Killing Cats

The Head's Study

Aphorisms, like proverbs, are not such a feature of education any longer. I would generally decry anything that makes our language less rich and diverse but there is one saying I will not miss. As a child, between being reprimanded that whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad end (an intimidating and rather curious idea not to mention poor rhyme), I was also regularly reminded that curiosity killed the cat. Retorting that satisfaction brought it back was only acceptable when answering back to siblings and, even then, not for long.

Constant refrains of ‘why?’ were frowned upon. How different now when we actively encourage curiosity in our children and business gurus remind us always to ‘start with why’.

As I pause midway in our fortnight of admissions interviews to rest my decidedly stinging eyes, my heart sings with all the unexpected questions September’s Year 7 have been asking. There have been plenty of queries about getting lost on the first day, how many clubs one can do and the novelty of moving between classrooms and teachers (oh those heady pre-pandemic days). Equally, though, there have been more unusual discussions based on what exactly you would say to Alice when you met her in Wonderland, which Greek Gods you would rather not meet and why girls were not allowed to be scribes and learn hieroglyphics in Ancient Egypt.

How refreshing that curiosity is alive and well and that future generations have the imagination and love of learning to ensure that they continue to ask why for the right reasons.

Reflecting back on my childhood proverbs, I suspect teachers at my school found girls’ constant whistling around corridors rather subversive not to mention irritating. And as for ‘why…why…why?’, one only has to think of the brilliantly brattish rendition of Tim Minchin’s ‘Mathilda’ School Song to realise some forms of curiosity perhaps should not be encouraged.