“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”

It is difficult to find scientists from the past who capture the imagination as much as Albert Einstein (his quote leads this post); his renowned intelligence, his originality and his creativity set him above and apart from his peers, truly a genius of the last century.  In case you can’t list his achievements, here’s a quick synopsis:

  1. Created the heretical view that there was more to mechanics that Newtonian principles, leading to the idea that mass and energy can be equated though the e=mc2 stuff,
  2. Developed a modern understanding of what gravity is all about, supplying fodder for umpteen sci-fi authors such as spacetime and black holes, gravitational lenses, worm holes and stargates,
  3. Sorted out quantum theory, worked out how particles, molecules and photons did their thing, and largely explained the Universe as we know it.
  4. Invented a fridge with no moving parts, and created a unique hair&moustache style, iconic and recognisable to the present day.

It’s fair to say that some reckon Einstein had learning difficulties, though the jury seems to have set that idea aside in the light of his own mother’s pleasure that at the age of 7, little Albert was top of the class.  Given that he remained individualistic throughout his life, difficult and argumentative and other-wordly, I prefer the idea that Albert was the ultimate independent learner, and that this rebellious streak made him question the relative order of things wherever and whenever they arose. He was for example pretty quick to spot that Nazi Germany was not suited to high achieving jewish scientists such as he, emigrating as early as 1933.  As one of his professors said “You have one fault; one can’t tell you anything!” Apparently Einstein made a mess of one of his early jobs, as a teacher.  “Einstein’s ideas of minimum routine and minimum discipline were very different from the views of his employer.”
One of the lovely things about running a school which embraces difference in and breadth of ability is that all human life resides within, and that diversity sparks all sorts of new and creative happenings.  For those that do achieve through traditional means, sticking to conventional processes may deliver the goods, but my goodness it makes a dull diet.  As Ofsted’s research showed this last year, and restated by their Chief Inspector Michael Willshaw last month, schools are far too keen to accelerate children to early examination at secondary level with absolutely no long term benefits, outcomes that other researchers have highlighted for decades. As this week’s report from one of the leading independent school groups, HMC, makes clear, achieving A* grades at GCSE often means bright children have to dumb down their responses to fit the perceived right answers to win the grade.
I am delighted that from the ranks of those we teach, we have indeed encouraged artists, engineers and musicians, scientists of the microscopic, the rocket and outerspace in equal measure. Of course I am proud that we have filled the ranks of the professions, academic and medical, accounting and legal, but there is something much more rewarding to know that we have created an environment in which all can thrive and in their own way. That’s why we have not sat on our laurels, and this last 6 months or so expended so much effort to develop our curriculum to encourage enquiry and challenge yet further.  I can’t believe how extraordinarily supportive of such an approach are our cloud-based ‘hub’ and collaboration tools, as it has become so much easier to share and revise thoughts, ideas and propositions.
Since Einstein challenges us to think the impossible, that’s quite hard, but the absurd is actually rather easier, as I guess most know that children enjoy the wacky, non-sensical and preposterous.  So let’s continue to bring on our young scientists racing slugs and woodlice against toothbrush motors, to encourage coders to program and pen-test, to support authors and linguists to write and speak in different voices, and above all, support achievement for its own sake and in all of its guises. At a time when every single phase of the school curriculum is under review by this current government, I am delighted we choose to follow our own stars, happy in the knowledge that great figures of the past would thoroughly approve of our mission.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein 

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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