An article on Erasmus - The Age

The young philosophers at Erasmus Primary School

Kristie Kellahan
Published: August 6, 2016 - 12:00AM


More than 500 years ago, Erasmus, the Dutch scholar, teacher and philosopher, penned these words: "You must acquire the best knowledge first, and without delay; it is the height of madness to learn what you will later have to unlearn." Today, at the primary school in Hawthorn named after him, students receive an education intended to foster a love of learning and a "resilience" that is essential for great accomplishment.

Erasmus Primary School was set up 20 years ago by the Melbourne School of Philosophy which has been conducting adult philosophy classes in Melbourne for 40 years. It is now a thriving, single-stream primary school in the heart of Hawthorn. It is affiliated with a worldwide network of philosophy schools and is supported by the UK's Education Renaissance Trust.

"Erasmus knew that the mind has enormous capacity for learning and development, and if this is started early, when the faculties are at their peak capacity for this work, then you have the right conditions for the human being to expand to full potential, whatever that might be for each individual," says Thierry Clarisse, principal of the school.

"It's this sort of preparation in the primary years of education that can produce leaders, artists, academics, teachers, sportspersons, parents, good and wholesome people who have a well-rounded appreciation of not only the physical world in which they live, but of the power of the mind and the emotions, and not least, the spirit."

Adhering to all the requirements of the Australian curriculum – and achieving "outstanding" academic results – there are a number of additional contributing factors to an Erasmus education. All children are introduced to a mindfulness exercise on their very first day at school, and this is practised in between every class or activity. During a weekly philosophy class, children are encouraged to enquire and discuss significant topics about the nature of the world in which they live, and about their place in it. They also have a weekly scripture class, drawing from a broad range of scripture from East and West.

"Only the finest materials are chosen from fine arts, such as Renaissance art, classical languages such as Sanskrit and Latin, to fine music, dance, and the study of classical civilisations, which inspire nobility and an expansive view," Clarisse says.

"The school was founded on a desire to give children the very finest education which would preserve their purity while at the same time, develop their minds and their unique talents to the optimum," he says. "It's not about pouring information into the child, but more about cultivating and nurturing that innate truth, beauty and goodness in the early years." Teachers at the school tend not to have academic philosophy degrees, according to Clarisse, but rather a strong commitment to their own personal development at a practical level.

"All attend philosophy classes every week, and like the children, delight in engaging in a spirit of enquiry where knowing all the answers is not what is valued, it's more about discovering what is true for any question under investigation," he says.

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