"If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!" - Soren Kierkegaard
Is there anything more joyous and striking than watching a little child's fascination with the world unfold before your very eyes? Perhaps it's the grandfather in me and the heightened emotions of the Christmas season with its essential message of love and giving and hope, but I find myself fixated on notions of 'possibility' and 'creativity'. The world being discovered, minute by minute, and the future being created right there right now - that is surely the very essence of education and of parenting? Surely as we continue to learn about ourselves as a species and as we break away from the rigidity of the Industrial Age's 'cookie cutter' approach to school, we must be prepared to dwell more often in the realm of the possible. Technology is driving us ever harder to believe in what can happen as it introduces some new element of surprise almost every day, so we should be as receptive as we've ever been to creativity and change.
At a Shawnigan that is poised to celebrate its 100th birthday very soon, we are striding down the path of possibility, guide by our first rudimentary road map which is our best guess at where education is headed in the next twenty years, fuelled as it is by the accelerant of technology. All of our next stages of planning are focused on giving further shape and detail to that roadmap. It's exciting and slightly daunting work, with feelings at times perhaps more akin to those who sought the North West Passage, beset as they no doubt were by all the questions such as : Are we on the right track? Is our destination actually there? How long will it take us? Will we be misled? And, of course - Will we take a wrong turning? The analogy is perhaps a flawed one as it leads too easily to images of frustration and being frozen in place, but the adventure of it all is the essence that we seek. Schools will indeed be something of an adventure in the very near future at every level, including university, as the focus continues to shift with increasing pace from teaching to learning. In that construct, the teacher is no longer the 'sage on the stage' but rather the guide, mentor and inspiration as well as 'the exacting conscience' that young people always need.
In my opinion, the relationship will continue to be at the heart of great learning, just as it was in Ancient Greece with Socrates and Plato and with so many others down throughout history, and that is why great boarding schools will have an even bigger part to play on the educational landscape of the future. At great schools, meaningful relationships are everything and they permeate every aspect of a young person's life. They it is who counter the vicarious life that technology even today can foist upon unsuspecting youngster, leaving them bereft of the social skills and confidence that they need to thrive in the world. It’s reminiscent of the powerful warning that ironically one company issued to encourage parents to prevent their daughters, in that particular case, from falling for the messaging of the all-prevalent media: “Talk to your daughters before they do”. Talking to your daughters and sons in a productive and meaningful way is what good schools do.
Our latest video in our whole Centennial series is called, “What’s Possible?” Fittingly, that’s the question that greets us every day with our morning coffee and is still hovering around if we are lucky enough to afford ourselves a ‘nightcap’ at the end of the day. It’s the question that drives great teachers and great parents alike. We are all in the business of inculcating, nurturing and blossoming young people’s belief in their ability to do almost anything that they put their minds to; it’s a ‘we can’ attitude that we seek to develop. For too long, we have allowed ourselves to succumb to the prevalence of restrictive thinking, focusing on the safe at the expense of the adventurous, believing in the triage of standardized testing and figuratively imposing ceilings on young people’s skies of possibility. Now, encouraged by all sorts of brain research and technology, we can raise our collective expectations of each other. Captured beautifully by Brazilian poet, Ruben Alves, in his memorable piece entitled ‘Tomorrow’s Children’, the responsibility that we all have is to ensure,
“ That the frontiers of the possible are not defined by the limits of the actual.” We must open our minds and our hearts to what is possible but we must do so in a very human way, aware at all times of the well-being of the people, or as I like to say ‘the persons’, at the centre of the equation.
Schools should be all about people and the sheer power of people united as a force for good can be awesome, in the true sense of the word. Throughout history there are countless feats of inspiring behaviour when necessity and humanity have combined and people have been moved to great achievements or acts of kindness, sacrifice, bravery or creativity. It is that energy that we must capture and reproduce as often as we can so that, to paraphrase the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, “those ardent young eyes are indeed forever seeing the possible.”