There is a danger in education, and life, where we can get fixated on the outcomes, rather than the process. There are many anecdotes referencing the ‘journey being more important than the destination. I might argue this point having travelled from Johannesburg to Durban in the 1970s in a VW ‘Volksiebus’ with 2 adults, 5 siblings, 1 cat and 2 dogs – one of which was decidedly flatulent.
The destination could not have come any sooner. However, when discussing this journey only recently with those 5 siblings we did laugh, cry and appear to find a great deal about the journey that I may have cause to revisit pleasantly. Maybe the message should say, ‘The journey may appear difficult, but in time you will find some positives.’
When trying to help our boys make sense of recent events we may overtly be guilty of shielding them from the truth. I would prefer that we explained that the truth was simply a stop on the journey, albeit a not too pleasant one for many people. In this way, we are teaching our children that life is not always a bed of roses, but it does get better. I am aware that this may come across naively, but I am one of those people who read ‘Paradise Regained’ by English poet John Milton with the constant hope that good would indeed triumph in the end. Milton does not disappoint, but part of the journey did involve me having to read ‘Paradise Lost’ first!
I sometimes feel pained as a parent when I am categorized as ‘over-protective’. Is this not one of the fundamental jobs of a parent – to shield their child from potential harm? Why should we be made to feel guilty? Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”, is in my opinion a work of genius. It speaks of young men being able to live a happy life despite the challenges that they will inevitably face.
When looked at from a different perspective Kipling is effectively telling us as parents that we can’t protect our children from everything the world will throw at them, but they can still triumph.
Not many people know that an English poet by the name of Elizabeth Lincoln Otis wrote an “If” for girls in 1895. She does offer a tip of the hat to Kipling, and the poem, whilst not quite ‘Kiplingesque’ does give good pause for thought. There is a line that reads, “And win the best that life can have in store…”, which I personally believe would not look out of place in Kipling’s poem. It speaks of endeavour and hard graft and going out to shape your own future. This is what we should be teaching our boys. And why can girls not be seen in the same light in this context?
Paradoxical to Otis’ poem Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is blatantly sexist as it denigrates women and casts them as inferior to men. Thankfully Clifton does not subscribe to this philosophy. Thinking back to last term I recall the clear display of love and affection that our young Foundation Phase Gentlemen showed towards their mothers in the Mother’s Day assemblies. Today I stood on the lawn in front of Founders’ House with College boys and staff as the black flag was raised in opposition to Gender-Based Violence. I cast my gaze over the fine-looking Clifton Gentlemen and felt proud of the stance that they have taken. I am full of admiration for the female teachers and staff members in our profession who present such incredible role models to our boys. I reserve the same admiration for the ‘modern mothers’ of our boys. Mothers who make sacrifices for their sons and do so unconditionally. The role may have changed, but the love for one’s son has not.
On the subject of roles and considering women’s month (which should be women’s year as discussed in the recent SP assembly) it has not gone unnoticed that many modern mothers have embraced the concept of outdoor activities. I refer to the mothers who not only ferry their sons to all manner of outdoor activities but who also take part themselves. Perceptive moms know that outdoor activities increase children’s physical, mental and social health. Outdoor sports and play support emotional, behavioural and intellectual development. Studies have shown that boys who learn outdoors develop: a sense of self, independence, confidence, creativity, empathy towards others, motor skills, self-discipline and initiative.
Vitally, boys also learn decision-making, problem-solving and life skills. One of these life skills is how to deal with disappointment and failure. Once again women appear to be leading the way in this regard this month. I refer to two incidents in the Olympics recently. An American female gymnast had to withdraw from a number of her events due to mental health concerns. She bounced back to win a bronze medal in an event and went on to say that it was more special than her previous gold medals (she has a lot of them) due to the challenges she has faced.
Skip across to boxing and a male British boxer who narrowly missed out on a gold medal refused to shake hands with his opponents and ruined the medal ceremony by refusing to wear his medal. Theodore Roosevelt said, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…if he fails, he at least fails while daring greatly…”. Maybe he should have added a line about losing with grace.
Nevertheless, I am thankful to Clifton coaches, staff and parents for constantly reinforcing the rules of fair play and sportsmanship to our boys. Any form of competition, challenge or journey in life is going to have its tough moments.
How our boys react is a combination of the love – sometimes tough love – protection, support and advice that they receive from all who they see as role models.
Roosevelt effectively reinforces the premise that the outcome relies on the process. And the process, even if it is difficult, is necessary. It’s just a stop along the way. I don’t think he ever went for a ride in a ‘Volksiebus’, but I wager he would have found cause to enjoy it.
PREPARATORY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL