August 30, 2023

Rector’s eNews – 30 August 2023

/ Newsletters

I spoke to the boys once again in assembly on Monday about discipline and behaviour. My talk ranged over several matters: I emphasised the importance of steering clear of those things which could lead to serious trouble for them including expulsion or parents needing to withdraw them from Michaelhouse, and I described the heartbreak that this brings to families and to boys. Specifically, I referred as I did at the beginning of the year and indeed in previous years, to the fact that if they are in possession of or test positive for cannabis/THC or other illegal drugs, they must expect to leave the school. Anything that parents can do in conversation with boys to complement this can only lead to positive outcomes for your sons as we have recently had several depart from Michaelhouse as a result of testing positive for cannabis/THC.

I referred to other serious disciplinary matters, too, for which boys have had to leave the school over the past year, including bullying, and challenged them to stick to the rules, to be disciplined and self-disciplined. Secondly, I believe Michaelhouse boys behave well and have good manners on the whole, but this must never be taken for granted. I spoke of the importance of their greeting adults as this is the Michaelhouse way, and of understanding how the context of what they may say alters when in the company of adults, as opposed to their friends. Once people have lost their manners, they are gone forever. Again, parental support in respect of this approach is hugely appreciated and valued as we strive to implement the highest standards of conduct.

On another topic, the boys were privileged to hear one of our grandparents, Dr Solomon Lefakane, now well into his eighties, tell his life’s story on Monday evening and Tuesday morning. Growing up in Kliptown, Soweto, in the 1930s, Dr Lefakane studied before loadshedding was even a consideration with candles at night and became the first black Civil Engineer in South Africa. After leaving Wits University, he went on a scholarship to Stanford University in the United States, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, before turning to his first love, medicine. Graduating from the University of Arizona as a doctor, he returned to South Africa at the height of the 1976 uprisings and, within time, specialised as a paediatrician. Dr Lefakane has recently been awarded a Baobab Silver Award by President Cyril Ramaphosa for his contribution to Civil Engineering in South Africa.

A biography depicting the life of Dr Lefakane will be published next year and his message is that, with courage and determination, anything is possible. We thank him for giving of his time and inspiring our boys as he did.

Last week, I introduced the topic of left-handedness and referred to some famous left handers and their impact on society. Only 10% of the world’s population through the ages has been principally left-handed (some of them have been ambidextrous too) and I have been interested in the various studies that have been done on the nature of left-handers and the specific qualities which left-handers may have.

Ed Wright in A Left-Handed History of the World has been my principal source in trying to unravel differences which may exist between left-handers and the majority of the people in the world. He says, “Left-handers have to adapt and learn how to operate in a right-handed world” and that because the world does “not quite fit them”, “a left-hander is innately an agent of change” (p12). Wright lists a number of qualities which are enhanced in left-handers “to a prodigious extent” even though many right-handers may also have many of these traits or qualities.  These qualities include:

• Lateral thinking: Because the brains of left-handers are wired differently, they can easily make unorthodox connections. For example, Sir Isaac Newton could visualise the general movement of heavenly bodies in the action of an apple falling off a tree.

• Intuition: This entails the ability to penetrate to the core of a question and come up with a workable solution; for example, Alexander the Great could look at his men’s leather tents and transform them into a flotilla of rafts enabling them to cross a river and conquer an enemy.

• Empathy: A comedian such as Charlie Chaplin was able to understand others and establish a trend of comedy in his era. (Perhaps our approach to comedy has changed dramatically, but he operated in an era in which the creation of film was recent.)

• Visual-Spatial Ability: There are many artists who are left-handed. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael amongst others have demonstrated that capacity to draw and the flair for depicting a particular scene before them.

• Teaching Oneself: Marie Curie preferred experimentation to theory and was able to discover the radioactive element, radium, through conducting multiple experiments in two different scientific fields which led to her learning and to her achieving Nobel Prizes in both Physics and Chemistry.

• Experimentation: Left-handers are often able to adopt a “what if” approach and try things out. Alan Turing was one of the principal mathematicians in charge of the breaking of the Enigma Code in the Second World War and, in effect, much of his work led to the creation of the computer.

• Fantasising: These left-handers can often make the seemingly impossible come true. Bill Gates, for example, was the first to see the importance of software as opposed to hardware and bundle technology into commercially savvy packages, according to Wright.

• Ability to Work Alone: Again, Michelangelo is an example of a person who painted more than four hundred life sized figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in just over four years and in an area of 465m2. He had completed his task by the time he was 37 and regarded himself as a old man at that stage as he was so exhausted. Often people who like individual sports such as cross country, fencing or tennis are left-handers. Perhaps padel players too?

There is no intention of indicating that because one is left-handed, one will automatically have the qualities listed above, but it does seem that left-handers may be “wired” slightly differently and that some of these qualities may be enhanced in some of them. In any event, it is, to me, an interesting idea.

To read the full Rector’s eNews click here

Copyright © 2023 Michaelhouse. All rights reserved.