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The Philosophical Base to Lilyfontein School

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The philosophical base to Lilyfontein School's Adventure programmes is about educating our students into becoming more objective thinkers but equally empathic self-regulated adults for harmonious co-existence in society. This idea has its roots in the Greek philosopher Socrates' notion that, “The highest form of human excellence is to question oneself and others”.

History tells us that Socrates (399 BC) encouraged his students to respectfully challenge contemporary definitions of key moral concepts like justice, social norms, behaviour and what should be considered 'good'. Socrates' methodology was to question underlying beliefs and extent of knowledge that gave rise to certain ways of doing things in society. By uncovering limitations in knowledge one can objectively examine one's own belief and value systems.

Socrates had witnessed the moral decay in social morals and values and had intended to help improve his faltering nation into which the common person had been blindly dragged. Socrates saw the moral decay in society as man’s “…innate desire for pleasure”. But as he uncovered the raw truth of lies, deception and corruption, so exposing weaknesses in his people, he was regarded as an enemy of the state and was made to drink poison to his death.

What Socratic lesson does this hold for us in current society?

The biggest challenge to being 'educated' for the future (not just schooled) is the ability to analyse, judge and make good decisions relative to a presenting context. This ought to ensure sound decisions that inform productive action and a comfortable future. However, although we humans like to think that we are generally rational thinkers, significant research shows that this is not the case. Our emotions like fear, affection, hatred and past ingrained experiences allow us to depart from rationality.

Research by Daniel Kahneman reported in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow show that it is our cognitive machine (pre-frontal cortex) that corrupts our thinking and consequently causes poor decision making and wasted action. Therefore by systematically influencing / training thinking one can enable better intuitive judgements and so become more self-regulated adults. “Self-regulation is the process whereby learners systematically direct their thoughts, feelings and action towards the achievement of their goals”. (Schunk + Zimmerman).

The intention of the adventure programme at Lilyfontein is to systematically, over the years from grade 1 to 12, develop meta-cognitive thinking ability in order to self-interrogate and challenge one's own achievements, values and norms.

This is education as opposed to schooling.

Professor Jonathan Jansen, (May16 2013) addressing university students, said: “I have bad news for you. While most of you have been schooled, few of you have been educated. There is a difference”.  The difference to our South African public school system with all the variations of schooling is what is found in a few unique schools. Lilyfontein School is one of them.

It is true that when humans make decisions in the situation where their knowledge levels are high that this well informed state of mind tends toward more rational and more accurate decisions. Conversely though, decisions affecting interpersonal relationships (wife, mother, boyfriend) and children, are more likely to have an emotional influence (midbrain trigger) on our executive functioning (prefrontal cortex).  Our own, normally reliable, cognitive and intuitive thinking can become clouded and misted up leading to inappropriate decisions.

Can Socrates' questioning technique help guide us when we make these highly emotive decisions?  Perhaps we need to ask the right questions? Or are we sometimes scared of the answer we might get so we ask the question to get the answer that is easiest to deal with?

  • Do we ask ourselves random questions like…
  • Do I believe in values (honesty, integrity)?
  • Do I live out what I say my values are?
  • Do I have a consistent value system, the same on my own or in the group?
  • What is our value base at home?
  • What is my attitude towards schooling?
  • What is my verbal attitude when I talk about school, teachers or learning?
  • Do I know what a good education is and how do I know this?
  • What was my own school experience like?
  • Do I make assumptions based on my own school experience?
  • How influential are these assumptions in my current attitude to school?
  • How accurate are these assumptions? How do I know?

If you examine all of these questions they delve into ingrained belief systems that seriously affect our lives and often keep us from progress. Socrates also warns that:

“Whenever, therefore, people are deceived and form opinions wide of the truth, it is clear that the error has slid into their minds through the medium of certain resemblances to that truth.”

Indirectly, the potential answer to the above questions is what we attempt as far as is educationally feasible to address within our programmes at Lilyfontein as the underlying educational philosophy behind our academic, cultural and physical programmes.

I have no doubt in my mind that Lilyfontein offers a sound educational opportunity for our students. How would I know?

We as school have now had a decade of matriculants. I personally have seen 200 plus students pass through our school’s exam venue to the big world. When these past students return to visit us and I see young ladies and gentlemen who love to come back to their Alma Mater, love to see their teachers, well mannered, interested in the new developments, are doing well in life's arena, greet with sincerity and ask ”Do you remember?” … and invariably what happened on the adventure day, hike, camp, adventure race, tour, etc, etc., this just seems to reflect and shine in their character; character that I am deeply proud of being associated with. Then I know we are on the right track.

Where does character come from? Is it genetic only or is it the sum total of all the experiences we have had in life that we genetically process or handle that leads us to grow our temperament? Temperament is often what we refer to as our nature; how we act out under different situations. If we accept that a good school offers a wide range of good experiences, then surely the opportunities used by a student at school must refine temperament and grow character.

What then are elements that contribute to building character?

The element of a sound and stable sense of self… displaying good emotional management and a strong sense of self-motivation. The element of getting on with people and being able to work in a team to trust; understanding the meaning of teamwork and being supportive to friends or team mates and sharing for the common cause of the group. The ability to think through and reason out issues to enable better problem solving, decision making, planning or even goal setting. Learning to embrace and use good values, feel the impact of having a positive attitude, learning commitment to your word or a promise you have made. Being placed into controlled situations to learn to manage fear and anxiety through being self-reflective. Being made aware of and appreciating the importance of mental and physical fitness. And all of this captured in an attitude of humility.

Research shows that reflective thinking contributes to self-regulated learning.  Further to this, self-regulated learning strategies have been found to be positively correlated with life achievements. One of the intended goals of adventure-based programmes is to develop in learners particular abilities such as positive self-esteem, self-discipline, anxiety management, self-motivation, team-work or relationship building. This intended goal is achieved through purposeful and challenging activities, guided experience, as well as the consequent reflective action by the learners in real situations which require problem solving and decision making. The curriculum at Lilyfontein School is designed to facilitate these goals and understand consequential action. Our curriculum is a learning continuum that builds on prior skills and culminates in the grade eleven leadership experience where all that has been learned by our students is given back to underprivileged children in a camp designed by our grade eleven students. And so our character building experience at Lilyfontein is rounded off in the consequence of giving back.  This is being educated.

May we all, as parents, students and educators make sound judgements and accurate decisions as we organise ourselves for the year to come … that will also form part of defining our future… or in simple terms, meeting the consequences of our actions.

 
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