Friday, 28th April 2017
I once watched a film about two groups of people whose task it was to get to the top of a high mountain. One group was given a guide whose approach was perpetually encouraging; when the group started to flag she would paint a glorious picture of the top of the mountain and the triumphant feelings which would occur when it had been successfully arrived at. The other group were given, as their guide, a burly ex-marine whose approach was punitive – if they didn't get to the top they would have him to deal with. Towards the end of the programme, we were shown a picture of the summit of the mountain devoid of people. As the camera focussed on the rocky scene, we heard in the near distance, the sound of group of climbers being berated by a furious leader and, sure enough, the first group to appear was the one which had been abused by their commander. The group which had been encouraged were by this point feeling totally discouraged as they learnt that they had been pipped to the top by the group of latter day Amundsens. I remember feeling very disappointed by this programme as I had, until that moment, always believed that encouragement was a much better and more effective way to get people to do something than an approach which promoted fear. One of the most important novels of the 20th Century, "1984" by George Orwell has as its central theme, the power of fear to control the minds of a population. Quite contrary to any notion that people are able to retain an independence from an authority however dictatorial, Orwell put forward the deeply depressing view that if people are made truly frightened, they no longer retain the ability to act independently. In fact, he contended, people are able to be controlled completely through fear. "1984" is the starkest and most effective warning to us about the horrors of real dictatorship and the importance of liberal democracy.
Despite these two powerful examples, I do not believe that controlling people by means of fear is the best way to encourage obedience or achievement. I have noticed that the people who have achieved most in life have been those people who have been genuinely motivated to do something. In my experience, it has been love of an activity which has caused them to succeed in it. My son who most loves playing his musical instrument is the one who has made most rapid progress because he is always playing and I feel very strongly that our role as educators is to engender in our pupils a love for learning and other activities and it is from this that self-motivation will emerge. This motivation is also most likely to stay with someone throughout their lives and, indeed, one of the problems with the fear approach is that once the burly marines instructor has gone home or once the fear factor has been removed, then the motivation is no longer there whereas activities founded upon inherent enjoyment will remain ones which the person wishes to continue. Obviously a school needs to teach people about discipline, about those times when one would rather not go the extra mile because enjoyable activities have their rough moments or less captivating elements and there is nothing worse than flakiness. Nonetheless encouragement to persist in tasks about which people have been inspired is the best way to ensure both short term and life – long achievement.
I was thinking about all this yesterday when my youngest son was sitting in his bath, luxuriating in the warm water. Despite being instructed several times to get out, he refused. Now, one of his weaknesses is that he has a soft spot for one of his former teachers and he had written her an Easter card. I had in my bag a reply from her. "Henry," I said, "if you get out of your bath, I can give you a card from Miss Sibly!" Upon that instant, more swiftly than a crocodile leaping from the Nile to catch its prey, Henry was out of the bath. He was dried and changed before I had time to get the card out of the bag. Positive motivation is a far more powerful force than aggressive blandishment and it will be the one that will be our main motivating factor at CCCS.
Talking of enjoyment, the pupils seem to have loved the new playground which I hope that you will all come and admire in the next few days if you haven't already. It has provided a place for climbing and a surface upon which people can fall without injury. But it has also had the effect of creating a much larger space. Its first day was a huge success and I would like to thank the CCCSPA once again for their very generous donation to the project.
What a joy it is to be in Oxford at the beginning of the Trinity term. The centre of the City looks absolutely at its best – I hope you have received the termly calendar with its colourful array of cricket bats – I am looking forward tremendously to spending time on Merton Field watching our boys playing cricket surrounded by Oxford's dreaming spires. I look forward to seeing many of you there during the course of the term. The excitements start this evening with the mouth-watering Chamber Music Concert in the Cathedral at 8.00 pm where many of our pupils, teachers and parents will be playing alongside the Christ Church College Music Society – a ravishing thought. Do please come.
All best wishes for a tremendous term.