Dear Shipley Families:
Happy Holidays! Every year as we approach the holiday season and the New Year, I am caught by the frenetic nature of our lives. As students, parents, and educators, we find ourselves preoccupied with countless things we have to do in order to prepare for the holidays. For those connected to the School, time has been filled with all of the wonderful day-to-day activities plus concerts, Upper School exams, service projects, et al, as well as the holiday parties, gift purchasing and other commitments for people’s personal lives. Ironically, of course, as we move faster and do more, there is greater likelihood that we will miss many of the things, sometimes the most significant things, going on around us. While we know it is important to slow down and to notice each other, the balance we seek seems to be unattainable. Although this is a particular challenge at the holidays, it is true all year long.
As I think about ways to ease the intense pace of our lives, I find myself reminded of one of my favorite books, a book I read once or twice a year and have written about before, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. In it, the aging fisherman, Santiago, has faced a lengthy period where he has not been successful, yet his young apprentice, Manolin, remains loyal to him even in the wake of disapproval from his parents and others in the community. As we follow Santiago’s desire to catch a big fish, we learn that the ocean, which is a metaphor for life, can be paradoxical. In a calm, easy moment it offers the best of fishing and is reinforcing and appealing; in changing weather (like at the holidays) it can become overpowering and difficult to handle. Throughout the changing conditions, Santiago shows us the honor in struggle and commitment to one’s own self. Hemingway’s book speaks to the nature of the sea and of our lives, to the assumptions we make about life, and to the importance that process plays in our lives. Each time I read it, I am reminded of the different contexts and possible interpretations that exist in each situation. As Santiago strives for fulfillment in a fashion much different from that of most people, others are wrapped up in their own lives and lose faith in him. They see him as lost and feeble. Only the young boy, Manolin, slows down long enough (or is inexperienced enough) not to draw such conclusions; he recognizes Santiago’s integrity, sense of conviction, and wisdom. The book leaves me wondering how each of us could be more like Manolin.
Recently Derrick Gay, a former teacher and currently a consultant and speaker on diversity, spent some time with parents and colleagues here at Shipley. As he shared his thoughts, it became clear that he, too, was interested in reflection and slowing things down. Though I’ve heard many presentations on diversity, I found his to be particularly helpful and reinforcing. Unlike many who speak to the more global issues of discrimination, privilege and the like, he speaks to the importance of each of us focusing on who we are and where we are before we can engage effectively and move forward. He emphasized the importance of self-reflection so we can acknowledge our own strengths and shortcomings without attributing blame or responsibility to others. His emphasis reinforced the work we all need to do to help ourselves and our children/students develop a sense and understanding of our own/their own identity.
To help deal with issues of difference and put things in perspective, Derrick recommended a series of norms that would be helpful in anything we do:
Be fully present
Set your boundaries for sharing
Speak from experience and avoid generalizing about groups of people
Accept the speaker’s point as true for him or her
Listen, listen, listen – then process
Listen to understand vs. listen to respond
Assume good will, don’t blame - and don’t assume blame
Focus on your own learning
Ironically, if we can do these things, it would help us in every area of life (and perhaps around our dinner tables this holiday season). The philosophy, approach, and tactics reinforce the importance of helping our children to gain more self knowledge, to be responsible for their own behavior, and to develop an interest in and understanding of others. In essence, this approach would better help all of us understand and appreciate the possibilities that exist for ourselves and others. These are the reasons we need to continue to stress character development and emotional intelligence in our curriculum, along with the ability to think in a critical fashion and to express those thoughts in both the spoken and written word. We want our students/children to understand the different possibilities that exist, the ones that will allow them to find their own successes and appreciate those of others.
If you have the time and are interested in considering the possibilities in your own life, you might read Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility, which I have recommended before. It provides an entirely different context by which to look at your own options and decisions with an eye on improving the quality of your life. And, if you want to look at the challenges we face as a country, you should read That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. Though I do not like the book as much as I did Friedman’s The World is Flat, this one does a good job raising the issues that the US has faced since the world has become flatter and speaks to the potential response to the economic realities of the world. As they suggest in the book, as in most things in life, the solutions may be easier to discuss than to implement.
One final note before closing. You may recall that we have been planning to move to online reenrollment for the 2012-2013 school year. Our goal is to streamline the process and make it easier for you. We look forward to sharing the details of this new process in early January, and expect to email contracts in mid-January, with responses due in February.
As we look to the holidays and the year 2012, let me wish you and your family a year full of good health and happiness, time with those you love, great appreciation for each other, and a wonderful year.
Steven S. Piltch
Head of School