What They Won’t Learn in School
Posted by Hal in teaching boys

The King’s School is the oldest independent private academy in Australia.  The headmaster of the all-male, K-12 boarding school, Dr. Tim Hawkes, presented a paper at the International  Boys’ School Coalition conference in Toronto, Canada, a few years ago, starting his presentation with this observation:

When the philosopher, Aristippus of Cyrene, was asked some 400 years BC, what boys should be taught, he replied:

“Those things which they will use when men.”

Imbued with ancient wisdom, this response threatens to make a mockery of much which is taught in schools today.

Tragically, rather too many schools have lost sight of those things which will be used by our boys when they become men.  We have lost our focus on education in favour of a concentration on the esoteric, the political and the convenient.  Rather too much teaching is packaged in artificial curricula delivered in artificial settings giving artificial help for the future.

He identified ten life skills which are typically, if not universally, overlooked in the schools:

  • The ability to live in community and to forge good relationships.
  • The ability to communicate well.
  • The ability to know yourself and what you believe.
  • The ability to handle intimacy and sex.
  • The ability to control emotions and impulses.
  • The ability to manage financial matters.
  • The ability to do practical things, to clean, cook, make and mend.
  • The ability to be good mannered and to know etiquette.
  • The ability to accept responsibility.
  • The ability to be resilient and to deal with grief and loss

I’ve read the whole 23-page paper, and while I have some reservations or downright disagreements in some areas — I wouldn’t want my sons given a secularized, make-your-own-choice-just-be-polite form of sex education, for instance — I have to say he’s on target in many ways.  In fact, we address all of these issues in our book, but from a Biblical standpoint, not just a philosophical one.

(Interestingly for a secular educator, he suggests that a formal coming of age ceremony is a useful thing – another point we address in the book.)

One thing he doesn’t address — and in fact, he does at least touch on the necessity of some sort of spiritual training, though not specifically Christian — is implied in the very existence of his school and the IBSC organization.  In nearly every one of these topics, a boy will approach the issue from a distinctly different perspective than his sister … or his mom.  The desired educational goal may be the same at the end — he or she can cook, he or she can deal with disappointment, he or she has internalized and personalized their moral and spiritual frameworks.  However, I think we have to pull our kids out of the ditches on the opposite sides of the road.  I, as a father, have to step out of my “instinctive” response to effectively reach out to my young daughters; I have to speak more gently, deal with different emotional reactions, and so forth.  Mothers have to do the same to reach their sons.

And both mom and dad need to ask themselves — are we going to do any better job of teaching these life skills than the schools do?

(A more concise version of his presentation is available on The King’s School website.  This article omits some of the more debatable or objectionable ideas I found in the conference presentation.)