This week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Chicago to spend time with Country Day, Mary Institute and MICDS alumni who graduated as long ago as when John F. Kennedy was president and as recently as when Barack Obama was. Among the events that I attended was a luncheon with current and former MICDS Board of Visitors members, all of whom were intensely interested in goings-on at the School as well as my leadership priorities and goals.
Over the course of our discussion – which ranged from the appropriate role of athletics in education, to the challenges of offering a demanding academic program in an era of rising student stress, to the optimal balance of traditional and progressive educational methods – I was impressed by the respect with which these alumni treated one another despite many points of disagreement. Their shared love of MICDS and the connections that they enjoy with one another through our institution, notwithstanding their span of ages and life experiences, tempered our conversation with a tone of considerateness and trust – a tone remarkably distinctive from the rudeness and mistrust that so often poison otherwise similar occasions of disagreement in American life.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg published an opinion piece by Steven Gerrard, a professor at Williams College, titled “The Rise of the Comfort College.” Among his claims is that “students are now absolutists,” a statement that is itself, of course, absolute and therefore rhetorical, but whose essential sentiment within the context of his essay – that binary right-or-wrong, with-me-or-against-me “thinking” impedes the capacity of educational institutions to cultivate habits of critical reasoning in their students – is widely shared. In July, The New York Review of Books published “Which Way to the City on a Hill?,” a piece by Iowa author Marilynne Robinson (whose conversation in 2015 with Barack Obama is also worth reading) in which she observes, in lamenting her students’ impulsive and unexamined condemnation of capitalism, “Certainty is not the product of good education. Indeed, it is distinctively the product of bad education.”
I believe that authentic community of the kind that we endeavor to foster and inhabit at MICDS is an antidote to the anti-intellectual absolutism and certainty that has come to define and stymie American political life and, too often, life on college campuses as well. A culture of knowing, valuing and investing in each other is our baseline at MICDS. We learn to listen more than we speak. We learn to question more than we state. We learn to dignify more than we dismiss. Certainty is easy to come by in solitude. It is difficult if not impossible to come by in community. Life is complicated. Few challenges offer simple solutions. We understand these things at MICDS because we are committed in equal measure, and absolutely, to both halves of what our alumni knew us to be in the past and what our students know us to be today: an educational community.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you and your families a wonderful weekend.
Head of School