An All Boys School Perspective
Q&A from Hennie Warnich (Paarl Boys Old Boy & MD: Alumnet)
What is unique about an all boys’ school?
Apart from the obvious, I truly believe there is something mystical and magical about all-boys schools. Something inexplicable is awoken when you get a bunch of young men aligned and focussed to a common, good cause in a disciplined manner. If I have to sum it up in one word, it would be ‘camaraderie’.
Is that also not true for all-girls and co-ed schools?
I cannot objectively comment on girls’ schools, because I have never attended one. My guess is however there is something similar, but not quite the same. If you look at successful alumni associations in South Africa, there is a clear indication that boys’ schools are the most successful, followed by girls’ schools and then co-ed schools. This shows me that something is different in the bond that is formed in boys’ schools and how it is nurtured to grow after school. There are theories that boys tend to be much more authentic in the absence of girls and vice versa so you get to see the real character of individuals. Saying all of that, I can fully understand that most people would prefer a co-ed environment for their kids. We are lucky to have many great co-ed schools to choose from in South Africa.
How important is tradition?
I am a bit of a traditionalist, so very difficult to be objective on the topic. I believe everybody thrives in an environment where they feel they can be themselves whilst experiencing a sense of belonging. Tradition bonds us together through sharing and celebrating something that we have in common. Obviously, one should not keep traditions alive merely for the sake of tradition, but for the value it adds to education. Bad habits should never be confused with tradition.
What about after school networks – do you have secret handshakes?
To me the real dividends from going to an all-boys school are paid after school. The camaraderie, nostalgia and sense of belonging is kept alive long after you left school. This creates an environment where people organically connect and support each other. Those that do have unique handshakes or customs makes no secret thereof and it is all in jest and celebrating their traditions. There are no secret meetings with cloaks and daggers!
It seems like there is a special bond between all boys’ schools. Is that true?
For sure – I have made the best of friends from other boys’ schools. By visiting most boys’ schools in South Africa, I came to realise they all share 90% of the same DNA. I have attended dinners and functions at the likes of Grey College, Maritzburg College, Paul Roos, Rondebosch, SACS and Wynberg to name a few. If you close your eyes and listen to the speakers and the chatter in the room, you realise that all the schools celebrate and cherish the same things. The 10% that we differ is in the aura of the school that is all about the feeling, rather than what you see or hear. I felt it in Grey College’s hall, I felt it at Maritzburg College’s war memorial and I felt it when I saw the painting of Paul Roos up the sacred steps in their school building. At my alma mater, Paarl Boys’ High, I feel it standing under the big oak trees.
As I said in the beginning, it is almost mysterious and you can only truly appreciate it when you allow yourself to stand quiet in the shadows of the walls of these great institutions. Mr Tom Engela, a past headmaster of my alma mater Paarl Boys’ High, liked to quote Ralph Waldo Emmerson when he tried to describe the aura of our great school. Emmerson said: ‘I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.’
Any last words for fellow old boys currently dealing with the current lockdown?
It certainly is not easy and we are facing very uncertain times. It is however also a great time to reflect and appreciate all our privileges – which includes the privilege to attend a great school.
I recon we all had that one coach at halftime when you were down on the scoreboard that said in the huddle: ‘Boys, now is the time to dig deep and play for one another – we can do this!’