When The Student Is Ready


Legislation unveiled in Victoria recently will allow students to sue their education provider for a ”failure to deliver training”.  Now I’m all for holding both individuals and organizations accountable for their actions, but where do we draw the line?

Earlier this year saw a Geelong Grammar School girl, Rose Ashton-Weir, and her mother file a legal suit against the school for failure to support her in her ambition to study law.  The school, in its defence, claims they provided all possible support and it would have helped considerably if Ms Ashton-Weir had actually turned up to class a bit more consistently and taken a degree of responsibility (please do pardon the pun) for her own actions and indeed her own education.  Ms Ashton-Weir, by way of counter-claim, appears to be of the opinion that money can’t buy you everything but it can buy you an education and an easy ride to law school.

There is, unfortunately, an increasing view in our society that when something bad happens to us we should be able to blame someone else and it would appear that this approach is now impinging upon the education sector.  I’m all for individuals having recourse to law in the event of gross negligence or their chosen education provider going down the gurgler, although in the latter case I doubt that a law suit will achieve anything other than making lawyers a bit more wealthy.  Negligence, on the other hand, will be a more contentious issue and a matter of opinion.

My wife attended a TAFE many years ago as a mature student on a course of study that required her to attend modules both during the day and in evening classes.  Her experience was sobering.  Evening classes were attended, almost exclusively, by mature students there by choice in an effort to progress in their chosen careers whereas the day modules were attended equally exclusively by school-leavers who were there, my wife opined, because they couldn’t get into a university and were desperate to delay the moment at which they’d have to work for a living.  She drew this conclusion after months of exhaustive anthropological study of their apparent inability to perform any work except under extreme duress and the propensity of the classroom to rapidly descend into anarchic chaos if the teacher left the room. History, or at lest my wife’s memory, fails to recall the spread of grades across that particular course but what does their behaviour say about their attitude to their role in the learning experience?

I was reminded of the Buddhist saying, ‘when the student is ready, the master will appear’.

In essence, teachers don’t actually teach anything; they merely create the environment for the student to do the hard work of learning, and it is hard work.  It requires the student to stretch their mind, to reach beyond what they know as they try to relate what they already know to what they’re now being shown and yet also to simultaneously cast aside preconceptions as they dare to tread new ground in the quest for genuine creative thought.  The teacher, just like any leader, creates the environment, gives them the resources and then sets them free to achieve results.