Sir Bob Jones
Commentary on issues of the day from the property tycoon, author and former politician

Bob Jones: Classics, yes but not that rubble gazing

Chinese kids now dominate our schools' top academic performance lists, says Jones. Photo / Greg Bowker
Chinese kids now dominate our schools' top academic performance lists, says Jones. Photo / Greg Bowker

Last year I recounted how my then 15-year-old daughter's mother had suggested I would be pleased to learn she (the daughter) had opted to study the classics. On receiving my concurrence she had then startled me by saying, "Good. It will cost you $7000."

$7000 for text-books seemed a bit rich but as it transpired, "studying the classics" comprised gallivanting about Italy, Crete and Greece, gazing at rubble. This nonsense led to a mindblowing post-trip school report, advising that this jaunt had enabled a "better understanding of movies with a classical-era theme".

God help us. We're doomed.

Subsequently, the headmistress ran off with a senior Anglican cleric, a demonstration of abysmal taste on both their parts, so the possibility of improvement arose. But alas, not so, for rubble-gazing absurdities continue.

I say that because this year's lark, which I've refused to pay for, thus foolishly her gullible mother has, is that this now 17-year-old daughter is to travel to New York on (steel yourselves) a "future leadership course", a matter of deep distaste to me.

"Who do you propose leading?" I asked her scornfully. She's a smart aleck and promptly retorted, "My followers." I boxed on. "And where will you lead them?" "Wherever I choose," she replied gaily.

Observing that the only place she will be leading anyone if she continues wasting her time with this rubbish is to a checkout counter operators' diploma - which I imagine Massey University offers - fell on deaf ears.

I used to argue with Alan Duff about this leadership guff. "Where are the Maori leaders?" he would lament. Suggesting that Maoridom was awash with carved walking stick-leaning-on poseurs, their so-called leaders, was precisely the problem didn't wash with Alan, who nevertheless meant well. But in my view, the last thing Maori youth, and particularly boys, need are "leaders". Instead they need more personal self-reliance. If I was running a boys' college I'd discourage team sports and instead promote individualistic sports, be they athletics, fencing, swimming, tennis; the scope is enormous. Plus, it goes without saying, get them excited about history et al.

Chinese kids now dominate our schools' top academic performance lists published each year end, and usually go on to further success. Thank God they're here, but where are the Chinese leaders inspiring them? No one worth their salt needs "leaders" which by definition implies they're gormless followers. Training kids to be "future leaders" as Rotary, doubtless well-meaning, does will merely turn them into ghastly prigs, doomed to disappointment. It's an ignoble ambition and the mind boggles at what they teach in these courses.

Still, I have been heartened by some recent experiences. A few weeks ago I visited Christchurch's Cashmere College, a decile 8 state school, to talk to the 100 or so senior classics and history students.

Most intend going to university next year to pursue degrees in these subjects, which is precisely what we need. We live in an age of unprecedented technological change which will need thinkers to make sense of it all.

When I asked the students whether they were concerned about future employment, most raised their hands. Mind you, that might well be the case with any class subject. Nevertheless, I pointed out that by way of example, my company only employs history or classics graduates as by dint of their choice they demonstrate curiosity and independence in not running with the mob, and are therefore easy to teach. We'd certainly never let a BCom type near us and as for MBA dullards, possibly the greatest of all the many disgraceful cons currently occurring under the much abused broad umbrella of "education", they're doomed with this badge of mediocrity.

We don't allow class actions in New Zealand although it's now under consideration. Should it eventuate I would enjoy promoting a class action against mercenary universities for massive damages for flogging these non-academic, MBA pretend degrees to the gullible.

Success in commerce amounts to common sense, a broad knowledge and an open, inquiring mind which no loser enrolling in this tripe has by definition.

I should emphasise that there's nothing intrinsically meritorious in the classics, history or philosophy et al, but instead that they are absolute key background subjects towards achieving a broad knowledge, pending students deciding on their ultimate careers.

Recently my Auckland office employed part-time, a young woman in her last year finishing her classics degree. I was pleased to learn from her that at Auckland University there were several hundred classics students. Perhaps they're the same as the Cashmere pupils for most gratifying of all in an enjoyable day was when I asked how many ultimately intended to be self-employed and most raised their hand.

It's all very encouraging.

- NZ Herald

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