“To live in the presence of great truths and eternal laws, to be led by permanent ideals, that is what keeps a man patient when the world ignores him and calm and unspoiled when the world praises him.” (1)
Dear Saint David’s School Community,
Sitting atop the highest peak in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just outside Charlottesville, Virginia, I opened my summer; the season closed with me sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Buddhist Temple in the Hudson Highlands of New York. It was a summer of profound contrast, setting the stage for Saint David’s 65th year.
Experiencing the architectural beauty of Monticello for the first time, one can’t help but admire the genius of Jefferson—a founding father of a nation and a university. One also can’t help being struck by the incredible paradox Jefferson’s Monticello represents. The very ideals of the Enlightenment that informed his authorship of a Declaration stand in stark contrast to the policies and practices of his day. Although he was trapped by the prevailing culture of his time, Jefferson could see what others could not—a different moral country ahead.
In our Western (classical) tradition, introspection is valued. Etched in stone on Apollo’s Temple at Delphi are the words “know thyself,” and St. Augustine, in the school’s faith tradition, certainly wrote extensively about introspection; that’s largely where it has stayed—on walls and in books. Not widely practiced in today’s popular culture, introspection has given way to having needs and desires met now, on having the fastest, latest, and best immediately. If we want to teach our boys introspection, we have to reclaim the tradition.
To help our boys develop and expand this moral core, we will ask them to reflect on the virtues, both cardinal and theological. They will also examine traits of character, not so much those that the culture prizes today—self-control, grit, resilience, tenacity—that all feed the drive to “succeed,”(3) but the ones from a generation or two ago—selflessness, generosity, self-sacrifice, and, my favorite from the Buddhists, egolessness (humility). We will also address the moral through the importance of civility.
The first of the three words of our theme, deliberate, is the most important. If we want to be a moral community with a strong set of virtues guiding the lives of our sons, then we have to be purposeful about it. It can’t happen by chance; only by design. The deliberate act, it has been said, must precede the virtue. It is through the exercise of “drill that one becomes self-regulating; through the expression of courtesy that one becomes polite; through resistance to fear that one become courageous;”(5) through egolessness that one becomes humble. This is how character is formed.
At Saint David’s, character is the main object of education, and so, we are critically reflecting on our practices. In the Upper School, we will be overhauling the Seventh and Eighth Grade Advisory program with an eye to making it even more comprehensive. Associated with this is a complete review of our curricular programs that focus on the social, emotional, and physical health and wellness of our boys as they enter their adolescent years. Changes made to both these programs will help our curriculum remain relevant and consistent with best practices and our mission.
In this new sixth grade unit, which we’ve titled The Digital Universe, we blend English, science and technology curricula into an interdisciplinary unit. Boys access research-grade tools and the deep discipline expertise of the museum’s educators and astronomers to identify, research, and present a high-tech Planetarium Presentation on one aspect of their study of astronomy.
Other new programs include an embedded course in the seventh grade math program that provides the boys with an intensive coding unit. Working with MIT’s visual programming language, boys will learn and apply essential programming concepts, practice thinking systematically, and debugging as they test, observe, and revise code. Boys will create variables and write mathematical equations to define functionality while gaining a deeper understanding of algebraic thinking.
This year we will be offering additional in-school support for emerging readers in Kindergarten through Grade Two in a new program called Boost. Our reading specialists will meet with boys in small groups several times each week, in addition to their regular reading classes, to literally boost literacy skills.
As we enter the seventh year of the Spanish roll out, the lead cohort of boys will be entering sixth grade. Based on our critical review of the program, two key adjustments have been made to better meet the boys’ needs. Students in third through eighth grade will be grouped based on their facility with the language. We are also introducing two new textbooks. Fifth and sixth graders will use a middle school text, helping them to consolidate and refine their understanding of grammar and linguistic patterns and structures. Seventh graders will use a second-year high school Spanish text. The aim is for the boys to complete the second-year Spanish text by the end of eighth grade, allowing boys to place into Spanish 3 in high school. The progress of the boys has exceeded expectations.
Implementation of Strategic Goal Three continued apace this summer. Pre-construction work on Graham House included asbestos abatement of the roof, the capping and replacement of water mains on Madison and 89th, and the reconfiguration of the fire safety systems. Air conditioning was added to the Chapel, the stage in the small gym was removed, and purging and reorganization of storage space continued at both campuses. Final applications for a NYC Building Permit for the main construction phase of the project were submitted to the City. Project financing is in its final round of negotiations with a lender, and all principal contracts regarding construction are being finalized with our construction management team, their sub-contractors, and our owner representatives. We are on target for major work to begin June 2016.
The campaign to help support this strategic goal will remain in its quieter phase this year. We will continue to reach out to families and friends of the school to raise the necessary funds. To date we are on target with all our goals. What an exciting place to be!
Men of character challenge the thinking of the day—they are, to some degree, counter-cultural. If we want to develop character in our sons, we have to teach them to think, to analyze and critique the world around them, to question their reality, and to respect themselves and others through deliberate moral introspection.
“The person, then, whose mind is quiet through consistency and self-control, who finds contentment in himself, who neither breaks down under adversity nor crumbles in fright, nor burns with any thirsty need nor dissolves into wild and futile excitement, that person is the wise one we are seeking, and that person is happy.”(7) That’s the Saint David’s boy we are educating for as we embark upon the most noble of callings—the education of our sons. Ut viri boni sint.
Let the 65th begin!
Notes: 1. Often attributed to Honore de Balzac or the Stoic philosopher Epictetus; 2, 3, 5, 6. Brooks, David. (2015). The Road to Character. Random House: New York; 4. André Comte-Sponville. (2001). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues. Henry Holt and Co.: New York; 7. Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero on the Emotions: Tusculan Disputations 3 and 4, #37. (2002). Trans. by Margaret Graver. University of Chicago Press.