We were delighted to invite Senior School Teacher and Coordinator of History Studies, Mrs Sally Bartz, to deliver the Years 7 to 11 Speech Day Address. Mrs Bartz has made an extraordinary contribution to the School over the past 36 years and was fittingly farewelled with a standing ovation following her Address.
Years 7 to 11 Speech Day Address delivered by Mrs Sally Bartz
Headmaster, Mr Thorp, Colleagues and Boys,
The Headmaster has very graciously given me this opportunity to teach one last lesson, and to the biggest class that I have ever surveyed. However, it will not be a History lesson; rather it is a lesson about lessons and learning, and why learning is so important to every single one of us here in Memorial Hall today. But I will start with a little reminder about the importance of history in our lives.
How often have you walked into this space, or others in the School, without really looking? We all have a tendency to overlook the familiar, and we often need something to jolt us into a more observational and curious frame of mind.
Year 7s have just had a chance to consider Mem Hall from its historical perspective as a commemorative site, with war service plaques dating from the 1850s to the present day. The names of close relatives of boys currently in this Hall are on these commemorative boards. But the Hall is actually more than this. Some boys seated here will soon have their own names engraved on the academic scholarship boards; and the oldest of those scholarships dates back before the School was set on these grounds. Each personal journey through St Peter’s College is part of a great continuum which stretches back to the School’s creation in 1847; and even beyond that, to the idea of education and learning as the key to community success and growth, an idea, in the English tradition upon which Saints is founded, that stretches back to the 1400s. As you move through this School from day to day, never forget that you are a living part of that greater history. And never take any aspect of it for granted.
Back in the 1990s, I used to allocate my Year 11 English students a school building as the subject for a piece of creative poetry writing. Those boys who were allocated Mem Hall or the Chapel went cheerfully off to gather ideas. Those who scored the Gordon Building as their subject always complained that it was hideous and that there was “nothing to write about”; but invariably their responses were often the most powerful and creative. Why was that so? Well, I believe it was because, for the first time, they actually looked at the building and engaged it in their imaginations as more than just a pile of bricks, the ugly duckling of the School campus. … Like it, or not, it is a vital part of the Saints continuum, and actually generates just as much discussion and interest as any other part of the School, even if the questions invariably focus on why it exists at all in the otherwise beautiful “walls and fields” of St Peter’s College? Even an eyesore can, and should, promote questions.
Two inspirations make us unique among creatures: they are: curiosity – the force that drives us to ask such questions and to seek answers; and imagination – which helps us to contemplate alternatives and to come up with creative ideas. Together they enable us to confront and solve problems, find solutions, interpret and experience new pathways.
When I was in my early teens, the same age that many of you boys are now, there used to be a program on TV called ‘Why is it so?’, presented by physicist and educator Julius Sumner-Miller. You can still see excerpts of his demonstrations on You tube – they may be “old” and in black and white, but I recommend them to you. Every young person who ever watched his program was transfixed; and in my case, I have indelible memories of the “egg in the bottle” experiment used to demonstrate the properties of a vacuum. I looked on, amazed, as the hard-boiled egg got sucked through the neck of the glass milk-bottle after a piece of flaming paper had been dropped inside.
Sumner-Miller did not give us the answer to “Why is it so”. The whole idea of the show was that he would provide the evidence, and we, his viewers, his students, would go away and work it out for ourselves. His teaching and learning technique was simple: the answers to any questions you care to ask are actually all accessible to you: all you need to do is study the evidence, be observant and engage yourself intellectually in the process of finding the answers; and curiosity and imagination are vital to this process.
Whatever sparks your curiosity can be used to drive your personal engagement with learning. It could be wanting to understand what caused the ‘Big Bang’; or why F = MA; or why the Nazis were able to hijack German democracy; or why Steve Smith is such a brilliant batsman; or how the egg got into the bottle. Or why it is that, in all the different images we have around the school that display the buildings of St Peter’s College, there is no image of the Gordon Building, even though it is one of the most important occupied spaces of the school?
The process of learning usually requires some assistance, and that is really why parents and schools exist; to save you from the inevitable costs of curiosity and imagination riding on the back of ignorance (for example: ‘I wonder what will happen if I stick this fork into that power-point?”- my brilliant mathematician father tried that once, as did at least two members of the current teaching staff); but a sense of purpose and a sense of achievement are the rewards for knowing that you have done as much as you can to drive that learning process for yourself; and the more you practice using your curiosity and your imagination, the better you will become at learning, and the more confident you will be in your understanding of the world around you and of your readiness to step forward into your future. Keep asking “Why is it so?”
I am finally leaving school, but I’m not leaving learning. I have invested too much time and effort and enjoyment in the practice of learning to ever want to give it up. I will continue my own academic interests into Asian maritime cultural and trade connections since the 12th century – they have already taken me to China and twice to Japan and there are still many unanswered questions to explore; and in case I get complacent about learning, I have just had my piano reconditioned in readiness for a serious return to practice. I may even step back into the Saints world from time to time in coming years.
In the meantime, I wish each of you the very best of learning experiences as you continue to grow through your days at Saints and beyond. May you enjoy every curious and creative step you take, in your own life’s journey.