Introducing the very first guest post on RoadScholar from Earnest, a recognised expert Australian thinker in education, academic and former secondary school teacher. I hope there will be plenty more posts to come!
A great debate in 21st century Australia is around the wellbeing and education of our youngest citizens. This age-old topic preoccupies parents and politicians, scientists and artists, principals and teachers and should be a focus for just about anyone with a genuine interest in this country’s future.
Both noisy and calm voices weigh into the debate from time to time, and it can be hard to filter the messages for commonsense or even goodwill. Recently much has been made about how much better off each generation is, or should be, than those that have gone before.
Aggressive, simplistic calls to action by activist organisations like GetUp! appeal to the energy and passion of teenagers and 20-somethings who have not lived enough of life to recognise that someone else’s cause may not be what it seems.
Canadian psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson, a veteran of thirty years of clinical practice and university teaching, says it is important to get up, put your shoulders back and join those who take personal responsibility for living a life that has meaning. He is struck by the power of a little encouragement. It calls to mind the words of mothers and fathers since the days of leaving the cave to chase the woolly mammoth: up you get! It’s time to train / work / clean your room.
In chronological and nation-building terms, Australia is barely a toddler. There has been a lot of learning, and the stumbles and falls make the joys and triumphs all the more rewarding, just like the journey from birth to adulthood.
Letters written by an ancestor highlight the universal and enduring challenges of our existence on this planet and the paths we must smooth for the next generation.
You cannot yet appreciate the feelings of a father in parting from a son, perhaps to see him no more, – for human life is uncertain; but I cannot suffer you to quit the paternal roof without assuring you, that in giving you my blessing, my whole soul is wrapped up in your happiness and prosperity.
Your own honor, and your usefulness in society are deeply concerned in this. You are now at that time of life when you must, if ever, lay up a store of book knowledge which is to last you for your life. … You, my dear Boy will have greater advantages than I ever possessed. In fact I never had leisure to read systematically, for the moment I was old enough to make an effort to get my own living I was pushed into the world, and have had to work my way through life, under the greatest disadvantages.
You are to furnish your mind with all sorts of information, and let me entreat you to lose no opportunity of filling your mind with stores of ideas, or in other words of becoming a learned man. By learning, I mean, knowledge of books, men, and things. A competent knowledge of Greek and Latin is necessary to enable you to enjoy the Literature of almost every country in Europe. This may be acquired by perseverance. Mathematics must engage a good deal of your attention, for nothing tends so much to improve the reasoning faculties, and clear a man’s head for every branch of general science… History, Geography, and Chronology must form the combined fund of that general information which is to fit you for the active exercise of the mind, and the materials to work upon in dealing with your own contemporaries. Next to these in importance, is the study of Logic, so as to enable you to make a right use of the knowledge you will have acquired either by reading or observation.
With a sound education and well stored mind, you must succeed in life…Only be ambitious of excelling, and in the course of a few years, you will be astonished, how much, with perseverance, you will have acquired.
I am anxious to impress upon your mind, that your success will depend mainly upon yourself.
I look forward with great hope to see you achieve what it is my ambition you should be – a fine, manly, sensible, intelligent well-informed fellow, able to work your way in the world … This is a rising young country of great resources, & must in a few years open a remunerating market for talents! … We want here, men of sound education, enlightened minds, & of a high tone of morals & integrity. Look to this! The path of ambition is open to you … & prepare accordingly while you have time.
Extract from a letter written by James Dowling, 2nd Chief Justice of New South Wales (Sydney), to his son, James Sheen Dowling (London) in April, 1838. (See Dowling, A. (1996) Fortis et Egregius National Library of Australia)