I’ve commented before, in earlier blogs, about the importance of the arts in our lives. It is an essential part of what we can share with our students as we educate mind, body and spirit. And it’s also important for us, as adults, to remember to feed our spirits by availing ourselves of the many opportunities available to experience artistic expression in all its forms.
I was reminded of all this last week, at our monthly SIP Parents’ Meeting, where the guest speakers were Sylvia Haynie and Laura Voss, who oversee much of what we do at Stratford in the arts – in particular, our outstanding drama program and our “Spirit of Stratford” Marching Band, among other things. Sylvia and Laura had much to report, and the timing was great: we were still experiencing, as a community, the “high” of our Drama Department’s staging of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was amazing. Sylvia Haynie always works magic with her stage productions, and Millie was no different. The acting, the singing, the dancing – all were tremendous. I especially enjoy how skillfully our theatre people always manage to weave into the casts students of all ages, including many who have never previously appeared on stage. Bravo!
For me, it has been a great month for the arts, not just at Stratford but in the Macon community in general. At our annual Retired Faculty Luncheon, we were treated to a performance by the Stratford Middle School Chorus. Upper School student Madelyn Pyles followed by belting out a couple of fabulous solos.
A number of Stratford students and teachers have been active in community theatre this year, including (but not restricted to) Madelyn Pyles and her sister Sarah, Meredith Fuchs, Grey Faulkner, Mrs. Kailey Rhodes-Hlavaty, and Mrs. Rachel Chabot. It is fun to see some of our own folks shining on local stages. And I love living in a town where community theatre is so active.
In addition, in the past month, I have been lucky enough to attend the excellent Macon Film Festival, two superb musical performances at Mercer University sponsored by the McDuffie Center for Strings, and an amazing concert by the Macon Symphony Orchestra last weekend. Topping it off for me, a couple of recent excursions to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the National Gallery of Art were wonderful experiences.
My spirit thus enriched, I am turning my attention to my body, trying to get in shape for a long hiking trip that my wife and I are planning for the summer. More about that in a future blog!
Like many people, I often use the phrase “take care” (or “take care of yourself”) as a form of goodbye at the end of a visit or a conversation with somebody. I have come to do this almost without thinking. I suppose I am as likely to say “take care” as I am to say “see you later”, without really thinking about the meaning of my words.
But in the context of the New Year just begun, I would like to take the literal meaning of that greeting and share it with the faithful readers of this blog. All of us who adopt New Year’s resolutions surely have these words in mind. Invariably, our resolutions have to do with taking better care of ourselves somehow. We want to lose weight, or we want to exercise more frequently. We resolve to actually eat those five servings of fruits and vegetables each day that we keep hearing about from our doctors. We resolve to consume fewer alcoholic beverages, or fewer chocolate bars, or fewer cups of coffee. We promise ourselves that we will buckle our seat belts every time we get into a car. In all of these ways, when we make our New Year’s resolutions we are resolving to “take care” or to “take care of ourselves”. So as you read this, try to check off a few of the above suggestions, with my best wishes.
And taking care of ourselves involves more than just exercise and diet. We need to pay attention to our state of mind and our emotional health. Here are a few more resolutions of mine that fall into that area: I resolve not to eat lunch at my desk. I resolve to get away from the computer screen and the telephone for a length of time every day and to get out and walk around campus and to interact with people. I resolve to count to ten before losing my temper or losing my patience. I resolve to practice some good stress-relief techniques such as stretching exercises or controlled breathing exercises. I need to remember to feed my artistic and spiritual needs. I resolve to try to always place the welfare and happiness of my family ahead of my own. And on my best days, I hope I can place the welfare and happiness of everyone with whom I interact above my own momentary needs. This is incredibly challenging, of course, but on a number of levels we really can’t take good care of ourselves without looking after others. It’s an essential part of the human condition.
I had an interesting surprise a week or so ago, while I was attending the Annual Conference of the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS). This was a great conference, with some outstanding speakers and workshop presenters – that was not the surprise. The surprise came at one of the workshops I chose to attend: “Flaws, Fixes and Further Thoughts on 21st Century Education”. The presenters were David Streight of the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education, and Matt Gossage, the Head of School at the Cannon School of North Carolina. I have heard David Streight before, and he is an excellent presenter, and the Cannon School is highly respected. So I knew I’d hear a good program. But I expected to hear a good deal about new developments in technology, distance learning, etc. I did not.
David and Matt presented a collection of research findings and reports from a variety of sources, all of which had explored the question of “What are the critical skills that our students are going to need in order to navigate the demands of being successful in the 21st century?” They ended up compiling, from these studies and reports, a list of “essential competencies” that they felt we, as schools, need to be providing to our students. And, while technological skills were mentioned on the list, those skills were dwarfed by other more complex and more varied skill sets. Just yesterday, I heard this same theme echoed by the author Daniel Pink in a keynote address to the Annual Teachers’ Conference of the Georgia Independent Schools Association. Like David Streight and Matt Gossage, Pink argued that our students are going to need a number of both “left-brain” and “right-brain” competencies in order to succeed in a changing world and a changing economy. Pink’s thesis is that most routine tasks are going to be increasingly assigned either to computer software or to workers in other parts of the world, and that therefore our students need to be trained to have some different kinds of strengths.
Here is the list of “essential competencies” that Streight and Gossage argued we will need to make sure our students possess:
-critical thinking/problem solving
-oral and written communication
This is a fascinating and challenging list. I find myself agreeing that we would do well to try our best to teach our students some skills in all of the above areas. We have our work cut out for us, but education has always been a challenging business. At least we can take some comfort from the fact that the list above argues against the conclusion that our students can learn everything they need to know by sitting in their room at a computer screen interacting in an exclusively electronic fashion. That human touch will still be essential.
“Cancer” is such a nasty, horrible-sounding word. I guess it’s our mental associations that make the word sound so harsh, but it’s a jarring word all the same. During the last twelve months I’ve watched a couple of colleagues, a couple of friends, a family member and a former student all battle various forms of this disease, and watching their struggle has made the word sound even harsher to my ears.
As my friends struggle against cancer, I struggle with how best to support them. Having recently completed a two-year term on the Board of our local chapter of the American Cancer Society, I am grateful for the efforts of that organization to help cancer victims, to sponsor research, and to venture into prevention programs. Even though my period of service on the Board has ended, my dollars will continue to go to this organization and to others that fight cancer. The Stratford Academy community has been generous to cancer-related causes, highlighted by the “Touchdowns for Life” campaign last year that raised $20,000 for the American Cancer Society. School groups have also raised funds for Jay’s Hope, Susan Komen for the Cure, and Ronald McDonald House.
On a more personal level, I have used the CaringBridge.org web site as a way of staying connected with friends who are undergoing treatment for cancer. Some cancer victims seem to take great comfort from using this forum to communicate over the internet with those who are wishing them well. Others, perhaps those who are more private, do not avail of themselves of this service. But I do like being able to occasionally post a word of support and the promise of prayer.
For me, prayer and faith are a part of the healing process, along with the chemotherapy and the radiation therapy. We often see a sort of dynamic tension between science and religion in the modern world, a tension that dates back as far as Copernicus’ theories of a heliocentric solar system. Galileo was censured by the Church for publishing these new theories of the Earth revolving around the sun. It all seemed to contradict what the Church taught, and what the Bible suggested. That sort of conflict between science and faith has carried on through the work of people like Darwin, Einstein, Curie and Freud, among others.
The dynamic tension between religious faith and faith in science does not hold me back from invoking both types of faith in my efforts to support my friends who are valiantly fighting cancer. I’m not one of those folks who feels that the cold rationality of modern science forces me to abandon my religious beliefs. Neither am I one of those folks who feels compelled to discount scientific discoveries or scientific theories that seem to be at odds with my religious beliefs. This is especially true at times like these. I’m glad that we have figured out how to use radiation and complex chemical “cocktails” to combat cancer. I’m grateful to the doctors and the scientists who are daily improving our odds in fighting this scourge. But I also see my friends taking refuge in their religious faith and in their God to see them through, and I join them in this combined approach.
I pray every day for my friends and colleagues who are fighting cancer. And of course I pray for the doctors. I depend upon the doctors in these cases, just as I depend upon my faith in God. I don’t want my friends to have anything less than the best possible care that modern medical science can provide: the radiation therapy and the chemotherapy are by-products of lots of scientific thought and research. I also don’t want them facing their trials without knowing that a group of people are holding them up in faith and love. I thank God for looking after my friends who are battling cancer. And I thank God for modern science.
Our students have returned to school, and many of them are reporting on their summer reading assignments, so it’s time once again for me to do the same in my annual Summer Reading Blog.
Regular readers of this blog may remember that I have gotten into the habit, in recent years, of reading detective fiction and mystery novels that come in a series. I really enjoyed Henning Mankell’s “Wallander” novels, and followed that up by reading Stieg Larsson’s excellent “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. This year, I have become a follower of Michael Connolly’s “Harry Bosch” books. Harry Bosch is a hard-boiled detective who works out of the Robbery/Homicide Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. The novels are fast-paced and well-written, and Bosch is an original character, breaking some of the traditional detective fiction stereotypes. I managed to find time to read five of these books, plus several other works, during some time at the beach, in the mountains, or on my back porch.
Here are the books that I’ve enjoyed this summer:
- The Closers; Echo Park; The Overlook; Nine Dragons; The Drop - Michael Connelly:
These five detective novels were written in sequence between 2005 and 2011, and they follow our hero, Harry Bosch, as he attempts to solve a series of murders. In some of these novels Harry is working on “closed” cases in the Open/Unsolved Unit; in others he is working “live” cases out of Robbery/Homicide. He breaks in a series of new partners in these books. Like Clint Eastwood in the old “Dirty Harry” films, Harry Bosch is not always the easiest partner to work with.
- Arthur and George- Julian Barnes:
I have my wife to thank for finding this book for me. Martha Veto knows that I am a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and their author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the “Arthur” in the title of Julian Barnes’ fascinating novel. Written in 2005, Arthur and George is a fictionalized account of a true event in the life of Conan Doyle, who decided to play detective himself in the early 20th century to clear the name of a man (George Edalji) who had been falsely convicted of some horrific crimes. The book is a great personality study with overtones of detective fiction.
- Broken Harbor- Tana French:
I’m back to another series here. Earlier I had read Tana French’s first three novels from what is referred to as the Dublin Murder Squad Series (the earlier books were Into the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place). Broken Harbor is new, just published this summer, and follows the same pattern of the earlier books: a grisly murder under mysterious circumstances, great description of the Irish countryside and of urban Dublin, and the psychological baggage being carried by the investigative detective. What sets French’s novels apart is that each of the four books is told from the perspective of a different detective on the Dublin Murder Squad.
- The Nuremberg Trial- Ann Tusa and John Tusa:
I loved this book, but it might be of interest only to history buffs like me. It was written by the husband-and-wife writing team of Ann and John Tusa (Ann is a historian, John a journalist; they both live in Great Britain.) This book was published back in 1983, but it only came to my attention recently. The authors dug through volumes of trial testimony, newspaper accounts, diary/journal entries and personal interviews, and they have woven a very readable account of the process that led to the war-crimes trials in Nuremberg of a number of high-level Nazis after WWII.
-21st Century Skills-Rethinking How Students Learn- James Bellanca and Ron Brandt, editors:
Like many members of our staff at Stratford, I have been doing some reading this summer to educate myself on some ways in which we can incorporate emerging technologies into the work we do with young people at Stratford Academy. A number of us are reading this particular book, which is an anthology of essays written by over a dozen experts in the fields of teaching, learning and technology. The essays largely examine three questions: 1) “Why are 21st century skills needed for learning in the future?” 2) “Which skills are most important?” 3) “What can be done to help schools include these skills in their repertoire so that 21st century learning results?” What all of us glean from these readings will be part of a continued discussion this year at school as we continue our commitment to excellence in our teaching.
Our Commencement ceremony last week, honoring the graduating Class of 2012, was a wonderful event. I was proud of this group of young people, and we were honored by the presence of members of the school’s first graduating class, the class of 1962, on the 50th anniversary of their graduation. As I told the Class of 2012, the return of the ‘62s could serve to remind them that they had been part of something larger than themselves, and that they would remain part of Stratford Academy for many years to come, just as I hope we will remain part of them.
I’m always proud of the dignity of our ceremony. We keep things a bit formal, and I think that’s important. A few years ago, I attended the high school graduation of a niece from a large public high school in another state. It is an excellent high school, and my niece graduated with honors, but the graduation ceremony was marked, in my view, by disrespect for the graduates. Yelling and screaming were common (it was often difficult to hear the names of the graduates as they crossed the stage), beach balls were being tossed around, and indeed many in attendance seemed to have come dressed in attire more appropriate for the beach than for an important ceremony. This week I read in our local newspaper that one local graduation was marred by the constant blaring of air horns. I know that I’m an old fogey, but this sort of thing disappoints me. The graduates, at any school, are honorees, and they have earned their moment in the sun, and it ought to be marked with an air of quiet dignity and warmth.
Certainly I’m aware that we live in a time and place where there is less formality than in days past. We have seen the onset of “casual Fridays” in the workplace, the necktie seems to be slowly disappearing as an essential element of “business attire”, and “dressing for dinner” doesn’t seem to mean the same thing that it used to. Again, call me an old fogey, but I’m going to continue to wear a tie every working day until I retire, and I enjoy wearing a sport coat and a tie to dinner or to the symphony. It marks the occasion as something a little more special, just as our school uniforms at Stratford symbolize that our young people are coming to a special place for a special set of activities.
Some of what I’m discussing here, I suppose, is simply a matter of evolving fashions and styles, and of course that’s inevitable. But I believe that some of what I’m describing constitutes a little bit of a decline in good manners, and this is what brings out the old fogey in me. When people talk loudly in a movie theatre, or leave their cell phones turned on during church, or carry on loud conversations on an airplane, they are showing disrespect for the people around them. It’s not simply a matter of living in more relaxed or more casual times.
This returns me to the topic of formal graduation ceremonies, and my fervent hope that we will hold tight to that formality at Stratford Academy forever. It’s important for the graduates to mark this important transition in their lives with an entirely different kind of celebration than would accompany something like a state soccer championship, which ought to be a little rowdy. A Commencement ceremony is just that – a ceremony – and it needs, as suggested by the title of the famous processional, a little “Pomp and Circumstance”.
Or so says this old fogey. It’s great to be a Stratford Eagle.
Four and a half years ago, when I was completing the final round of interviews for the position of Head of School at Stratford Academy, I met with a group of student leaders who had been selected to be part of the interview process. They were an impressive group, and certainly the positive impressions I took away from that meeting were part of what drew me here. During that meeting, one of the questions posed to me by the students was “Who was the most significant role model in your life?” It’s a question that we don’t often think about consciously unless asked, but I found myself answering without hesitation. “My grandmother”, I told them. “My mom’s mom. She influenced me in a ton of ways, and even though she passed away a number of years ago I often find myself measuring my character and my behavior against hers.”
The students, at first, seemed to find that to be a surprising and unconventional answer. (I’m not sure what they were expecting. Michael Jordan? Ronald Reagan? My father?). But I went on and tried to explain why an adult male would cite an aging woman as his role model. And, as I write this blog on “Grandparents’ Day” at Stratford Academy, I’m ready to tell the tale one more time.
My siblings and I called my grandmother “Mimi”, as is sometimes the case in families of French-Canadian background (my grandparents had both migrated south to New England from Quebec, and were fluent French speakers). Mimi and I were always close – I was born less than a year after the death of her youngest son Bobby in the military, so my mother named me after her brother. It seemed to me, during much of my early childhood, that Mimi came by to see me every day, as she lived nearby.
I never knew a day when she did not attend Mass. A devout Catholic who lived across the street from her parish church, Mimi took her faith very seriously. And yet she very rarely spoke about it – she lived it. I suppose that she could have been described as “religious”, but those who knew her tended to describe her in other terms: “good-hearted”; “kind”; “caring”; “unselfish”. It’s possible that I may have heard her utter an angry word, but really I don’t remember it if she did. She accepted everything that life threw at her with equanimity and grace – and she did have some challenges to deal with, including my grandfather, her husband. I loved him as much as I loved her, but he was very difficult to deal with at times, and she was amazing in that regard. She epitomized the verse from Proverbs: “A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Somehow my grandmother always found the soft words, but no one thought of her as a weak person. She had strength beyond measure.
I told one particular story to the students who met with me during my interview: when I was in college, I had a distant cousin who got involved in a situation that was regarded as scandalous (including an out-of-wedlock child), and her mother threw her out of the house. My grandmother took her in, and for more than a year she kept her, and helped her raise the child. This was all I ever heard Mimi say on the matter: “A baby! What a miracle. A gift from God”.
A group of young professionals here in Macon announced this week that they are rolling out a campaign to confront some of the problems facing our community in a uniquely positive way. They are challenging citizens of Macon to sign a pledge stating “I Love Macon”. The pledge includes these words: “I pledge to love Macon and be an advocate for our community. I honestly believe Macon is a wonderful, vibrant and unique place to live, work and be involved. While acknowledging that our community faces problems common to many cities, I believe it is my responsibility to remind others of our good fortune and to focus on the positive. I pledge to respond to negativity about our community by speaking positively about where I live and insisting others do the same.” As of this week, I have signed this pledge myself, and will be encouraging others to do so. It can only help.
In our work here at Stratford Academy, I am also a strong believer in the power of positivity. School people often speak of the importance of “positive peer pressure”, as we know that peer pressure is a significant element in the lives of young people, often as significant as the roles of parents and teachers. There are a number of strategies that schools can use to promote positive peer pressure. As an example, Honor Councils and Discipline Councils with student members and student leaders represent a great step. Community-wide honor systems require work to set up and to maintain, but they have power. They give students input, they provide an atmosphere of trust, and they definitely contribute to the creation of positive peer pressure. Ultimately, a school in which students feel empowered to contribute to a positive atmosphere is also a school which engenders pride. We’re used to hearing the term “school spirit” to convey our feeling of love, pride and support for Stratford, and I believe that there is a reciprocal relationship between school spirit and positive peer pressure. Each supports the other. And the folks behind the “I Love Macon” campaign understand this – in effect, they are trying to create “school spirit” in the Macon community by employing positive peer pressure.
A recent book by the theologian David Augsburger approaches this subject from a slightly different angle. Augsburger’s 2010 book Caring Enough to Confront suggests that adults, as well as young people, can transform their communities by engaging each other in positive peer pressure – or, as he calls it in this book, “Positive Confrontation”. Augsburger suggests five guidelines of effective confrontation which can promote this kind of positive peer pressure in any community: 1) “Confront caringly”: one must first find empathy for the other, and then express true concern; 2) “Confront gently”: one must take care to only push as hard as the relationship can bear, keeping in mind how much energy has been invested into that relationship; 3) “Confront constructively”: confrontation can turn negative if the intention of the confrontation seems to involve shame or blame; 4) “Confront acceptantly”: although there may be mixed motives at play, it’s best to respect the other’s intentions as being good; 5) “Confront clearly”: separate facts from feelings and from unsupported conclusions.
It seems to me that the above five steps all come into play in our school community. We encourage our students to care for each other, to be gentle in their relationships, to use only constructive criticism, to be accepting of others’ weaknesses or mistakes, and to be clear in their communications. And of course the adults in a healthy school community must model these same behaviors.
Surely it is true that the folks behind the “I Love Macon” campaign envision the same goals: that if we as citizens of Macon, in the words of the old song, can “Accentuate the Positive”, we can build a more healthy community and deal with the real problems and divisions that do exist. Constructive change can result from an effort to build “school spirit” in our community from positive interactions, positive peer pressure, and positive confrontation.
on Friday February 17, 2012 at 08:43AM
Unless you have been traveling extensively on distant planets, you are aware that 2012 is a presidential election year in the United States of America. As a long-standing political junkie, I am following events with interest, including the recent Republican primary debates and the President’s State of the Union message.
It is distressing to me to see the levels of frustration, cynicism and disillusionment with which many Americans currently view our political system. Some polls say that our collective disapproval of the Congress and the President has never been higher. And yet it is important that the electorate stay engaged and not abandon the political process itself. It is critical for the strength and survival of a democratic republic for the citizens to play a role in the process.
Last week, I was buoyed by the fact that our Stratford 3rd graders visited our state capital. On our web site, there is some information on that trip, as well as a link to a story on wmaz.com. Accompanying that link is a photograph of our third graders with Governor Deal and State Senator Cecil Staton. I am extremely grateful to Senator Staton for his willingness to host these students, precisely for the reasons outlined above. Our young students will benefit from being taught early on about engagement in the political process.
Their visit brought back vivid memories of my own elementary school visit to the state capital. At the time, I was a fifth-grader living in Springfield, Massachusetts, and our class made the ninety-minute drive to Boston. It was very exciting for me, and I believe that it helped spur my later interest in the political process. I remember admiring the gleaming gold dome of the state legislative building in Boston, and I remember that the Governor took time out of his schedule to meet with us on the front steps. I even remember his name: Endicott Peabody, a great Massachusetts name. On that trip I had a brand-new “Brownie” camera and I took lots and lots of photos, and eagerly waited for several days while my parents had the film developed. Those photos were prized possessions of mine for many years, and my mother still keeps them in one of her photo albums.
I hope that our third-graders will be similarly inspired to have some degree of interest and faith in the political process. Whatever our views are concerning the issues of the day, all of us know that abdicating our roles as educated, participating citizens will never be the answer.
on Thursday January 26, 2012 at 02:40PM
As we approach the holidays, the pace and demands of life seem to increase. Family responsibilities, work responsibilities, school responsibilities – they all seem to reach a fever pitch. Add to that our tendency at this time of year to want to reach out to others as well – to use some of our time and energy in the service of our fellow man. Sometimes all of this does not leave us with much time and energy left. Certainly I am not the first to observe that tensions can run high at this time of the year.
So let me make a case for finding a way to slow things down and to turn down the volume on all our stress. As we shop and search for gifts for our friends and families, let me suggest that we all give ourselves a gift: the gift of time to stop and reflect.
For myself, this is an easy suggestion to make, but it is not a very easy thing to do. Quiet reflection does not come easily or naturally to me. I tend to run at high wattage all day (I’m a six cups of coffee per day guy; don’t tell my physician). At the end of the day, I crash in an easy chair or in my bed. I don’t typically program into my day any time for meditation, for stopping to think. And I know that many others run on that same kind of schedule.
I’m going to leave you to design your own “holiday reflection time” schedule, but here are some ideas I have for myself:
- Music. We’ve loaded up our stereo at home with several CD’s of beautiful Christmas music (Handel’s Messiah and other serious choral fare, not “Frosty the Snowman” or “Jingle Bell Rock”).
- Books. I’ve started Robert Massie’s new biography of Catherine the Great, which is excellent, and I have several other books lined up next in order.
- Fireplace. I am absolutely going to make myself sit down in front of my fireplace over the holidays. For me, there’s no better avenue to quiet reflection than staring into a fire.
- Church. We’ll be doing a “lessons and carols” service at my church this weekend – another excellent avenue for quiet reflection.
- Family. This one’s a bit tougher. My wife and I both come from close families, but like most families we all tend to run full tilt during the holidays. It’s fun, and exciting, and sometimes it seems as though everyone is talking at the same time. It’s good for my soul, but it’s not exactly quiet reflection. I’m going to search for some ways to insert some quiet time into the mix without depriving myself of the family interactions that I love so much.
I wish all of my friends a happy and healthy holiday season. Take some time for quiet reflection, and let’s all come back re-charged for the New Year.
on Tuesday December 13, 2011 at 10:10AM