LE Blaze’s Heritage: Lessons for Modern Lanka

Tissa Jayatilaka, in the Island, 11 july 2012, being excerpts from the Inaugural L.E. Blaze’ Memorial Lecture entitled “Of Kingswood, its founder Louis Edmund Blaze and reflections on a value-based education

I am pleased to be here this morning with all of you. I wish to thank the Principal of Kingswood and the President of Kingswood College Old Boys Union – Colombo Branch, Mr. Ian Ferdinands for bestowing on me this honour of delivering the inaugural Louis Edmund Blaze’ Memorial Lecture. This event (which was preceded by the unveiling of a statue of Mr. Blaze’ on the school premises) is part of the first of a series of events marking the 120th ‘Kingswood Week’ festivities which will go on from today until the 15th of June. It is fitting and proper that we should so honour our founder and express our love and gratitude to him. To honour those worthy of honour, to honour those to whom honour is due, is a very decent human trait. We are most grateful to the principal, Mr. Ranjith Chandrasekera, Mr. Ian Ferdinands, and all Kingswoodians for this very noble gesture of theirs.

 Kingswood today

Mr. Louis Edmund Blaze’ (L.E.B. as he was affectionately known) founded the school that we owe so much to, on 4 May 1891 – – 121 years ago. He was the school’s founding principal from 1891 to 31 December 1923 when he retired. Mr. Blaze’ who was born on 29 September 1861 died on 4 August 1951. His was an exemplary life of service. He was an educationist with a splendid vision, a fine teacher, an accomplished writer of verse and a pioneer historian. In 1900, he wrote the first comprehensive school text book on the history of Sri Lanka. For many decades it was the standard history text book and it ran into several editions.

Incidentally some of L.E.B’s historian genes have been inherited by some Kingswoodians down the years. My senior colleague at Peradeniya and dear friend Kingsley de Silva, a brilliant product of Kingswood, ended up as Professor of History at the University of Ceylon and was the first to write a comprehensive one volume history of Sri Lanka. Prior to Kingsley (K.M.) de Silva, another old boy, the late Prof. G.C. Mendis, excelled as a historian. He taught at Kingswood, wrote History text books for our schools, and later taught at the University of Ceylon. Interestingly, three Sri Lankans have to – date received D. Lit degrees from reputed British universities for their excellent contribution to the study of History. They are Paul Peiris, G.C. Mendis and K.M. de Silva – Peiris from Cambridge University and the other two from the University of London. It is important to remember that of the three Sri Lankan Historians to receive this high honour, two are products of our wonderful school founded by the man we honour today – L.E.B.

My intention this morning is not to give you the life history of Mr. Blaze’. That, you can easily access as some of us have written of it over the years. What I propose to do in the next several minutes is to talk about the values and ideals that Mr. Blaze’ transmitted or conveyed to us through Kingswood. His pioneering work as founder-principal has been continued from 1923 to-date by other outstanding men who succeeded him as principal of the school. And then there are those other great teachers of Kingswood who also helped carry forward the vision and mission of Blaze’. I am most pleased to note that some of these principals and teachers are with us today. Mr. Sisira Liyanage, old boy, teacher, later principal, and dear friend is foremost among them. No less invaluable are the contributions of Mr. S.L. James (he is unable to be present today) and Messrs. S. B Ekanayake, Rupert Navamani and L.B Galahitiyawa who are, happily, here with us.

I recall such other venerable teachers as J.O Mendis, B.A. Thambapillai, Winston Hoole, R.A.V. Dharmasena, John Gooneratne, Sydney Perera, S.M. Selvaratnam, T. Thurairajah, V. Nadespillai, Hilary Fernando, Vernon Perera, Herman Perera, Anton Arulanandam, Arthur McGil, Mr. Banda, Mr. H.D.S. Fonseka and Mr. Nanayakkara. Special mention needs to be made of Mr. D.L (Cyril) Matarage’, a product of Kingswood, who served his alma mater as a loyal member of the non-academic staff in his capacity as an administrative assistant to the head of the school. He was an invaluable asset to many a principal of Kingswood. Of them all, the one who had the greatest impact on me is Kenneth de Lanerolle, my principal and guru. Another of Kingswood’s great men is Ainsley Samarajeewa who passed away recently. I did not have the good fortune to be taught by him for he had left Kingswood by the time I joined the school. To Mr. Samarajeewa and Mr. Sydney Perera, however, I owe a great debt. It is the two of them who ultimately paved the way for me to enter the University of Ceylon and to embark on my own educational career in life. Both Messrs Samarajeewa and Perera have been towering figures in the Kingswood Old Boys Union, especially of the Colombo Branch.

I should like to now focus on what Blaze’s Kingswood did for me, and to those Kingswoodians who were my contemporaries at school and today my intimate friends. Kingswood’s greatest contribution to the wider community, in my opinion, is its production of gentlemen. Our school, ladies and gentlemen, have never prided itself as most schools do, on the number of students gaining distinctions at examinations or on the numbers securing admission to university. Important as these may be, the more important contribution of Kingswood has been in the moulding of the character of young men. It was our founder’s intention, and that of his successors, to produce well – rounded human beings out of every student who passed through the portals of our school. Thus great emphasis was laid on loyalty and manliness as may be gleaned from a perusal of the history of the school and from the lyrics of our College Song. No Kingswoodian who I call a friend, I am proud to say, has ever let the side down by acting in ungentlemanly or dishonourable fashion. We have met life’s challenges squarely and unflinchingly, paying whatever price and bearing any burden honourable and gentlemanly conduct calls for. That, then, is the hall mark of a true Kingswoodian. We never are guilty of the ‘not done’ things of life.

The other great tradition of Kingswood, apart from producing gentlemen, is the closeness of teacher and pupil at our school. Blaze’ found that in his time there was an unnecessary or unacceptable gap between teacher and pupil – – almost a despotism in that relationship. This despotism was based on the old notion that you spare the rod only to spoil the child. He wanted Kingswood to be a school which carried on its work of character building without there being hostility of any kind between the teachers and the taught. Our teachers were our friends. To be sure, we were disciplined and punished at times, but it was not the vicious kind of corporal punishment of old.

To start a new school based on these twin features – – where corporal punishment was not considered key to discipline and getting through examinations was not considered the be- all and end-all of education – – was to start with the heaviest of handicaps. L.E.B had the courage of personal convictions to attempt such radical educational change. He was an innovator of the best kind. And, in my opinion, he succeeded marvellously in this regard.

None of us in this hall today or any other living Kingswoodian was taught by L.E.B. But we have all been taught by those who were influenced by the ideals of L.E.B. All of us at Kingswood – the teachers as much as the taught – were touched by our founder’s vision and the traditions on which he founded the school. All the men and women who followed Mr. Blaze’ carried forward those traditions and values down the ages. The ethos of Kingswood thus remained safe for posterity thanks to the wonderful principals who followed Blaze’ – Pearson, Gibbon, Utting, Nonis, de Lanerolle, Labutale, Premachandra, Liyanage, Herat, Rambukwelle, and Chandrasekere. The Kingswood spirit has thus prevailed all these 121 years.

Let me now share with you what Kingswood has done for me which I am sure in what the school has done for all of us.

* Kingswood taught me that an educated person is not he who merely has initials after his name, be it B.A., B.Sc., M.A., or Ph.d. The school taught me that an educated person is one whose education is never complete. That we all learn every day of our lives until we die.

* Kingswood taught me that important as educational qualifications are, that there is a difference between information and knowledge that one acquires through securing university degrees on the one hand and worldly wisdom on the other. That it is far more important to seek wisdom based on human experience and insight.

* That an educated person is one who does not think he knows everything.

* That a truly educated person is one who has the following characteristics: a) One who has the courage to say, ‘I do not know’ when he does not know. b) One who has the courage to say sorry when he has made a mistake; one who acknowledges human fallibility; one who remembers at all times that to err is human and that one must forgive others their mistakes just as much as all of us ask them to forgive us ours. c) One who can take victory and defeat with equanimity. That winning, useful and rewarding as it may be, is not everything. d) One who loves learning as well as the other joys of life – – sports and hobbies: the concept of the crammer/bookworm versus the all rounder. This concept arises from the old Greek ideal which exhorts us to have a healthy mind in a healthy body. e) One who takes responsibility not only for oneself or one’s family but for those around him – especially for the weak and the marginalized. f) One who has the courage to be different. While respecting the views of others, to stick to one’s own considered view however controversial or unpopular that might be. One who asserts his independence of spirit and refuses to follow the common herd. g) One who believes in the value of secularism while holding on to one’s own religious beliefs and convictions. h) One who respects pluralism and diversity. One who does not seek to assert the superiority of any one ethnic group or religion. In the Sri Lanka of today there are those who think, mistakenly in my view, that Sri Lanka belongs only to the Sinhalese who are Buddhist. We must respect all religions and all ethnicities for we are all citizens of this country. We are all equal before the law and our Constitution must protect all Sri Lankans. This is the true nationalism we must assert. i) One who is both internationalist and Indigenous in outlook.

We are both citizens of the world and of Sri Lanka. We must respect other cultures and other ethnic groups. Cultures are neither superior nor inferior – they are merely different. Be familiar with the best of Sri Lankan values – whether these are based on Muslim, Burgher, Tamil or Sinhala cultures. We must appreciate all that is best in our culture and accept all that is best in the cultures outside of our own. We must be rooted in the particular as at the same time we seek the universal. For that is how we achieve human brotherhood and harmony.

Kingswood has taught me that education in the above-delineated broad sense is the greatest treasure we can all aspire to. As we well know, we could lose all our material possessions but learning once acquired will never go away.

Two verses I learnt as a child have helped me to remember the great value of a proper education –the kind I have talked of today for which Kingswood laid, for me, the foundation and Peradeniya put the finishing touches later on. These are values contained in the two verses from the Sinhala Vadan Kavi, a primer rich in didactic verse containing advice on life and growth. These are verses 30 and 31 and I quote:

Thiboo thenaka sora sathuran gatha nohe na

Esandha manawath wathuren wala nohe na

Kopa uwath raja mathidun gatha nohe na

Ugatha mana shilpayamai mathu reke na

Allata singhawath rasa nethi kevili kaka

Walkola bima athuta nidhi noleba duk thaka

Kalgiya redhi verali hendha deli kunen waka

Elmen akuru uganiu idiri weda thaka

All that I have shared to you so far are what I first learnt at Kingswood, thanks primarily to Mr. Blaze’. He set the standards that other principals and teachers maintained and built upon over these past 121 years. My contemporaries, seniors and I are grateful for the privilege of being Kingswoodians and I hope you young students of today will always remember and uphold the values and traditions of Kingswood as and when you step into the world outside the school.



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