A Fair and Balanced Time?
I must confess that leading a school in a time of political turmoil and unpredictability isn’t easy. Headlines splash over the gunnels of my desk almost every day, making each step slippery. Making sense of them all takes a lot of work because I am doing so both for myself and for others.
And yet, when I step away from my screens and just spend time with students, I see something refreshing and surprising: they are paying attention but are also focused on their lives further down the road. Many of them are looking past the next four years, past electoral politics in general, and seeking to connect with other people, to build a life of goodness, and to simply understand themselves.
We all should be so lucky.
From her I’ve got my resolution for this year: Practice staying with your discomforts, whatever they may be, and relax into them. Don’t run, or numb, or turn away as you encounter them.
What you find there is what you actually need.
I love to learn and to find evermore podcasts that keep me laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes scratching my head, but always learning. Happy Holidays and happy listening. I hope you enjoy some of these favorites from the past year:
Bowdoin College in Maine and Vassar College in upstate New York are roughly the same size. They compete for the same students. Both have long traditions of academic excellence. But one of those schools is trying hard to close the gap between rich and poor in American society—and paying a high price for its effort. The other is making that problem worse—and reaping rewards as a result.
NPR’s How I Built This: Airbnb’s Joe Gebbia:
A chance encounter with a stranger gave Joe Gebbia an idea to help pay his rent. That idea turned into Airbnb — a company that now has more rooms than the biggest hotel chain in the world.
Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders: Entrepreneurship Strengthens a Nation
Retired serial entrepreneur Steve Blank, creator of the “Lean LaunchPad” methodology for startups, discusses Silicon Valley’s roots as the epicenter of electronic warfare in the mid-20th century and how the region’s innovation ecosystem formed.
Harvard Business Review IdeaCast 525: How Focusing on Content Leads the Media Astray
Bharat Anand, author of The Content Trap and professor at Harvard Business School, talks about the strategic challenges facing digital businesses, and explains how he and his colleagues wrestled with them when designing HBX, the school’s online learning platform.
WNYC/Freakonomics Radio: Ten Ideas to Make Politics Less Rotten
We Americans may love our democracy, at least in theory, but at the moment our feelings toward the federal government lie somewhere between disdain and hatred. Which electoral and political ideas should be killed off to make way for a saner system?
WNYC/Freakonomics Radio: The Longest Long Shot
When the uncelebrated Leicester City Football Club won the English Premier League, it wasn’t just the biggest underdog story in recent history. It was a sign of changing economics — and that other impossible, wonderful events might be lurking just around the corner.
We often hear about how swiftly evolving technology is transforming the acquisition of knowledge in our schools. However, though the modes of acquiring information may change rapidly, the essential knowledge that high school students should possess is fairly timeless.
- How to communicate. Beyond simply parroting a rehearsed message, students must consider their audience’s needs as well as their own intentions for what to communicate, and then figure out the best channel for that communication. Technology quickly alters those channels, so schools need to keep a vigilant eye on what’s new, and adopt and adapt in proportion to the needs of their students. Project-based learning requires more intensive and more intricate levels of communication among students than traditional modes of learning, making it one of the best ways to help students sharpen their communication skills.
- How to form research questions. With information scarcity no longer an obstacle for most U.S. students, all learners must know how to direct their curiosity into actionable questions. Research protocols like The Big Six and others give clear and repeatable structure to inquiry, allowing students to make question design and formation a habit rather than a whole new endeavor each time their curiosity bubbles up.
- How to ask for help. Too many adults assume that students’ digital nativeness equates to expertise with all technology, and too many students are led to believe the same. I don’t meet many teens who can harness the power of spreadsheets, however. Adults need to ensure that schools are places where asking for help is encouraged, instead of being an impediment to covering the next content chunk. Students need to consider that adults actually do know things of value to them. Adults facilitate that attitude by listening well to them and helping each student understand that their independence springs from adults who help them build that capability by stepping over one stumbling block at a time.
My most recent post… was the 50th since I began Simon Says… in 2013. It was also one of the most well-read posts, and seemed to strike a chord for many readers.
I thought I would celebrate this milestone by pausing to gather reader feedback. Please take a minute to answer a brief survey and share what you’ve liked abut the blog, what you want to read more of, and any other comments you might have.It has been a joy for me to build this blog over the years since becoming Head of School. I love getting people involved and want to connect everyone to Darrow and to the world of education. Your feedback is crucial to that effort.
Recently, a close friend who is a college professor told me about a study group she was in with some of her colleagues. The group was interested in learning about the Millennial generation, and one of the sub-topics was microaggressions.
My friend was generally familiar with the term, but not aware its genesis and fine points. Thinking it a valid question to pose to a group of fellow academics, she asked, “Does anyone know the academic definition of microaggression?” The response surprised her. Several of the professors became rigid and agitated. One suggested, by inference, that asking the definition of the word was itself a microaggression. My friend was floored, both embarrassed and also shocked that among some of her colleagues the question made her seem socially insensitive, or something worse.
Now, this friend is a feminist, someone who doesn’t doubt the existence of microaggressions, and who believes that it is the job of each member of a particular demographic group to educate themselves—as well as others who share it—about that privilege. I would say the same of myself. And yet, this event suggests some paradoxical questions: If members of a privileged group have a duty to educate themselves about their privilege (and I believe they do), how can they do so without necessarily invoking it? How can it be that our educational environment today is such that one cannot, in the spirit of genuine inquiry, admit a gap in one’s knowledge or ask for help in developing one’s own understanding without putting oneself at risk?
These are sensitive questions to ask, and as the leader of a heterogeneous educational community of people who live, work, study, and play together, it is literally my job to help figure out and address an answer. I need to make the space that we share one in which a truly diverse community can learn about microaggressions and ask questions of them safely. Smaller, tight-knit communities should be able to do this more easily than larger, more anonymous ones, and I’m glad for being a part of the former. I’ve got a few ideas on the subject; foremost among them, I believe that people need to start by giving, instead of withdrawing, the benefit of the doubt, and assume good intent on the part of the inquirer. The complex world we are making each day demands that we find ways to hold open, genuine conversations in which both parties recognize the intentions and limitations of the other.
I know there is more to do and I ask your help in that effort. Please send me suggestions and share your comments, either in the space below or with me personally at email@example.com.
Addendum: As I researched this term, which I assumed was relatively new since it has emerged into mainstream discourse in the past five to 10 years, I found (and here am knowingly and publicly outing myself as less than fully informed) that the term is about as old as I am, a product of the early 1970s. This is one of several things I have learned today.