Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Diversity is About People, Not Politics

One of my least favorite terms in our vernacular is "politically correct." I wince when people say that environmental sustainability and diversity are "so PC." (I haven't heard such a statement at High Meadows, by the way.) Such a perspective reduces these important themes to things that we HAVE to discuss because not doing so would create displeasure among people we do not want to offend. It implies that there is a political agenda behind the promotion of environmental stewardship and diversity.

Over the past decade, environmental sustainability has, for the most part, earned greater mainstream respect as an issue that goes well beyond politics. Unfortunately, I don't think diversity has. Large-scale efforts to understand and support diversity often fall short of their goals. Corporate (and sometimes school) diversity "trainings" often only scratch the surface and leave many participants feeling half-empty and resentful that time has been stolen from productivity. The focus on learning "sensitivity" has been widely lampooned--I recall an episode of "The Office" in which the manager takes it upon his ignorant self to train people in diversity, to predictably disastrous (and, I must admit, hilarious) results. It's so misguided that it's funny.

It's not that I don't respect the heart behind such approaches, it's just that they're not authentic. They do not resonate because they are artificial, forced, and feel imposed from the top down. Such approaches inadvertently create the feeling that diversity is about politics. About being "PC." About walking on eggshells around people so as not to offend.

The active support of diversity is not a political issue; it is a human issue. Put simply, diversity creates strength in any community. In his book Diversity and Complexity, Scott E. Page writes, "In complex adaptive systems, such as an economy or a tropical ecosystem, diversity makes fundamental contributions to system performance." To translate from Princetonese, diversity is critical to making any complex system--a corporation, a school or a society--strong and enduring. Human diversity is no different. The Co-Intelligence Institute has this to say about human diversity: "To the extent that people's differences ARE recognized and truly heard or seen, they become contributions to the co-evolution of new insights, solutions, activities, experiences, possibilities and relationships that enrich a group or community and move it ahead to a fuller realization of the best that it could be."

That's why we embrace diversity at High Meadows, and why we expanded our guiding principles to define the importance of doing so. Our Statement on Diversity underscores the importance of "moving beyond simple tolerance." "Tolerance" implies that if we can just deal with each other, things will be fine. That's not enough. Our students need to know that understanding, embracing, supporting, and promoting diversity makes all of us stronger. And that strength profoundly impacts their interaction with--and enrichment of--any system, be it the cross country team or a Fortune 500 company. And who among us, regardless of our political beliefs, does not want that for our children?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Very Special Fall Festival

Fall Festival was one of the best in recent memory--having over 60 alums return to share their memories was particularly special. But the alums weren't the only ones who enjoyed themselves. Yesterday, I received the following email from the Griffin Family.

It was the best one I’ve been to in 7 years.


1.       Because every booth I saw had meaning.

2.       Because my family ran out of energy before we could visit every booth we wanted to visit. (we still want to make a stepping stone for ME-Maw’s garden!)

3.       Because everyone in my family visited the haunted house and LOVED it (because we all love a “little” scary, but not too much!)

4.       Because the people you hired to do the tree climbing were just as excited as the kids climbing the ropes.

5.       Because my family was able to eat a healthy lunch so those two cakes we won and the baked goods we bought were eaten with confidence that all things are good in moderation.

6.       Because my 10-year-old daughter was able to flex her independence safely by “hanging out” with her friends and checking in with us every now and then.

7.       Because I went home exhausted from being both a teacher and a parent – blissfully, happily exhausted.

With immense gratitude,

The Griffin Family

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Diary of an Angst-Ridden Kid

OK, so I'm taking a risk here. I assure you I have successfully worked through the issues herein that I wrote about 30 years ago. Mostly.

What follows are excerpts from my diary--I mean journal--from my early adolescence. My kids especially enjoy reading this when they need a lift. I thought of typing out some of the choice quotes and leaving it at that, but I decided that you should see my flawless penmanship and nascent talent as an artist in its purist form. I don't know if there is a higher purpose to this, but you can judge if it has any value beyond peeking behind the dark veil that separates adolescents from the rest of us. Here it is:

Yes, I went by my full name back then. Getting a girlfriend was obviously a high priority for me. And, hey, a four-year age difference is nothing when you're in your forties. 

I clearly had an above-average self image.

Of course, my "competitors" apparently looked like a cross between Han Solo and David Hasselhoff.

It's baffling to me that a girl would react adversely to a greasy-haired stalker wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt. But maybe, just maybe...

Needless to say the old "Do-you-have-a-sister-named-Denise" trick has never worked for me.

So I guess I peaked at 13, and it's all been downhill ever since. Isn't that the way it is for most of us? 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Hard Realities and Hopeful Possibilities of Parenting

On my way to school this morning, a song came on the radio that hit me hard—very suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s a song that I have heard many times, been performed by several different artists, and it's beautiful. But I’ve never reacted to it the way I did as I drove with my girls to High Meadows. I found myself with a lump in my throat as the soulful lyrics and haunting melody overtook the moment. Before I share the song, let me give you the context behind why I was moved by it so profoundly.

Michael Thompson’s presentation last night really got my mind spinning (and my heart thumping). There were too many takeaways to list here, but the one that rang in me resoundingly was this: We can’t construct a life of smooth social sailing for our kids. What a dis-empowering, dismaying, gut-wrenching notion!

·         We can’t choose their friends.
·         We can’t solve all of their problems.
·         We can’t inflame their already tender emotions (“interviewing for pain”).
·         We can’t shelter them from the inevitable pain that life presents, especially in the realm of      friendships and the search for belonging and significance.

As parents of two teenage girls who experience their share of social upset, my wife and I don’t want to take those “can’ts” lying down. So what CAN parents, according to Dr. Thompson, do?

·        We can model for them what healthy relationships look like.
·         We can get to know their friends and their friends’ parents.
·         We can create a safe place for children to play and relate to each other.
·         We can be inclusive of other children and be mindful of practices that exclude (inviting 75% of a class to a birthday party).

Along with wearing my parent hat last night, I also put on my educator’s fedora. So what can High Meadows, as a school, do?

·         We can be clear about our values of “respect, responsibility, honesty, and compassion”—values explicitly championed by No Place for Hate and Positive Discipline.
·         We can educate teachers about how to handle bad class dynamics and bullying. Our Positive Discipline program does that well, but we need to be watchful for other practices that may help with this.
·         We can serve as coaches for kids experiencing difficulty, offering the sympathetic ears of another trusted adult.
·         We can partner with parents to prevent and react to social difficulties.

We CAN do things that are positive and constructive. We can lean on each other and the experts who are around us. And, above all, we can love our children without condition. Ultimately, we face the facts that they are growing, changing, walking their own path. Those are hard facts to face.

As the song goes,

I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
And I’m getting older too