Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 22 November 2019
I have by my desk two items that, in the course of a potentially cacophonous day, serve as constant reminders of why we all do this. The first is an engraving of the sixteenth-century philosopher Montaigne, with his catchphrase ‘Que sais-je?’: ‘What do I know?’. The second is a wonderful book by Alberto Manguel called Curiosity. It is no coincidence that Montaigne’s pithy epigram features on the second page of Manguel’s book. As Manguel reminds us – and as we have all, to differing degrees of consternation, experienced – one of the first words in a child’s vocabulary is ‘Why?’ Those three letters can provoke very different emotions. To the sleep-deprived parent who has been asked why x is x, or y is y, for the hundredth time, those three little letters can be incendiary. ‘It just is, alright?!’ might slip out through perma-gritted teeth. I am very lucky that, in my job, curiosity is front and centre of what I do. Answers are important for exams, sure, but asking the right questions in the first place is what makes for a healthy and productive mind. It also makes for the kind of person you want to be around. Think about those you know who are dogmatically fixed, unquestioningly, on a worldview that is what it is, no questions asked; or who stay on their tracks, convinced that nothing or nowhere else will interest them. Then think about those who stop to think and smile ‘good question’, and then meander curiously around a problem; who say ‘I haven’t tried that or been there before, but I’ll see what it’s like’. With whom would you rather have dinner?
Indeed, it is both a pedagogical and ethical duty for my colleagues and I to make sure our boys are curious about the world. At a time, and in a setting, when the pressure is increasingly to narrow our focus because (erroneously) that’s what some people think senior schools, universities and workplaces want, I remain passionate about curiosity. Yes, our boys should practise verbal reasoning – to take a random example – if that’s what senior schools partially want (because it’s a good indicator of success at GCSEs, hardly the best gauge of intelligence or potential, but that’s for another day). But I also remind the boys, especially when they come for practice interviews with me, that people and institutions want interesting people who are interested in – curious about – interesting things. When the boys get to Years 7 and 8 at NCS, they get to embark on a special subject on a topic of their choice (within reason), with a year to explore an analytical question that, more often than not, has to start with the word ‘Why?’. When this is explained to the boys, quite often they ask – you guessed it – ‘Why?’. Which, of course, is the perfect prompt to explain to them all of the above. Occasionally, perhaps, through gritted teeth.
To underline our commitment to curiosity, Miss Cawood’s pastoral assembly on Tuesday focused on the prompt from our wellbeing grid: ‘I am curious about the world beyond my immediate community and I try to understand its difficulties’. Mrs Williams led a fascinating assembly later in the week, demonstrating the importance of being curious about words, their etymology and pronunciation. In chapel on Wednesday, Professor Chris Timmel carried on our theme and spoke very movingly about some historic, though not that historic, difficulties beyond our immediate community, especially the events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago. Placing it in the context of other momentous and revolutionary events in history, the boys were encouraged to look at some primary sources from the College archives as they filed out of the service. From the Eikon Basilike of Charles I to Clarendon’s History of the Great Rebellion, there were some tangible artefacts to help coax the boys’ curiosity. And long may they remain curious – in all senses of the word.
I wish you and your families a happy and curious weekend,
Person of the Week: Margaret Atwood
Artwork of the Week: Prince’s guitar solo from George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2004)
Word of the Week: espouse
Sport. Despite some very damp conditions and sports ground closures we managed to complete some excellent rugby matches this week. Firstly, the U9 A and B teams were in action away against the Dragon. Both teams played some excellent rugby and scored a great deal of tries. In the B team game the final score was 12-9 to our hosts but this did not truly reflect our performance and good defending with James the tackler of the day; some great break-away scores meant this game was extremely tight right until the last few minutes. In the A team match we faced a physical Dragon team but the NCS boys stuck to their game plan of moving the ball away from contact and using the pace of our wingers in the form of Isaac and Alexander to score some super tries. We also defended with a resolute passion that kept out their attackers more often than not with Henry at his tackling best to turn the ball over on three occasions. At the final whistle the score was 7-5 to NCS.
On Wednesday the first team managed to play away at Bruern Abbey. Facing a very large and powerful Bruern team we were well aware of the challenge ahead. However Mr Rose has instilled a great character into this team and self-belief was flowing, helped by the captain Henry’s encouraging words and advice. Despite going 1-0 down the boys rallied and led 2-1 after the first ten minutes. What followed was an epic encounter with both teams playing some scintillating rugby. In the second half fitness began to tell and the large subs bench of our hosts was used to good effect and the game slightly got away from us. A final score of 10-6 was a fantastic effort and with a little more time on the training pitch who knows what could have been?
Finally this week we had all boys from Years 5 and 6 playing against Christ Church. In four great games we had an unprecedented number of tries scored. The C team managed a brilliant 10-10 draw and Mr Rose tells me that as referee he was really entertained with the rugby on show. Albie and Josh had excellent games and were named joint men of the match. In both the B and D team games NCS suffered very narrow defeats and on both occasions it was down to just one or two scores. Maurits for the Bs and Jack for the Ds were both players of the match for their respective teams. I had the pleasure of taking charge of the A team fixture and in recent years this has been a testing game with the scores being very close indeed. This game started off at a very high intensity with George rucking hard and turning the ball over in the first few seconds to set up our opening try in the first 2 minutes. From then on the NCS boys were quite ruthless in attack, scoring nine times thanks to some superb passing and hard running. Timon and Jasper were excellent in midfield as was Carter out wide with his spinning into contact. However it was Leo on the wing who was player of the day thanks to his determined running in limited space to score a wonderful hattrick. At the final whistle the score was 9-1 to NCS and the boys recorded a well-deserved win against our local rivals. CB