“Have you seen Pete the Cat?” Cooper, one of our Senior Kindergarten students, was looking up at me with pleading eyes. It was the first day of school, and he and his classmates were walking dutifully in single file, following clues to Pete’s location and, along the way, visiting and learning about all sorts of exciting places in the Lower School: the art classroom, the lunchroom, the gym, the nurse’s office, and many more besides. “I haven’t seen him!” I replied. “Where do you think he might be?” “I don’t know,” answered Cooper, and then, as if the point required clarification, added, “We’re trying to find Pete the Cat!” I decided to stop what I was doing and join the search.
I learned later from Ghada Ead, one of our Senior Kindergarten teachers and the leader of this expedition, that the students had just read Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, in which Pete goes on a similar adventure in his own school—and in his own school shoes, of course. Ghada and Leslie Rohan, the class teaching associate, brought the book to life for their young learners by involving them as characters in a parallel plot. “Come on, Pete, down that hall / to a room with books on every wall,” sings his teacher as Rocking in My School Shoes begins. It’s certainly fun to read about Pete going to the library. It’s even more fun to become Pete going to the library. (It turns out that the real Pete, a stuffed blue feline fellow, was hiding in the Senior Kindergarten classroom all along.)
At our opening faculty and staff meeting last week, and again at Tuesday’s Middle School student assembly and today’s Upper School student assembly, I emphasized the fundamental importance of storytelling to meaning-making. Expanding on an observation that I shared at last year’s graduation ceremony—that, among the challenges with which the pandemic has confronted us, the disruption of our preexisting personal and institutional narratives is significant—I noted in all of these settings that it is now time to reclaim our stories for ourselves. The pandemic no longer writes its haphazard and confusing plot. We write the plot, and we have wonderful stories to tell.
I have also encouraged our teachers, staff, and students, in imagining and telling our individual and collective stories, to embrace narrative complexity—to resist the tendency toward groupthink and oversimplification to which our world seems increasingly prone. The writer Ross Douthat warned in late July of a rising “hive mind” in human society “in which a dissenting voice struggles to be heard.” Resisting “The Age of the Algorithm,” Douthat contends, “takes energy and creativity and courage, and the risk for our culture is that our technological skill and our cultural exhaustion are working together.” We must bring renewed energy to telling our MICDS story. We have no time for stock personages and dull, algorithmic plotlines in the chapters we write. We must insist on depth and originality, on complex and interesting characters who learn and grow through conflict and resolution, exertion and achievement.
Above all, our stories must be stories of hope, and MICDS a sanctuary for hope. The tales of fear, disappointment, and cynicism so ubiquitous in our world today require less strength to tell than stories of hope and expectation. Kara Lawson, head coach of the Duke University women’s basketball team, urges her players never to “wait for stuff to get easier.” Life, she reminds them, never gets easier. “What happens is you learn to handle hard better. And the second we see you handling stuff, handling hard better, what are we going to do? We’re going to make it harder. Because we’re preparing you for when you leave here.” Hope does not aspire to ease. Hope aspires to fulfillment. We earn it by handling hard better.
“Once upon a time, a child’s life became simpler and easier as the child grew up, and the child lived happily ever after.” This is a fairy tale, and a boring one at that. We don’t write those at MICDS. “Once upon a time, a child’s life became increasingly complex, and each time that it did, the child learned to handle complexity better, and the adult that the child eventually became lived happily ever after.” There. That’s better—if you will indulge me the “happily ever after” part.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. It is thrilling to begin this new story with your children and with you. I wish you a very joyful weekend.
Head of School