By Marilyn Smith, Principal
Recently a parent took the time to tell me that she wanted her daughter to enrol at Preshil because she felt we offered the opportunity for students to become ‘thought leaders’. This was a particularly encouraging conversation because there are so many elements of the program and the culture of Preshil which actively encourage our students to think for themselves and to challenge those ideas and actions they believe to be wrong. We want parents to understand and support us in what is, after all, one of the most important goals of education.
The “Courage to Question” is a quality we want to build in every student. Children can identify injustice and recognise imbalances of power from a very early age, as we all know from that first, outraged complaint of, “That’s not fair!”
In order to build ‘thought leadership’ and for questioning to be a day-to-day reality we need teachers who welcome the challenge of difficult and unexpected questions; who take them seriously, respond patiently and who don’t mind admitting that they don’t always know the answer, but can acknowledge a great question even when they are stumped. We need teachers who are “skilled in the use of provocative and probing questions and guided by big ideas [who] will lead students to dig for the gold within the experience, putting the big ideas under the lens of critical examination.” Selma Wasserman
At Preshil we have just such teachers. It is exactly these skills and this approach to teaching that the International Baccalaureate demands, challenging us as educators but making our classrooms alive and exciting for every student.
Encouraging ‘thought leaders’ is quite different from the approach to student leadership many schools have traditionally embedded into their programs. Preshil does not select or single out those students who most exactly represent the School ethos or those students who excel in sport or debating, or who embody the confidence and charisma of conventional leadership; those strong voices and confident personalities that other, quieter and more timid students all recognise as fitting the image that our society has of leaders – politicians, opinion makers and celebrities – people who know how to tap into the prevailing, populist fears and style themselves as champions.
Peter Singer, in a recent forum, quietly pointed to a prevailing tendency in our society to regulate our behaviour by what is legal, by what we can get away with, rather than for each of us to take up the challenge to base our behaviour on our own ethical reasoning. Professor Singer is listed as the most influential Australian ‘thought leader’ in the world and certainly a controversial one. He has continued to voice views that have confronted and challenged so many comfortable stances and acknowledges that he was first encouraged to think for himself and question prevailing beliefs as a child at Preshil’s primary school.
More than ever we need to challenge our students to think for themselves, articulate their views, distinguish fact from opinion and develop their own moral framework. This is the motivation for us to embed the study of Philosophy from the earliest years in the Kindergarten to the core subject of Theory of Knowledge in the IB Diploma*.
Perhaps we are producing young men and women unsuited to becoming the President of the United States of Australia – but hopefully, they are capable of leading lives of incalculable value and influence in every area of life they venture into.