“The highest result of education is tolerance.” –Helen Keller
We’re in the process of starting a conversation with our high school students.
We know that at first blush the concept may sound redundant or even a little silly in a school community where dialogue is so central to the ebb and flow of daily routine. In fact visitors are often quick to point out how skilled our students are in the art of conversation and are struck by the range and depth of the exchanges that take place between students, faculty, and administrators. Occasionally students and parents even say we talk too much and that we’d be better served by just getting on with it.
We couldn’t disagree more.
On our best days as school leaders we find that we have spent the balance of the day in conversation with our students. They give us insight into the world as they encounter it. They challenge us to explain our perspectives, as educators and as leaders. They seed ideas that take root in new programs and instruction. And they help us further articulate the challenges we all confront as a learning community and the aspirations we share.
The dialogue we envision will take us to places we haven’t yet gone with clear intentionality and purpose. We want to step beyond the talk of classes, behavior, and even individual aspiration. Instead, we seek a regular, open, and sustained conversation about cultural norms within our high school community and in the world at large, one that speaks to and expands our students’ notions of the life of the mind.
We think this new dialogue and the activities that may grow out of it can strengthen our school community. We aim to tackle a range of issues that speak particularly to issues of inclusiveness from race and gender relations to cultural, intellectual, and social differences.
We also think that the beginnings of this new conversation couldn’t have come at a better time.
You may know that we were confronted this month by an act of cyberbullying, so callous, so cruel, so deceitful in its nature that it felt damaging to the very core of our mission and philosophy. Students and teachers were targeted anonymously and publicly. Though launched and coordinated by a small number of individuals, the impact was immediate and deep. We believe that the parents and students who reported the offensive account and its posts to us represented a far greater number than the perpetrators and their followers.
But, we don’t know.
The person who launched the site has yet to step forward and say anything. The students and teachers victimized by the posts are left to wonder in private what in the world could trigger such hatefulness. And we find ourselves contemplating the dimensions of the cowardice, the spitefulness, and the meanness we witnessed and what it means for our sense of community.
At the heart of all that we believe about learning and education is a deep conviction that we equip our students to make a positive impact on the world when we teach them to embrace difference rather than recoil from it. The word “community” is an integral part of our name because society’s greatest advances have come through collaboration and shared values. Seeing past otherness opens up opportunities to trade ideas, build skills, and practice talents that allow each of us to grow as individuals.
And for that reason our focus each day is on cultivating a community of learners who are bound to each other. Talking about the things that trouble us, that scare us, that inspire us, and that drive us strengthens those bonds. We believe conversation makes it hard to turn away from each other, but rather encourages us to hold fast to each other when ill winds blow. And we hope that in modeling the art of conversation we will encourage even students who are reluctant to step out from the veil of anonymity to put their concerns and disappointments on the table.
The highest result of such an exchange–scary as it may be–might help us put the lowest form of attack to bed in our community once and for all.
Connie and Joy