It is a great honor for me to begin the 2017-2018 year at St. Andrew's with this first faculty meeting. Our time together as stewards, guardians, and articulators of the St. Andrew's mission and spirit is very important, not only this week, but throughout the year. Essentially, these meetings enable us to study the art of education, share best practice in teaching, advising, mentoring, develop our professional understanding and expertise, deepen our professional respect and appreciation for one another, and remind ourselves of the sacred responsibility we bear to our students and our profession.
These meetings represent one crucial approach to the opportunity of professional development and collaboration, and the faculty meeting then transforms itself into a variety of smaller forms: departments, various administrative offices within the school, committees, residential groups. What should characterize all of these meetings is a deep commitment to communication, to collaboration, to listening, to creativity, to innovation, to excellence. In all meetings we have about students, we practice and enact a spirit of deep respect and reverence for the integrity, potential, and growth of every student.
And we not only show up to meetings -- we close our screens, halt our grading, and participate energetically and actively in the work and potential of the day.
Faculty meetings are opportunities for practice, reflection, renewal, and communication. We all have to commit to doing this work well.
I learned again and again this summer that our time together as adults should help us remember and commit to best practices in our discipline: this is what Atul Gawande in his book The Checklist Manifesto writes:
All learned occupations have a definition of professionalism, a code of conduct. It is where they spell out their ideals and duties. The codes are sometimes stated, sometimes just understood. But they all have in common three elements:
First, is an expectation of selflessness that we who accept responsibility for others -- whether we are doctors, lawyers, teachers, soldiers, or pilots -- will place the needs and concerns of those who depend on us above our own.
Second, is an expectation of skill: that we will aim for excellence in our knowledge and expertise.
Third, is an expectation of trustworthiness: that we will be responsible in our personal behavior towards our charges.
Aviators, however, add faith, expectations, discipline, in following prudent procedure and in functioning with others.
Discipline is hard -- harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even the selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconsistent creatures. We cannot even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.
We don't study routine failures in teaching, in law, in government programs, in the financial industry anywhere. We don't look for the patterns of our recurrent mistakes or devise and refine potential solutions for them.
But we could -- and that is the ultimate point.
Selflessness, Skill, Trustworthiness, and Discipline -- the agenda of our meetings small and large this year:
Introduction of New Faculty
As I introduce each new member of the faculty, we each and collectively express our welcome, our hospitality, our commitment to supporting you and your families in this exciting transition to St. Andrew's life.
Elizabeth Barron: We are pleased to welcome Elizabeth Barron to St. Andrew's and our Modern Language Department. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University (BA in Philosophy and French). She received her Doctor of Philosophy degree in French Literature (with Supporting Program in Philosophy) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
During her distinguished teaching career, Elizabeth has taught at both the college and secondary school levels. From 2005-2017, she was Assistant Teaching Professor at Wake Forest. She served as Assistant Professor of French at Armstrong Atlantic State University from 1993-1996. Last year, Elizabeth taught at Maryvale Preparatory School in Maryland.
She earned the Outstanding Faculty Award at Wake Forest "for commitment to education and dedication to students."
Elizabeth's commitment to the Wake Forest community was extensive: she taught courses ranging from beginning French to upper level courses in literature, in conversation, and in history and civilization. She has also taught graduate courses for Merit Assistantship students in the Education Department and co-taught one course in linguistics in French. She has worked as an academic advisor to freshmen and sophomores.
A native Delawarean, Elizabeth won first place in the State of Delaware Oral Language Contest for four consecutive years. Welcome!
Stephen Mufuka: Stephen Mufuka joins the faculty this year as a member of our Religion Department. We are pleased to welcome him, his wife Ashley, and their two children Marcus and Arthur.
Stephen's passion for education began in his own high school career when he began teaching and coaching underprivileged children at the Anderson Recreation Center near the west side of Chicago.
Stephen earned his Bachelor of Arts in History Degree from Emory University. He received his Master's of Arts in Religious Studies Degree from Columbia University; he received his MBA in International Business and Organizational Management at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2015, Stephen completed his EdM in Education Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University.
His service to his country and to education has been prodigious -- from 1995-2011, he served in the United States Marine Corps as Infantry and International Affairs Officer. He received the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, and the Army Achievement Medal. During his career in the military, Stephen was deployed both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For the past four years, Stephen has been teaching, first at the Sports Leadership and Management Charter School in Miami, Florida, and most recently at Beacon High School, where he taught Philosophy and Social Science.
We are honored to welcome Stephen and his family to St. Andrew's!
Pam Brownlee: We are pleased to welcome back Pam Brownlee to St. Andrew's in her new role as Director of Counseling.
From 2003-2015, Pam Brownlee served as Associate Director of Counseling at St. Andrew's. Her work with her colleagues Director of Counseling Whiz Hutchinson and Assistant Director of Counseling Lindsay Roznowski helped develop one of the best counseling programs in boarding education. Pam's wisdom, experience, and understanding of adolescents literally made all the difference for a generation of St. Andrew's students.
During her career, Pam has worked in corporate sales for Proctor & Gamble and the Noxell Corporation.
She began a private counseling practice in Rapid City, South Dakota, and worked closely with the Lakota/Sioux Tribe in fundraising.
When Pam's family moved to Ellicott City, Maryland, Pam began working at a grassroots organization advocating for homeless families in the area.
Since 2015, Pam pursued certification in yoga teacher training. She taught yoga, meditation, and mindfulness while continuing her counseling practice within the local community.
Pam is a graduate of Marietta College where she earned her B.A. degree in Education. She received her M.S. in Counseling at Southern State Connecticut State University.
Ashley Hyde: We are pleased to welcome Ashley Hyde and her husband Sotirios Adamakis to St. Andrew's as a new member of our Science Department.
Ashley is a graduate of Southampton University, England, where she earned her Master's Degree in Physics with Astronomy, First Class Honours. She earned her PhD in Astrophysics at Imperial College, London. During her scholarly career, Ashley served as an Astronomer in the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, and undergraduate teaching assistant at Imperial College, London, and a USRP Research Intern at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Since 2014, Ashley has taught at the Harrow School in the United Kingdom. In addition to teaching Physics and Astronomy at the School, she has mentored students seeking the Exscitec Platinum Award for Engineering Projects, ran the Physics segment of the school's Senior Science Lecture Competition, mentored a new teacher in her department, and served as a member of the school's University Team, assisting students with their university application process. Welcome!
Will Rehrig: We are pleased to welcome Will Rehrig to St. Andrew's as a member of our Science Department.
Will is a 2011 graduate at St. Andrew's and the recipient at his Commencement of the School's highest award for character, leadership, and service.
In 2015, Will completed his Bachelors of Chemical Engineering Degree at the University of Delaware.
During his career at the University of Delaware, Will shared his passion, expertise, and knowledge of residential life. He served as a Residential Assistant for three years, worked in promotional positions for two years, and led student organizations centered on residential living. He earned the American College Personnel Association Outstanding Undergraduate Student Staff Award in 2015; he was presented the Distinguished Service Award by the Central Atlantic Affiliate of University and College Residence Halls in 2014.
Since February 2016, Will worked as a nuclear engineer, Assistant Shift Test Engineer at the Department of the Navy, Norfolk Naval Shipyard. In this position, he was responsible for understanding and learning the Nuclear Reactor Plant System for the Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers.
Christopher Sanchez: We are pleased to welcome Christopher Sanchez to St. Andrew's as a member of our Science Department.
In May 2017, Christopher graduated from the University of Delaware with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy.
During his career at the University, he served as a Department of Philosophy teaching assistant and a private Physics tutor. In addition, Christopher worked as an Assistant Librarian in Sharp Laboratory. He was a member of the Society of Physics Students, a group that promoted scientific inquiry, scientific curiosity, and scientific literacy. He worked throughout his career at the University as manager of Amore Pizza in Newark and as a volunteer assistant coach at William Penn High School.
We are delighted to welcome Christopher to St. Andrew's!
Devin Duprey: We are pleased to welcome Devin Duprey to St. Andrew's as Assistant Dean of Diversity Education and Assistant Director of College Counseling.
Devin is a 2011 graduate of St. Andrew's, where she served as co- president and Cameron Award winner. She earned her B.A. degree in Sociology with a minor in Elementary Education at Northeastern University, where she was a Ujima Scholar. Since July 2015, Devin worked as Prep for Prep Boarding School Placement Counselor, a position that gave her the opportunity to work with 70 students at 11 boarding schools from the Mid-Atlantic to the Northeast. In this position, Devin made three trips a year to each school to meet with Prep for Prep students as they navigated their boarding school experiences.
Over the past several summers, Devin has worked with the Delaware College Scholars Program as a Pre-College Orientation Leader, teacher of human development, and student advisor.
During her career at Northeastern, Devin worked for the Community Charter School of Cambridge as Special Projects Coordinator for the high school. She also coached volleyball at Community Charter School.
We are thrilled to welcome Devin back to St. Andrew's.
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My remarks over the next few days will range in a number of directions: from descriptions of our Strategic Plan, to assessments of institutional health and vitality, to professional ethics, culture, and boundaries, to the art of teaching, advising, mentoring students -- but this morning, I want to try to frame a particular focus for the next few years, one that brings our mission as an academic, all-residential school into conversation with a national crisis of polarization and divisiveness in America.
As a school with a distinctly public purpose, St. Andrew's seeks to graduate men and women who will play leadership roles in the 21st century's array of dizzying problems and crises. Without question, one of the essential attributes our students will need and we need as their teachers is an approach to the increasingly fierce, hostile, and ideological debates taking place in the country today.
I asked Giselle Furlonge and Terence Gilheany to do some thinking about this issue as we gathered for an administrative retreat this summer, and they framed the opportunity brilliantly as they called for an emphasis and dedication to the art of radical listening. Giselle suggested that radical listening changes the very direction of an institution and a culture. She will have much more to say about that powerful vision on Friday.
Today, I want to connect this national problem of polarity, distrust, and divisiveness to the philosophical and practical definitions of proximity Stephen Greenblatt suggests. I want to think about what proximity means in the context of a residential school. I want to think about how our approach to argument, seminar classes, project-based learning, teaching for understanding gives us a paradigm we can use when we work on creating a culture of communication, collaboration, and synthesis among competing worldviews. I want to make the case that inspiring teaching emerges through a full and powerful expression of empathy and human understanding. But first, I want to frame this problem more carefully and specifically.
Consider two perspectives on this issue: Writing this summer in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman describes an American crisis of trust and communication: "when a liberal comedian poses with a mock severed head of Donald Trump, when the President's own son Eric Trump says of his father's democratic opponents, 'To me, they're not even people,' you know you are heading to a dark place."
Friedman quotes Dov Seidman, author of the book, How, and CEO of LRN:
What we are experiencing is an assault on the very foundations of our society and democracy -- the twin pillars of truth and trust... The anger industry is now either sending us into comfortable echo chambers where we don't see the other or arousing such moral outrage in us toward the other that we can no longer see their humanity, let alone embrace them as fellow Americans with whom we share values.
In his book 21 Trends for the 21st Century, Gary Marx describes polarization this way:
The late futurist, philosopher, educator, and diplomat Harlan Cleveland, based on his experience, estimated that there are 5.3 sides to most issues. That's between two to three times, maybe even 5.3 times the number some leaders are willing to acknowledge -- despite the fact that a free society should be a crucible for consideration of divergent or even conflicting ideas. We should not rest until every student in our schools, perhaps all of us, are able to withhold judgment long enough to consider at least two conflicting ideas at the same time.
Marx continues: We have what seems to be a growing number of people whose righteousness has hardened their attitudes and limited their views... way too many of us are moving from talking with each other to talking past one another. Listening to the reasoning of another case seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle, replaced by preconceived conclusions, biases, and unbending ideologies.
It should not be surprising to us that the events in Charlottesville emerged partly because forces of hate, division, and intolerance felt they could now enter a political and national climate that is so fractured, polluted, and suspicious. The good news is that the nation not only rejects and condemns this expression of hatred but now perhaps may come to its senses and protect the common good we have worked so hard, and so imperfectly, to develop. Did we really need to see armed members of the KKK, neo-Nazi groups, and white supremacists to understand what we risk when we assume principles of our democracy can withstand inertia, personal attacks, and the eclipse of definitions of truth and integrity? Apparently so, and just as the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise this summer briefly ignited calls and commitments for consensus, moderation, and compromise, we now have yet another chance to assert goodness, justice, human rights in America.
I hope you had the opportunity to read Stephen Greenblatt's essay (recommended to me by John Austin, Head of King's Academy) on Shakespeare, or more specifically, his reflections on empathy, proximity, creativity, and epiphany. The more I thought about this essay, the more I believe Professor Greenblatt advocates and suggests a way forward for us all to rediscover and reaffirm the moral and spiritual foundations of our civic society, the more I believe that Greenblatt suggests a powerful living and teaching model for us to emulate.
In his analysis of the brilliant imagination and range of Shakespeare, Greenblatt paradoxically argues that the source of dramatic understanding and enlightenment is available to all. While, yes, we lack Shakespeare's genius and eloquence, Greenblatt suggests we do all share the gift that led to Shakespeare's illumination of humanity. He writes:
Ideologies of various kinds contrive to limit our ability to enter into the experience of another... What Shakespeare bequeathed to us offers the possibility of an escape from the mental ghettos most of us inhabit.
Our ideologies keep us walled off from one another, seemingly safe and secure, in reality blind, defensive, suspicious. What Shakespeare did in reaction to his own age and for all time, of course, was radical: he moved the notions and very definition of dramatic character into realms that had never been explored or expressed before. In Zadie Smith's words, "We cherish him for his lack of allegiance... in his plays he is woman, man, black, white, believer, heretic, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim."
Greenblatt described this process in an earlier text Will of the World as Shakespeare's creative and essential mastery of interiority -- the ability to share in a character's speech the very essence, complexity, and vulnerability of the human mind and soul. This was, of course, a moral and ethical and spiritual and, yes, a literary innovation and decision on Shakespeare's part: to feel so deeply, to imagine so generously and empathetically that not only his plays but his very approach to human psychology and motivation became radical and penetrating. Greenblatt beautifully documents the evolution of this innovation by juxtaposing what seems to be wooden tentative explorations of this process (at least on a Shakespearean scale) towards the ultimate unfolding of the voices that resonate for all time: Brutus, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Lear. Greenblatt calls this process a "strange irrepressible imaginative generosity," and it emerged miraculously only in the last stage of Shakespeare's career, a time that unleashed his greatest work. Shakespeare was already firmly established, respected, successful, secure, but somehow he lived, suffered, stretched, strained, created, and discovered a new way of expressing the human condition.
In this new essay, Greenblatt goes back to the question of Shakespeare's methodology, but this time he concentrates both on The Merchant of Venice and the ways Shakespeare's imagination and empathetic regard deepens the complexity and power of his work. Both through the source he relied upon and through his initial plan of composition, Shakespeare saw Shylock in The Merchant of Venice as a character of greed, evil, and violence. He was to be punished, converted for his threat and his intended violence and, of course, made to witness the betrayal, wedding, and conversion of his beloved daughter. The play was meant to be a comedy, with Shylock as part of the drama that would unleash the comic reassertion of order, love, community.
Instead, as Greenblatt suggests, Shakespeare's empathy, grace, and understanding opens Shylock to the audience, and he unleashes a dynamic, complex portrait of a man who is deeply flawed and at the same time isolated, pained, and humiliated in the face of Christian arrogance, presumption, and cruelty. It is as if the creation of character in its most rich, vivid, and creative form became much more important than the play itself.
He set out to create a straightforward comedy - only to find himself increasingly drawn into the soul of the despised other... by giving Shylock more theatrical vitality - quite simply, more urgent, compelling life, than anyone else in the play.
And, therefore, miraculously came these immortal words of pain and desolation -- words asserting human dignity in the face of derision, scorn, and prejudice.
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, afflictions, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?
Greenblatt calls this miracle "the creation of life, one of the essential qualities of the human imagination." He imagines Shakespeare tying his characters to his body "like leeches so they might suck his lifeblood and in so doing take authentic dramatic form." He explains that genius erupted from "entering deeply, too deeply," from exploring "an excess of life."
This cultivation of imagination, this cultivation of character, this cultivation of the habit of seeing the world from the perspective far away from the egotistical self is the work of great teachers in the field of education.
We must continue to suggest to our students that the life of the mind, spirit, and community at this school are all about the cultivation of a more broad, inclusive humble view of and engagement with the world. We do not have to be Shakespeare to live in this rich and generous and thoughtful way, to break down the walls that divide us from one another, to escape from the mental prison that reflects only our self-absorption and narcissism.
What does teaching with irrepressible, imaginative, generosity look like and sound like? It is passionate, creative, responsible, disciplined, and inspiring. It contains every day moments when the majesty and beauty and complexity and importance of what you are teaching overwhelms your soul and you communicate that feeling of awe and reverence to your students. It means thinking of teaching the way Will Porter does: "Make sure you are teaching things that excite you and make you laugh and cry." It means you construct questions, problems, dilemmas, cases, and research opportunities that encourage discovery, immersion, focus, and enlightenment. It means moving from teaching a class to igniting the minds and hearts and souls of every individual in your class. It means being present, engaged, thoughtful, creative in your search for the particular ways of unlocking and liberating learning in your student. It means changing your teaching ideology, your methodology, your presumption to be sure you are sharing, cultivating, scaffolding, teaching the student what he needs to grow and flourish. It is moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary, it is the process of helping students believe in their ability, capacity, and potential to do literally anything for the world. It means emulating Shakespeare's determined refusal to be bound by any particular ideology or identity in a quest for comprehensive human understanding. It means asserting the power of love, collaboration, and community in the face of hatred and division.
That is what great teaching is, and that is the challenge before us this year: to teach and to advise and to mentor with an excess of life, attention, vitality, and energy. That is what I will be looking for when I visit classes, rehearsals, practices, and dorms this year.
Last week, Nathan Englander published an essay in The New York Times reflecting on childhood, primal experiences and memories, and the searing damage of the neo-Nazi, white supremacy rally. The day brought back the humiliation of his youth -- the moments he and others were derisively encouraged or physically forced to scrounge for pennies on the sidewalk -- the day when Anti-Semites surrounded his sister -- the taunts and jeers from passersby: "the Swastika shaving cream on our front door at Halloween to the kid on his bike yelling, "Hitler should have finished, you all!"
Englander thought those days of pain and isolation were over until last week when the vicious sounds of racist poison infiltrated and exploded on the streets of Virginia. He writes:
Because the children who witness a day like that... will not forget the fear and disrespect tailored to the black child, the Muslim child, the Jewish child... Saturday in Charlottesville was just one day, but think of that one day multiplied by all of us, across this great country. Think of the size of that setback, the assault on empathy, the divisiveness and tiki-torched terror multiplied by every single citizen of this nation. It may as well be millions of years of dignity, of civility, of progress lost. Just from that one day.
Of course, the brilliance of Englander's perspective is that he both thinks of his own trauma as an innocent child meeting the forces of certain and debilitating and threatening Anti-Semitism; he reminds us that these images of hatred and violence today find immediate and multiplied expression in our country.
I went immediately to Bryan Stevenson for perspective on what had happened at Charlottesville. In several interviews, he calmly and patiently explained that the open and violent assault on American principles of equality and human rights was in reality a clear result of our inability and refusal to do what Germany and South Africa did following World War II and the end of apartheid: study, acknowledge, and document the tragedy of slavery, Jim Crow, and virulent white supremacy, segregation and discrimination. That is why Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative work today to document and memorialize the lynchings that occurred throughout the American South in reaction to Reconstruction and the assertion of principles of equality. That is why it was important for Englander to share the pain of his childhood with America last week.
Colson Whitehead confronts that legacy of hatred, violence, and torture in The Underground Railroad, our school summer reading book this summer. Near the end of the book, in Shakespearean fashion, he takes us into the heart and soul of Mabel as she both experiences the exquisite joy of freedom and her deep emotional maternal responsibility to her daughter.
She lay on her back and ate another turnip. Without the sound of her splashing and huffing, the noises of the swamp resumed. The spadefoot toads and turtles and slithering creatures, the chattering of black insects. Above - through the leaves and branches of the black - water trees - the sky scrolled before her, new constellations wheeling in the darkness as she relaxed. No patrollers, no bosses, no cries of anguish to induct her into another's despair. No cabin walls shuttling her through the night seas like the hold of a slave ship. Sandhill cranes and warblers, otters splashing. On the bed of dark earth, her breathing slowed and that which separated herself from the swamp disappeared. She was free. This moment.
She had to go back. The girl was waiting on her. This would have to do for now. Her hopelessness had gotten the best of her, speaking her thoughts like a demon. She would keep this moment close, her own treasure. When she found the words to share it with Cora, the girl would understand there was something beyond the plantation, past all that she knew. That one day if she stayed strong, the girl could have it for herself.
The world may be mean, but people don't have to be, not if they refuse.
Mabel picked up her sack and got her bearings. If she kept a good pace, she'd be back well before first light and the earliest risers on the plantation. Her escape had been a preposterous idea, but even a sliver of it amounted to the best adventure in her life.
Mabel pulled out another turnip and took a bite. It really was sweet. The snake found her not long into her return. She was wending through a cluster of stiff reeds when she disturbed its rest. The cottonmouth bit her twice, in the calf and deep in the meat of her thigh. No sound but pain. Mabel refused to believe it. It was a water snake, it had to be. Ornery but harmless. When her mouth went minty and her leg tingled, she knew. She made it another mile. She had dropped her sack along the way, lost her course in the back water. She could have made it farther - working Randall land had made her strong, strong in body if nothing else - but she stumbled onto a bed of soft moss and it felt right. She said, "Here," and the swamp swallowed her up.
We Americans have come to understand and promise that those who met oppression,violence, and discrimination in our history would have their descendants enjoy the fruits of freedom, and have this precious gift once and for all. This great movement towards freedom and equality was never about oppressing or replacing or punishing white people. It was an expression of humanity's restless, moral, spiritual commitment to freedom and equality for all.
We seek to redeem Charlottesville, Englander's desolate flashbacks, the life and death of Mabel, and generations who shared her heroism and tragedy.
We do so one day, one moment, one conversation, one commitment at a time, and we do so by moving closer to one another, asserting dignity, civility, and progress, and finding and affirming and announcing a richness of imagination and grace.