2009 Metropolitan Media Award

Dr Damon Young, Sydney’s Child

The author of ‘Bending The Rules’, Damon Young, is an Honorary Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne. His essay centres on the essential truth that the skill of a teacher makes all the difference to the success of the students in his or her classroom. By combining personal experiences with philosophical thinking, Damon creates a piece that argues that teachers have the power to shape who and what we are. Damon writes of valuing teachers as professionals who are uniquely placed to use the vast resources of science, literature, sport and the arts to develop themselves, and therefore our children.

Bending the Rules at School


Sunday, March 15, 2009


In this month’s Child magazine, I’ve a piece on education, ‘Bending the Rules’.

My point is a simple one: good teachers need to know when to depart from the formal standards, curriculum or lesson plan.

Instead of stifling bright kids with uniformity, they need the independence to use their judgement, and tailor their lessons to the classroom.

And sometimes, this will be unconventional, awkward or shocking. A taster:

In schools and universities, teachers are often treated like novices, told to follow rules, tick boxes, and crunch numbers.  And perhaps most tragically, some end up bowing to this.  They lose that spark; that luminescence that drives them to rewrite the rules.

To remedy this, it’s counter-productive to subject teachers to more red tape; more performance indicators, job stress and blame.  Like parents, they need experience and excitement, not grinding surveillance.  Most vitally, they need to be trusted: to be ambitious, adaptable, assured experts.  Of course they’ll need to formulate plans and follow official codes.  But no mission statement or state policy can replace mastery.  We should trust our teachers, as experts, to bend or break these when the moment’s right – what American philosopher John Dewey called ‘the burden of discovery and adaptation’.

At the end of all this is one rarely-spoken but priceless gift: hope. Not an indefinable, woolly-minded hope, but a simple, sincere one: that the boredom, conflict and bafflement of school can lead to something wonderful.  It doesn’t always bring money or fame – and perhaps not even happiness.  Yet with their spontaneous, sympathetic outlook, my three teachers taught me a priceless lesson.  It’s what I’d like to teach my son who’s ‘free’, and my chubby, stubborn, little daughter: that we can always be better than we are.