Tag Archives: Parenting

Dis-empowering the Good Mother myth

To evolve as humans, we must let go of behaviors and attitudes that hold the rest of humanity back. – Christy Turlington Burns, from the Introduction to the good mother myth, edited by Avital Norman Nathman.

“So what are you going to do when you leave?” my son asked me as we stood together in his dorm room with several bags full of clothing, food, and other supplies set out on the floor waiting to be unpacked. I couldn’t help but think that, happy as he was to be back at college, ready to see his friends and throw himself into a new term’s worth of courses, he knew the house would be empty without him there and was wondering how I’d be doing. And in truth, I was mostly, transparently, trying not to think too hard about the Kian-sized hole that awaited me when I eventually – because I was definitely not going to hurry – got back home.

Awash in thought over all the time he’d spent alone over the past two weeks while I was at work, sometimes not getting home until after 8:30 with work still left to do, trying desperately to think as I drove home of something tasty and reasonably different from the previous night that I could cook for him, I asked myself “What kind of parent am I?” – by no means for the first, or hundredth, or I suppose millionth time. It’s not that I haven’t tried to do my best, and it’s not that I have any regrets when I think about who my son is. He is a truly wonderful person – loving, smart, kind, respectful, with a subtle and surprising sense of humour that brings delighted laughter up from deep within you. He loves his school, has great friends, knows the value of hard work. He is independent and values community. Like all of us, he is imperfect; unlike far too many of us, he manages for the most part to keep that awareness without either letting it get him down or letting it become an excuse. Yet, I seem to always feel I could have, should have, somehow done better by him.

And here’s the thing. I’m not even his mother. As a father, I have found the bar is set ridiculously low for society’s expectations of my parenting skills. But expectations for mothers are set to a whole different level. As Christy Turlington Burns wrote in the foreword to the good mother myth, the powerful and important collection of essays edited by Avital Norman Nathman, “[The ideal of the Good Mother is] a myth that is largely predicated on patriarchal constructs, one that creates false standards that sets women up for failure, not success, and for judgment instead of support.” (p. x) Through a series of remarkable essays written by several dozen mothers, this book seeks to break the hold of the Good Mother myth and reveal “the collective consciousness of ever-evolving women who share the experience known as motherhood.” (Turlington Burns, p. xi) It has the potential to do for mothers what Rachel Simmons‘s Curse of the Good Girl did for girls.

From the first sentence of the first essay, “Ichabod’s Ghost” by Abby Sher, I knew I was in unfamiliar – and welcome – territory: “The first time I dropped my daughter Sonya on her head from a great height, she was about eight months old.” (p.21) As we follow the saga of Sonya’s tumbling out of a four-poster bed, sinking underwater as she practiced new-found swimming skills, and losing her balance and falling to the asphalt from her mom’s shoulders, we cringe, gasp, tear up, and smile softly with a somewhat wry relief. When Ms. Sher writes, “By now, the biggest question in my head was who let me be a mom, and is there a way to rethink that decision?” (p.23) and “It took me a week to stop rereading the list of concussion signs that Dr. O mentioned. And another year of talk-therapy to name all the reasons why I thought I should give up on motherhood and run away before I did permanent damage,” (p. 24) she gives us all permission to acknowledge our own fears and doubts. As I read the story, I pulled up a mental image I prefer to keep very deeply buried of one night when my son was about two and I went in to check on him, only to discover he had somehow rolled off the bed and gotten wedged between the guardrail and the mattress, his legs dangling down. No damage done, fortunately, except for my permanent sense of guilt that if something had in fact happened, it would have all been my fault for failing to protect this wonderful, loving, trusting little person.

But the essay doesn’t end there. Ms. Sher goes on to tell about a time when she and Sonya were painting together, and Sonya asked her to do a rainbow, which admittedly turned out not to be her all-time greatest work of art. Ms. Sher asked her daughter what she thought, and Sonya retreated to consult with her doll Bippy. After some back and forth, she said, “I know. I know. But that’s not a nice thing to say. I think Mom’s doing a great job.” (p.25) Ms. Sher responded by wanting “to laugh and cry and hold my beautiful daughter so tight with love. / Instead, I bit my lip and said, ‘Yeah, Bippy. Sorry. But at least I’m learning.'” (p.25)

All of us being different, each of us may relate in different ways – if at all – to any given one of the essays in this book. But in the end, that’s only part of the point. Because, all of us being different, all of us are different as parents. To disempower the Good Mother myth, we need to work to actively affirm the individual truths of motherhood, all of them. As Ms. Norman Nathman writes in her introduction, “Read these stories, find yourself within these pages, and join us as we redefine the myth of motherhood to fit reality.” (p. xvii) And Ms. Turlington Burns points out that “At this point in time, the possibility and importance of connecting, empowering, and accepting each other as women and mothers at every point along the mothering spectrum is crucial.” (p. x)

“I’ll probably make a few stops on my way home, maybe head up to Cambridge or go to Northampton,” I told my son in answer to his question about where I was going, and he nodded. A hug and a couple of “Love you!”s later, I was back out in in the snow and rain, the Kian-sized hole now where my heart should have been. “Having children means our hearts walk around outside our bodies,” said President Obama in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, as Jessica Valenti pointed out in her essay based on that quote. (p. 68)

If an especially acute awareness of the hole in my heart was to be my fate on this day, in reading and learning through the afternoon about the lives of the good (enough) mothers in the book, at least I knew I was not alone.

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Filed under Gender, Uncategorized

Not Giving Up So Easily

co-authored with Charlotte M. ’16

Bill: When you see a new email from Charlotte with the subject header “Psychology: Smart Girls Give Up too Easily,” you know you are in for a treat. For starters, Charlotte is the sort of strong girl who does not often give up, never mind easily. And then, she is the sort of person with whom conversations are always both enjoyable and stimulating as she sees layers of complexity and connects them in profound, surprising, ways while remaining ever-open to other perspectives and any revisions to her thinking that might result. In this case, her father had sent her an article from Psychology Today on how “bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.” (Heidi Grant Halvorson). As Charlotte self-defines as a feminist and I as a gender activist, let’s just say that neither of us were jumping with joy over this statement.

My own mind quickly focused on the word “believe.” After all, I can believe the world is flat (especially after having been to Kansas), but that doesn’t mean it genuinely is flat. Does each girl have innate abilities? Of course (and so, for the record, does every single person). Are those abilities unchangeable? I don’t think so, and current theory on the brain and learning absolutely supports that. Do bright boys believe that they can develop innate ability through effort and practice? I’m willing to believe they do, or else the article would not have been published. But that would then raise the question – why don’t bright girls (on average, or as often) develop this belief? Because I am certain some of them do, and believe we have to raise the question why more of them don’t.

Charlotte: When you see a reply from Bill to your email about psychology, you… well, you’re not exactly surprised. He’s the sort of teacher with a passion for not just his subject, but his society. So you’re also not surprised when he self-identifies as a “gender activist” instead of a “feminist” because of the latter word’s association with gender binarism and exclusivity. For me, my ideals and goals lie more with those of gender activists, but I still call myself a feminist because that’s the word our society recognizes (although not necessarily in a good way, hence “feminazi”). Bill put it well when he wrote about generalizations about “boys” and “girls”: “I guess it’s useful in terms of understanding the function of a dominant culture feat. clear gender binary boxes.”

The question becomes, “To what extent should the terminology we use be dictated by social norms?” My beliefs err on the side of lexical accuracy, but I still find myself conforming in practice; I identify as a feminist despite being against a gender binarism, don’t I? Then again, social norms can’t change without mutual understanding and communication. My father once told me that if two people are both rational, have the same information, and have the same value system, they can’t disagree. Not all of society is rational, and it would be practically impossible for everyone to have the same value system, but we can at least start by trying to share the same information, i.e. the language we use when describing views and issues. Then again (again), maybe those who have found terminology that more accurately expresses their beliefs should be the ones to change the language we use to describe those beliefs, instead of the other way around.

Bill: And here we are in one of my favourite places: the world of semiotics! How are thoughts and feelings translated into symbols, communicated, and translated back into thoughts and feelings? Values systems definitely colour those thoughts and feelings, both for the transmitter and the receiver. So even if we think we have a common understanding of what the word “bright” means (or for that matter “girl” and “boy”), the phrases “bright girl” and “bright boy” may actually mean different things to different people. But we can’t stop and define every single word in every single sentence we utter, pausing to double-check how our values systems intersect and interact! What can we safely guess to be the common understanding in our society of “bright girl,” “bright boy,” “innate ability,” and – I’ll introduce this term – “growth mindset”? That will lead us back to our original questions as to whether boys are more likely to develop a growth mindset than girls, why this might be so, and what can be done to foster a growth mindset in girls.

I’ll posit these definitions; feel free to engage with any one of them if you’d like!
bright: intelligent (commonly thought of as “school smarts” but conceivably extending to any form of human intelligence)
girl or boy: female or male child or teenager (commonly thought of as immutable and accurately assigned at birth but increasingly thought to be a matter of self-definition, bearing in mind that not all people self-identify according to a gender binary)
innate abilities: the full range of your different potentials at birth
growth mindset: a sense that, as agent of one’s own destiny, one can develop skills and abilities, and hence what is commonly thought of as intelligence, to different degrees (borne out by research into the mutual influences of nature on nurture and vice versa in actually rewiring the brain)

How do those sound? Ready to tackle our questions?!

Charlotte: Now that we have, as Parliamentary Extemporaneous debaters will say, “redefined the bill,” we turn back to our questions.

Are boys more likely to develop a growth mindset than girls? Why might this be so?

While I disagree with Heidi Grant Halvorson’s assertion that “Girls… develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions… boys, on the other hand, are a handful.”, I also acknowledge that people’s actions and characters can be largely shaped by expectations of them. I heard an interview with Meryl Streep in which she said that most of her ability to portray widely varying characters was in the costume and makeup; she couldn’t see her own appearance, but when others in the room reacted to her presence in a certain way, she would naturally react to their responses by acting more like the character they expected. The same can be said for young boys and girls; even if they are not innately more self-controlled or “a handful,” if their teachers and parents treat them as if they are, it seems likely that they could respond by acting more like the way they were treated. And even if they aren’t shaped by expectations, children and teens could still respond differently to different types of feedback, whether or not those different types of feedback are justified.

What can be done to foster a growth mindset in girls?

As a high school student who is passionate about social issues and considers herself a citizen of the global community, my immediate response is that giving girls growth and effort-minded feedback (such as the examples Halvorson gives of feedback commonly given to boys) would foster a growth mindset in girls. As someone who has no experience in education, however, I don’t know what the best way to counteract praising only innate qualities is, in what situations that occurs, or whether it occurs at all (as a student at a single-sex educational institution, I’ve never witnessed the kind of disparity that Halvorson writes about).

Bill: Well – you have 10-odd years of experience in education! But I know what you mean. And as someone with 50-odd years of experience in education, including pre-school, an M.A.T. and all sorts of professional development, my own immediate response… is exactly the same as yours.

I’m probably better at doing this now than when you were in my Humanities 7 class, oh so long ago (back in 2009-2010), but I work pretty hard to keep my feedback focused on what students have done compared to what they need to be doing. So if a student is working on varying her sentence length in order to keep her audience’s attention through an essay, I’ll comment on that. It’s a skill that can be developed. I also, and I’m quite sure I did this with your class, work very hard to put Humanities 7 learning in the context of the sweep of a lifetime of learning. Don’t have that skill down now? Try again next time. Thinking you won’t be 100% the writer you want to be by the end of the year? There’s always Humanities 8 – and four years here after that – and college, and the rest of your life. Meanwhile, I work very hard to simply not mention innate qualities. I might refer to you all as “smart” once during the entire year, if that. Once. And all of you together.

As for the best way to counteract the praise of innate qualities – my instincts are this needs at least three approaches. One is for people who understand the negative effects of praising innate qualities (especially on any girl who has internalized society’s expectations that she “be good”- and, I suppose, non-girl children who happen to have internalized the same expectations) to just plain stop doing it. This helps build up each student’s personal sense of herself as an agent of her own destiny, despite what others may say. A second is for these people (teachers and parents alike) also to say straight out that they have stopped praising innate qualities, and why. In spreading the word to others, this makes it less likely that children will be inadvertently praised by anyone in a way that undermines a growth mindset. And a third – and this is one of the things I think about the most often as a teacher in a girls school – is to help students develop a personal and internal resistance to praise of innate qualities. That… is one of the things I’m still working on. I hope and pray that what we did last year in the Life Skills 8 class will have that effect. I suspect that an inherently feminist atmosphere such as we have at Stoneleigh-Burnham doesn’t hurt, either!

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Filed under Current Events, Gender, On Education, On Parenting, The Girls School Advantage

Closing the Gap

I was staying overnight with my brother and his family so I wouldn’t have to get quite so early a start to attend a conference at Simmons College entitled “Dreaming Big: What’s Gender Got to Do With It?” The conference would present a study on middle schoolers and career aspirations and provide opportunities to discuss implications and ideas for follow-up. My brother and sister-in-law enjoy the TV program “Modern Family” (as do I), and after we caught up on our lives for a bit, we settled in to enjoy the evening’s episode. In retrospect, it turned out to be a good way to warm into the conference, as the show, progressive as it is in some ways, does in other ways reflect the kind of stereotyping about work that is too often seen in the media. For one example, neither of the two moms in the show have a salaried job.

Luckily for middle school girls, the media is only the third strongest influence on their career aspirations. As you might expect, schools and parents are the two most dominant influences. And as you might also expect, single-gender environments can have a positive effect. The study being presented used Girls Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts as a proxy for girl-centered organizations, and looked at the views, opinions, and attitudes of 1200 middle schoolers including 487 Girl Scouts, 299 girls who were not in the organization, and 414 boys.

The study painted a picture of middle school girls who, in envisioning their lives as adults, are confident, ambitious, want to enjoy what they do, desire financial security, and value time with family friends. It also showed that girls are more likely than boys to stop work and care for children, more relationship focused, and more wiling to consider jobs historically dominated by women. Such jobs (for example, teaching) continue to be less attractive generally. All the kids believed boys had more career options than girls, and three-quarters of the boys and over half the girls believed boys were better at some jobs than girls. Interestingly, when girls were asked to consider what they would do if they were boys, they were much more likely to choose STEM or athletics. And girls who express an interest in STEM by eighth grade are two to three times more likely to choose that direction that those who do not. Along with these more general findings, the study also showed a measurable, positive effect of girl-centered organizations in helping girls resist the pressures of the culture in which they live and remain true to themselves and what they want out of life. As one of my 8th grade advisees said the other day, “I know what I learned last year. I learned to speak up and to speak with conviction.”

Of course, as long as our culture continues to push back against confident, ambitious girls, our work will not be done. For one thing, those girls who do not have the benefit of the support of girls schools and girl-centered organizations will continue to eclipse themselves to a greater degree than their more fortunate sisters. But even girls who have that additional support have to deal with the notion that significant parts of society may not want them to be all that they can be, and that fact does continue to shape their lives. And realistically, society also puts boys in little boxes that do not necessarily fit them. So really, as we teach girls – and indeed all children – to empower themselves in the face of resistance, we also need to work together to eliminate that resistance.

During a morning session at the conference, noted author and speaker Rachel Simmons was asked, essentially, if she could envision a future where true gender equity will have been achieved. “Not in my lifetime,” she responded. The words hung in the air. And maybe she is right. But if during our lifetimes we have not, to paraphrase Peter Sellars, closed the gap between dream and reality, we will not have done our job. The big dreamers who populate our school and who will join us one day are depending on us. They speak with conviction. Will we?

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Filed under Gender, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Girls School Advantage

You Are What You Read.

Don’t tell my students, but we’re two days from the start of school and I just finished my last summer reading book for IB English. It’s not that I’ve been lazy— in fact, the only thing I have accomplished this summer is reading books. All my usual ambitious projects— cleaning the attic, weeding through the outgrown baby toys and clothes, painting the fence— remain unfinished. I spent the summer chasing my kids, and reading. Usually I grabbed my chance for focused quiet during naptime and nighttime, but I have also become a master at reading over the sound of screeching or the “Dora” theme song (I figure if I’m going to ignore my kids at least they will see me reading a book, which sort of counteracts the television they’re watching, right?).

I grew up in a household of readers. Downtime on family vacations was spent in separate corners of rented houses, everyone getting lost in their own books, together. As a mother, among the things I frequently feel grateful for (My kids ate a green vegetable today! They are healthy and happy! No one snuck into my bed tonight!) is the fact that my children love books. At four and two, neither of them can read yet, but they each recite their favorite books, word for word, from memory. This is the earliest version of the intimate ways we absorb the books we love.

There’s a lot of research and writing about the effects on young people over the course of a summer spent reading or not reading. The simplified finding is that reading, like many other things, is a practice that students should continually cultivate, both in and out of school. I mean, it doesn’t take a PhD and a research lab to understand this concept: don’t exercise for three months and it will be really hard to run three miles on the first day of soccer practice; don’t practice math or French or reading over a long period of time and…you get the picture. And even more research is being done about the ways that on-line reading is affecting and changing students’ learning. Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, was my faculty summer reading book. Much of his research and discussion focuses on the in-depth learning that happens when you read a printed book from cover to cover. Reading an on-line text, he argues, often leads to shallow and distracted learning, largely due to our personal habits when sitting in front of a screen, and to the hyper-links that invite us further and further down the rabbit-hole and away from our original task.

One of the books I re-read this summer is Beloved, by Toni Morrison. I hadn’t read it since high school, and I was thinking about teaching it in my senior IB English class this spring. Now, I last read this book twenty years ago. I could have told you it was a good book; I could even have told you, at the most basic level, what it’s about: a former slave and her ghost baby. But that’s all I remembered. I still had my book from high school, so that’s the copy I began to read. Here’s what happened: as soon as I entered the book, I realized that I did remember it. But not remember it like I could recite the plot to you— not that kind of remember. Remember like a world I had once inhabited; a world that I used to know very well— from a distance it seems fuzzy, but once you step in, you realize, “I’ve been here before.” Morrison’s language— her descriptions of the forest and river and haunted house and the shed where her baby died (Dear God, the shed!)— it all felt like it was mine again. Of course it helped that all my underlining and margin notes and vocabulary definitions were still there (and my notes were good! No wonder I became an English teacher!). I don’t remember the class, I don’t remember the teacher, I don’t remember if I was forced to do all that notation, or if I did it on my own; but I do remember the book. This is what happens when you really read and absorb a book that you love: it becomes a part of you, forever.

I don’t need any amount of published research validating my work as an English teacher. You won’t find ebooks or hyper-linked texts in my classroom. All my students need is a book, a pencil, and an engaged brain. When they read a text from start to finish they learn how to follow a sustained argument or narrative; they learn how to find threads and make connections across 300 pages; they learn syntax and grammar and vocabulary; they learn, with in-depth study, that less truly is more; they learn to quiet their brains in this world that clatters so loudly around us. Not every student loves to read; but every student will learn from reading, whether she likes the books or not. My hope for all of them is that they discover those books— whether in or out of class—  that truly catch them; books that they don’t just read, but absorb, as I did, so many years ago with Beloved.

As I walk the long halls of our school, sometimes I catch myself marching in rhythm with my two-year-old daughter Willa’s voice in my head. “Each peach, pear, plum,” she chants. “…I spy Tom Thumb. Tom Thumb in the cupboard, I spy Mother Hubbard. Mother Hubbard on the stairs, I spy…”

I am a grateful mother indeed.

-Shawn Durrett, English Department Chair

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, On Parenting, The Faculty Perspective

The Best Day

“You’re dripping.” I looked down to see a few drops of coffee on my shorts, not a complete surprise since I had to take a few sips off the drip guard of my Joe Bean’s coffee cup when I picked it up. Before I could act, my son took the cup from me, gently wiped my hand off, wiped down the cup as well, and handed it back to me. I thanked him, and we resumed our conversation as we continued heading north to Charlottesville where my son was moving in as a first year student at the University of Virginia.

Moving in was quick and smooth – after three years of boarding school, we have this down to a science, and the friendly student greeters waiting to help bring stuff upstairs, the multiple chalked welcomes, and the welcome banner hanging from the dorm made for a warm atmosphere. Once he was moved in, my wife and I let him set the rhythm for the rest of day, including when we would leave, and we moved unhurriedly from lunch at Bodo’s Bagels to picking up a few items nearby to checking out the university bookstore to the parking lot near his dorm. There, we said our goodbyes which, while certainly tinged with wistfulness, showed the confidence we all had in my son’s readiness for college and in the closeness of our relationship.

There were certainly contrasts with the day we first moved my son into a dorm room as a high school sophomore. While my wife and I were determinedly cheerful, and my son simply determined, there was an unquestionable undercurrent of nervousness. We were confident in our decision for him to attend Andover, and confident that we would be able to work through the inevitable bumps along the way. But we didn’t yet know the exact routines we would find and exactly what help and support would be needed. Of course, college brings new routines, and just as our son had been growing in independence through his last three years of high school, so too college would bring increasing independence. But we now have a track record of handling those gradual, almost imperceptible shifts, and we still have a strong and deep love that we know we can count on.

The next day, I returned to Charlottesville to hear President Sullivan’s talk with new parents. After acknowledging the standing ovation that welcomed her, she focused on the relationship between parents and their children at this time of transition. How the summer might have seen a new testiness, due in all probability to separation anxiety. How this is a time for parents to support but back off and let their kids come into their own. How their views will continue to evolve, both away from and back towards our own as they continue to grow into themselves. How our children will stumble, and how part of our job is to find the courage to let them learn from their own mistakes. What to tell them to support them in making good choices. Thinking of how many parents were going through this same transition, I found myself wondering what the experience was like for parents of Stoneleigh-Burnham’s Class of 2012, many of whom I’ve known for six years and who have always brought smiles to my face. Myself, I just felt lucky. Rather than pushing us away, if anything, my son seemed to be making a special effort this summer to spend time with us. Time and time again, whatever we were doing and whomever we were with, my son showed kindness, strength, intelligence, empathy, humour, and thoughtfulness. It was one of the best summers I’ve ever had, and I am so grateful for the time we had together and for what he brings to my life. We met up for another couple of hours after the talk, and I took him to C’ville Coffee for a sandwich and then to the university store to get his last few books, eventually dropping off a bag of various items he had requested the night before.

Driving home, I pulled up the “Charlottesville 8-25” playlist I had put together especially for this trip. From “Love is Strange” that took me back to when he played Buddy Holly in an elementary school history fair to “Give Your Heart a Break,” the latest “best song ever” he had shared with me, each selection brought back memories of our time together. I had hesitated over only one song, “The Best Day” by Taylor Swift. A mix of reminiscence and thanks expressed to her mother, accompanied by home movies of Ms. Swift growing up in the video version, the song had brought me to tears the first time I had heard/seen it. Indeed, when it played on the drive north to Charlottesville, my eyes did get misty. But on this trip, I found myself smiling quietly when the song came back up. My son’s warm hug at the end of the afternoon and the confident set to his shoulders as he walked back to his dorm to meet up with his roommate and suitemates to go to dinner had told me all I needed to know. His childhood was a gift and a joy, but there are unquestionably many more best days to come.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Filed under On Education, On Parenting, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective

Don’t Walk, Mosey (lessons from the South)

So far, it’s been the kind of summer most people assume teachers spend. Mornings consist of waking up when my body tells me to, relaxing and reading over breakfast, eventually going out on a run, and finally getting ready for the rest of the day. My family is on roughly the same schedule, and the time together is beyond wonderful. The rest of the day? Well, most of our extended family live within a two-hour drive, so we have been seeing a lot of them. It’s a pace that agrees with me, and I feel more rested and refreshed than I have in several years.

At the same time, it’s been the kind of summer most teachers assume teachers spend. The middle school team has been in touch throughout. Andrea has written to share a link to information on e-portfolios, Karen to share her excitement over the upcoming Middle Level Education Institute conference she is attending and ask us for ideas she might bring up, Hank to share information about using Apple TV in the classroom, and our new math/science teacher Kayla to thank us for our ideas and support. Kayla has attended a conference on STEM and Andrea a workshop on learning skills, and they will be able to bring those ideas and expertise into the mix when we’re all back together. I’ve been online almost daily, reading articles, attending webinars, and participating in forums and discussions.

Most teachers I know value the summer not just for rest but also for having the necessary time to dig deeper into our professional development and growth than we often can in the swirl of a school year, and I am no exception. I’ve started multiple blog entries about what I’ve been learning and thinking, all of which I promise you will eventually see, either later on this summer or during the school year, not to mention in subtle shifts in my teaching and in how we use our middle school team meeting time.

My concept of time began to shift when my wife took a job in southern Virginia, almost from the moment I first stepped out of the car and heard the raucous chorus of night insects as the heat of the night air wrapped around me. Normally, I enjoy walking with a quick and purposeful stride, but I quickly learned that a leisurely stroll from our house to the school building left me feeling not only far less sweaty but also much more relaxed, focused, and generally open to what the world has to offer.

Back in the late 80s, one of the sessions of Bonnie Castle Riding Camp came up with the catchphrase “Don’t Walk, Mosey” and worked it into a t-shirt. After more than two decades, I think I am finally beginning to understand the wisdom of those long-ago campers. There is a time and a place for everything. Including moseying.

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Filed under On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized

Vigorous Love and a Frenzy of Renaissance

Spring is often an intense time of transition in kids’ lives as the school year ends, and as such is frequently marked by rituals such as the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony, Upper School Awards Ceremony, Vespers, and Farewell to Seniors at Stoneleigh-Burnham, Baccalaureate in my son’s school, and of course Commencement in both schools plus thousands of others. Another important marker of transition for young people of the Christian faith is Confirmation, and my niece went through that ritual this morning in her church. The similarities to some of our school ceremonies are striking but unsurprising – identifying and celebrating what makes each kid special, marking the bond they created with other, marking the bond their advisors created with them, and always looking to the past as the crucible which formed us as well as the future which shines with such promise. As these young people, only one of whom I had ever met (my niece!), shared memories of their baptisms, their journey through the year in Confirmation classes, and personal perceptions of their special gifts and how they planned to use them in service, the sense of community was striking.

In the deeply moving Baccalaureate speech he gave at Phillips Academy, retiring Economics teacher Carroll Perry said, “Good people who become intelligent, reasoned, thinkers are the key to what most of us want for our world. Many such young adults will walk across the great lawn tomorrow… My generation did not do what it might have to put you more at ease, and for this I am deeply sorry… [But] there has been progress, and there will be a lot more. The cynics forget that people like you are coming on to the scene, and that you view today’s challenges not as insuperable problems, but as your stewardship.” Jeremy Deason, a former Athletic Director, echoed a similar theme in his graduation address to the SBS Class of 2012 when he focused not on what the students have learned but rather on what the students have taught him. And I told one of my advisees at the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony that just as we in the middle school profited from her thoughtful ideas, “the world would do well to listen” to her. There is undeniably incredible power in teenagers for those who choose to see it and enable them to use it.

Various speakers in my niece’s church today spoke of how vigorously we love these kids, and how one day they will lead a “frenzy of renaissance.” Karen Suchenski, the Humanities 8 teacher, pointed out to me this weekend the important role teachers play in building community – in helping our students not only find their voice but also be their own best selves – in helping them become “Good people who [are] intelligent, reasoned thinkers.” During their time at their school, Stoneleigh-Burnham’s Class of 2012 (as well as that of Phillips Academy) have been just that. So when I look around me and wish we were making much more rapid progress toward a truly respectful and equitable society, I take comfort in seeing these young people moving out into the world. Those of us who have nurtured them will miss their grace and presence in our daily lives, but know our loss is the world’s gain.

And yet we do want a sense of permanence to the community we have worked so hard to build. So we join with Obehi Utubor ’05 in her beautifully sung benediction to the graduating Seniors, hoping and trusting they will indeed both “Go forth… and return safely.”

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Filed under Graduation, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized