From the Desk of Jay Rainey – April 28, 2023

Today is the final day of school for the senior class. Earlier this week, I reached out to them with a question. “As you reflect on your time at MICDS, what advice would you give to younger students as they continue to learn and grow, both in and out of school?” I received so many thoughtful answers in reply, among which was this guidance from Sanchi Vishwakarma: “Don’t attach your self worth to your grades. Learn for the sake of learning, not to regurgitate knowledge on a test and forget the material the next day. Also, don’t spread yourself too thin—my biggest mistake.”

Both halves of Sanchi’s admonitions to our younger students—that regurgitation is not learning, and that overwork is unhealthy—offer an opportunity of return to The Sorceror’s Apprentice. I wrote last week that “a future in which advanced technologies have eliminated human exertions and wreaked further havoc besides is one we must at all costs avoid,” but the difficulty in averting such a world is implicit in Sanchi’s reflections. Because overwork is unhealthy, Mickey steals the sorcerer’s cap and animates a broom; yet because regurgitation is not learning, the broom, and the legion of regurgitating brooms that it spawns, wreak the havoc that they do.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Joanna Stern provides a fascinating account of her foray into the world of artificially intelligent avatars. “The good news about AI Joanna,” she writes, is that “she never loses her voice, she has outstanding posture, and not even a tornado could mess up her hair.” The bad news? “She can fool my family and trick my bank.” Using video and audio footage of a real person such as herself, Stern reports, companies like Synthesia and ElevenLabs can create a convincingly “alive” avatar stand-in. “The potential for misuse is real,” she cautions. “Anyone on the internet could take hours of my voice—or yours—to save and use.” Indeed, earlier this month the New York Post reported a frightening example of a kidnapping scam perpetrated against an Arizona parent with an AI-generated imitation of her daughter’s voice—a “stochastic parrot” put to hideous use.

Curiously, Stern concludes her piece by saying, “I plan to use these tools to afford me more time to be a real human.” Have we actually reached the point where “I need to clone myself to be myself” is a reasonable contention? John Maynard Keynes’ 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, which I cited in last week’s letter, was ultimately inaccurate in predicting a 15-hour work week, but only to the extent that it was inaccurate in assuming that humanity would solve its “permanent problem” of exercising the “freedom from pressing economic cares which science and compound interest will have won.” I do not believe that Keynes was at all wrong in contending that “it will be those peoples who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself, and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”

Animating a broom with a sorcerer’s hat is one thing, but willingly creating an artificially intelligent clone? What is this if not selling oneself for the means of life at the expense of life itself? These questions are already our questions at MICDS. “Don’t attach your self-worth to your grades,” Sanchi advises. Don’t attach life itself, in other words, to the means of life. “Learn for the sake of learning, not to regurgitate knowledge on a test.” Our students must aspire to be authentic and fulfilled human beings, not potential AI clones.

Sanchi isn’t the only senior with wisdom to share. “MICDS is a fantastic school,” says Peter Grace. “You get out what you put into it, so when you feel discouraged, instead of blaming your problems on the school, use its resources to work through your situation.” Another senior notes that “good things take time, so don’t worry if your hard work doesn’t develop the expected results immediately.” Another advises that “it’s okay to disrupt things you don’t agree with, just be able to understand why and counter with an educated argument.” (In a similar vein, another senior writes, “One of the purposes of schooling is to teach conformity and obedience, so one of the most meaningful things you can do is be cognizant and metacognizant of how you want to conform to your peers, recognizing when are the right times to be obedient and when are the times to stand up for yourself or others.”)

“Don’t be someone you’re not just to fit in,” says Keller Goldstein. “You’re unique, and you’ll find your people. Just give it some time.” Another senior writes, “All you have is your reputation. Once broken, it takes years to build it back. Do not do anything to ruin it!” He also offers this advice: “Take risks, because those moments that you are vulnerable are the moments you cherish forever. Senior year, I branched out and tried new things, and I do not regret it in the slightest. Yes, not everything went my way, but that’s what makes success even more exciting.” (“Join serious clubs that actually meet,” writes one of his classmates. “Mock Trial was a huge time commitment, but probably one of my favorite things I’ve done all school year. I recommend studying different places around the school, too, like the library or Olson Commons, because the campus is really nice.”)

“Many think of the service requirement as an annoyance,” says Kyle Sha, “but I would take the time to get involved with a couple of non-profit organizations around St. Louis as soon as freshman year and make a consistent commitment to volunteering every weekend. Not only will you meet some amazing people through this, but you’ll have more than enough service hours before you know it. If you are particularly strong at a certain subject, try peer tutoring at school or outside of school. I found it really rewarding. Tutoring has actually taught me a few things as well and solidified my own understanding on a variety of subjects. Finally, try working a job over the summer. It’s a great way to earn a little bit of cash and develop your skills in multiple areas like communication and time management.”

Today, most of our seniors are wearing t-shirts and other clothing announcing the colleges to which they are matriculating, so I was pleased to read this observation from one of them: “Because MICDS is a college prep school, whatever college you go to, you will do amazing. It doesn’t matter what other people think about where you go. Go wherever your heart desires. 😊” (Emoji included.)

We are so proud of the Class of 2023 at MICDS, and I have every reason to believe that, notwithstanding the challenges that await them now and in the future, they are well prepared to “keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself.” Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish them and you a very joyful weekend ahead.

Jay Rainey
Head of School