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#17 Pete Le Roux – (Part 2) The Critical Role of Parents, Mastery, and Taking Responsibility

PODCAST: Episode 17

#17 Pete Le Roux – (Part 2) The Critical Role of Parents, Mastery, and Taking Responsibility

Part 2 of Pete Le Roux’s episode. It was such an honor sitting and talking with Pete for the recording of his episode. Pete is a highly experienced educator who inspired us throughout our conversation with him. A topic that truly stood out for us was his view on how important it is to allow children of all ages to shoulder responsibility.

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About Our Guest: Pete Le Roux

Pete Le Roux is the CEO of Stone Dragon, a registered South African NPO with a focus on youth volunteerism, social care, and social justice. Pete is a proud educator with 29 years of experience and holds a Master’s degree in Marine Ecology and an HDE from the University of Cape Town. Pete is proudly married to his lovely wife, Sue, the head of Emergency Medicine at a secondary hospital in Cape Town, and father to Cami, his 17-year-old daughter.

Click here to read more about Pete.

Join Pete’s NPO by signing up here.

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Pete Le Roux, CEO of Stone Dragan and Educator. (Image:

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Full Episode Transcription

Guest Introduction

Philip von Ziegler: In today’s episode, I’ll be speaking with Pete le Roux. Pete is the CEO of Stone Dragon and a proud educator of 29 years. He currently holds a Master’s degree in Marine Ecology and an HDE from the University of Cape Town. Pete is proudly married to his lovely wife, Sue, the head of Emergency Medicine at a secondary hospital in Cape Town, and a father to Cami, his 17-year-old daughter.

In this episode, we discuss Pete’s unique and powerful views on education, the importance of shouldering responsibility at a young age, and the raw potential that lies within each student, and a range of other thought-provoking and super interesting topics.

I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with Pete, and I’m sure you will, too. Without further ado, I bring you Pete Le Roux.

The Role of Parent vs. Teacher

PvZ: In your experience, what role does a parent play versus a teacher in the development of that student and the molding of this young human being? It’s a massive question, I suppose.

PLR: Do you remember that program? I don’t know if you will remember it, but I remember it because my daughter was of an age where I watched a million episodes of The Replacements.

PvZ: The Replacements?

PLR: Yeah, it was two kids who could make, if they were unhappy with their circumstances they could make a phone call on a special phone, and then whatever was annoying them got replaced. And it struck me that more and more schools, and more and more teachers, are expected to play that role.

So we are, in theory, in loco parentis, that’s really great for parents when we’re babysitting their children. But it’s not nearly so much fun when we are teaching the child something that the parents don’t like and they’re bringing it home. So you teach evolution in Kansas and your kid goes home with the sudden understanding that evolution plays a critical role in our understanding of biology, and they say it at the dinner table. You become persona non grata instantaneously.

I think that takes increasing amounts of courage to do, and it takes training to teach teachers to be able to put up with the pressure, and they don’t get that. So parents are absolutely critical, and part of the problem is that they don’t understand the value-add. So you’ve got, let’s be generous, you’ve got say a 12-year retrospective couch critic. So I was in school 12 years ago, let me tell you how teaching should work.

I mean, I don’t say to them the last time I added up two columns of numbers was in Grade 9 accountancy, and I don’t really want to take responsibility for the result of that add-up, but let me tell you how to be a CA. But they’re quite happy to trot out the opposite line, and in most cases find passive teachers who don’t fight back.

You can tell that that’s not the case in my case, I don’t put up with that nonsense. So you’ve got that retrospective commentary, which can be very negative and very destructive, and I had to learn that in my own life. So before anyone thinks that I’m trying to say I’m angelic in that space, I had to learn it in my own life. My child, I felt like my kid wasn’t learning English quick enough, and I had a moan.

And one of my friends, who’s a distinguished senior primary educator, said to me when last were you in senior primary? And I had to sort of take a double-take and go, you know what, I actually don’t know anything about senior primary teaching, so let me just rather not say anything. So that’s the one.

As I’ve said, you get problems from anti-world view, so if a person’s worldview is being threatened at their dining room table, that’s problematic.

PvZ: That’s a big one.

PLR: That causes trouble, and then not many parents, I wouldn’t want to put a number on it, but it’s a low number, understand that education is not about access. Or it is about access, but it isn’t only about access. So if I pay my money to School X, I expect my kid to get their matric certificate as painlessly as possible.

Their competency, their humanity, their capacity to read, their capacity to actually calculate, as you’ve raised, their hard capacities-

PvZ: Are secondary.

PLR: We don’t care about that, so long as they’ve got that certificate. And anything that impedes that certificate, or detracts from that certificate or dilutes it, is automatically negative, unprofessional, bad, soft.

PvZ: Yeah, so in a way the school, not the school necessarily, but the commercial entity that drives the school, has incentives that are aligned with the parents in a pretty sinister way. The one is a commercial incentive; the other one is just a bit of an outcome that parents are looking for, and they’re happy to pay the commercials to get there.

PLR: You can also, you can, and when you do it is amazing, get synergy with parents, and then that is even more beautiful. Because then the artfulness of the classroom is being addressed and spoken about and worked through and rechewed at home, and then it makes it even more powerful. So when it works well, it’s one of the most wonderful things.

But if we’re speaking about those negative forces, then they are there. So when a parent’s heart is saying, look, I need my kid to get good marks, that is understandable. I’m in that position. My daughter’s end of Grade 11. I feel, gee, next year’s Matric, my kid needs to get good marks. So I feel those emotions. They are perfectly fine and normal, and also there is an element of client services there, whether you’re in a state school or not. If you can’t get your children to a good quality access result, you’re a bad teacher.

But the perception that access is everything also makes you a bad teacher. Because then what you do is you start your Grade 12 curriculum at the beginning of Grade 11, finish in late May, do revision all the way to November, and then pat yourself on the back when your kids do well.

PvZ: Yes, but the metric by which society in general, parents in particular, measure success is based on marks, averages.

PLR: Yea.

PvZ: And again, access, as in results. And it is probably because we don’t have a way to measure curiosity, or critical thinking abilities, or self-awareness.

PLR: Mastery.

PvZ: Mastery, things of that nature.

Responsibility and Consequences

PLR: And so if you were an apprentice, I use this example regularly. If you were a blacksmith and you were kind, but you were serious about your young apprentice, and you asked her to carry a tray of molten lead. This was the first time she did it. You would be very clear on your instructions. And she would be clear that if she didn’t listen and the lead spilled, she would lose her hand or her leg. So there were very clearly defined lines of responsibility and very clearly defined consequences.

PvZ: Yes, the Australian education model has something to this degree, if I’m not mistaken. Where, and again, it’s not exactly what you’re talking about, but it is a thought that I’ve had about why haven’t we introduced it here? Where you write that school-leaving exam at Grade 9, or I forgot. But you can then write this Grade 0 exam and should you decide you want to go and learn a trade and apprentice under somebody, you can do that. And this is obviously a common practice in Australia; it’s not that common here. We don’t do it.

PLR: We can’t. We at the moment don’t have the infrastructure to achieve that. But what I’m referencing is when that child had successfully carried that tray and followed those instructions and they’d and she’d done it three or four times, she would have mastered that skill. And that mastery would have not only kept her alive, but as you’ve just said, it would have given her a living and would have helped her earn the money when she was finally a blacksmith in her own right. We just pretty much don’t do that.

PvZ: We don’t have the resources. Is that the excuse?

PLR: Yea, I don’t know. I think that everything we’ve spoken about, all thrown into the pot, with some newts’ eyeballs and some frogs’ legs and a few butterflies’ wings, and a few other things from Harry Potter, would probably be the explanation. It’s very arcane. It hasn’t it has an arcane, cauldron-like explanation. No one silver bullet, no one thing explains all of it.

It’s just, there are so many forces that militate against education working properly because education working properly is so profoundly inconvenient. If it works properly, it inconveniences everybody in power.

PvZ: The system.

PLR: Yea, the whole system is screwed if it works properly, and nobody likes it to work properly.

The Progress of Education in South Africa

PvZ: Yes. Have we made any progress?

PLR: Yes, we have. I think we have to accept the raw nature, there’s some raw progress. So if you take apartheid South Africa, and post-apartheid South Africa, I think that we have to accept that we have progressed significantly from a situation where Black young people were not catered for at all and were deliberately crippled. So we’ve made a lot of progress.

Have we made anywhere near enough? No, we still have hundreds of thousands of Black young people, in particular, every single year crippled by their system, which is still almost identical to what they had before. So that’s got to be fixed, and I don’t have an easy fix for that.

And we still have a lot of alpha schools who spend a lot of time looking at their navel. Rather than turned outwards actively creating powerful citizens who spend their time militating for change from the age of 14, and not from the point at which they get their CA certificate at 27.

And I’m interested in what happens to South Africa when we encourage schools to see their 14-year-olds as change-makers in situ. And stop using that tired old axiom that children are the South Africa of the future, which is another thing that I find insulting. They’re not the South Africa of the future. They’re not excluded from 2020 because they happen to be 14. They’re not South Africans because they don’t have their CA certificate yet. They’re South Africans. They’re 14, yes, 14, inexperienced, sure, 100%, but they are South Africans now. They can contribute now. They can make a difference now. They just have to be enfranchised. That’s it.

What Pete Would Fix in the Education System

PvZ: Yea, I mean, it’s incredible what a little bit of responsibility does to a person.  So let’s take it back a moment. You’re given a wizard’s wand and you could fix one thing. What’s the one thing that you would fix that you think would have the greatest impact?

PLR: Yeah, lucky for you, you ask only easy questions, hey? I think that I would like very much to fix tertiary teacher training so that it is A, field-driven, and B, so that it expects and looks at these issues that we’ve raised, as mandatory for teachers.

How could you be a replacement parent? How could you be ethically, appropriately, in 2020, a mentor to a young boy who has just come out as a homosexual? How do you do that? How do you speak to that boy’s life when his parents have rejected him completely? How do you deal with a child who has gone through a divorce and neither parent has sued for custody?

So training teachers to inhabit their power, because if I’m right and teaching done well is inconvenient, then the easiest way to cripple it is to cripple teacher training. Which is what the apartheid government did – blunt crippling of teacher training. They literally caused blunt force trauma to the way teaching was done.

So if I could wave a magic wand, I would put teachers in a place where at the end of their training, they understood who they were. And that it emboldened their autonomy and emboldened their voices, and just made them all a little bit more dangerous.

PvZ: That’s great. If you could take away one subject at school and introduce another, what would that be?

PLR: Oh, well, definitely not biology! If I could take away one subject, introduce another one? Phew, I don’t know that that’s a valid question. I say that because you, again, are too young to remember this. But in the very, very old days, Sabrina will remember because she’s very old. In the old days, overhead projection sheets, when you wanted to show the digestive system, you had a basic outline on the bottom sheet.

And then you folded a sheet which had the stomach on it, and then you folded a sheet with the liver and you folded them all. And because they were all transparent, the light shone through them and you could slowly build the system up.

That transparency model is a helpful visual for me to remember that each child in a school is reached by somebody else. I don’t have to empower every kid. I reach a subset of kids with my style, and that’s okay. You reach a different subset with your style, that’s okay. You contradict me in class and the kids know you are contradicting me, that’s okay, too. Because out of that contradiction grows the sense that, hey, two people who care about each other, who work on the same staff, disagree flatly on these important issues and nobody’s dead. That’s great, so it teaches them critical thinking. It teaches them that argument is not war, and so on and so on and so on.

So for me, I don’t think that I would take subjects out, because if you did, you’d lose a piece of the transparency and the consequences would be unknown.

PvZ: Yeah, no, totally fair.

PLR: I’d put one in. I’d put in eurhythmics and biokinetics. So the massive crippling of school sport in the state system by virtue of the absence of funding and the absence of trained staff and so on and so on is a big problem. Because kids don’t learn to communicate brain to body and body to brain, and I think that has long-term consequences.

PvZ: Yea, I read an interesting stat about the US military and how increasingly year by year there are less and less eligible candidates that qualify for their fitness test.

PLR: Yea, that doesn’t surprise me.

PvZ: Yea, what do you call that?

PLR: When I was a boy, so this is now a million years ago, it was called eurhythmics. It was one lesson a week in your senior primary, junior primary, where you had to do things like stand on one foot and bounce a ball and all these little hand-motor, gross-motor, and fine-motor coordination things that you had to do. Imagine if we could do that systemically all the way across South Africa, in every underprivileged school, every privileged school.

I think that would have results because, as you know, there are also kids out there who learn better when their body’s involved in learning. And kids like that will never play an organised game of soccer, for example. They don’t even have running water in the toilets in their school and their toilets are lethal hotbeds of infection. So changing that, I would add in rather than taking out.

I would, if I’m going to say to you that we need to be crisis-focused, then you’d be an IT specialist for argument’s sake, and I’d be a biology specialist for argument’s sake. But both of us would need to know how to fix that machine because our lives depend on that machine. So whether I like mechanical engineering or not, I need to know how that machine works.

And that multiskilling is absent from schooling as well. So the idea that an ordinary kid in an ordinary school somewhere in South Africa can play an instrument and do her ceramic art and be good at history, English, Afrikaans, or history in Xhosa, whatever, that is, by dint of money, absent.

PvZ: Yea, I mean, speaking of kids that have different interests and different abilities. In a classroom environment, you’ve obviously got 20, 25, 30 in public school environments…

PLR: Even more.

PvZ: …private schools even more than that, but each kid in that classroom learns slightly differently. And you’ve got visual learners, tactile learners, audible learners, the entire spectrum is there. Unfortunately, you’ve obviously got one educator who teaches in, generally, a specific style.

PLR: Yea, that’s true.

PvZ: So how does that issue get solved over time?

PLR: It doesn’t, that’s a cold reality. I mean, you will get 100 people who will tell you that it can be solved. Look, you want me to teach your child and be authentic. The last thing you need is me pretending-

PvZ: To be something else for that child.

PLR: So I’ll give you my fave example. I am stern when I’m nervous and I prefer to be stern. So if I get up at a wedding to deliver a speech, I don’t tell a joke. I’m not funny. I can’t stand up and say, two guys walked into a bar. It just won’t work, and I know that. So I stand up and I say something quite stern and quite difficult and it might even silence the room. But by the time I’m finished talking, everybody was glad I said it. And there would have been laughter because I’m a situationally effective comic, so I can be comedic in situ, but not upfront.

Imagine if I taught a class and I determined that what was required in this class was that up-front comedy. That whole class would be a total roaring disaster, and worse than that, the children in the class would think I was a complete idiot. So authenticity is everything.

And then you’ve got to trust that that overlay of authenticity and overlay of artistry reaches everybody eventually. So you’ve got to trust that a kid doesn’t much like, I mean, they recognise that I’m passionate. They enjoy the information, but they don’t much like my style. Then they go next door to accounting and they’re just in love with it, and they’re reached there. Less by me, more by them and they overlay and in the end, the goal is to reach 100 out of 100.

But the idea that a teacher can morph and switch faultlessly and flawlessly, but critically, authentically, between six or seven primary methods is, in my view, naïve. The best teachers in the world may be, sure, but there aren’t many of them. Per capita, there aren’t many.

Mental Health Management as the Teacher

PvZ: Of course. So in a world where we’re hyperconnected and hyper-disconnected at the same time, hyper-comparative and competitive. You’ve obviously got mental awareness and mental health concerns to take into account at schools. And this has obviously, with the advent of social media, become a more and more pernicious and prevalent issue in schools. How is that played out from the perspective of a teacher, and how do you manage that?

PLR: Yea, so there’s another huge vacuum. That is another systemic vacuum, which arguably overseas systems do a little better maybe than we do? Remembering that we are bifurcated into Model C, and everybody else. And Model C functions at a very, very high level often, and everybody else functions at a heroic level to the best of their ability, but struggles, ex-Model C.

And in a school that’s struggling, there will be only the authentic teachers who have some background in counseling who stand between those kids and mental disassembly. In ex-Model Cs, there will be those same teachers who care and do have a background and who are pastorally astute. And there will be one or two guidance or life orientation teachers whose skill set is in that zone. But it’s vanishingly too little against the weight of what is out there. There’s no nice way to say that – it’s vanishingly too small.

And if you go to some systems elsewhere in the world, you will find that it is also very strongly devalued. If you take a pastoral interest in a child, it is automatically tagged. Or maybe automatically is too strong, it is regularly tagged as inappropriate. And that’s one of the things we have in South Africa that we also need to hold onto, is the latitude to act pastorally and still be seen as professional. So I’ve highlighted the necessity to hold onto our independent voice, our autonomy, and then we need to hold onto our capacity to act.

PvZ: Yea, a lot of these things that you’re talking about, are skills that fully functioning adults don’t have. Never mind that teaching it to a kid must be incredibly difficult. That said, once you do and you have that breakthrough, I’m sure that’s an incredibly rewarding thing.

PLR: Yeah, I think I think it’s being alongside, though, I don’t know that it’s always about direct teaching. I think it’s the sense to know that you need to be alongside, and then the skill to be alongside without smashing all the glassware. That’s tough, and some schools are better at it than others. Some institutions and systems are better than others.

When the ANC took over, one of the things they changed was they gave curricular control back to teachers. We need to enshrine that and hold onto that, that was a great gift. Because up until then, the National Party controlled curriculum with an iron fist, because they knew, lose control of curriculum, lose control of the country. We need to resist any attempt to take curricular control back. We also need to resist any attempt to demonize or make negative being able to walk alongside a kid as they go through deep water.

PvZ: Yea, listening to some of the things that you said, now a couple of key points stand out. And that is the ability to cultivate the mindset of kindness, curiosity, as well as creating a kid that is authentic and confident. And I think if you could have those four things; there’s probably a couple of others.

PLR: Socially aware and willing to act, hey?

Socially aware, self-aware-

So not just aware that there are people out there with nothing, willing to act.

PvZ: Yea, I mean, you’ve got a mountain to climb if you want to achieve that, even if one kid, never mind in a high classroom of a school.

PLR: But you can. That’s the thing, you can, because they desire the emancipation that that brings. They may not see it, but they do. They’re human, they desire emancipation, they desire agency, they’re human. Just because they 14, they desire agency. You give a 14-year-old agency and you’d be amazed at what they can achieve.

PvZ: What’s the barrier? Is it a psychological barrier on behalf of the child?

PLR: Sometimes, but a lot of the time it’s systemic. A lot of the time it’s, hey, he’s 14, you can’t give him agency. Maybe he’ll make a mistake. Yea, maybe he will, but maybe he’ll start a polystyrene collection subsection of social outreach, and he will collect 30 tons of polystyrene in the year, and he will get that ground down into insulation for RDP housing. And maybe that will change him in such a way that when he’s finally a corporate leader, he gives 50% of his company’s money to CSI, who knows? The point is, you gave him agency.

PvZ: Yeah, and all of this ties back to responsibility.

PLR: Correct, yea.

Defining a Successful Education

PvZ: Yea, very powerful. So how would you define a successful education? Because I think this is a question a lot of parents don’t necessarily ask themselves when they embark on this educational journey. Follow what society says, find a school as good as you can afford, pop your kid in there and let them just follow on.

PLR: Yea, and in South Africa, if you do that, a lot of the time you’ll still get it right, because we have amongst our schools in South Africa, we have many that are, from a worldwide perspective, absolute giants. They are immense. They may not be perfect by a long shot, but they are immense. And you will go to schools and teach in schools, and I’ve done so in America and in Britain and what have you. And you will see the level of dysfunction and/or the level of privilege combined with dysfunction, and it will give you pause. So kids with everything, who still insist on not transcending.

So a few words, let’s use bullets. So the first bullet is access, because at the end of the day if we don’t give the child access, you’ve been unprofessional. The second one is engagement. If you don’t engage the kid, if they don’t fall in love with something in your school, preferably your subject, but something, then not good enough.

Transcendence, if they go to school the same person on Monday and they come home the same person on Friday, then you’re being had when you pay the fees. It doesn’t matter that it’s an alpha school in Cape Town. Doesn’t matter that it’s the oldest school in Cape Town, or the best school in Cape Town or the best boys school, or the best girls school, or the best co-ed school. If they go to school person A on Monday, come home person A on Friday, you’re being had. They need to have transcendence.

They need to have authenticity. So I think they need to be multiskilled. You will note that my tone makes that a slightly less important thing just because what does multiskilling look like for every kid? It’s different.

PvZ: Resourcefulness?

PLR: Yea, but crucially, in my view, they need to have agency. They need to know that they have permission, license, to charge the gates of hell. They need to know they have permission.

PvZ: Tell me about your dragons.

PLR: Yea, and that’s my metaphor, that’s the metaphor that I use, and that’s a metaphor that’s associated with my non-profit that I run. It makes the claim that within a child is a pre-existent changemaker. So we use the word dragon for that pre-existent changemaker. That a good teacher can see it behind the eyes of the child, lying backwards into the gloom, it sits there. And nothing changes the world like a 15-meter fire-breathing lizard.

So it’s there, it’s pre-existent. The question is, what role will each teacher play in exposing it slowly to the light? And having exposed it, will you be the lucky one who gets to see it take off? Will you be the one who clears away the last of the impediments, and it’s no longer just passively standing in your space, it takes to the air.

And that’s the beauty of my job. I’ve had the privilege of doing it. I’ve done a lot of clearing and some of that stuff, I’ve cleared and cleared and cleared, and then nothing happens. And then you watch and you go, oh, my goodness, why did I do all of that for?

And five years later, you get an email saying, sir, yea, I just want to tell you, and then suddenly there it is. And it wasn’t me that struck the final blow, but the person has transitioned. But I’ve also had many of those moments where a person has transitioned.

And that wood ant story that I told you. There was a boy there at that station who was the tough guy, and who fell in love with those wood ants, and who has gone on to have a wonderful career. He’s married. He’s got, kids. He became a prefect. And in Grade 9, when he sat at that wood ant nest, he was a rebellious, difficult, image-driven person who was nowhere, behaving badly, making poor choices, getting himself in trouble, spiraling out of control. And it was the wood ants!` If he was here today, he would say it was the woods that turned it all around.

And so it’s about good teachers create moments. They create those wood ant moments as many times as they can for each class, for each year.

PvZ: That’s very powerful.

PLR: Yea, in my opinion.

PvZ: Yea, it’s super inspiring. To end off, what we like to ask is a question that we ask all the guests, and that is, what do you believe about education, or the way that education should be taught, that most people may disagree with?

PLR: I think that I’ve already said it, so let me say it again because it’s not a popular view. If you are a principal, you need to staff your staff room with just enough technocrats to make the system work, and everybody else needs to be an artist. Because if you load your school with people who know what tension bolt number 74 is supposed to be tightened to in order to make a good prize-giving go smoothly, that’s who your school is made up of.

If your staff is 60% company workers, 70% company workers, the Belbin biometric test, 70% company workers. Company workers are people who like to be told what to do. If 70% of your staff is company workers, your school is dead. It may get great access marks, but it is dead as a transformative force. Because its capacity to produce transcendence depends directly on the artistry of the person in the room and the autonomy of the person.

And you get it instantly when I say a company worker likes to be told what to do, therefore they have a low autonomy index. Therefore, you get less out of that institution than you could get out of it. A principal who’s responsible for submitting an accurate set of books at the end of a year or an accurate set of results, I think would be tempted by the dark side of the force to have as many technocrats as possible. But that’s for me the thing. It’s not a game. It’s got to be about the art.

Pete Le Roux’s Famous Grade 10 Project

PvZ: Tell me about the Grade 10 project.

PLR: Yea, so I’ve made a tradition of running a Grade 10 project, which I think began, in massively overblown zealotry when I was younger. Effectively it’s UCT’s 3rd-year zoology project which I adapted. Which at UCT, for me, I don’t know if they still do it, but for me, it was a group project and I adapted it to be an individual project.

So it is totally unreasonable at so many levels. Kids have to source and work with, there’s about 15 options now. It’s grown dramatically, There’s about 15 options. So they can do a whole different range of things from creating a fully articulate 50-plant herbarium collection to developing a skeletonized model of an animal to Taxidermy Level 1 at the South African Natural History Museum. It’s crazy.

But when a kid starts it, they have to start a journal. And usually, the journal starts with several days of what exactly possessed this teacher? I can’t do this, I just can’t. And then there’s a period of tears usually there as well somewhere, so there’s some tears. And if the kid is very bold, there’s also some swearing directed at me.

And then there’s the day where they hand the thing in and they’ve finished it. And their conception of self in March is no longer available to them in October. They’re understanding that they can’t do a massively sophisticated, interlaced project, is no longer available as an excuse in October, because the thing is standing on my table.

PvZ: That’s incredible.

PLR: And parents who come to my laboratory are under no illusion. You think you have a 15-year-old Grade 10 in your house? You don’t. You have an inexperienced, 15-year-old, highly capable human. And the evidence of their capacity is on the table in front of you. Now, whether your dad helped you a bit, or you took some advice from your granddad on how to silicon glass or whatever, that’s all fine.

In fact, there was one young woman who did a project for me. She dissected a seal that had drowned in a trawl net drowning. And I remember the seal being dissected in my laboratory and kids from other years who’d completed the project coming in to help her. They were out of school, but they heard about it. They came in to help her because it was so amazing. They were so amazed by it.

She wrote in her journal that it was the first time she knew that her dad loved her. Really, I mean, like really, really, like deep down really, because he sat there with her to all hours holding those bones to glue.

PvZ: That’s incredible.

PLR: Yea, and so you’ve got all these pastoral benefits. But the crucial benefit is, in March they would have said to their parents, Dad, I can’t do it, I’m too young, I can’t. In October, that excuse is no longer available.

PvZ: Yea, that’s incredible. Wow.

PLR: To them that’s no longer available because when they say I’m too, the father will turn around and say, I beg your pardon? What about the …?

PvZ: That’s inspiring, yea. While I’ve still got you here, your Number 1 recommended book? One of the books that’s maybe been the most influential to you.

PLR: Wow, that is now, that’s a tough question!

I know, rattle off a few! [Inaudible]

So the book that I’ve read the most is ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I’ve read it 26 times. If you haven’t read it, you’re a philistine, simple as that. And I’m saying that to my daughter, I hope she’s listening. Yea, if you haven’t read that you’re nowhere.

Biology, ‘Consilience’ by E.O. Wilson. The argument that if something’s true, it’s true, and all true things are true. All true things synergize with all other true things, so somewhere out there, there is a general unified theory that synergizes everything. And then the ‘Naturalist’ by E.O. Wilson is also beautiful, in which you learn in the first few chapters, you learn how amazing small circumstances are.

Remember what I said about those tiny moments? He had two and one of them he had on a jetty. He was standing on a jetty. He was 10 years old back in the day where you could shoot your dad’s Colt 45 on the beach and stuff like that. He was standing on that jetty and underneath the jetty swam a manta, and he says it’s the biggest manta ever. But he recognises as an older man, it might have been a very ordinary manta. That manta made him a biologist, and he has been/is one of the most significant biologists to ever live. That manta going under the jetty made him a biologist.

So if you were a teacher and you’d given him that experience on a camp, you would have won for the world his whole career.

And then he was on that same jetty, fishing, and he flicked a fish backwards. You know, when you hook a fish, he flicked it and it came right out of the water, it was a spiny fish, hit him in the eye. And it damaged his one eye and it ruined his ability to see stereoscopically.

And so when he chose his animal to work on when he was a biologist when he had to choose at Masters level, he chose ants, because he could put them on a forcep and hold them right up to his eye, and he could see them clearly. And he made all the amazing sociobiology breakthroughs that he made just because he couldn’t see nicely and he had to choose ants.

So there’s an example of how those good teachers have got to seek those moments because you can’t see the transformation. The bearing shift is so tiny that you can’t even maybe discern it, but 30 years later that bearing shift is massive.

PvZ: The butterfly effect, amazing.

PLR: But that’s what makes my job beautiful because it’s not measurable. That’s why you find Edwardian education irritating because it’s not really Edwardian. It’s the modern desire to measure everything and to use statistically comparable numbers that puts us in a position where we just entirely, lose sight of the beauty of those moments and what it means to create them. The little girl who carries that molten lead tray successfully to the furnace and then gets praise that she knows she deserves, it changes her life.

PvZ: And confidence.

PLR: Yea, changes her life.

PvZ: Wow, I wish I’d had an educator like you at school, I must say.

PLR: [laugh] Thank you, I appreciate that praise.

PvZ: Ah, no, fantastic, this has been incredible. Pete, thank you so much for coming on the show.

PLR: Pleasure, thank you for having me.

The Future Minds podcast is brought to you by Smartick. Smartick is an award-winning, intelligent, online mathematics and coding program for kids ages 4 – 14. Powered by sophisticated, adaptive AI, Smartick teaches kids math and coding from the comfort of home in as little as 15 minutes per day. For more information, visit or download the app on tablet or iPad today.

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Sabrina graduated from the AAA School of Advertising with a B.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications and prior to joining the Smartick Team she started her own digital marketing agency in 2014.
She is the founder and producer of Smartick's podcast called Future Minds with Phil.
In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys horseback riding, reading, and going to the gym. She also loves to travel!
Sabrina Jansen van Vuuren

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