Principal's Blog - 25 June 2020

25 Jun 2020

Dear members of the Marcellin Family,

So, what is a ‘holistic’ education?

In educational literature, we often read about the importance of a holistic approach. In essence, education with a holistic perspective is concerned with the development of every person's intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative and spiritual potentials. It seeks to engage the many dimensions of our humanity and encourages personal and collective responsibility. It is an approach that sits very well with our Marist philosophy. The seminal Marist document on education is “In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat – A Vision for Marist Education Today.” It notes that “A Marist school is a centre of learning, of life, and of evangelising …. It leads students to learn to know, to be competent, to live together, and most especially, to grow as persons.” (#126). It also states “Our students are at the centre of our concerns in all that touches on school life and organisation. We assist them to acquire learning, competence and values through discovering the world, others, themselves and God.” (#130).

A couple of years ago I was driving home from work and noticed on the back of a cab an advertisement promoting the musical ‘Matilda’. It was the brainchild of comedian, actor and musician (and now musical director) Tim Minchin. I never saw the show, but it immediately reminded me of an article I had read by Minchin a year or two earlier entitled Science inspires, so don’t let your art rule your head. Essentially, the article challenged the conventional thinking about the supposed great divide between science and the arts. That is, to be artistic you must have little or no interest in or aptitude for science and vice versa. But where does this notion come from?

Minchin suggests it is perhaps more to do with cultural expectations and popular myths than ‘a genuine division of personality type or intellect’ and the more I read about contemporary research on plasticity of the brain the more I think he is on to something. The type of stereotyping that Minchin refers to is something we as teachers need to be mindful of. How often have we heard stories of children being told from a very early age ‘you just don’t get Maths or; you can’t draw or; you’re not very musical’; these categorisations, sometimes done in Primary School, risk closing off a whole world of interest and exploration for young people.

In debunking the ‘myth’ about science and the arts, Minchin uses one of the best definitions of science I have heard. It appears in bold in the following quote from the article:

Science is not a bunch of facts. Scientists are not people trying to be prescriptive or authoritative. Science is simply the word we use to describe a method of organising our curiosity. It's easier, at a dinner party, to say ''science'' than to say ''the incremental acquisition of understanding through observation, humbled by an acute awareness of our tendency towards bias''. Douglas Adams said: ''I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.''

He goes on to say:
Science is not the opposite of art, nor the opposite of spirituality - whatever that is - and you don't have to deny scientific knowledge in order to make beautiful things. On the contrary, great science writing is the art of communicating that ''awe of understanding'', so that we readers can revel in the beauty of a deeper knowledge of our world.

A holistic education exposes students to a variety of experiences both across the curriculum as well as co-curricular activities. This should include, as Minchin suggests, a strong emphasis on Science and the Arts because ‘revelling in the beauty of a deeper knowledge of our world’ should be at the core of what we do. The most recent additions to the facilities at Marcellin include state of the art Science facilities for the students to engage with the big questions that Science addresses in the curriculum. But it stretches beyond Science and the Arts. Music rooms, sporting fields, design centres, the College Chapel and the Placidus Resource Centre, all complement the various other learning spaces around the campus. Our curriculum and the resources that support it are meant to inspire our students – something that will help communicate the ‘awe of understanding’. What a privileged position we are in to be able to cater for our students in such a comprehensive way. There should be no barriers or opposing forces in terms of a holistic education – only opportunities for discovery and learning.

Wishing you and your families a restful holiday break. I appreciate the manner in which our staff at the College have engaged with the challenging circumstances of the last 12 weeks, and espcially am grateful to the families and students who went on this journey with us. We have achieved a lot collectively, developed new skills and ways of approaching learning and are even more grateful for our 'normal' lives. Thank you. 

John Hickey