Upon the recommendation of my coach, I have recently read Caroline Goyder’s “Gravitas”.  In what is quite an expansive work, she articulates numerous examples and testimonies where individuals have demonstrated their “gravitas” – a quality that studies show is regarded as highly as any attribute a leader may possess. 

One specific example Goyder cites relates to the German Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck.  The story, which may be apocryphal, relates to Planck’s 1918 tour of European universities to lecture on his findings.  Apparently bored by the constantly consistent content of the lectures, Planck’s chauffeur for the tour quipped that he was now in as good a position as the eminent physicist to give the lecture, having heard it so many times it was now committed to memory verbatim.  Consequently, in Munich the lecture was presented by Planck’s chauffeur, with Planck himself on the front row wearing the chauffeur’s uniform and cap.  The lecture went well, until the question-and-answer session at the end.  Upon being asked a searching question about the contents of the lecture, Planck’s chauffeur allegedly chastised the questioner for asking something so mundane that “even my chauffeur could answer that”, and thus Planck himself – in the guise of the chauffeur – presented an answer to the question.

The purpose of the story in Goyder’s work was to illustrate the difference between true knowledge and understanding and “chauffeur learning”.  To attain a level of gravitas, Goyder argues that one must fulfil the requirements of the following formula:

Gravitas = knowledge + purpose + passion – anxiety

Our knowledge (or as the Greeks would describe, our logos) is from where our authority and stature begins.  Only when this is combined with a sense of purpose (our ethos) and passion (our pathos), and we suppress or manage our anxiety, do we act with gravitas.  The chauffeur’s superficiality was his undoing, and it was exposed when the “scripted” element of delivery was concluded. 

My eldest son began his teaching career this term.  I didn’t want to give him too much advice – after all, he has a head of department, a mentor and a whole team of staff at his school and his trust for that – but I did advise him to always make sure that he as the teacher adds value to the learning experience of the students.  The textbook, the online package are the equivalent of Planck’s lecture.  Anyone can instruct the students to open the text, or log on.  But only someone with “Planck learning” not “chauffeur learning” can satisfy the curious questioner, or stretch the most able.  Here, the role of the teacher in the learning process should always be secure. 

One of John  Taylor MAT’s core values is “to keep the main thing the main thing” – and here we’re reminded that it is the knowledge to be instilled, which has to emanate from a credible and reliable source, that is so important to our schools and their children.

The above sentiment is not lost outside education either.  Elon Musk apparently asks candidates for employment to explain how they solved a problem that they highlighted in their application: 

“If someone was really the person that solved it, they will be able to answer at multiple levels — they will be able to go down to the brass tacks. And if they weren’t, they’ll get stuck.”

Thanks, as always, for reading.