At yesterday’s all-school assembly in the MAC, I was pleased to announce the results of our second annual “MICDS Clash of Classes” children’s TV trivia contest. Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Well, apparently only if you’re a second grader. Congratulations to the Class of 2033 on their photo-finish victory! If you think you can do better, be my guest. Maybe I’ll even buy you a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
Among the Clash of Classes rules of engagement, enforced especially by our Middle and Upper School faculty advisors, are these: “Students may answer questions only from memory. Use of phones, computers, and other information resources is prohibited during the trivia contest.” This fine print brought to you by attorneys for the Classes of 2031-2036. Information technology has been better than human beings at chess only since 1997, but it’s been better at trivia contests since forever.
I took the opportunity at yesterday’s assembly, and again at the Parents Association luncheon later that morning, to promote our inaugural Spring Arts Festival, which we will be hosting on campus on April 20. At the luncheon, in emphasizing the importance of arts education and experience at MICDS, I shared excerpts from T Bone Burnett’s keynote address at the Americana Music Festival and Conference in September 2016. A St. Louis native and prolific songwriter, musician, and music producer, Burnett declared that art is “a holy pursuit…, a vocation, an inclination, a response to a summons.” Moreover, he contended, art is the antithesis of technology. “Technology does only one thing: it tends toward efficiency,” he said. “It has no aesthetics. It has no ethics. Its code is binary. But everything interesting in life—everything that makes life worth living—happens between the binary.”
How intriguing that the root of the word “technology,” the Ancient Greek tekhna, means something like “art.” How intriguing, too, that we choose to qualify technologies that mimic human intelligence with the adjective “artificial,” an etymological sibling of “art.” It is perhaps not technology itself but our use and imagination of it that is unartistic. “This internet technology that has been so wildly promoted as being the key, the final solution, to our freedom, has become our prison,” Burnett insisted in his 2016 remarks. “Our twenty-first century communication network, regarded by its early adherents with a religious fervor, has been turned into a surveillance and advertising mechanism.”
Maybe the way forward lies in being less in thrall to productivity. Don Huberts, an executive with Royal Dutch Shell, quipped in 1999 that “the Stone Age didn’t end because the world ran out of stones.” I think it’s safe to say that the Information Age will not end because the world runs out of information. It will end when we adopt an adjacent possible relationship to technology. Did efficiency ever really make anyone happy? “To have and to hold” goes the marriage vow, not “to be efficient and productive.” T Bone Burnett reminds us why. “Mercy is not binary. Love is not binary. Music and art are not binary. You and I are not binary.” Even the ostensible freedom of a “gray area” presupposes an ultimate black-and-white binary. What is the polychromatic equivalent? “Iridescent area”? Sounds like a happier place to be.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. My very best wishes to you and your families for a full and wonderful weekend. I will hope to see you at next week’s Arts Festival.
Head of School
This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: Fireflies by Owl City (Apple Music / Spotify). Our students sang along to this song as we adjourned our April all-school assembly, just as they did last year. “I’d like to make myself believe that planet Earth turns slowly.”