September 9, 2020

Rector’s eNews – 09 September 2020

/ Rector's eNews

Good schools, like other good organisations, are always looking ahead and our planning at Michaelhouse for 2021 is well underway. We embrace the year ahead, our 125th anniversary, with optimism and the particular hope that many of the events which we so prize in our annual calendar will be able to be enjoyed and the sense of community which is so important to us restored.

With the departure of Alan Adlington-Corfield for Kenya at the end of the year, we have appointed Win de Wet, currently Senior Academic, to the position of Deputy Rector: Academic. Win has taught at Michaelhouse since 2002 and very successfully led our Economics Department for some 14 years before moving into her current role. She has variously been in charge of tennis and has coached hockey, having played the latter at a level just short of the highest one nationally. We wish her every success in this new and challenging role.

At the same time as being innovative and embracing change, looking to the future and shifting our paradigms, we are also conscious of our deeply held values which are the bedrock of our school in important ways. As life becomes more online and digital, the value of human interaction is ever more important; people who spent time in isolation from others over Covid-19, for example, will affirm how the simple pleasure of meeting with friends and family was heightened by that isolation. There is a balance to be struck between increasingly individualised learning and access to mentors, between the focus on the skills which enhance employability and the benefit of a broad, classical education which teaches young people to think about the actions or inaction of people through the centuries. The immediacy of practical matters must be balanced with spiritual growth.

The paradoxes above are evident in the internal makeup of teenagers: teenagers want to stand out at times, but not do so at others; they want to lead, but they also want to blend into the background. Schools need to be multidimensional if they are to be successful and to understand the differing characteristics of teenagers if they are to be attractive to parents and young people: to value the importance of team work and of individualism, to comprehend that what drives one person will not necessarily appeal to everyone, to offer a range of opportunities and diversity, but to promote an excitement about belonging to the whole. Such a school tends to look at who people are and how they are developing, expecting a measure of difference and yet also placing importance on the contribution to the welfare of others and to the banner under which all members of a school stand.

In concord with the initiative to create an alignment for all boys with the ethos of Michaelhouse, once again last week we welcomed Karabo Che Makoape to our school. As I have previously indicated Karabo will, as in independent facilitator, guide us over the next 12 months as we undertake our ‘journey’. Karabo spoke in a compelling fashion to the whole staff about the value of diversity and also guided the second meeting of the Transformation and Diversity Advisory Committee which meets under Mr Sibusiso Ncamani as chairperson. Karabo was also due to speak to the entire school, but our only current potential meeting place for everybody is in the amphitheatre and, with the A Block writing their trial examinations in the Indoor Centre, it would not have been appropriate to ask Karabo to speak to the school in the cold, driving rain.

Mr Sibusiso Ncamani adds that “The Transformation and Diversity Committee held its second meeting on 1 September. The meeting was in a discussion format, and the agenda examined four overarching topics: feedback on specific incidents, racist aspects of class set works and how to approach this phenomenon in the classroom, thirdly, aspirational statements for our draft policy and, lastly, specific areas that foster greater diversity.

The meeting started off with feedback on incidents that had been brought to the Chairman’s attention regarding racial and cultural insensitivity. Among these was concern about certain pupils imitating Black African accents. The consensus from the meeting was that this conduct is offensive and does not have a place at Michaelhouse.

The second item was an enlightening discussion on a proposed set book that contains racist slurs. The context of the novel in question is Apartheid South Africa, so while racist language is offensive, does it still have a place in the classroom to enable students to delve into the experiences of Black South Africans during this era? The discussion was two-pronged, considering whether such books should be prescribed at school at all, or whether, given their value in understanding the past, they should be read with the offensive words referred to by the first letter of the word. There were varying opinions, and the Committee determined to return to the discussion at a future date after taking time to deliberate on the differing views and the current climate.

The third item was led by Karabo Che Mokoape, who focused on the development of a Transformation and Diversity Policy for Michaelhouse. He asked the members of the Committee to come up with aspirational statements that in their view would set Michaelhouse on course to become a fully transformed school. The feedback was positive and will be collated into a working document for further discussion.

The final part of the meeting asked the Committee to give thought to identifying opportunities to conceptualise and implement initiatives that foster greater diversity and inclusivity. We explored opportunities around more inclusive catering in the school, as well as the naming of buildings and sports facilities, which might also reflect the names of people of colour and/or those who had provided extraordinary service to the school.

The meeting closed after rich discussion on the items raised, and the general sentiment after the meeting was that we are taking positive steps towards a more culturally diverse vision for Michaelhouse.”

Our journey in this area continues. So, too, does the Journey of the C Block. Here are some photographs most of which I took when visiting some of the groups yesterday.

Read the full Rector’s eNews here

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