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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Omega visited me in my office today and shared a choral recitation of a Thanksgiving poem, so I thought I'd share it with you.  It will surely put you in a Thanksgiving mood.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Taft, Hotchkiss, and Andover

Taft, Hotchkiss, and Andover were all well represented yesterday at Saint David's.  Brophy, '10 from Hotchkiss, Mark, '08, Danillo, '10, and Hugh, '08 all from Taft and Chris, '11, from Andover (second photo) all stopped by to catch up.  Attending boarding school comes with some advantages, one of which is often longer holidays at times like this.  The boys' schools are closed for Thanksgiving.

Young Alumni Chapel and Dinner is tonight--a homecoming where high school aged alums attend Chapel and break bread with our 8th graders.  Over dinner, they will discuss the schools they are attending and share tips and pointers with the 8th grade boys who are right now going through the application and interview process.  Tomorrow is one of our school's longest standing traditions--The Odds and Evens Soccer Game.  Alums from the even years play the alums from odd years in a spirited game.  Typically, alums as far back as the early 70s and as recently as last year play.  Many older alums also come to watch, feeling more confident enjoying the game from the sideline, rather than playing it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life is No Less Beautiful

It's even closer to Thanksgiving!  I know, not because of the date, but because of our work at TCC.  Together with our 6th grade volunteers, we spent this past Tuesday night at Terence Cardinal Cooke nursing home serving residents and their families Thanksgiving Dinner.

As always, the boys exercised their duties with enthusiasm, sensitivity and care--emblematic of "good men" in action.

As the parent of a child with multiple disabilities, the statement at right by Cardinal Cooke resonated with me, so much so, that I had to snap a quick shot.  It hangs on the wall of the room we were working in.

Attached are several photos of the night.  In them, we see the boys serving drinks, preparing food and sharing time with the residents.

This coming Saturday night at 6:30, Corby, '12 and his band, The Lead Heads will be performing at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village. Click on the link above for more information, including tickets.  If you like The Dead, The Lead Heads will be right up your alley.

Coffee Concert

Our morning began today with a Saint David's Ensemble open rehearsal in Hyman Hall at 7:45 AM.  Many weary eyed parents filled the hall and enjoyed the boys playing Reinhold Glière's The Russian Sailors' Dance from his 1927 The Red Poppy ballet.

The dance was followed by a little Mozart and finally Henry Mancini's Pink Panther.  The boys were impressive given the fact that the seasoned core of the orchestra graduated last year.  This ensemble has been working together for just a few months.

Below is a little slice of Mancini from the boys rehearsal today.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Visit to Browning

We visited alums at Browning on Remembrance/Veteran's Day.  Saint David's currently has four alums at Browning, DQ, '09, RH, '10, MD, '10, and BB, '11--a freshman, two sophomores, and a junior.  Since 1971 we have had 120 alums matriculate to Browning.

Just last week, Browning opened their renovated lower gym.  It looks spectacular.  The boys were clearly proud of the changes.  The Saint David's alums all looked great--happy and comfortable in high school.  They are enjoying high school, felt very well prepared for the challenges presented, and thoroughly enjoy the flex and free periods--the greater independence. 

In additon to meeting with the headmaster, Mike and I met with the US head and Admissions Director.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Events That Changed the Course of History

Recently in the Atlantic Monthly, I came across The World Was Never the Same: Events That Changed History by Harvard educated professor Rufus Fears, published by The Great Courses.  In his course, Fears presents the 36 events he believes changed the course of history. They are intriguing to contemplate:  The list follows:
Hammurabi issues a code of law (1750 B.C.)
Moses and monotheism (1220 B.C.)
The Enlightenment of the Buddha (526 B.C.)
Confucius instructs a nation (553-479 B.C.)
Solon – democracy begins (594 B.C.)
Marathon – democracy triumphant (490 B.C.)
Hippocrates takes an oath (430 B.C.)
Caesar crosses the Rubicon (49 B.C.)
Jesus – the trial of a teacher (A.D. 36)
Constantine I wins a battle (A.D. 312)
Muhammad moves to Medina – the Hegira (A.D. 622)
Bologna gets a university (1088)
Dante sees Beatrice (1283)
Black Death – pandemics and history (1348)
Columbus finds a new world (1492)
Michelangelo accepts a commission (1508)
Erasmus – a book sets Europe ablaze (1516)
Luther’s new course changes history (1517)
The defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588)
The Battle of Vienna (1683)
The Battle of Lexington (1775)
General Pickett leads a charge (1863)
Adam Smith (1776) versus Karl Marx (1867)
Charles Darwin takes an ocean voyage (1831)
Louis Pasteur cures a child (1885) 
Two brothers take a flight (1903) 
The Archduke makes a state visit (1914)
One night in Petrograd (1917)
The day the stock market crashed (1929)
Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany (1933)
Franklin Roosevelt becomes president (1933)
The atomic bomb is dropped (1945)
Mao Zedong begins his long march (1934)
John F. Kennedy is assassinated (1963)
Dr. King leads a march (1963)
September 11, 2001 (2001)

Monday, November 14, 2011

It must be that time of year ...

... because we are all talking turkey!  Today it was all about the 2nd Grade and their Turkey Run.  On an absolutely beautiful fall Monday, the traditional 2nd Grade Turkey Run did not disappoint.  All 47 boys finished the 500 meter course with many of them achieving their personal best times.  The boys have been preparing and training for this big day with their coaches since the beginning of time--well it seemed like that, but really just since the beginning of school.

At right we see the boys on the bus ride over to Riverside receiving last minute tips in preparation for the Turkey  Run.  Nervousness ran high and the air within the confines of the bus was filled with the anxious excitement that precedes all big races such as this.  The New York City Marathon has nothing on the Turkey Run.  The Verranzano Narrows Bridge may vibrate under the weight of 47,000 runners, but it doesn't even come close to the yellow school bus I was on this morning literally jumping as 47 eight year olds neared the park and the start of their "marathon."

At left we see the boys arriving at the park, preparing to go downstairs to the course.

Leaving in three packs, the Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis, the boys ran north along a straightaway, up a steep hill, down a long decline and back along the straightaway to the finish line--making a big 'D'.  No coincidence whatsoever!

There was a time, back in the 80s when this all began, that the winner did, in fact, receive as a prize the real deal--an actual turkey.  Today, the boys all settle for a chocolate one each.  Below is a shot of the boys after the race and before their return to school on the east side.

Staff members from the Canticle were on hand interviewing participants, spectators, coaching staff, and of course snapping photographs.

Pictured below are two 8th grade reporters hard at work, snapping away.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Little Jazz ...

... to lighten the day.  The Lionel Hampton Band dropped by the school today to perform for the boys and answer their questions about jazz, their instruments, how they got started in music, and what it has meant to them in their lives.  Here, a third grade class listens to a great Dizzy Gillespie number by the band.  The boys were most intrigued by the drummer and his quite incredible facial expressions.

Monday, November 7, 2011

With the Power Out ...

... in several Connecticut boarding schools this past week, several alums found their way to Saint David's and my office.  Robert A. '11 from Kent visited Monday.  Loving high school, RA is excited about the possibilities of crew, feels well-prepared, but misses his Alma mater.  On Tuesday, John D. '11, also dropped by.  Enjoying playing starting center for the 9th grade football at Kent, JD has settled in nicely.

Pictured with JD, in the background, is another JD -- John Dearie, '95, Alum Director.  Connecticut's loss was our gain!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Music Paradigm--Leadership

On Mohonk Mountain in New Paltz, New York this past week, I participated in a session on leadership literally conducted by Roger Nierenburg.  Along with fellow heads of school from Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, I sat "within" an orchestra conducted by Nierenburg and experienced first hand the impact of his leadership styles--for he presented many--on his organization. 

Using conducting the orchestra, one he had never conducted before, as a metaphor for leadership of a school, Nierenburg explored and exposed a variety of leadership styles--overly eager to please, harsh and expectant, easy, inconsistent, balanced, and their literal respective impacts.  It was fascinating to experience the variety of perspectives within the orchestra that each of these styles precipitated--their individual and collective reactions to his "leadership" and the extreme variety of the orchestra's performance outcomes as a result of his leadership.

Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings formed the base of what turned out to be a stirring and emotionally charged 1 and a 1/2  hour session.  We left enlightened and moved.  From his website:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cape Cod Trip--Special Program by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Seventh grade boys and their teachers have safely returned from their week-long adventure on Cape Cod.  This year was particularly special as the boys were treated to a Science program at Cape Cod Sea Camps led by two scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  Dr. Heather Benway presented comprehensive research that she and her colleagues have been working on regarding ocean acidification caused by the water's absorption of carbon dioxide.  She engaged the boys in several related hands-on activities in which they tested ph levels after exposing water to carbon dioxide.  According to their teachers, the boys were enthralled and spellbound by the presentation and related activities.  Dr. Dave Gallo, an oceanographer, then led a session on volcanic and life-form activities that occur on the floor of the Earth's oceans.

These presentations piqued the boys' curiosity and they eagerly set to investigating and testing the concepts discussed in a series of complex and exciting experiments organized by the scientists. Learning to be strong stewards of the environment begins with an understanding of the forces at play in the environment.  Understanding CO2 and its impact on the world's oceans is one of the many important issues these boys will confront in their futures.

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An Early Start: Mentee Round Table

This morning, before any boys arrived, the day for 17 Saint David's teachers began very early with a Mentee Round Table in the Smith Room.  It was the second session in a multi-session series of early morning meetings of all teachers new to Saint David's.  Begun three years ago as part of the Faculty Initiative, the mentorship program is one of the core components of our professional development program at Saint David's.  For their first three years at the school, each new teacher is assigned a mentor.  Together, the mentor and mentee observe each other, critique each other, and participate in sessions like this morning's coordinated by the Dean of Faculty.  The curriculum for these sessions and our mentorship program in general revolve in part around Doug Lemov's1 work in Teach Like A Champion.  The aim of our program at Saint David's is to keep it grounded in practical techniques and strategies that are immediately applicable in the classroom and that result in optimal learning for our boys.  This morning's topic was "Classroom Management" with a special focus on "tight transitions."  By keeping transitions tight we can increase instruction time and decrease time spent on lengthy, ill defined transitions in the classroom.

The principal aim of the Faculty Initiative is to attract and retain exceptional people.  Research shows that an important aspect of any initiative with this aim corresponds directly with an institution's commitment to providing continual high quality professional development opportunities.  We have also found that the keystone to a successful program lies in the school assuming more of the responsibility ourselves.  Instead of only sending teachers out to workshops, Saint David's has developed and continues to refine, an in-house professional development infrastructure.   In addition to the mentorship program and Round Tables like today's, and the new Supervision and Evaluation program, we also have guest "experts" currently working with and "coaching" teams of teachers--in mathematics, reading, and athletics, for example--over prolonged periods of time, refining their craft, instructional techniques, and teaching strategies.

Saint David's recognizes that the best and most successful teachers are never done learning their craft.  The session ended with a synthesis of "Five Habits of Highly Effective Teachers" by Neil Bright.

1. Doug spent a professional day with the faculty two years ago.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Six Goals; Two Games

And so our beautiful afternoon on Randall's ends with Red holding Dalton to 2 goals with a final score of 2-0, and White convincingly defeating Dalton 4-0.

Red fought hard to the final whistle with a stellar game played by Red Keeper HT. White's goals were scored by AH off a great cross, DD off his left foot wide, PDC on a free kick 25 yards out, and HE chipped one in during the first half.

Great soccer--good heart, strong play--by both Saint David's teams.

Photo above is of boys from both teams shooting around post game.  The shadows are long.  The day draws to a close.

At the Half

It's the half at Randall's Island where Saint David's Red is working hard to hold Dalton in check. Score at the half is 1-0 Dalton. White, more dominant in their game, leads Dalton at the half 1-0.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Quick Visit

TC, '11 dropped by today to visit.  Parents' Weekend at St. Paul's in Concord, NH allowed for an extra day off school, so TC decided to visit his Alma mater.  BP, '08 is TC's senior advisor and WH, '10 round out the Saint David's Alums up at St. Paul's.  His transition has been great.  He's enjoying JV Soccer, his classes and lots of new friends.  His most challenging assignment to date is being asked to write an essay for a Humanities class using only monosyllabic words.

Pictured is TC in my office this morning.  He's happy.  After our chat, we walked down to the Hume Library where Mr. Imbelli was meeting with current 8th grade parents on the secondary school application process.  TC stayed to chat with the parents.

He promised to be back for Thanksgiving and Young Alumni Homecoming Chapel and Dinner.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A New Horizon ... For Saint David's School

The promise of a brighter future eludes many New York City children, especially those from low-income families.  Recognizing this and empowered by our mission and strategic goals, Saint David's School is finalizing plans to begin a new program that draws boys from neighborhood schools to Saint David's for 6 weeks in the summer.  Designed to encourage students from a diverse low-income population to explore new worlds and to realize their full potential, the program will serve children from local public, charter and parochial schools in our neighborhood.  

Academic skills maintenance for qualified boys will be the principal aim of this new program.  "Summer slide" in academic skills is well documented in children from low-income families due in large part to lack of access to summer learning opportunities.  By launching this new summer program, Saint David's will be reaching out to our extended community, contributing to the greater good by ensuring that these children re-enter their respective schools each fall ready to learn.

Our plan is to begin with the first class of 15 kindergarten children this summer and add a new class of 15 kindergarten boys each summer for the next 9, until reaching full enrollment (K through 8) of approximately one hundred children in 2021.  Our affiliation with a national network of like programs, ensures that our small impact is magnified significantly.

The obvious benefits to our extended community will be augmented by equally significant benefits to our immediate community.  Saint David's teachers, alums, parents and boys will have an opportunity to work and learn with a broader cross-section of our neighborhood, building bridges and making connections.  Isn't this what summertime is all about?

Funding for the program is under way.  If you have an interest in learning more, or would like to get involved, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

TCC, BINGO and Boys

Today after school, twelve 6th grade volunteers walked north on 5th to 105th to spend their early evening with residents of Terence Cardinal Cooke's 6th floor.  After introducing themselves, the boys organized a game of BINGO with the residents, calling the numbers and helping the residents participate and enjoy their shared time together.

For many of the boys it was a new experience and one that took a few minutes to adjust to.  As time unfolded, though, they began to settle in.  An air of comfort filled the common room within minutes and the typical sounds associated with BINGO began to be heard -- laughter, a little ribbing, the "ahhs" and of course, the occasional "BINGO!"

Toward the end of our time, one of the elderly residents pulled me aside and exclaimed in hushed tones, "I hate BINGO, but I just love looking at the boys.  They are so nice!"

In the first shot above, two boys call, and below, a long shot of the main table can be seen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Seventh and the Cape

Seventh graders accompanied by their brave teachers departed on-time this morning for a week's excursion on the Cape.  It is a crystal clear day here on 89th Street with temperatures hovering in the low 60s--a great day to travel!  One could almost get the feeling that the boys were heading off to Bermuda or the Keys, if you only looked at GM's colorful board shorts, and not Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the fall! but they'll have a blast and learn something too!

The week is packed with a whale watching expedition, a hike of  Great Island, a bike trip through Province Lands, square dancing with the girls of Chapin, Clam Bakes, and drawing classes, s'mores, ghost stories, journal writing, lectures on marine wildlife, mapping, science experiments, sports, and nature focused math problems. 

The boys will also meet with a research scientist and learn about her work investigating ocean acidification--and then they'll be home.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Riverdale Country School

Secondary School Counselor Mike Imbelli and I visited Saint David's alums at Riverdale this morning.  My ongoing goal is to visit every Saint David's alum at their high school before they graduate--collecting valuable anecdotal data about their experiences transitioning to secondary school and eliciting critical reflections on their time at Saint David's.  Along the way, I also learn about what's happening at these schools and spend time with their heads--always enlightening.  

We have two seniors, Shin and Lucas, three juniors, Daniel, Peter, and Austin, one sophomore, Nicholas, and one freshman, Colin, currently attending.  The boys all felt challenged and happy.  Shin and Lucas are deep in the College application process while Colin is adjusting to the challenges of his newly acquired independence.  Nicholas and Austin are savoring their recent football victory over Fieldston and fellow alum Sam H., while Daniel and Peter are in the thick of it.  In our wide-ranging conversation we covered an enormous amount of ground and walked away with good ideas for further enhancement of our program and a comforting sense that the boys are off to a great start to their year.

Rigor Redefined

We are exploring "rigorous pursuit" at Saint David's this year.  In a 2008 Educational Leadership article and subsequently in various forms and in several publications, Tony Wagner from Harvard's Change Leadership Group, wrote a piece entitled Rigor Redefined.  In it, he wrote of even the best schools failing to prepare students for successful careers and citizenship in this new century. I've included two of his recent books.

After extensive research, including conversations with several hundred business, nonprofit, philanthropic, and education leaders and observational visits to many schools across the country, Wagner identified two overarching themes--the ability to ask questions and engage others in "good discussion"--to be fundamentally critical.  He also developed seven essential skills:

1.  Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.  At the core of these skills is the ability to ask the right questions at the right time.  “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems.” In today's much faster paced world this is even more important than it has been in the past.

2.  Collaboration and Leadership.  Technological advances, especially in the virtual arena have changed the definition of team.  Teamwork is no longer defined by physical proximity.  The ability to influence--leadership and collaboration are essential.  I would add to this the ability to recognize and appreciate difference in language, culture, race, religion, etc. 

3.  Agility and Adaptability.  This includes flexibility, adaptability to change, or ability to be a change agent.  Skills associated with learning and adapting will be more important than the technical skills themselves--because they change so frequently now.

4.  Initiative and Entrepreneurialism.  In essence, this boils down to learning to avoid "risk aversion" and develop a willingness to attempt, fail, and learn.

5.  Effective Oral and Written Communication.  Communication is the key: verbal skills, written skills, presentation skills--clear and concise.  What's the take-away should be obvious in the first 60 seconds.

6.  Accessing and Analyzing Information. The ability to access, determine the legitimacy of, and synthesize large quantities of information and subsequently apply the results of the above to successful completion of a task or solve a problem.

7.  Curiosity and Imagination.  People increasingly want unique products and services.  They need novel solutions to the problems of the day.  Fostering, recognizing and celebrating creativity, imagination and divergent thinking is increasingly important.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Childrens' On-line Behavior

ChildrenOnline is a group we have frequently invited to Saint David's.  Here is some of their latest research on the activities of children on-line.  It may be of interest to you.

Alums Return for a Quick Hello

The recent Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah provided many Saint David's alums an opportunity to visit their Alma mater.  I was able to catch just a few with my camera as they checked in with friends and teachers throughout the building this Thursday last. Lucas, '09, pictured left, currently at Riverdale, wants to pursue architecture and is now looking at colleges.  Marco from Dalton, Patrick from Trinity, Danny from Horace Mann, James from Packer, Matthew from Trinity, William from Poly, Colin from Riverdale, and the Wellands from Horace Mann, all from '11, were very excited to return for the first time since graduating in the spring.  Not pictured, Dylan, '10 from LaGuardia School for the Arts, and Jon, '10 from Trinity also dropped by.  The day before Daniel '09 also popped in.  He's looking at premed schools in the north east.

We saw no blood, just big smiles.  They are all enjoying their respective high schools.  It was great to have them back, if only for a moment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Correction

Writing my opening letter of the school year, I quoted from Mark Twain's early piece Old Times on the Mississippi that originally appeared in, I think, The Atlantic Monthly.  In reflecting on a reading of it long ago, I associated Twain's main character in Old Times with Tom Sawyer.  However, I realize upon further reflection and research that it was in fact more autobiographical.  The main character's identity is not so clear, but it's probably Twain himself.  My apology for the error.

Opening Chapel Talk

Following is my opening Chapel Talk.  The talk, or some variation of it, was given to the boys in grades 3 through 8 during their regularly scheduled Chapel time today.  

Good morning, boys.  Welcome back.

It’s a new year.   

Work smart. Work on.

Today, you are surrounded by newness.  It is a new school year.  You are in a new grade.  You have new teachers, new homerooms, new sports teams, new pens, pencils, books and even, maybe new shoes. You may feel a little nervous, maybe a little excited.  Maybe you feel anxious, even a little “unsure” because of all this newness.  You know too, that more will be expected of you this year—by your teachers, your parents, and even by you yourself.  There is much that may seem different, fresh, novel--new; but some things, if you look closely, haven’t changed.  In fact, we can all take great comfort in the fact that some of the most important things haven’t changed at all.

The mission of Saint David’s School can be found on the walls of our classrooms, in each and every publication of the school, and it hangs most prominently, in illuminated manuscript, in the school’s lobby.  Surrounded by all this newness, the school’s mission is steadfast, consistent, reassuring and guiding.

Our school-wide theme this year comes from the first line of our mission--rigorous pursuit.  Rigorous doesn’t mean more or harder, rigid or stiff.  Rigorous means working smarter--organized, thoughtful, deliberate and meaningful work.  It means developing a plan, executing that plan and successfully accomplishing your goal.  Accomplishing the goal, however will not always be easy.  It may not happen on the first, second or even third attempt.  It may take many attempts.  It took Thomas Edison 2000 attempts to build the light bulb before he got it to work.

And Pursuit means a continuing commitment to never giving up no matter how hard or how many times you fall down—you must push forward, fight on, and persevere.  Whether on the sports field, in art class, orchestra, or math class, we want you to:

Work smart. Work on.

And in chapel too.  Well, not exactly in chapel, but in your moral and ethical conduct.  Pursue this rigorously too.  For us at Saint David’s the easiest way to think about the rigorous pursuit of the spiritual is to apply it to the Golden Rule—treat others as you would want to be treated.  This is easy, right?  Who doesn’t want to treated like “we” want to be treated?

Well, not so fast.  You are older this year than you were last year, and our theme, remember, is rigorous pursuit.  We expect a little more of you this year.  We want you to think more deeply about the Golden Rule.  It is not a rule of enlightened self-interest. It is true, people are more likely to be nice to you if you’re nice to them, but the moral center of the Golden Rule is lost if you simply view it as a rule of exchange: 

If I'm nice to him, he'll be nice to me.
I will do to him, what he did to me.
I will get him, before he gets me.

If you only look at it from this "exchange" perspective, it can quite quickly go astray.  The core of the Golden Rule is a moral obligation to treat others ethically for their sake, not our sake, even if our treatment of others is better than their treatment of us.*

We have a moral obligation to resist violence, remove barriers and resolve conflict.
We have a moral mandate to seek and to seize each and every opportunity for peace and goodwill.
If we rigorously pursue the Golden Rule, it really means that we will be honest to liars, fair to the unjust, and kind to callous people.  We will be generous to the greedy, humble to the prideful, and forgiving of the wrong doer.  Not because it’s to our advantage, which it may or may not be, but because it’s right. And because the way we treat others is more about who we are, not who they are.  We cannot control the actions of others.  We can only control the actions of ourselves.

"It’s like the man who broke off an argument that had descended into name-calling by saying, “Sir, I will treat you as a gentleman—not because you are one, but because I am one.”*

These are the virtues, respect and reverence, even in the face of hardship, that we want you to pursue rigorously this year—with your teachers, your parents, with strangers and most importantly with each other.

Work smart.  Work on ...

 ... in the arts, in academics, on the sports field, and most importantly, in all things moral and ethical–-your actions and your behavior ...

... Work smart.  Work on.

And how are you going to do this?   Well, that’s not for me to say.  It’s for each of you to decide.

I wish you a successful and fulfilling year.

*This vignette and the "higher" interpretation of the Golden Rule was adapted from Michael Josephson's Radio Talk # 730.5, Josephson Institute, July 7, 2011.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Book: It Can't Die

I read and hear with greater frequency "the book is dying."  We live in a time where instant information often drowns reason, gossip trumps news, and knowledge of the immediate defeats rigorous analysis, critical reflection, and eloquent debate; where the infotainment scoop often supersedes journalistic integrity.  There have, without doubt, been many new conveniences and welcomed advantages with the advent of the Internet and all its offspring: Twitter, Facebook, wikis, blogs, nings, and list serves (remember those); but the value of thoughtfully conceived ideas fully reflected upon, critiqued and edited is without equal.  As David Ulin puts it in The Lost Art of Reading – Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time: "Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction.... It requires us to pace ourselves. It returns us to a reckoning with time. In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment, to let the narrative prevail. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise."

Books provide an unparalleled opportunity to express, organize, develop, and communicate complex concepts and ideas. They encourage reflection, cultivate reason, and promote thoughtful discourse.

The book's form may change, but its concept will live forever.  It has to!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Schoolhouse's Light

High atop a hill overlooking the sea, a beautiful lighthouse illuminates the night, showing the way.  It was built by the residents of a small hamlet, concerned by the number of shipwrecks witnessed and wayfarers who had lost their way. It was a prodigious lighthouse. As time passed though, the lighthouse’s beauty faded and the light went dark.  Successive generations of hamletfolk, losing sight of their ancestors’ original intentions, ignored the lighthouse’s upkeep, disregarded its importance, and in an effort to satisfy a more selfish need, eventually converted it to a clubhouse.

For institutions to be strong and vibrant they can never loose sight of their founding principles or true purpose.  Institutions that do can easily become something far different than their founding intention.  As Saint David’s passes the mid-point of its 60th anniversary year, we continue to illuminate and reflect upon our mission, critically evaluating its purpose and redefining its significance for today and for tomorrow.

The last phrase of our school’s mission synthesizes the essence of our enterprise.  To help our sons aspire “to be good men” requires that we provide models and examples.  It necessitates active, deliberate, and purposeful application.  More often than not, it demands that we be counter-cultural, or more specifically “counter pop-cultural,” because the prevailing popular culture may not always celebrate, reflect, or imbue the values and behaviors generally associated with what’s “good.”  Development of a strong sense of what’s right, fair, or good comes in part by learning it, and to learn it we must study it, see it, and do it. 

Informed a little by the aesthetic, the latest issue of Saint David's Magazine explores the concept of being Agents for the Good.  With the help of Jack Hale ’71, Michael Izquierdo’92, Father Katsouros, Oscar de la Renta, James Barbieri, Thomas Ryan, Brian Donnelly, John Dearie ’95, and RoseMarie Alfieri, it highlights some of the ways Saint David’s School illuminates its mission at the mid-point of its sixtieth anniversary year, ensuring that the light of this schoolhouse burns forever bright. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Race

On a racetrack in the mountains of northern Westchester on Thursday, September 1st, 2011, the senior administrative team of Saint David's School, pursued a common goal.  Working in teams of three, they learned the challenges of a NASCAR pit crew and the skill and endurance required of a race car driver.  To successfully achieve the goals they established required, in addition to deliberate planning and flawless execution, a focused desire to overcome the many obstacles before them.  At left, Business Administrator Jack Sproule with Dean of Studies Ali Aoyama, and Director of After School Shadeed Elliot compete in the Pit Stop Challenge.

The exercise, the leadership group's opening meeting of the school year, allowed the team to explore this year's school-wide theme of "rigorous pursuit." Like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., or the famous Australian race car driver Peter Brock, the administrators realized that to succeed they needed the combined talents of each of their team-mates in addition to a healthy dose of determination and strategy.

At right, starting drivers from each team take their positions for the much anticipated start of the endurance race.  Pictured with engines revving at a high squeal, poised to release their brakes and thunder down the straightaway are Dean of Faculty Shane Kinsella, in front, Registrar Sylvia Hopkins, Head of Lower School Kim Davidson, Plant Manager Mark Poelle, and Director of Athletics Pedro Morales.

Pictured below is the administrative team at the race conclusion.  Seated in the winning car representing the winning team is Director of Technology Nora Sundar.

I you have a minute ask an administrator, Who became known as "Red Flag?" Who was fastest on the track? and, Who earned the nickname "Quick Draw" because of their incredible facility with the air gun?

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Rigorous Pursuit

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." 

Anything of value is rarely acquired without its “rigorous pursuit.”  Even though we may wish for chance or luck to bring us what we desire, it almost never happens that way. Something of value must first be recognized and identified, its acquisition planned for and pursued. This pursuit cannot be haphazard and tangential; rather it must be focused and deliberate.  In responding to a reporter who asked how it felt to have failed 2000 times before successfully inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison famously replied, “I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.” 

This journey to successful achievement is rarely easy; it is often fraught with frustration and confusion.  Unhappiness can often muddy the road forward, slowing down our progress, trying our patience, and testing our will.  These inevitable setbacks must not deter us; they must become the lessons of our curricula—the teachings gleaned from our experiences.  “The will,” Muhammed Ali told us, “must be stronger than the skill.”  Learning to work through and overcome hardship or struggle is synonymous with rigorous pursuit and what follows this, is the sine qua non of true learning.

In its opening sentence, our school’s mission identifies “rigorous academic pursuit” not only as a value to be cherished, but a behavior to be learned.  The “rigor” we refer to focuses not on strictness and severity, but rather on deliberate, thoughtful, and persistent pursuit. Whether it’s light bulbs, boxing crowns or academic achievement, successfully acquiring what we desire or value depends upon how rigorously we pursue it. This year’s calendar takes this notion from our school’s mission and explores its myriad application to the boys’ experience at Saint David’s School.  As T.S. Eliot reminds us in this letter’s opening quote, it is precisely because of this purposeful pursuit that deeper learning occurs.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Slow Dance

Yesterday, attending the wake and funeral of a beautiful child, I remembered this poem entitled "Slow Dance" by David L. Weatherford.  It speaks for itself.

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round
Or listened to rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight
Or gazed at the sun fading into the night?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
Time is short, the music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly?
When you ask, “How are you?” do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores running through your head?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
Time is short, the music won’t last.

Ever told your child, “We’ll do it tomorrow,”
And in your haste not seen his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die,
’Cause you never had time to call and say hi?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
Time is short, the music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere,
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It’s like an unopened gift thrown away.
Life is not a race, so take it slower,
Hear the music before your song is over.

Monday, June 27, 2011

St. Louis, Missouri

Washington University in St. Louis played host to the 1904 World's Fair and Brookings Hall, pictured at left, served as its administrative center.  Just behind Brookings is Holmes Lounge, where last week the university played host to an annual conference of headmasters.

In 1904 Holmes housed the Convocation of Arts and Sciences for the World's Fair.  It was said at the time that all the knowledge known to man was presented in this hall. It was in this hall that I met Mark Wrighton, Chancellor of Washington University.  He spoke with conviction about the greatest issue he felt confronts us--clean, renewable energy.  With a population of the planet expected to reach 9 billion by mid-century, the chancellor argued, combined with industrialization of underdeveloped economies in China and India as just two examples, energy use will double and the need for clean, reliable energy will be the defining issue of this new century.  It is directly tied to our security, he said, our economy, health, lifestyle, and culture.  At the heart of the president's argument: nuclear now; solar later. Fascinating--I don't hear many people making this argument post Fukushima Daiichi!

But it wasn't nuclear and solar that defined my time in Missouri, it was water.  Flying into St. Louis it was hard not to notice the damage done by the water associated with recent tornadoes (large sections of St. Louis airport remain out of commission) and the still swollen Missouri and Mississippi rivers that ran large and full, banks overflowing still. From the top of the Gateway Arch, which is well worth the climb by the way, the flooded plains and damaged countryside were still visible.

In addition to the abundance of water in and around St. Louis, I listened to a presentation by Liz Childs on the 1891 expedition of artist John La Forge and journalist, historian and anti-tourist Henry Adams--the odd couple of the Gilded Age--to the South Seas in search of untouched aboriginal cultures.  Their journey of discovery on the sea proved enlightening, if not totally fulfilling.  An interesting tidbit on La Farge: It was La Farge who invented what we know today as Tiffany glass and by a twist of fate Tiffany came out on top and we know the glass today by his name.  Anyway, water made possible their journey, bridged their experiences and knowledge, and marked their passage. But the water theme didn't end here.

Wayne Fields then took us deep into the wisdom found in rivers.  We examined closely Twain's "Old Times on the Mississippi" written when he was young and McClean's "A River Runs Through It," written when McClean was 74 years old--Twain's in the early years of his life; McClean's at the twilight of his.  Twain learns the slow, wide river of a steamboat pilot while McClean learns the fast, narrow river of a fly fisherman.  In both pieces, Fields presented a metaphor for education: learning to read what's on the surface so as to "know" what lies beneath. At one point in the early mid-section of the story, Tom Sawyer comments ... "Oh, don't say any more, please! Have I got to learn the shape of the river according to all these five hundred thousand different ways? If I tried to carry all that cargo in my head it would make me stoop-shouldered." "No!" replied Bixby, the pilot, "you only learn shape of the river; and you learn it with such absolute certainty that you can always steer by the shape that's in your head, and never mind the one that's before your eyes."

Meanwhile in McClean's story, the water theme/analogy all crystallizes when Norman, the son and narrator, reflecting on the river says ... "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.  I am haunted by waters."-- powerful words.

What I love about these pieces is that they both speak to a spirituality found in rivers or water--somehow they provide access to an otherwise hidden truth--a true beauty.  By learning to work the river, to learn the water, you uncover what's hidden.

The conference ended with Ray Arvidson, a NASA scientist working on programs involved with the exploration of Mars.  He is intimately involved, among other things, with "Spirit" and "Opportunity," two rovers exploring the Martian terrain.  He spoke of, and showed, compelling evidence of liquid water (we viewed ice just under the dusty surface and watched it evaporate before our eyes) on Mars; we also watched it snow--my first Martian snow fall--observed on a hot summer's day in St. Louis. Uncanny! The implications of this are quite staggering.

So, from the greatest challenge of the 21st century to the lessons of southern seas to rivers of the plains and mountains, to ice on our closest planet -- St. Louis: the gateway to the west during her earliest day is again leading us in dreams of a better tomorrow.

We also learned of the beginnings of American racial integration and some of the latest research and breakthroughs in attempts to decipher cancer's genetic secrets.  What is happening in the field of genetic research gives one an incredible sense of hope.  There are so many bright and committed people working incredibly hard to solve the cancer mysteries.

Pictured at right is the home of Ulysses S. Grant, perfectly preserved as it was found, on the grounds of what is now known as Grant's Farm in St. Louis. The Texas Long Horn (left), contemplating a charge, prevented a more perfect shot.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Latest from Salamanca

Town Hall at Plaza Mayor
The boys and teachers continue to enjoy great weather and stimulating experiences in Salamanca, Spain.  Below is a recent update on their adventures from trip co-leader, Dr. Gilbert:

Segovia Alcazar
"Wow!  What a weekend it has been--first a jaunt to the medieval city of Segovia where the boys were amazed at the engineering skill of the Romans. They climbed the aqueduct of 158 arches and 22 columns--all without mortar--Ask them to tell you the legend about the devil building it --it is such a wonder.... you ask yourself...just may be? Then, the "Alcazar" or fortress of Segovia, a seat of power for the Catholic Kings, Fernando & Isabella, and other monarchs who travelled from province to province to hold court for their subjects before the modern capital city of Madrid. The boys were especially impressed with the holdings of armor and arms which they could see up close. We went onto Avila, with a 2 km walk along from turret to turret of the famous Roman wall, and a sweets treat--they all tried the famous "yemas de avila" and also discovered, yes, I am embarrassed to say, cheeseburger flavored potato chips.

"Today, we have just returned from an extraordinary expedition to visit "Saucelles", a small town just east of the border formed by the River Duero with Portugal. We did a quick 3 km hike in the morning to the cliffs high above the river and observed vultures and other birds of prey catching the thermals. Then, we proceeded to see a large dam that runs across the Duero and were able to put one foot in Portugal and the other in Spain as we stood over its span. A quick lunch in a local park and on to the adventure of the ferry ride in the gorge of the Duero on the Portuguese side. The boat itself had two different time zones which the boys really enjoyed, "being late" for appointments on one side of the boat versus the other. We saw cliffs of tremendous beauty and saw eagles and stork nests as well as brilliant green lichens that indicate this combined Portuguese and Spanish national parks have one of the healthiest airs in the world. The ride ended with a display from the naturalists with real birds of prey demonstrating their skills.

The group at Segovia Alcazar

"Now, we are running out for dinner in the Plaza Mayor-- a special treat out for the boys tonight. More soon!

"Hasta pronto!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011


In the school's continuing efforts to broaden the minds and experiences of our boys, we have for the first time, a group of rising 8th grade boys in Salamanca, Spain for a two week immersion Spanish language program.  They left on Saturday, June 11 and will return next week.  Joining the boys are four faculty members each of whom is also immersing him/herself in the language and culture.  It is an exciting trip.  Below is a recent communication I received from the group.

We chose Salamanca, Spain for its history, culture, size and prominence in the teaching of Spanish.  It is a beautiful Renaissance town just a little north and west of Madrid.

Salamanca is the first of two new travel experiences recently incorporated into our curriculum.  Salamanca joins our existing Ramapo overnight, Cape Cod week-long, and 10-day Italian Study Tour.  The second new addition, a three-day trip for the 6th grade to the nation's capital, will be introduced this coming spring.


"Everyone is doing superbly! In fact, Srta Cotumaccio and I are very impressed with the work the boys are doing in classes and at night for homework and in their journals. The boys who never had any Spanish at all are already writing sentences and the ones who are heritage speakers are preparing short essays for us and their teachers!  The boys who have had Spanish at Saint David's are spending part of class doing vocabulary and grammar work and part of class learning about the culture of Spain such as the "Sanfermines" and the "ferias de Sevilla". All explanations are conducted exclusively in Spanish so they are really listening hard.  

"Yesterday, we visited the bullfighting museum and learned about the great contributions of Salamanca to both the breed of "toro bravos" and the bullfighting community.  They told us the best bullfighter ever, Robles, was Salamantino!  We also changed money so everyone is set to buy whatever they need/would like and had lunch out at a restaurant.  

"Today, after lunch, we will be visiting a ham factory so that the boys can learn how "jamon serrano" is made and has become a renowned product throughout the world. It´s very tasty!   Unfortunately, customs won´t allow it in to US unless you are a commercial importer. I¨ll be sure to let the boys who love it know where they can order some. 

"A few boys have been getting up extra early to run with Coach Roman along the River Tormes and have really enjoyed the view. We are walking everywhere, up and down the hill into town, so the boys are getting plenty of physical activity. We even have a ping pong table at the residence which they enjoy."