Recently the Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece: Students must learn how to get things wrong. The article did the rounds on Barker's email, sending a flutter amongst our humanities departments. I could hear a celebratory cry of "Yes!".

Yes! It is true. We wish our students to fail.

We wish them to argue one case only to see the potential of another. We hope they recognise that we do not live in a binary world of right and wrong but in a nuanced and diverse world. We hope our students will fail with grace and curiosity, eager to learn that there is another way. We hope our students live in a world that is not characterised by a fear of failure but characterised by the liberation of opportunity.

According to the article, "literature and other humanities subjects are important because they teach us how not to be right". In a world of shifting knowledge and expertise, the value of the humanities is more important than ever. While the idea of a universal human experience might sound like a cliché, embedded in that cliché is a universal truth: human failure and struggle are inevitable and one we must learn.

The humanities offer a lens through which our students can explore the intricate tapestry of human struggle. By immersing themselves in artistic masterpieces and philosophical inquiries, our students gain profound insights into the diverse and often conflicting perspectives that shape our world. These explorations challenge preconceived notions and foster critical thinking, preparing our students to confront the complexities of a rapidly changing world.

Literature, specifically, teaches us the value of embracing uncertainty and discomfort. Novels like Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four invite readers to recognise their fragility, challenging individuals to be on their guard, to defend the "human heritage" in the face of a collective, insipid, ruthless and dehumanising force (did someone say AI?). Immersing students in narratives of challenge and discomfort, we cultivate in them hope and resilience, fostering curiosity, adaptability and fearlessness.

As the article states: "being good at English involves relinquishing neat summaries and correct answers". The value of the humanities lies in students' ability to explore the problems and complexities of humanity. I encourage our students to let go of the need to master formulaic and memorised essays. I challenge our students to be brave, be creative, be experimental, ask challenging questions and be curious. Let go of fixed mindsets, rebel, subvert, embrace uncertainty, and prioritise being interesting over being safe. These qualities are essential for building a future generation prepared to confront the uncertainties of an ever-shifting landscape of knowledge and expertise.

If there is hope it lies in the humanities.

Laura Craven

Laura Craven is the Head of English at Barker College. She is an experienced educational leader, having previously held the position of Head of English at Gosford Selective High School. Laura is a highly regarded and experienced HSC Marker, currently holding the position of Supervisor of Marking with NESA. Laura has written programs for the English Teachers Association and spoken at a number of University HSC Study Days. Currently, Laura is studying a Masters of Education - Learning and Leadership.