Monday 11 October 2021

Take Risks

Take Risks by John Marsden (Pan Macmillan) PB RRP $34.99 ISBN9781760985295

Reviewed by Kathleen Grace

Written by an Australian who has sold over five million books worldwide including the YA novels Tomorrow When the War Began and So Much to Tell You, this is a compelling non-fiction book for adults. Not only has Marsden won every major award in Australia for young people’s fiction, but he is well-known for his Tye writing workshops and for establishing two schools, Candlebark and Alice Miller. It’s not surprising after teaching for more than 40 years that Marsden has formulated ideas about what constitutes a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ school. In this book he provides succinct proof of both.

‘Take risks’ is the unofficial motto for Marsden when it comes to schooling, and especially at his two private schools. In this memoir of his years in education, the reader is taken through the highlights – and lowlights – of Marsden’s years involved in observing how schools are run. In Candlebark – on a forested estate near Romsey, Victoria, and Alice Miller, at Macedon, children are treated kindly and respectfully, yet at the same time given amazing challenges such as hiking alone in bushland for 160 kilometres. They are taken on many excursions through a school year and listen to talks by a wide variety of people from all walks of life. They are given free time to explore and play, undertake all kinds of practical lessons, and get involved in the maintenance of their schools. The two schools teach their students that life is a thrilling adventure, that they need to be allowed to roam, to dare. And to fail.

Marsden frequently refers in Take Risks to teachers he has observed, and how they influence their students, and he tells, too, how parents can be obstructive or helpful in guiding their offspring. There is a lot in this engrossing book about school and community politics. Marsden’s style of writing is clear and concise with many interesting and relevant anecdotes. It is no wonder he received, in 2006, the Lloyd O’Neil Award for Lifelong Services to Australian Publishing.

With forthright discussion on teaching, parenting and society, this book is highly recommended

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