Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. If the past year is anything to go by, this can certainly be said to have held true. As the year has progressed we have come to realise that even truth itself can no longer be considered to be unassailable as we adjust to living in a ‘fake news’, ‘alternative truth’ and ‘post-truth’ world. As a mere observer this is alarming, but as an educator it demands that we reconsider whether we are still equipping our young people fully for the world that they are going to encounter beyond our school gates.
And as we do this, to my mind at least, three imperatives stand out. Firstly, we must continue to equip our young people with a moral compass that enables them to discern right from wrong and good from bad. We must enable them to develop sufficient determination and resilience so that they can cope with failure and both learn and grow with each challenge that life will throw at them. Finally we must ensure that our young people have the skills that they will need to survive in an ever changing world where even the truth is not a given.
Notice that I have not mentioned knowledge here. It is a given that schools involve the imparting of knowledge (and prep schools are perhaps amongst the most traditional in this area). However, it is true that knowledge is the means by which we hone the skills; it is a means to an end and not the end in itself. We already live in a world where all knowledge is available for free on the internet at the click of a button. In our working lives, we no longer need to know everything, we can research quickly and efficiently. For our children then, it becomes increasingly vital that they develop the skills to seek, discern and apply this knowledge.
It is worth remembering the words of Albert Einstein, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”.
John F Gilmour