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, 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."