Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Independent Schools We Need--Now More Than Ever

        The current presidential campaign, particularly in the past few weeks, has many schools wondering how to respond. They're wondering about the trickle-down effect, from kids' behavior prompted by poor adult modelling to topics in civics classes. The worry may increase after tomorrow night's debate. It's understandable, and some schools have suffered quite unsavory incidents. Plenty of resources and guidance exists in various places, so I don't intend to offer much in the way of specific here (no "top ten ways to deal with political nonsense"). It's not my real point. Besides, I suspect the answer lies in some things that have always been true about proper behavior and great education. And while the angst is genuine in the immediate, I hope it also prompts some larger reflection, especially for independent schools.
       As part of that reflection, first we have to acknowledge that this is not a new problem, suddenly roaring into existence the past few weeks or even few months. It's existed throughout the campaign. In fact, it's become politics as normal for a long time. I wrote about it last January in this piece and in another post linked within it three years before that. Our political system has become one of anger and divisiveness, with black-and-white thinking spurring hard-line action. Meanwhile, the populace likes to throw stones at politicians. But cultures, like individuals, reap what they sow. The whole thing feels like too many Internet fora come to life. In a way, in their past independent schools have been a part of the problem, given the status many held as bastions of privilege, ensconced on our glorious campuses and blissfully ignoring social issues.
       But in our modern manifestations, that is no longer the case. In times such as the current one, the best thing we can do for ourselves, along with the families and students we serve, is to re-emphasize and commit to what independent schools are supposed to be about. Yes, our missions play out in different ways within particular cultures; and the work is exceptionally complex and ethereal. But we can distill it to three key qualities:

  • earnest, dogged intellectualism within the context of holistic human development;
  • critical examination of topics via rational discourse;
  • humane, civil behavior guided by a firm ethical underpinning.
They are those things so missing from the campaign and often from our culture. So it's not the time for us to be blindly partisan, but to live up to our names and be independent. We have to resist the larger culture so our students can grow up to be the ones to improve it.

No comments: