Letter from Steve Piltch - December 2017

December 28, 2017

Dear Shipley Families,

In just a couple of days, we will welcome the New Year and then return to School for the second half of the 2017-18 school year. I hope you and yours have had the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with family and friends.

I love winter break. It provides all of us with the opportunity to slow down so that we can enjoy the holiday spirit and spend more time with our loved ones. As we do so, it also allows us to consider the year that has passed and to think about the future. My own reflections revolve around my family, the School, and, of course, the world at large.

Personally, I could not be enjoying my time with our family and friends more than I am. While all three of our kids could only be together for 36 hours, it was fun to catch up with each of them, to appreciate the good things (and the challenges) in their lives, and to celebrate some special occasions, including a birthday or two.

At Shipley, we have been most fortunate to be enjoying an active, enjoyable, and productive year. We have reinforced our commitment to our students as we have begun to formally implement our strategic plan and launch Positive Education, both of which will play an important role in the School for years to come.

In contrast, on a national and even global level, it unfortunately feels to me that 2017 was filled with more divisiveness than unity. In that regard, I have found myself reflecting on how these issues are rooted in differences that have existed for years – and how if we don’t begin to deeply engage in an open and honest way, we will find it even more difficult to move forward.

I found that reality illustrated powerfully during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. in early November. The museum traces the story of African Americans from 1400 to today and clearly demonstrates the inconsistency with which Americans have been willing and able to address the deficiencies in our political and social systems. As far back as the 17th century, people like the Dutch merchant Willem Bosman were observing about slavery, “I doubt not this trade seems barbarous to you; but it is… mere necessity, it must go on.”

It took until the 1860s to abolish slavery. Over 150 years later, we still have not come close to resolving racial inequity in the United States. Certain parts of the museum were more overwhelming than others in highlighting this fact. I was especially distraught as I was reminded of the brutal and senseless death of Emmett Till, a 14-year old boy in Alabama who was beaten, mutilated, and lynched before being repeatedly shot in the head in 1955, supposedly for flirting with a white woman. Years later, the woman who made the allegations acknowledged that she had fabricated her story.

Although the country passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 ending the Jim Crow era in the South, we still struggle as a country with inequality. We continue to witness examples of discrimination, hatred, and disdain on a regular basis in virtually all walks of life. To facilitate growth and progress, we must be willing to push our own community and others to deal with the issues in a direct and open manner.

This need is just one of the reasons the Upper School hosted Arno Michaelis on December 4. Michaelis is a reformed white supremacist who now works to make sure that people of all backgrounds are treated with respect, understanding, and support. Although we could have done a better job preparing our students by discussing the issues and Arno’s story before the event, the experience was a powerful and productive one for many.

The questions and comments our students had for Arno were thoughtful and honest. One student told him how disgusted and angry she was with the life he had lived and the hurt he had caused. She did it respectfully and effectively. In fact, he integrated some of what our student said at a presentation he did later that day at Penn. In engaging with Arno as she did, she demonstrated her ability to think in a critical fashion and to share her voice in a powerful way – both things we want for all of our students. She demonstrated our motto, Courage for the Deed; Grace for the Doing, and reinforced for all of us that difficult conversations are possible if people can commit to listening to each other, especially when they disagree.

It won’t surprise you that as I reflect on the trip to the museum and on Arno’s visit, I am both concerned and hopeful. Believing that understanding history helps us to prevent it from repeating itself, I left committed to the idea we at Shipley must do what we can to fight the attitudes and behaviors associated with hatred, racism, and bigotry. To accomplish this goal, it is essential to educate both the mind and the heart and to instill in our students and others in the community respect, responsibility, and leadership. It will, after all, be your children, our students, who will make the difference.

Here’s hoping 2018 brings you and yours good health, joy, and peace.

Warmest regards, 

Steve Piltch
Head of School

P.S. – In case you missed it earlier in the month, please take a look at our holiday greeting, a greeting that shares what our students are most grateful for and lets you know why we have such confidence in them.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.