27 June 2024

Learning for learning’s sake

Heads of SchoolMiddle School
Learning for learning’s sake
Learning for learning’s sake
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Students in the middle years of their schooling sometimes find themselves studying subjects that they know for certain they will not pursue in Year 12, 11 or even 10. Given the possibilities of a specialised pathway, this means every subject other than English is being studied by students who will not take it further.

In my role I am occasionally asked to consider moving students out of one subject and into another, and one of the factors I’m asked to weigh up may be that the student will not continue with the subject in future. At times I am compelled to respectfully push back against this argument.

In the end, there are things that students learn in every subject that will not be replicated in their later life. Even English, the one compulsory subject for all students regardless of their chosen pathway, asks students to complete tasks that may very well have no apparent connection to their later life. After all, there are few among us who, after completing Year 12, have need to write a critical analysis of a work of literature. And yet, I would argue, there is immense value in the thinking that is required to write such a critical analysis.

This notion applies to all of the other subjects, too. A Year 9 student of a language other than English may have decided that they will not continue with the subject after this year. But there is great value in continuing to learn in their language class for one more semester – their brain will be exercised in ways that can only be beneficial. So it goes with the Year 8 who finds themselves in a creative subject for a semester but feels they are not at all creative and want to leave mere days into a new term. That student will be shown how to find their imagination and open up those parts of their mind in ways they would never otherwise do.

Of course, the argument can be made that students only have so much time and can only take so much cognitive load, and this is not an unreasonable claim. On balance, however, I argue for breadth. I argue for the benefits of learning outside one’s typical areas of interest for the long-term benefits those subjects bring. They make us think differently.

Of course, this principle applies beyond secondary education. In a world where so many thinkers, advocates and public figures seem utterly certain that their view on any given matter is the one true opinion, and who surround themselves with like-minded others to reaffirm that belief, it seems more important than ever that we expose ourselves to new ways of thinking.

It is true that at Carey we have a focus on personalised learning. However, this does not mean one-dimensional learning or thinking. Quite the opposite. As teachers and parents, we all have a responsibility to help the young people in our care to find value in things that may not be in their future and in things that may not initially appeal to them. The growth from such endeavours comes from the struggle.

I am fortunate to be on leave next term and while away will be sure to read a lot. I hope to practise what I preach here and, in addition to Elmore Leonard novels, read texts that challenge my ideas. In doing so I will continue my own learning. If you have any recommendations I would welcome them.

David Martin
Deputy Head of Middle School – Student Learning


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