A journey of self-discipline, drive and endurance
Dr John Vallance, the retiring Headmaster of Sydney Grammar, recently challenged some current trends in education. He vehemently advocates for the benefit of having the space to express an individual viewpoint, arguing that ‘allowing people to disagree is absolutely at the heart of what education is’.
Whilst the Extension 2 English course does not really result in disagreement, it does allow students to challenge ideas and prevailing views. It allows them to explore what they are passionate about or simply interested in investigating. It allows them to represent their searching of the big questions of life creatively, in a range of forms, whether through a short story or a collection of short stories, a speech, a suite of poems or possibly a drama script. Others choose a more formal medium of a critical analysis of literary texts through the lens of a conceptual idea such as Leibnitz’s theory of optimism. One student this year is contemplating the paradoxical notion of how cultural repression of creativity can result in greater creativity, focusing particularly on Iranian literature post the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
The gift of this course is that the students are offered the time to explore deeply, to grapple with ideas and wonder how to express them. How does one transform the metaphysical into words? The struggle is unsettling, uncomfortable, the uncertainty often challenging. It was the great Romantic poet, Keats, who understood this state of ‘negative capability’ and reminded us that it is through this discomfort that true enlightenment comes. This is a year-long journey and the time has been precious.
What is wonderful about the Extension 2 English course is that it gives students their own voice. It is not restrained by an HSC examination. In August they submit their major work to the BOSTES along with a reflection on their journey throughout the year, both personally in the composition process and in their academic research. Whilst there is a mark awarded in the end, many just write the story they need to write. For a number of girls this year, their major works are deeply personal and hence maybe the mark is not so important.
What is unique about this HSC course is that it offers students so much freedom. It demands self-discipline, drive and endurance. It can be disheartening at times but nothing replaces the joy, the fulfilment and relief seen on the girls’ faces as they submit their Major Works – their first HSC course is finished! They have had their voice and that is what is most important.