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Chiron Approach

Chiron Approach (3)

Saturday, 26 August 2017 11:52

Making An Informed Vote

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To make an informed vote at Local, State or Federal Government elections we need to consider carefully the policies and proposals made by different parties or independents. To do that we need detailed documentation of promises and how they will be achieved from everyone standing for election.

How often does this happen? Rarely!

The promises are made but the wording is loose! What the public thought was promised is not what the party intended.

The rhetoric employed to win over the public is now often the art of deception.

The aftermath is inevitably the need for public demonstrations and more recently petitions via social networking. Healthy activity in a democracy! But why do we need so much of it?

In most schools students learn nothing about how to make an informed vote. What is more they are discouraged from personal evaluations and opinions on pretty well anything. Data consumption being considered the prime ingredient of their education. Yet many students turning 18 while at school have the right to vote!

At Chiron we considered research and critical evaluation to be fundamental in learning. Students had come to Chiron because they rebelled against the traditional authoritarian schools. They wanted a learning environment where they could develop as self-responsible individuals.

So in 1971 when it was announced that the third moratorium march in Sydney against the Vietnam War would take place in June we asked the students at Chiron if they where considering joining the march. Some said yes, some no and some were unsure. So we decided to have a series of discussions about the moratorium at school. We invited representatives from the political parties to put their point of view and answer questions and guests to give open talks on wars in history, literature and art and the effects of war on community and environment.

We encouraged consideration of differing points of view.

They made up their own minds and respected each others decisions!

By contrast when senior students in other high schools began to take a stand by following the movement initiated by university students they were threatened with suspension or expulsion.

What are today's governments doing to enable young people to learn how to be self-responsible and make their own decisions? 

Friday, 18 August 2017 13:07

Progressive 40 Years Ago

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‘Nearly 40 years after the advent of Chiron we are still calling it a progressive school,’ came a voice on the day of the Forum. ‘What a shame that is.’

If there was a sentiment of the day, that was it. Where are the Chiron schools of today? How difficult it is to find schools for our own sons and daughters – schools which encourage them to ask questions; which treat them with respect, rather than simply demand it; which foster learning as a potentially fun experience and conducts it in an atmosphere without fear?

Where are the schools run with compassion?

How many of us hoped back then, perhaps even believed, that in a few decades the Chiron model of education would become the norm. That we were just the first of the many laying the groundwork for a system that was clearly a better alternative for all concerned – students, teachers, parents and the community; a system that once it was seen working, would obviously be adopted to replace a an antique structure that was clearly out-dated?

The Chiron Manifesto, or founding document of ideals (yes, there is one), exhibits some of the naivety that, perhaps, gave rise to that belief. It is a piece of writing of its time - perhaps a little hippyish, but it is also heartwarming, sincere, accurate (Chiron did follow the ideals it outlined), and revolutionary, particularly if you remember when it was penned.

It reflected the zeitgeist of the times, which was certainly one of change. Nonetheless John, Philip, Rosalind and the many others who conceived, funded and finagled Chiron into existence took a great risk and faced huge obstacles. The established education system may have been out-dated but it was not without power or advocates of its own.

One interesting tangent discussed at the Focus was that, while many teachers often feel frustrated and constrained by the traditional model of education, they are also suspicious, possibly a little afraid, of adopting change that would, in their eyes at least, giving up some degree of their control.

This was something all Chiron teachers had to accept without question – that the responsibility for learning and how it was done – would rest with the student. In 1970 this was mind-blowing stuff. Who knows, perhaps it still is.

Now John is asking if it ‘worked’. And from the many brief but often poignant tales told at the Focus it clearly did. While it sounds a little corny, there was a palpable animation in every voice as we described our Chiron days.

At that crucial times in our lives when everything was bright and new and we all ready to explore, if not academia, then at least some aspect of the joys the world had to offer, our school made it possible. It sounds so simple but it’s the difference between fear and joy, bigotry and openness, elitism and equality, greed and sharing, the mundane and the magical.

It was a time of our lives that should have been special and Chiron ensured it was.

If full bank accounts, awards and titles are your measure of success, our alumni have them in abundance. But I heard no-one talk of Chiron’s direct part in giving them such things (although it clearly did). Instead we talked about how we suddenly realised we were responsible for what we learnt; of how we came to know that there were many facets to learning and maybe even truth (thanks Philip!); that it was fun to ask questions and challenge the accepted orthodoxy. We talked about how we learnt, how we thought and even a little about how we lived.

And we talked about what we believed and - having answered John – we asked the real questions of the day. Where are the Chirons of today? Why aren’t they here? Because we think they need to be.

This was the focus of the… erm, Focus discussion. And it, or an edited version, is up on the blog somewhere. It’s worth having a look at it, if only to experience the certainty that Chiron was right and that its ideals need to be part of the education system again.

What’s also apparent is that Chiron, far from being a footnote in education history, as the system adopted and grew past its ideas, is actually a standout event in a rather disappointing catalogue of everything staying much the same.

While Chiron was not unique it was exceptional and there are actually few people in this country who have undergone a truly progressive education.

As such I think it’s our duty to tell our stories, good and bad, because one day the pendulum will swing again. A later-day John, or Philip, or Rosalind, will appear and, against all the neigh sayers, despite all the obstacles, they will try to start a school like Chiron again.

How great for them to be able to say to some financier, some politician or some bureaucrat, ‘See, it’s been done before. And it didn’t just work. It worked pretty damned good!’

Friday, 18 August 2017 10:39

"Nugget" Coombs On Education

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On Saturday 1st September 1973 Dr H.C. "Nugget" Coombs, then consultant to Prime Minister Whitlam, gave a speech at the official opening of the new Birchgrove premises Chiron College had moved to from the City.

Thirty eight years later I came across a copy of the speech among his Papers in the Manuscript Collections of the National Library of Australia. Reading it reminded me of how enthusiastic we all were about offering a new approach to education to replace the existing authoritarian system.

Here are some passages from his speech :

"….today it is more exciting and rewarding to be involved in the education process whether as a student or teacher. There seems to be a new flexibility, a new prospect for innovation and an encouraging ferment of scepticism <among> the sacred cows of the traditional pedagogy. At such times significant change can occur. I genuinely hope that this school will be in the van of such change."

"In the past there has been a depressing uniformity imposed on the State educational system, frequently in the face of determination on the part of teachers to break away from that uniformity. The opportunities to experiment and develop a different philosophy of education …have been realised only to a negligible degree. Where there has been imagination, it has generally been stultified."

"The educationalists are rebelling against the tendency to see the school and the teacher as the channel through which experience shall be received - and therefore by which it shall be ordered, shaped and related to the world in general. Against this tendency it is right and proper for the young and those who care for them to rebel."

"The freedom to explore, the freedom to discover and the freedom to judge … is the fundamental right of every evolving creature at whatever stage of its life - and above all the right of the human child."

"I am greatly concerned with some aspects of contemporary school practice which tries to bring to the child experience of the arts - of theatre, music, painting and sculpture - through the filtering mechanism of the relationship between child and teacher. As observers, and even now practitioners and creators (and any child is a practitioner and creator in the arts), children should meet the arts face to face. If intermediaries are unavoidable, those intermediaries themselves should be artists - those who by their practice observed, can communicate the excitement involved in creative activity in the arts. In the arts above all one can learn only by doing."

Sadly, conservatism returned suppressing significant change. But many more voices are emerging again advocating for a new system of education in tune with the values expressed here!

These 'Old Ideas' are still 'New' ! Are we still just talking the talk?


Dr H. C. 'Nugget' Coombs was one of Australia's most outstanding and influential public servants, serving and advising seven prime ministers over a 30-year period. His many public appointments included Director of Rationing, Director-General of Post-War Reconstruction, Governor of the Reserve Bank, Chairman of the Australian Council for Aboriginal Affairs, Chairman of the Australia Council for the Arts, Chancellor of the Australian National University, Chairman of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Charismatic and energetic, Coombs had a profound influence behind the scenes in business and politics, dealing with prime ministers, officials and top business people. He worked hard to achieve a distinctive social, economic and cultural place for all Australians, particularly Aboriginal Australians 

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