do.” “What a sensible person you are. Most people ask for someone more young and beautiful or handsome and that way lies trouble.” Third wish.” We both hate flying and now all our children live in Australia. Could you build a bridge across the Tasman so that we could drive over to visit them.” The genie scratched its head. “That’s rather difficult. Whales will try to rub their barnacles off on the pylons, and snakes may slither across and there’s the small matter of passing bays and petrol pumps. And we’d need draw-bridges to let ships through. Would you mind putting that one in the too hard basket and asking for something easier?” “I’d like to teach in the perfect school.” The genie didn’t hesitate. “The bridge, two lanes or four.”