Grow slow to grow tall

By using the life story of Peter Puget to illustrate the relationship of prepubescent learning to the nature of the adolescent brain, I may have lost interest of those readers with no affinity with the Pacific Northwest.  The significance of the map-making skills of that twenty-two year old might have been lost on those who have never seen the beauty of Mount Baker, or stood on the shores of the Olympic Peninsula.  Just as Australians don’t know of Peter Puget, neither do Canadians or Americans know of Lachlan Macquarie, now widely recognised by Australians as “the father” of their country.

Lachlan Macquarie was born two years later than Peter Puget on the small island of Ulva just off Mull on the West Coast of Scotland.  Although Lachlan’s father was the clan chief the Macquaries, a poor and tiny clan living, as did all other Highlanders, in cottages made of dry-stone walls and thatched with reeds.  They were, nevertheless, a fiercely tough and resilient people.  The young Lachlan had as good a ‘Mark Twain’ kind of childhood as had Peter Puget but his father, like Puget’s father, fell on hard times when the boy was coming up to fourteen.  The Macquaries went bankrupt.  Lachlan made his way to Edinburgh where he enlisted in the army and went into the 84th Regiment of Foot and fought in the American War of Independence.

Losing that war England no longer had a place to send convicts, and was forced to find an alternative.  In 1784 the “First Fleet” sailed for Australia to establish the colony of New South Wales based on one of the world’s finest natural harbours – now known as Sydney.  The early years of the colony were chaotic; the fifth Governor, William Bligh (of the ill-famed HMS Bounty) was particularly cruel and ineffective.  Twenty years after its establishment, a state of anarchy prevailed.

Then, into Sydney Harbour in June 1814, sailed Lachlan Macquarie, appointed by the British government as the new Governor.  Since his early days fighting in America, Macquarie had been promoted to Captain in 1789, Major in 1801 becoming Lieutenant Colonel of the 73rd Regiment of Foot in 1805.  With an extraordinary mixture of firmness and a fine appreciation of human nature, always linked to a sense of good order and discipline, Macquarie turned the chaotic colony into the beginning of a self-respecting settlement which, by the time he retired in 1821, was already home to an expanding population of both free settlers, and pardoned convicts.  He expanded the frontiers of the colony, and sent expeditions into different parts of the continent.  Contemporaries and historians alike have been amazed at Macquarie’s achievements.

Years later Macquarie was asked how it was that he, a man from such a tiny insignificant island in the shadow of the great mountain mass of Ben More on Mull, could have developed such phenomenal powers of leadership.  just before he died he wrote,

“If you are born on a mere speck of land in the middle of the ocean you quickly discover how things work, and why people do as they do.  Learn that lesson well, and you are equipped to become a citizen of the world.”

What a magnificent expectation – to become “a citizen of the world”!  Following my lecture last week on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, this will now hang on the walls of the Gulf Island’s Secondary School.

Surely it should also hang on the walls of every British primary school for that surely is what education has to be all about?  As then, so now, the strongest of the next generation will be the ones who have been allowed the most challenge, and given the strongest support, when young.  They are the ones who, like Peter Puget, Lachlan Macquarie and England’s Horatio Nelson, will grow up strong, thoughtful and – most importantly – be able to turn ideas into actions.

See multiple references to Adolescence in Overschooled but Undereducated