Dear PLC Sydney Community

Connections_Paul Burgis_vertical

In August each year the Executive of the College considers the patterns of staffing and resourcing in detail for the following year. Thus, in future editions of Connections I will be able to inform you of the next steps we will take in developing our Strategic Plan. Whether the decisions impact STEM work (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) or language acquisition or the teaching of English and the Arts, I am sure our community will be interested in the specifics. In future editions of Connections I will inform you of our actions.

Yet, as our speaker at the Chairman’s Dinner said: Culture trumps strategy every time.

Thus, I wish to write a few lines in this edition on culture. To do this I would like to draw on the past, as we look towards the future.

I commence this week’s newsletter with two quotes from our first principal, Dr Marden.

Whilst the language befits the 19th Century, the ideas continue to permeate what it is that we are striving to achieve. There is an emphasis on personal integrity. There is a desire for each girl to find her purpose. We want each individual to learn as they grow up in a family and a community that they must consider the good of the group and not just their own well-being. Mutual benefit, emerging from the belief that I should love my neighbour as myself, is highly prized in our community. Past-Professor of the History of Ideas at Oxford University, Larry Siedentop, writes in his book: The Invention of the Individual that it was the New Testament emphasis on ‘the equality of souls’ that gave the West its deep belief that each person should be nurtured and honoured. Rome was an ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ culture, but Paul (echoing Jesus) taught that ‘all of the different parts (of the body/church/society) have the same level of care for one another’. Marden wrote in terms of sacrifice and character: we might emphasise more terms like empathy and generosity of spirit; but the underlying notions are similar.

Marden wrote:

With these two objects in view – the opening up of broad avenues of knowledge, and the granting, under due safeguards, of a practical illustration of what life in a still greater community means – this College was founded... Ignorance is transmuted to knowledge, gaucherie to grace, nervous helplessness to the recognition of the right thing to do in most circumstances of daily life, and all these things are valuable acquisitions. They are not, however, the only aims of education, and we like better to think that our girls learn from their association here a bit of the lesson that it takes us all our lives to learn perfectly – honour, truth, conquest of self, recognition of the fact that we all have a place to fill in the solidarity of the universe, the power to discern the right and the determination to pursue it, mutual trust, mutual sympathy, unselfishness.

John Marden, 1898
Aurora Australis 1963, p.5
Dr John Marden, Principal 1888-1919

 

We do not, like Ulysses, stuff the ears or the minds of our pupils with mere book-knowledge, nor do we, so to speak, chain them to the mast of barren dry routine; but surrounded as we know the young life is my many temptations and cares, and by the cries which would lure it from the solid good to the dangerous paths of vanity and selfishness, we like Orpheus, try to sing a nobler, sweeter song, that our girls, having that in their ears, may at any rate be encouraged to make the sublime effort to do the painful right.

John Marden, 1891
The Town and Country Journal, 20 June 1891
Dr John Marden, Principal 1888-1919

 

Perhaps some of the ways that we have developed to assist students to achieve these goals have altered. We value team sports for girls and promote both the joy and the discipline of the creative and performing arts. In sport we learn to fall over and to get up again. In the arts we learn to fashion a vision. The opportunities to serve others at PLC Sydney are both local and global. Yet the real change continues to occur in the self, the soul, of the student. She learns to reflect, to be honest with herself, to say sorry, to make good choices, to dust herself off and to recover from mistakes, to apply herself to her studies. She develops a spiritual perspective in that she learns to see herself, and others, as more than the sum of their parts. These attributes are the result of a long cultivation.

I respect greatly the continual wondering that parents do as they raise their children. We question our own choices and methods at the same time as we are practicing them.

In this way schools and homes are similar places. Each year the ‘audience’ (the class of students) of the teacher changes. They need to adjust their approach for each class. And they puzzle over how to assist each girl.

Our approach to developing young women at PLC Sydney includes:

  1. To offer lots of options – it is very important for students to have a rich and varied education. It limits the opportunity for the growth of anxiety that can accompany having a singular focus and pressure.
  2. To expect that students will develop their consciences, their personal agency and responsibility – don’t underestimate the importance of quiet expectations.
  3. And to ‘coach’ students in improving their spiritual and ethical growth, in their thinking and organisational skills – it is inspiring to see what the organised student can achieve and how enjoyment levels rise.

Parents are aware that we also run ‘Chaplaincy’ talks for them. The recent visit from Prue Salter discussing study skills was very well-received. Similarly, the talk on the teenage brain and alcohol by Paul Dillon. In regard to advancing student thinking, the Pamela Nutt Address was wonderful.

I wish to recognise the really positive and engaged response from our community to our program. It is very encouraging to partner with you and to receive the significant positive feedback.

I conclude with a quote from the opening of the College – that famous quote from Lady Jersey – defining education as an act of love, both in the delivery and the receipt.

To gain knowledge for the mere sake of possessing it is selfishness; to gain knowledge for the mere love of displaying it is vanity; to gain knowledge for the sake of being useful to others is true Christian charity.

Lady Jersey, at the opening of P.L.C. Croydon, 1891
Aurora Australis 1963, p.5

Dr Paul Burgis
Principal

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