Welcome to the Headmaster's Blog where you'll find updates, thoughts, and events regarding Saint David's School, the education of boys, and other items of interest. This is by no means meant to be a complete account of all that happens at Saint David's. Please refer to the school's website for more complete details -- it's more a Headmaster's musings.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Are our Brains Being Rewired?

"Dazzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture" Nicholas Carr writes in his latest piece in Wired Magazine on the impact of evolving technologies on our learning, lives and culture.  "What we’re experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting," Carr contends.

Carr develops an interesting argument; one worth contemplating.  There is a strong case to be made for managing technology as we do all the tools we have at our disposal.  I'm not sure we as a culture, or as a society, have figured out exactly how to do that yet, especially with respect to emerging technologies and the sheer abundance of all kinds of information.  We are a little infatuated right now, and our consumer culture is feeding the frenzy.  There is something to be said for employing the classical tradition of balance.

Reading deeply and examining books or comprehensive, thoughtfully developed and reasoned text will always be an intellectually challenging pursuit, and an absolutely essential skill.  When compared to the cursory skimming of bits and pieces of data and text that Web 2.0 encourages and almost celebrates, it doesn't take one long to realize that much of what is happening has been fleeting; it can't be sustained as is and it will self-correct in time.   What the impact of this "revolution" will ultimately be and what it will all look like on the other side, though, is anybody's guess.  I do believe we are at the dawn of another seismic shift (See Empires of the Mind) in our culture, but I'm not sure I buy into all of Carr's argument.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Young Alums Return

It's about 6:45 pm Tuesday and I'm enjoying the company of some 120 young alums in Hyman Hall, many of their teachers and the Class of 2011. Pictured here is Fr. O'Shea of the Passionists updating the boys on how the $33 thousand the Class of 2010 raised for disaster relief in Haiti last year has helped the lives of so many Haitians--people who the boys will never meet; but whose lives they have been changed forever. The boys represent leadership with a moral purpose.  We are proud of their outreach and commitment to the greater good.

Homecoming dinner, a delicious meal of braised beef, mashed potatoes, a mushroom gravy served with lightly cooked fresh vegetables, fresh rolls and plenty of soda followed a visit to the newly furnished Faculty Lounge after Chapel--the Class of 2010's legacy gift to their school.

It has become tradition at Saint David's to invite alumns from the last four graduating classes (high school alums) to the school on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to enjoy Chapel and a meal with the Class of 2011 and their teachers--to share stories of high school, the application process and to prove that it really does all work out in the end.  Chapel tonight was given by Keats Sexton, '01. After Saint David's, Keats attended Regis, Georgetown and now works for UBS.  He reflected on the lessons learned at Saint David's that have carried him through all the years since, and shared two pieces of advice with the boys regarding their futures, namely: seize opportunities when presented and pursue your passions.

Our gathering tonight of some 170 faculty and alums, all in a festive mood, happy to be back, reflecting, celebrating and catching up with friends is a testament to the importance of community.

Tomorrow, one of the longest running and most anticipated of the school's traditions--the 45th Annual Odds and Evens Alumni and Faculty Soccer Game will be held.  Evens (even year graduates) have managed to squeak out a victory over the Odds for the last seven years in a row.  The odds may be on the Odds tomorrow.  Happy Thanksgiving.

A Prayer for Thanksgiving ...

Thanksgiving festivities are in full swing at Saint David's.  Late yesterday and early this morning some 8th graders were distributing pies to families in the Lobby while the rest were busy on the 4th floor packing some 200 boxes with cans and food stuffs collected from all the grades over the past several weeks, in preparation for delivery tomorrow, along with frozen turkeys, ham, and bacon, to Incarnation Parish on the West Side and Bethel Gospel Assembly Church in Harlem.  Later this morning, I accepted an invitation to join Pilgrims (Omega) and Wampanoag (PreKindergarten) for their annual feast in the PreK room.  They were fully decked out in costumes, all sitting at table enjoying the "fruits of their friendship." It was a wonderful treat.

The pilgrims and Wampanoag at Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts in 1621 would have been impressed had they visited our school this morning.  In all of our Chapels today, I shared a Thanksgiving prayer with the boys.  It follows:
A Prayer of Thanksgiving
Let us pause and give thanks
for all we have been given.
In the silence of our hearts,
let us reflect on the many
Gifts we so often take for granted -
for family, for food, for freedom.

With uplifted hearts, as we gather around
our table this Thanksgiving, let us give thanks -
not only for the gift of food,
but for the great gifts of life itself -
friendship, love, laughter, health and hope.

On this Thanksgiving holiday
A day that unites us as a nation
We thank God for the goodness of the human spirit -
for people who make our world a better place -
for those who search for peace where only war is known
for a world where good can always triumph over evil
Where hope trumps despair
and the laughter of children
overcomes the many sounds of fear.

We thank you
For all those who will gather at our table,
Who by their presence in our homes
have added to the quality of our lives and brightness of this Thanksgiving day.

Let us give thanks
for the food
we are about to eat
and the company
we are about to keep.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The inspiration for this prayer is loosely based on one my daughter brought home from her school.  The original author is unknown.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Following the Saint David's Pathway today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Eighth grade boys found themselves standing before Duccio's c. 1300 AD painting of the Madonna and Child--a 2004 acquisition by the Met for a mere $45 million.

Holding her child gently in her left arm, Mary looks beyond her son with a palpable melancholy tenderness, while the baby reaches out his hand to brush the veil from her face. The formal rigidity and impersonal forms of Byzantine art give way in this piece to intimate gesture--the birth of a new way of perceiving and representing the world--a cultural transformation is underway in western art.  Remnants of the Byzantine style linger for sure--in the gold background, Mary's elongated fingers, and the non-childlike child--but the colors of their clothing, along with the sense of intimate human interaction, leave us with the distinct sense that the two figures exist in a real space, and in real time. An analogue to the human experience, Duccio captures the emotional bond between mother and child and marks the dawn of a new era.  Duccio is departing from pre-existing convention.  He's challenging the accepted norms of his time.

Considered the founder of Sienese painting, Duccio in Madonna and Child, defines a sense of space.  By including a simple parapet wall along the base of his painting, Duccio separates the fictive world of the painting from the real world of the viewer.  Art can do this.  It has the ability to take us places far from our "real" world and yet help us see our own reality more clearly, more profoundly.  True beauty lies in "truth"  and we need art to help us see truth.  As we contemplate this year of "The Aesthetic" at Saint David's, Duccio has a role to play. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Begins ...

It shouldn't necessarily be this way, but the season for giving thanks has begun.  I'd like to think we were forever thankful.  However, this isn't a trait that comes easily to most of us, so a holiday season that encourages us to be thankful, for the blessings we enjoy, is the next best thing. 

At Cardinal Cooke yesterday evening, Saint David's 6th Grade volunteers began the season by serving a Thanksgiving meal to the center's residents.  With so many residents and so little space, Cardinal Cooke actually begins serving Thanksgiving Dinner to residents and their families this week and goes right on serving them all through next week.  Pictured here are some of the boys working a drink cart after first creating a festive ambiance by decorating the tables with centerpieces and walls with Thanksgiving images.

Meanwhile, back at school, the Class of 2011 with Mr. Ryan are busy coordinating the school-wide Saint David's Thanksgiving Food Drive, now in its umpteenth year.  If you haven't yet, bring in those cans and dry goods boxes.  Saint David's, through your generosity, manages to provide hundreds of New York City families a turkey and all the trimmings, ensuring they have a fully stocked table on the fourth Thursday of this November.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

At the setting of the sun ...

“They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.” 
– Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

We recognize and thank current staff and faculty members Jack Sproule and Tom McLellan for their service in the Vietnam War and to all our alums who have served and are serving and to those who have fallen.  We are grateful for your selflessness.

Van Cortlandt and Verdi--Does it Get Any Better?

Saint David's Cross Country at Van Cortlandt Park is the photo at left.  A growing sport of interest amongst the Seventh and Eighth Grade boys, eleven are here seen beginning their cross country run at the Manhattan Middle School League Championship meet late yesterday.  After a grueling race, five Saint David's boys earned medals in this event: Blake K., Henry S., James W., Christopher W., and Henry T.  And then, early this morning, 7:45 AM, several of these same boys were playing Verdi's Nabucco on strings at the Ensemble's Morning Coffee Concert for parents and families.  Renaissance men in every sense, these young men managed to give virtuoso performances on and off the field.  Van Cortlandt and Verdi.  Does it get any better than that?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"The Blessings ...

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_gCvRXpUuvYk/TL0GJ7ssbKI/AAAAAAAAAQ4/wWyVVitBLEI/s1600/b_minus_cover.jpg... of a B Minus," Wendy Mogel's newest book challenges parents to examine their true goals and aspirations for their children, especially their teenage children.  Are our actions, our attempts to protect, support, and defend actually having the exact opposite desired effect?  "We [parents]," Dr. Mogel says, "worship the idols of our childrens' happiness."  We tend not to allow our children to fail, or to work through their problems.  We want them to succeed, to not feel pain, to avoid the struggle, to be perfect.  Parents, she says, intent on making their children happy, often rob them of the growth and maturity that comes with failure.

Mogel's philosphy, to use her own words, is “compassionate detachment,” defined as “viewing the upsetting aspects of adolescence as normal and necessary—as blessings that represent healthy growth, parents can put them in perspective and react thoughtfully instead of impulsively. Thus, bad grades, emotional outbursts, rudeness, breaking the rules, staying up late and experimentation become signs that a teen is on course, not headed for disaster.”

We learn the most I think, especially about ourselves, not from our successes but from our mistakes, our failures.

Food for thought and a book well worth the read.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nearly Now

Space is a fascinating concept.  I don't pretend to understand the full conceptualization of "space."  What I do understand is that it is being redefined.  Space for our children includes physical space, which we grew up with and are comfortable with, and a new virtual space, which for many of us is much less comfortable.  This virtual dimension is as much a part of our childrens' worlds as the physical dimension is ours.

This virtual space may bring with it many exciting possibilities.  It also brings with it many daunting challenges.  Our children are living now in this new space, a space that exists right before the present, just before "now."  This is the space where they text, twitter, and update their Facebook pages; it's a space that is not quite synchronous to now -- it's "nearly now."  This space is a difficult space to occupy.  Children can be easily led to believe, or feel, they are safe, protected in this space.   In Learning to Change, Changing to Learn, the Consortium for School Networking, refers to this "nearly now" space as an interesting space, a gentle space, one that can allow research, reflection, repetition, one that's not so pressured.  Maybe this is so; however, I tend to think, especially because it is not defined, controlled, or protected, that this space has the potential to do great harm.  It can even be dangerous.  Learning to Change ...  ends with a statement that we are seeing the death of education and the birth of learning.  I'm not so sure about this either.  There is no doubt that our culture is in the midst of revolution, similar, I believe, to the last great seismic shift (see Empires of the Mind: A Virtual Revolution), but as with the last revolution we will begin to organize and effectively control these "new tools" of the revolution, just as we did the new tools of the Industrial Revolution.  It will take time though.  Until we have effectively managed these new tools, we have to protect and safeguard our children.

Schools have a responsibility to be counter-cultural institutions at times like this.  The culture may be quickly moving in one direction, but is it the right direction?  What are the true forces at play, driving all the different levels of change?  We must critically evaluate what is happening, ask ourselves why and determine the importance.  While we can't ignore progress and change, we can't afford to allow it to go unchecked either.  There are now countless examples, Choate being one of the most recent, where children are being harmed or harming. (Choate, by the way, handled the situation responsibly and directly).  It is essential to critique and monitor, to be agents that effect positive change.  Watch what your children are doing online, monitor their "virtual" social interactions as carefully as you do their physical ones.  Educate your children about this "nearly now" and just how quickly, suddenly it can become the "now."  They will not make that connection themselves.  To them, it's private, protected; but we know it really isn't.