Carrying the Sacred Flame

From an opening address to our faculty

flame_largeNew York Times Columnist David Brooks has written widely on what he calls “the organization kid.” Through observations and interviews with students and teachers at Princeton University, Brooks paints a picture of students who are sleep-deprived and over-scheduled. He depicts these students as placing enormous emphasis on achievement, but as being “tongue-tied and hesitant when it comes to what makes for a virtuous life.” According to Brooks the reason is that today’s educational institutions and parents do not go to great lengths to build character but rather focus on scheduling kids’ time, trying to keep them safe while stressing achievement.

As we look at the community of students we have at GFA, we want our students to value learning as a lifelong endeavor; to discover a passion, whether for a sport, for music, or for math; to relish choices, cherish the value of friendships and understand the importance of being an ethical, moral human being. We want our GFA community to be the kind of safe, secure and structured environment from which students of all ages can develop academic mastery as they work to define their identities, values, ambitions, standards and beliefs, and their characters.

We certainly value and talk about the attributes we want to see in our community: honesty, respect, empathy, humility, kindness, and compassion. We also hold up the mirror to students to encourage them to reflect on their behavior. We also have to think about how to help our students deal with disappointment and cope with failure in such a way that they can learn from the failure, and then move on, so they don’t allow failure to define them, but look upon it as a learning experience.

I believe we also need to teach qualities that enhance ethical behavior, including empathy, social responsibility and integrity. A person can exhibit great perseverance and creativity, but use them toward bad means — take your pick of corporate scandals to see this in action. To blunt the ends-justify-means thinking, we need to balance achievement-oriented character with the ethical orientation of moral character, while also teaching emotional skills. Robert Coles, the famous Harvard psychologist, believes that the pressure to succeed and the mindset of “‘what works is what works for me'” begins to supplant that inner voice. “Sadly,” he says, “as so-called ‘cultural literacy’ grows, what could be called ‘moral literacy’ declines.”

As teachers we carry a sacred flame, and our work is at the heart of the child as well as at the heart of a school. Perhaps the over-arching question with which to leave you is to ask you to consider the habits of being, the habits of mind and the character traits that we want our students to learn and acquire during their time here and then take with them when they leave.

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One Response to Carrying the Sacred Flame

  1. Mardi Durkin says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this. As a parent, it is too easy to focus on the academic achievement of our children, without realizing what we (or they) are sacrificing at times in pursuit of that goal. Let us not forget that this generation of kids is going to be raising the next generation. Hard work and effort matter with regard to academics…no doubt about it. But so does character and the cultivation of a genuine love for learning Thank you for sharing.

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