A Headmaster’s view on what we should teach

Wednesday 21 May, 2014

When author and Headmaster of The King’s School, Parramatta, Dr Tim Hawkes OAM, visited Warrane on Wednesday 14 May 2014, he told residents that despite decades as a teacher and headmaster he felt like “a failure”.

He explained that he felt that way because of the words of Aristippus of Cyrene who said you should be teaching boys “those things that they shall need as men”.

Dr Hawkes, OAM, BEd (Hons) [Durham], Grad Dip Ed Stud (Ed Admin) [UNE], PhD [Macquarie], FACE, FACEA, then proceeded to work his way through a list of things that we felt he should have been teaching all these years.

“I am here to tell you that there has been a manifest betrayal by schools,” he said, and added, “You didn't think you would hear that from a headmaster, did you?"

“I think ‘manifest betrayal’ is not too strong a term. In schools, we are not doing our job.  As a Headmaster, I have also been guilty.  Aristippus of Cyrene would have given me a low score because I was not preparing my boys for manhood.

“Recently, I have begun to ask myself, if I could control what is being taught in schools.  What would I teach?”

“Changing what we teach now is not easy and is not helped by rampant testing, and accountability measures, which now demand our attention.  We have things like NAPLAN tests (The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) and HSC league tables.  The result is that so much of what we are doing in schools now involves preparing children for tests.”

“I am advancing the thesis that we have got to be very careful just teaching to tests.  We should do more than concentrate on those things that are publicly measured and reported.  We need to prepare our children for life, not an exam.”

Dr Hawkes said he had just spent a year writing a book titled, "Ten conversations you must have with your son".

Among the things he would like to see taught to boys were:

  1. How to manage money. “Controlling indebtedness and encouraging wealth creation.”
  2. Communication skills. “Not only verbal communication skills, but interpreting body language.”
  3. The ability to know themselves and what they believe. “Too many have no idea what they believe or why they believe it.”
  4. The ability to do practical things. “Like cleaning and cooking (including the ability to cook six signature dishes – not including barbecues).”
  5. The ability to be good mannered and know about etiquette. “I tell my boys at Kings, ‘I don’t mind if you eat like pigs, but you have got to know you are eating like pigs and have the capacity not to eat like pigs when the occasion demands it’.”
  6. Personal resilience and good mental health.  “Depression is the fastest growing medical complaint among young men.”
  7. The ability to handle intimacy and the raunch culture.  “I think that our boys are often looking for something a little bit more than knowledge about the gymnastics of sex.  They want to know if they are able to love and to be loved.
  8. The ability to control their emotions.  Dr Hawkes pointed out that eight out of 10 people in prison were “blokes who had not mastered the art of counting to 10 before acting”.  Learning to control primitive fight or flight responses was important.

He urged the young men present to become good fathers who talk to their sons about life skills.  “These are vital conversations” he said. “Too many dads are ‘blue-pencil’ dads.  They put the blue pencil through what is allowed.  Others are so intent on trying to be somebody outside of the home that they forget to be somebody inside the home.

“We talk about leadership – yet have a whole generation of dads who can’t even lead their own family, who can’t even lead their own lives.

“We need a new generation of dads because too many contemporary dads don’t communicate well, particularly with sons. I mention ‘mothers’ to my boys and their eyes soften with memories of undeserved favours. You mention ‘dad’ and there is often a pain born of inadequate relationships.

“Dads get off the 5.58pm at Epping.  They then go home emotionally exhausted.  There they hide behind the newspaper or in front of the television.  They just haven’t got the energy to talk to their sons.  This results in another generation of under-fathered boys, and it is causing havoc within our society.  Too many sons are ending up on a slab with a tag on their toe for the want of good mentoring.”

Dr Hawkes said one of the things he felt young men needed to learn was how to live in a community environment like Warrane.

“When you see the banter, the jokes and the things that happened at a meal like we had tonight, it tells me there is a healthy community here,” he said.  “There are customs and social morés which have evolved over time.  This is wonderful.  One of the things we have to teach others is how to live in community.”

Dr Hawkes said he lamented the fact that too many young people spent their time locked in bedrooms, communicating with the virtual world.  This often prevented them from dealing with the real world.

“Their parents are trained to bring their food to them in their bedroom,” he said. “Then they emerge from their bedrooms with the EQ skills of a brick.”

Dr Hawkes said communities applied subtle pressures, social and otherwise, “to get people to learn the joys of living in a crowd greater than one”.

“If we fail to teach these social skills,” he added, “we are preparing our sons for a prosperous career working at unmanned weather stations in Antarctica.”

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