An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
– Benjamin Franklin

The Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, opens with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …” This passage suggests an age of radical opposites taking place across the English Channel, in France and the United Kingdom respectively. It tells a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris during the French revolution. Yet 350 Years later – what has changed?

In this age of environmental upheaval, radical political opposites, and the fast and loose trends of social media it is incumbent on us as parents and teachers to guide our young ones to develop a moderate, sensible world view. There is a growing movement around the world of teenagers demanding more rights at a younger age. For example, in New Zealand, just this week, their highest court acknowledged that young people’s human rights are being impinged by their inability to vote – thus creating room for the voting age to be lowered to 16 years of age. Yet as they lean less on the wisdom of their parents and look more to the collective hive mind of Instagram and Facebook, how do we remain relevant? How do we remain current? How do we ensure that they are informed and can make good decisions?

I believe the push-back has to come from us. Push back with conversation. Push back and challenge your sons to take a position on an issue on the news, question them on their opinions regarding current events, ask them to justify their views using lessons from history, or science, or literature. Arthur Fletcher once famously said “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” – and thus the most derided purpose of education is to provide students with a bunch of facts and dates and numbers that they’ll never use. And on the surface that may appear to be true, I can’t think of a single time in my life where I can recall using Kepler’s Law of Ellipses to assist me in getting the laundry done. Nor has there been a moment when the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, has been meaningful in getting the lawn mowed. As for the eclairs I learned to make in Food Tech? My wife asked me to stop making them. Apparently, they were, errr… too good. So why have we spent all year on learning these things?

At the end of the day knowledge is power, and the ability to wield facts accurately and impactfully remains currency. “Soft skills” may be the order of the day when it comes to work preparedness; the ability to analyse, evaluate, create, and communicate are the tools of our modern society. But knowledge is the timber and steel; knowledge is the material we can use to justify our position, to support our argument. Social media may invest in inflammatory comments and fleeting trends but as parents, the lessons our boys have learned at school allow us to break these apart for our children and help them navigate what has become a sensory overload of information and ideas.

So, in the cool of the evening, these holidays, don’t ask “what did you learn at school?” Instead ask: how can you use what you’ve learnt to change someone’s mind?

Mike Brennan 
Head of Science Faculty