Home' Nova National : April 2010 Contents other servants to left and right to hold her
hand. She has given no indication at all that
she has learnt the five words she is to say,
let alone any clue that she will actually say
The moment comes. It is time for her
entrance. The teacher stands behind her,
and when it is her turn to walk out onto the
stage, she gives her a gentle push. The little
girl walks out, she says her lines, and she
But something has happened. The
Imagine a five year old girl who has
just started school who has such
separation anxiety that she can hardly
speak. She cries all day. Everything
is done to comfort her -- the teacher is
attentive and understanding, the parents
are distressed and desperate for a solution,
the other students do their best. Nothing
seems to work. She is compliant but
uncommunicative. The school Shakespeare
Festival approaches. She is cast as a servant
in The Taming of the Shrew. She has two
Slowly, surely, our community is turning towards a different sort of education for our children -- one that
honours the individual child as much as instilling the expected knowledge. Gilbert Mane, principal of
Sydney's John Colet School, calls it 'transformation of the spirit'.
frightened little girl has disappeared.
Instead, there is a quiet, but confident,
young lady. She no longer cries, she makes
friends with her classmates, she loves
coming to school. As the years go by, she
goes on to perform beautifully in future
plays. She takes a full role in the school
community and flourishes in high school.
A seven year old boy arrives from
another school. He is profoundly gifted,
a little eccentric, is interested in politics
and world affairs and doesn't even know
the name of the most popular television
shows. When he was only two or three he
said to his mother, "I love you Mummy.
But I loved my previous Mummy more."
She can only assume he was talking of a
previous lifetime. At his other school he
was horribly bullied on a daily basis by
the other children and sometimes by
the teachers. At his new school he is
befriended by the children and respected
by the teachers. He is encouraged to follow
his passion for social issues and world
politics, and is taught simple meditation
techniques. His parents are European but
he shows a remarkable connection with
Tibetan Buddhism. Knowing this, one of
the teachers makes a gift to him of a Thanka
he had received from the Tibetan Prime
Minister. The boy is eventually chosen to be
Head Boy of the school.
An eleven year old girl is picked to be
Head Girl. She is popular and sporty and
she is conscientious in her studies. As Head
Girl she is regularly called upon to thank
visitors and guests of the school. And each
week in assembly she reads out a psalm.
But she has a secret. She is terrified
of speaking in public and her deepest
paralysing dread is her end of year
valedictory address at Speech Night in front
of nearly 600 parents, students, friends
and teachers. In the weeks before Speech
Night, she prepares her speech and, on
the night itself, she sits in the front row
of the auditorium holding hands with the
Headmaster to give herself courage.
The awful moment arrives and she
walks to the podium alone and delivers a
beautiful, simple, sincere speech straight
from her heart which brings tears to the
What do all these stories (all true) have
in common? Transformation.
Of course, education is, by definition,
all about transformation. Children go from
a low knowledge base to a high level of
skill and ability. After 13 years of primary
and high school, we would all hope that
they will read, spell, write and add up; that
they will know about nouns and verbs; and
about plants and animals; about continents,
rivers and oceans; about people of many
lands; about their own history and culture;
and about the history and cultures of
others. We want them to be able to kick a
ball, to sing a note, and to draw a picture.
And we might add that we would want
them to think and question and reason.
All of this is what any reasonable person
would expect as the optimum outcome of
a good Australian education. And all of it
But I should like to focus on a different
form of transformation -- the transformation
of the spirit. This transformation of
spirit shows itself in the growth of good
character. In this transformation fear
changes into courage, greed to generosity,
selfishness to compassion, ignorance to
And if we don't work effectively to
transform the spirit and the character in
this way, then all the skills and knowledge
in the world, which the children graduate
with, will have little real effect. We may
turn out expert plumbers and actresses;
accountants and football players;
horticulturalists and cellists. But will they
be brave and kind? Will they look to
the needs of others? Will they love their
neighbour as their Self?
Even more seriously, a highly skilled
and knowledgeable man or woman with
weak or bad character is worse than one
with no skills and knowledge. A highly
trained and skilful nuclear physicist with
no moral compass is a frightening thought
We all want our children to be well
educated, but we also want them to be of
good character. We want them to be happy
and successful, but we want them also to
be honest, compassionate, reasonable,
forthright and courageous. With the
recent talk of computers, league tables and
national curricula, this aspect of
transformational education seems to get
less attention than Captain Cook, c-a-t and
At our school we have made a
special study of this work on spirit and
the transformation of character. The
fundamentals are actually quite simple.
There are a few basic aspects.
One of the essential principles for
teachers and parents, according to the
Taittiriya Upanishad is "learn and teach".
In other words, for the children to grow
in character, teachers and parents need
to be engaged in transforming their own
character. An example: I was recently
teaching a class and one of the boys had a
bit of difficulty responding to instructions.
He was genial but disobedient.
Trying not to make his life and mine
a misery, I was employing all sorts of
tricks to get him to behave and, shameful
to admit, I reached a point of significant
irritation. I raised my voice, called his name,
and, intent on telling him exactly what
I thought of him, I found myself saying:
"Do you know what I think about you! I
Through Eyes of Love
30 © NOVA APRIL 2010
'In this transformation fear
changes into courage,
greed to generosity, selfishness
to compassion, ignorance
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