CEDAR HOUSE CELEBRATION

2016

Principal’s Address

Good evening to this extraordinary community.

A very warm welcome to our annual attempt to note and celebrate the substance and enduring impact of a South African school that is engaging, honestly and bravely, with the complex journey and responsibilities that face young South Africans. At Cedar House, we do not believe that idealism is a swear word, that idealism is the same as naivety, that it is not possible to combine joyfulness, lightness of being and an embracing of youth culture with deep thinking, powerful academic rigour and grappling, in a mindful way, with complexity and difference and disruption. The School we are celebrating is wholeheartedly committed to developing each member of our community in ways that make it less possible to be trapped in rigidity or meanness or smallness. The Victorian poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, got it, close to 200 years ago, when he celebrated the practice of wandering, searching and journeying in his celebrated poem, “Ulysses”.  Cedar House will not stop, an I quote, “rest[ing] from travel”, “roaming with hungry heart”, shin[ing] in use”, “sail[ing] beyond the sunset”, “striv[ing], seek[ing], find[ing] and not yield[ing]”. I hope that what you see and hear today will illuminate our commitment to these ideals and will leave you with a glimpse of the gold that is our intent, our student and staff body and the gold that informs our values.

I’d like to speak a little about how notions of power play themselves out in our vision. It is nuanced and it is a challenge to lead but its purpose is worthy of celebration, I think. We challenge traditional school practice of authoritarian relationships that research shows, over and over again, shuts down learning and growth, by being adamant about using first names and putting authentic, safe relationships between peers and between educators and students at the heart of our mission. Staff have enormous freedom in terms of curriculum design, students’ level of choice and their access to being heard and being taken seriously, are core. The resultant level of respectfulness and human safety, as well as heightened human agency, are significant and transformational. I celebrate how our students respect the subtleties of this approach, how they, for example, live out the reality that freedom of speech cannot be used to hurt, how community and public interest always need to conquer thoughtless and divisive words. As Adam Haupt from UCT recently argued, freedom of speech cannot be used to honour racism or islamophobia or anti-Semitism or any form of human crushing. And our students know this and they try to live with this growing awareness every day. In a talk to our students, Uhuru Phalafala who lectures English at the University of Cape Town, spoke about the importance of thinking about the need to be responsible in our freedom, to think about how to be responsibly free. I think our students do just that and, so often, they do it so well.

A few of our Junior and Senior Stage students will now give you a sense of what I mean.

This image from the August edition of The New Yorker says it all. It’s entitled “diving under the waves” and this is what worthy of celebration about Cedar House: the active pursuit of reaching beyond the chaos of the world, the seemingly disastrous nature of contemporary politics, screaming headlines and divisions and desires to hurt, and rather, in the face of this, to dive, to find new ways of connecting, hoping and reaching out, to believe in the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock in The Great Gatsby and to continue, always, to find new colours, shapes and ways of being within our interconnected communities.  In this way, our students won’t just be able to cope with change but they might even look forward to it.

In 1952, Ralph Ellison established himself as the creator of definitive African-American fiction when he wrote Invisible Man. The opening paragraph will be read by some of our Grade 12s. It speaks to our School’s mission to delete feelings of disempowered invisibility from our students, to personalize our students’ engagement with their learning and with the adults in our community and, very importantly, to strengthen the growth of a wise and thinking self. There is simply no doubt that when you try and do this in a School, when you are absolutely adamant about the power of respectful relationships, when you buy Julian Barnes’s notion, in his novel, The Noise of Time, that “rudeness and tyranny are closely connected”, then academic performance and personal flourishing are heightened.

Cedar House can never stop desiring to be fiercely independent. Blanche, in Tennessee Williams’s incredible play, A Streetcar Named Desire, desires to get on a rocket, go up into the sky and never come down. It is a terribly destructive desire that is not what we want for our students. I want them to desire engaging with what is around them in a fearless way, with the reality of the world under their feet as they walk from campus to campus, with a voice that is considered and not consumed by Adam Habib (Wits VC’s) notion of the politics of rage or the middle class temptation to hide behind walls and avoid getting our hands dirty. Our hands need to be dirty with the difficulties of the fragilities of our personal humanities, our city, our country and our world. They need to be dirty with Martin Luther King’s challenge to us to accept the inescapable network of our mutuality, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. In the words of an article about a School in Berlin that has turned traditional schooling upside down, Cedar House must continue revelling in being a speedboat that whizzes around the tanker of centralized, traditional state education systems and irritates that tanker. We need to protect this approach while at the same time being sincerely committed to the often-deleted- by-schools’ responsibility to nation building and peace. Our parents’ continued support of this mission is key and our gratitude to them and for this will be noted later.

 

Choice is endemic to our culture but we make social action and a commitment to social justice compulsory. Certain aspects are not compulsory, extra mural participation is not compulsory, having a certain hairstyle is not compulsory; engaging with difference, overwhelming levels of polarization between people, suffering and otherness is, grappling with the statistic that shows that the world’s 6 richest nations only house 9% of refugees, is; I am deeply grateful to our super groups for what they have made possible for our students this year, for their support of what Judge Kate Savage said in a powerful assembly she addressed earlier this year when she argued that we all had to try and actively live an agenda that wants to see transformation. They will give you a sense of their work now.

Khalifah and Angus have created and led our diversity discourse initiative this year and it gives me great pleasure, now, to ask them to, on this public platform, share our new Cedar House pledge, a statement of enormous civil courage.

Our Trust led by Brent, work voluntarily to oversee our School and provide a service that is truly appreciated. The executive roles that Benita, Gail, Debbie and Janine have played this year have been formidable and I a very grateful to them. Janine is retiring at the end of this year and her passion in holding the Prep School has been enormously appreciated.

School’s heads of department grapple with innovation and creativity in a way that is sincerely valued. Our Group Heads have driven a student mentorship programme of note. My assistant, Cathy, keeps insane days sane and I am eternally grateful. Maryanne, assisted by Bealah, work tirelessly to ensure that our School is financially secure and that we can use our non-profit status and our complete dependence on school fees to ensure continuous upgrading and a mature fiscal policy. Michele manages admissions with aplomb that is beyond words.

The Cedar House staff is exceptional and it is a daily privilege to work with them. They are reinventing what teachers offer school children and I admire and appreciate their efforts more than words could ever articulate. They are creating something of scale and deserve our gratitude. Our support staff, too, are a central and loved part of our community.

When Marlene bade our staff farewell earlier this term, one of the things she noted, was how fantastic our parent body is. I concur. What a parent body: trusting, committed to innovation, fair and always supportive. This parent body is one of the reasons I love my job and I thank each of you very sincerely indeed.

Our student body … I absolutely love working with you, I love every interaction I have with you and my regard for you and your goodness is a daily inspiration. Thank you, Cedar House student body, for being the most generous, most thoughtful and most spirited students any Principal could ever hope to work with and lead. This year’s student leaders, led so ably by Nic and Neo, have role modelled a level of student leadership that has been an inspiration to us all.

Debbie, Kim, Jaidan and Sarah are a family of never ending light and love.

I would like to conclude with two things:

1. Let us never forget the verbs in the preamble to South Africa’s constitution: RECOGNISE, HONOUR, SUFFERED, RESPECT, BUILD, DEVELOP, BELIEVE BELONGS, UNITED, HEAL, ESTABLISH, PROTECTED, IMPROVE, BLESS

2. And, finally, we move from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at the beginning of this speech, to the formidable ex-Editor of City Press, Ferial Haffajee, who inspired us all at an assembly earlier this year. Today is a celebratory thank you to everyone here for making possible a School that Haffajee describes as a “magical school [that] felt like a hot-house for young souls”.

Thank you

Frank Rumboll

Principal

Cedar House School

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Celebration 2015 – Frank’s Speech

Good evening everyone.

It is with a true sense of joy and respect for this very big small School that I celebrate Cedar House today.

The obvious start would be to list some highlights and to quote Jonathan Jansen who, in the national press, after a visit, described us as South Africa’s most amazing School. That, and the list, are gratifying for all of us, but, more importantly, I am going to try and give you a sense of the educational pictures we are trying to paint and the pictures we hope to see more of in the future. To strengthen “school as an experience” requires constant looking forward, redefining, recreating and regeneration. The following truth by William Shakespeare should be at the heart of what Schools see themselves as tasked with facilitating: “we know what we are, but know not what we may be”.

It is difficult to take on the centre of South African schooling pictures, a centre that still values, to a large extent, standardized and sometimes demeaning versions of a schooling experience, a version that demands passivity and does not always lead to growth. Every student sitting here this evening has had some degree of a relationship with flourishing and that has happened because of Cedar House’s devotion to hearing young people, to exposing young people to big questions about themselves, their relationship with learning and with the world. We are often asked how we balance warmth, a complete rejection of pettiness and the non-enduring smallness of the focus of many traditional schooling approaches, authentic, non-hierarchical connectedness between students and adults, how we balance all of this with a rigorous academic programme where deep thinking, respect and effort are key expectations. You can and we celebrate, this evening, that we have. Nothing beats a combination of high expectations and love. Nothing beats an unconditional demand for all of us to be able to express our full dignity as human beings, a vision noted by Crain Soudien.

Young people in the 21st century face some terrifying challenges: an increasingly competitive tertiary sector and job market, an increasingly angry, inequitable and polarised world, complex questions about living in South Africa and what this means. The last things these challenges need, are unthinking citizens, lazy reactions and crossness. It is only through generosity of energy and care and a devotion to creating, with others, something bigger than ourselves that our children can move forward and tonight we can celebrate a School that is exposing young people to these dispositions and attitudes.

DISPOSITION GROUPS

The opportunity to work with leaders of the Finnish educational model, earlier this year, was inspiring. Their definition of a successful School argues that the extent of success is matched to the evidence of student voice and social justice initiatives, the latter being about equity which they define as fairness and choice. We need to continue holding onto these definitions, doing all we can as a community of teachers, parents and students, to strengthen our commitment to designing a community of care, a spirited community of thinking people because then we are giving young people the best life chances possible and a space to achieve to and beyond potential, in terms of academic performance and human flourishing. Kate O’Regan (former Judge of the Constitutional Court): “constitutional democracy can’t be a project about me, it’s got to be about us…empathy and really trying to see others are key…we knew it would never be an easy task”. Every one of us must try to entrench the spirit and substance of our constitution. A way of doing this is to forge deep relations of solidarity. I want our students to know that humility is good; being timid isn’t.

SSJ presentation

We celebrate a School today where ideas are never murdered, where exploring the freedom we all have to be and become is sacrosanct, where a deep respect for childhood and adolescence prevails and where we attempt to infuse our decisions with a spirit of justice. The South African education context (an assessment system which is dominated by an oppressive, creativity-destroying examinations system and a tertiary sector that does not consider the whole child, but rather 7 simple numbers, when making admissions decisions) does not help and is in many ways undermining of what we want our students to experience; we must continue courageously managing and courageously leading a balancing act through this tension. With this attitude, I believe, our chances of leading and developing the wholeness of a young person, getting to the concealed parts of the kid-as-iceberg (kids can be ice bergs…you are sometimes shown very little at the outset), will be strengthened.

Chimamanda Adichie is an acclaimed Nigerian novelist who has developed a theory about the danger of a single story. “Life” can so easily be seen as a single story told by the powerful and swallowed unquestioningly by those less powerful. We want for our students a capacity to write their own stories, to resist scripts that do not feel just or worthy, to be equipped for the challenge of rewriting scripts and then to have the guts to own their texts. Being a slave to a single story or to an incapacity to rewrite scripts does diminish our life chances. This is why, for example, we need to drive a new story that includes greater student and staff diversity.

Professor Njabulo Ndebele wrote a text entitled, Fine Lines From the Box; it made me think of the community we are celebrating today because we are forced to operate from a box, from a system, but we are drawing lines out of that box, too, and we are resisting the box, too. Staying safely and firmly within what we know is comforting and predictable, but it impedes progress, it impedes bigness and it restricts us to simple onlooking status. In our country which is facing such devastatingly difficult challenges, how can our children ever move from colourness to humanness, from Sandton to Soweto, from narcissistic self-preservation to embracing the progress of everyone’s progress, to openness to otherness, to literally reimagining our country without brave moves far away from the system’s constraints?

To lead a School community that understands that people and relationships matter much more than things is a true privilege. Many of us were inspired by Wits VC, Adam Habib’s, address to our community earlier this year where he praised Cedar House as an example of an independent School that was devoted to much more than reproducing inequality and space to retreat from the world’s realities. He referred to the key importance of attributes such as grit, hope, desire for something bigger, safer and fairer; he urged us to be committed, first and foremost, to developing citizens of the 21st century who are comfortable to engage with difference and whose greatest interest is in the creation of a new, collective and common humanity.

My sincerest thanks to our Parent Body whose support is unparalleled, our Guest of Honour, Brian Jacoby, who retired this year and has given his all to our School, our Trust who voluntarily oversee our School, chaired so wisely by Brent, to my management team (Benita, Gail, Debbie, Janine and Marlene) who co-lead this School with a deep love for all it is trying to mean, to our Group Heads and to my Staff who role model the very best about teaching and learning, who care about the right things, who combine joyfulness and rigour so beautifully. Debbie, Kim, Jaidan and Sarah are a family of dreams and love; I feel so blessed. My student body…you just rock and roll every day and it is an utter joy to work with you. Thank YOU for being, hearing, becoming and doing so much.

In conclusion…Cecil Day Lewis was a British poet laureate, educated at Oxford, taught at Cambridge and Harvard, and from these powerful centres, he created astonishingly powerful pictures of living and being.

“A Time to Dance”

Thank you for the dance and may the Cedar House dance shine for a very long time.

Frank Rumboll
Principal
Cedar House, September 2015

2016 Student Leaders

Congratulations to our newly elected Student Leaders for 2016!

  • Nic Costello (Head Boy)
  • Neo Mbabama (Head Girl)
  • Yusiry Abrahams
  • Chris Cunningham
  • Dom de Villiers
  • Daniel Dippenaar
  • River Edwards
  • Dominique James
  • Cyla Jones
  • Isabel Karpierz
  • Luc Maskell
  • Lucas Nowicki
  • Miguel Robinson
  • Nicholas Richard
  • Sarah Rumboll
  • Luke Stammers
  • Thyme Stidworthy
  • Olivia Welte

We wish them all the best for the coming year!

Jonathan Jansen – Thinking outside the rules

Jonathan Jansen - Thinking outside the rules
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Farewell Cedar House Prep Grade 7 Class of 2014!

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John Gulla Celebration Address

Good evening to the greater Cedar House community. I’m honored and humbled to have been asked to address you on this special occasion. When your Principal, Mr. Rumboll, Frank, invited me to be a part of this Evening of Celebration, I wanted to say yes if I found I could possibly make the date work on my calendar. I very much wanted a chance to come back to spend time at Cedar House and see Frank and Debbie and Benita and Gail and Corrine and Hazel and that rookie American teacher who occupies such a special place in my heart. So once I was able to adjust my other commitments to clear the dates, I jumped at the opportunity and told Frank yes! Of course I’d come. Then the mathematician in me began to perform a few quick calculations. Frank suggested I consider a talk of approximately 5 to 10 minutes in length. Even at the long end of this range, I realized that at a ratio of talk time to travel time of about 1:300, this will set a new personal record for me, one that is likely to last a lifetime.

I begin this evening with a reflection on the notion of chance, randomness, serendipity, kismet. About 5 years ago, when I was the Head of School at Blake, I’d applied and was accepted to participate in a two week fellowship for headmasters at the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York. Teachers College is where I’d earned my Masters Degree and it was, for 26 years, the university home of John Dewey, perhaps the greatest progressive educator of the modern age. One of the other fellows in this program was Frank Rumboll (along with Randall Dunn, then at Roper, now at Chicago Latin, and Carolyn Chandler of Metairie Park – both of whom are also friends of Cedar House, and known, as well, I believe, to some of you). Clearly your Mr. Rumboll had partnerships on his mind when he first came to Columbia and Frank and I agreed to a Cedar House/Blake School exchange. When Blake first visited Cape Town and Cedar House, my wife, Andrea, and I accompanied the group and we fell in love with the city of Cape Town and with the community that is Cedar House. During the reciprocal visit that spring, our son, Ben, met Frank and his family and seeds were then sown that germinated over the next few years and have resulted in Ben becoming a teacher here at Cedar House.

 

I can’t help but marvel at the reminder that stories such as this provide me about that which happens but that is really out of our control. For all of our thoughtfulness, for all of our careful planning, for all of our intentionality, it is the element of chance, the randomness of our adventure in this world that is our life or, if you prefer, what happens under the watchful eye of Providence, that so often introduces into our lives great opportunities, great happiness and great loves. We went to that party by chance and there met for the first time our life-long love and partner. It was that beat of the butterfly wing that gave rise to the weather system that became the season of our happiness.

 

Cedar House is, to use your own words, “education for our time.” Yours is a “proudly progressive” school. This idea gives rise to the second point I’ll touch on tonight. What is progressive education? What is this somewhat hard to define concept that was the life work of John Dewey, which indirectly sparked the chance that led me to meet Frank, resulting in my being here today? What is this philosophy of education that provides such a profound platform for the good and important work at that takes place at Cedar House? What is progressive education? It turns out progressive education has many different definitions to many different people but there are some common precepts. I’ll start by telling you what it is not. In his 1854 novel Hard Times, Charles Dickens begins with the words of his perfectly named character, Thomas Gradgrind, a middle-class businessman and owner of a school, a school that horrified Dickens as it should us. The novel begins:

 

“Now what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children and this the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to facts, sir!”

 

This is about as close to the exact opposite a description of progressive education as you can find in literature. This was Dickens in 1854 reflecting a world he knew in London 160 years ago but the specter of such misinformed approaches to education still threatens us today.

 

Jump ahead 100 years. Seamus Deane, the Irish poet and novelist, was born in Derry Northern Ireland and raised in a devout Catholic family. In his first novel, Reading in the Dark, he described his 1951 math class as follows:

 

Every morning at nine sharp, the master rushed into the room his cape swaying, his face reddened as if in anger, his features oddly calm. We would be ready with the thick tome of algebra open at the right page and as many questions as possible prepared in advance. He spoke nasally but smilingly. He had tight curls and glasses but for the redness, he could have looked harmless. His name was Gildea.

He sat at the high desk, raised on a platform above the class. He lifted his chin, closed his eyes and chanted:

“Mental Algebra. Ground Rules. Well-known but must be repeated, first for the sake of the brain-dead and the memory-less, who are in the usual staggering majority; second as a warning to those more fortunately endowed, but who take a litigant’s pleasure in claiming that they have not been told, that they do not know, that the rules are not clear. I lie awake at night imagining for those creatures a suitable punishment, yet have failed. Does this bespeak in me a failure of imagination or in them an unanswerable corruption? You may answer the question, McConnelly.”

“I’m afraid I cannot Father,” replied McConnelly automatically.

This was routine.

“Your sorrow is touching. Perhaps you do not realize the importance of the question. Harkin, be so good as to inform McConnelly what a litigant is.”

“A litigant is a person who creates disturbances by abuse of the rule of law, Father.”

“Do you agree with that superb definition, McConnelly?”

“Absolutely, Father.”

“You are not litigious, McConnelly, are you?

“No, Father.”

“I shall test you in that statement. Are you more literate or numerate as a consequence of my loving care, five times a week, forty minutes per time, Mr. McConnelly?”

“I am equally blessed in both respects, Father.”

“Would you say that McConnelly will go far, Heaney?”

“I would, Father.”

“Under what conditions would you say so, Heaney?”

“Under the conditions imposed by the question, Father.”

“Are you conversant with these conditions, Duffy?”

“I am, Father.”

“What’s your name, Duffy?”

“Duffy, Father.”

“Glad to hear it.”

 

This 1950s math class of Seamus Deane, like Thomas Gradgrind’s fact-base approach, is also not progressive education. Ok, this is what progressive education is NOT. What, then, is progressive education?

 

It is what you see going on every day at Cedar House. It is an educational philosophy rooted in a belief, according to Dewey, that education is not preparation for life but education is life itself. Progressive education reflects an approach that respects the individual child, that recognizes each child’s humanity, that strives to stoke the fires of each child’s innate curiosities because there is nothing more central, at least in my mind, to the philosophy of progressive education, than creating the desire to know, to understand. We all enter the world as insatiable learning machines programmed by millennia of our collective biological, evolutionary history to want to make sense of this world around us, to see patterns and seek truth and appreciate beauty and a progressive education is one that tries not to get in the way but to show the way, not to beat down or snuff out these natural curiosities but to set them loose and let them soar. I think progressive education is often misunderstood as lacking rigor or challenge or discipline but I believe this is a profound misunderstanding. Progressive education recognizes, and I mean this in a non-sectarian sense, the sanctity of the child and the scared responsibility of those entrusted with the education of the young to create a desire to know, to understand, to appreciate and to act on that knowledge, to do something with that understanding and give voice to that appreciation.

 

Progressive education believes every child can learn and has greatness within, that every child learns differently which requires successful teachers to teach in multiple manners and that a school should attend to the whole child, intellect and character. Progressive education is experiential; it should be active. Progressive education involves learning by doing. It is oriented toward solving problems, thinking critically and often involves work in groups. Progressive education believes that teachers should know each child’s unique interests and incorporate this knowledge into the approach taken with that child. Maybe, and most importantly to me, it conceives of education as something that is a lifelong pursuit. Progressive educators believe in the importance of intrinsic motivation. By intrinsic motivation I mean a desire to know for its own sake, a sense of accomplishment, the importance of curiosity, the sense of community. Progressive educators believe that intrinsic motivation is purer, more powerful, more effective and longer-lasting than extrinsic motivation such as grades, scores, and awards. I mentioned John Dewey earlier and he was, perhaps, as I suggested, the greatest theorist of progressive education in the 20th century, but he built on ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like Locke and Rousseau. Dickens’ Thomas Gradgrind is the antithesis of Rousseau’s 1762 Emile. When I was a grad student at Teachers College, Columbia University, where I first met Frank, I had a professor, a mentor, my advisor, Dr. Maxine Greene. Maxine Greene may have been the best read person I’d ever had the privilege of knowing and calling a friend. She had a thick Brooklyn accent, was a proud existentialist and a progressive educator of the highest order. She helped me understand that at the heart of progressive education, I’d say at the heart of all liberal arts education, is the ability such an education gives one to see things as if they could be otherwise. To see things as if they could be otherwise.

 

My current work provides me the chance to visit 75-100 schools per year, schools all around the United States, schools seeking funding for a variety of projects, schools in California, Maine, Alabama, Texas and Oregon. My visits are a source of great hope for me because I meet many people doing good work in many different types of schools. Not all are schools that could be considered progressive but I visit many that are. But, though very hopeful, I am also cautious and urge us all to be vigilant. As the Minnesotan, Thomas Friedman, so prominently proclaimed, our world has grown flatter. As the French economist Piketty suggests, income inequality may be the inevitable result of unrestrained market capitalism. Education cannot be seen solely as preparation for a life of economic productivity any more than parenthood can be reduced to the same goal. We don’t have children to produce workers but as the most sublime manifestation of our most basic biological instincts. Children are a reflection of our humanity and our chance for a better future. A future we cannot, by definition, know. A future no one can accurately predict, though many try. A future that seems fraught with environmental, economic and political challenges and no matter your perspective, your politics, your world view, it is hard not to see education as central to any and all solutions to our collective challenges.

 

Education, and what I think of as a liberal arts education, what I think of as progressive education, seems to me both a privilege and a necessity. I believe every child should come to know, as Matthew Arnold put it, the best that has been written and said, every child should know art and history and science and a culture other than his or her own. Specialization, professional training, best come later, with maturation, once the child has become an adult and can truly choose for him or herself.

 

I worry often of the risks of premature and wide-spread specialization in education. It was what concerned C.P Snow, the Oxford master in his famous essay of 1956, “The Two Cultures”. He warned us that scientists and humanists were growing so specialized that they could not even talk with each other. He gave a great example. He said that for someone to proclaim to be well-educated but to never have heard of Shakespeare was the equivalent of not knowing the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as central a principle governing our physical universe as exists. Yet few would admit to never having heard of Shakespeare but most roll their eyes at the mere notion of entropy.

 

So to Cedar House I sing the song of the great poet from my current hometown of Brooklyn, Walt Whitman, “let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.” To this great school in this great city in this great country that has given the world so much hope in the modern age – from the fields of cardiac surgery, to the literature of Coetzee and the recently deceased Gordimer, to the beauties of your landscape, to the idealism of your recent constitution and the lessons your revered and now departed Mandela taught the world, to all in the Cedar House community on this Evening of Celebration, I bring you greetings educational and good wishes from your counterparts in the U.S. I wish you all good things in your studies, guided as you are by such idealistic, progressive, educational principles, and I hold for you a fervent hope that the subtle role of chance in your lives may result in friendships such as those my son, my family and I have found in Cedar House.

 

Frank Rumboll Celebration Address

Good evening, everybody, and welcome to our celebration of our students and our School.

 

While Cedar House has, this year, made building and space progress, our attention has always been more firmly focused on what sort of institution we would like to be rather than on what sort of building we would like to occupy. 2014 has been characterized by an aligned effort to create an institution that is equipped to generate high levels of growth, of flourishing, of thinking and of awareness. It is such a cliché to claim that a School wants to grow and hear the whole child and, yet, the Staff and I, today, can confidently note that whole people are being developed through the Cedar House approach, that it would be very unusual if a young person matriculated from our School and did not have a relatively high degree of independence, sensitivity to those around her and an intrinsic commitment to strengthening South Africa and the world. The students in this auditorium have been on a splendid educational journey this year. If a School is honestly devoted to building bigness of thinking and bigness of being, if it can be counter cultural successfully, it deserves to be celebrated. Because I know that I could ask any student, sitting in front of me this evening, to join me on this stage now and describe an academic, social or personal area of developed bigness, and I know that he would be able to talk with considerable conviction about it, this community deserves celebration.

 

We believe, at Cedar House, that academic development emerges more strongly from a system that privileges child development. It is not easy or simple to choose to design, every day, a school system that is unusual and non-norm, that privileges joyfulness, that validates student voice, that is challenging traditional school systems, that constantly reflects and is open to reinventing itself. But this challenge is a necessary one. In the context of a country where historical and contemporary socio-political fault lines make living here complicated, where it is tempting for the State to focus on basics, on only getting ordinariness right and, often, out of necessity, focusing primarily on lowest common denominator stuff, where our city’s premier University only judges a child’s potential tertiary quality via the quality of matric results, it is critical that there are open, flexible, ‘with it’ independent institutions that set the bar higher and wider, that call attention to innovation, that insist on excellence and the very highest possible expectations. And then, the trick is to validate, equally, the highest possible expectations and the highest possible levels of love and relationship-building. While getting this absolutely right will always be a dream, it is the level and largeness of our commitment to this balance that is worthy of celebration. Maybe idealism is the only way to move forward.

 

If children can leave School, one day, with an actualized, informed, mindful and progressive voice, they have the capacity to transform the world. If we can assist to transform young people from being worriers with an “o” into warriors with an “a” then we are helping to make the future brighter. If we can create opportunities for young people to observe as much as possible and to ask as many big questions as possible, then our chances of sending out into the world creative people who might be able to address the myriad of what needs addressing, will be stronger. I agree with Jonathan Jansen that “schools might not be the best places in which to obtain an education” and we will continue trying to challenge this to ensure, partly at least, that at our School an education, in the broadest sense, can be obtained. Similarly, and while not compromising our students’ access to tertiary study, we will continue fighting, alongside our Independent Examinations Board, the extremely limiting perspective of South Africa’s premier universities that distinctive performance is simply about marks as opposed to distinctions in things like the capacity for care, courage, commitment, racial, sexual, class and gender justice, humility, integrity and so on. If a student understands this injunction from the great 20th century American author and Nobel Prize winner, William Faulkner, that student is distinctive…the end. This is an extract from his acceptance speech:

 

“My work has been in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before…”

 

Cedar House students do have a relationship with learning, unlearning and relearning.

 

I would, now, like to ask a range of students, from Grade 4 to Matric, to share their voices briefly with you. Our Junior Stage students will say something about becoming, our Senior Stage students will link their declamations to Science and chaos theory, our Grade 10s will talk to our newly created dispositions, officially launched this evening, and some of our Grade 11 and12s will draw on their study of Hawthorne and Hardy’s classic 19th century texts, The Scarlet Letter and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Students’ presentations will conclude with some of our Grade 11 students describing the launch of their initiative for a future Cedar House vision. While participating students move to the front, we will share with you a collage of some Cedar House moments. Enjoy.

 

KIDS PRESENT

 

I’d like, in conclusion, to draw on a text I read recently that I found to be inspirational. It is a biography of Rick Turner, an anti-apartheid activist who was murdered by security forces in the 1970s. To this day, no one has acknowledged a role in his murder. He devoted his life to a principled opposition to the established political order and while doing his PhD at the Sorbonne, in Paris, he began to understand profound things about choice. He believed, and I quote, that, “You can either be cowed or you can choose to be free”. Speaking at their father’s funeral, his daughters quoted Martin Luther King’s view that, “A person dies when s/he refuses to stand up for that which is right, when s/he refuses to stand up to that which is true”. The University lecturer Turner appealed to young South Africans to think, in a hard way, about their values and about the sort of society they wanted to be a part of creating, about what it meant to be alive. Rather than education being a way to confine thinking, a rehearsal for future roles as conservative elements in the functioning of often unfair systems, Turner envisaged education as an experience that could be emancipatory, as a way to imagine a future, more liberated society. Trying to assist young people to be self-fulfilled, he argued, is more enduring and powerful than simply trying to train them to be able to function within predetermined cogs and systems, inherited from received wisdom. He urged his students to concentrate on people and on relationships; a focus on things makes you a slave, he argued. Influenced by his study of Sartre, he acknowledged that freedom is essentially difficult; it is not something that can simply be guaranteed by a declaration of human rights. It is hard work and requires hard thinking as well as a comfort with error, with mistakes. I wish this type of freedom for our students and our community.

 

I feel such intense levels of gratitude to so many people.

 

  • John, your being here represents so much
  • Our Trust, and particularly our Chairman, Brent, oversee and guide our School in enormously appreciated ways, and all voluntarily
  • Our parent body provides this community with a momentum to carry on creating. It is a strong and thinking group of people and it is a daily privilege to serve you
  • Student body: engaged, supportive, ‘with it’ and energized. If Mahatma Ghandi is right that “our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization”, then Cedar House students are civilized indeed!
  • Maryanne, Michele, Cathy, Keri, Didi and Bealah must be noted for how well they look after us administratively and in a range of other powerful ways
  • I need to thank our Staff. What a body of educators, re-creators, teachers towards freedom and givers. They provide our students with a richness of experience, of connection and of intellectual exploration second to none. Enduring and life-changing teacher-student relationships are not random. They emerge from huge effort, professional integrity, a desire to advocate for their students and reflection. When the world lost Maya Angelou earlier this year, an obituary in The Guardian described her as a “professional hopemonger”. That phrase made me think of our Staff.
  • Our Grade Heads, Priscilla, Laura, Mike, Tamsyn, JP and Hazel, have added considerable value to our mentoring programme and are to be sincerely thanked for this
  • Our management team, Benita, our Deputy Head who also looked after this evening’s proceedings, Gail, Debbie, Janine, who wholeheartedly leads our Prep School and Marlene, co-lead Cedar House with me in remarkably weighty, fervent and enduring ways, all underpinned by a great love for this community and our students
  • My family is a pillar of devotion and goodness. Debbie, Jaidan, Sarah and Q represent light and connection of indescribable depth

 

Thank you, all, for being here and for sharing in our noting, tonight, of a significant School. May thinking, re-thinking, joy, hope and freedom, in as many forms as possible, be your guiding lights.

 

Frank Rumboll

Principal

Cedar House

September 2014