The following letter is adapted from remarks delivered at the Parents Association Fall Coffee in Olson Hall on Friday, August 26.
“The first one who uses ‘but’ has lost the argument.” The writer Nassim Taleb tweeted this claim in June 2019, and my recollection of it this week helped to crystallize my hang-up with the popular imperative to “trust but verify,” which is this: it implies a losing argument. How much better off we would be if the expression were “verify and trust,” with the verbs given in their proper order and the argumentative conjunction removed. Alas, virtually no one says “verify and trust,” but maybe we will start a trend. Or should I say “and maybe we will start a trend”? I do not want to lose the argument already!
According to Gallup, confidence in American institutions has declined considerably over the last several decades. Since 1975, when expressed in terms of a 4-point scale (where 4 represents “a great deal of confidence” and 0 represents “no confidence”), the average response to the question “Please tell me how much confidence you have in the Supreme Court,” for example, has dropped by 20%. Confidence in the presidency has dropped even further, by 30%, and confidence in Congress has dropped by 37%. Everyday American institutions have hardly fared better: confidence levels in business, public schools, healthcare, and organized religion have fallen 19%, 27%, 29%, and 30%, respectively.
It is not lost on me, in drawing your attention to these sobering long-term trends, that MICDS is itself an institution whose strength–like that of those cited above–depends in large measure on the trust with which it is invested. Against the backdrop of broader institutional disaffection in American life, our faculty and staff must endeavor ever the more energetically to build and sustain durable bonds between the School and its many constituents. Especially as we reclaim the narrative trajectory of our institution in this new year, we will be rededicated to the ambition of strengthening the confidence that is placed in us.
In turn, I would appeal to you to “verify and trust.” This collaborative relational imperative is consistent with the Parent-School Partnership Agreement that guides our joint efforts on behalf of your children. Please raise questions or concerns about your child’s MICDS journey as warranted–the what, the when, and the where of their experiences here–and please subsequently trust our teachers and staff, our approaches to teaching and learning, and our mission and values–the who, the how, and the why of our work–in the address and resolution of the issues you raise.
At our Lower School Parents Night on Thursday, I framed my words of welcome around the opening line of Sylvia Plath’s poem The Munich Mannequins: “Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children.” Growing and learning, teaching and leading, coaching and advising, parenting and mentoring–these are all joyfully imperfect projects. We embrace them at MICDS in a spirit of partnership, trust, and hope with you. We have good work to do this year together, and I know that we will.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. My very best wishes to you and your families for a joyful weekend.
Head of School