At last month’s conference of the National Association of Episcopal Schools there were many wonderful moments and events. While the biennial gathering is always positive, instructive, and inspiring, this year’s conference had an especially celebratory tone as the association proudly and gratefully celebrates its golden anniversary this academic year. (All Saints’ Episcopal Day School counts itself as a charter member of the organization.) While there were many highlights, one of the most lasting for me was the talk delivered by noted author and clinical psychologist, Madeline Levine. Her book The Price of Privilege has had significant influence on Episcopal and independent schools since most of our school communities can rightly be described as privileged (in many ways). Dr. Levine is not only wise but also very funny, so her cogent insights land fairly lightly into one’s consciousness.
One of her declarations at her NAES talk was that our schools are preparing our students for ambiguity. I believe she is absolutely correct – most young people neither expect nor want to have one “thing” that they do for the bulk of their adult lives. However, I have also been reminded since hearing Dr. Levine that there is something in us that resists that ambiguity. Teachers and parents are constantly searching for the one thing that children need to succeed. There has been much recent coverage in the press about the increase in the number of college applications being filed by high school students, especially those enrolled in independent schools. In a recent New York Times article reasons cited for this trend include the advent of the common application, the need to cast a wide net for the most favorable financial package, and perhaps most fundamentally fear that the one right school might be missed if an applicant’s target schools list is too short. A mere two weeks later, another article in the same newspaper noted that there are still plenty of fine options for talented, accomplished, and motivated students. Colleges and universities are apparently in no rush to discourage this wave of increased applications since it makes their acceptance rates look ever more impressive – on the theory that the lower the acceptance percentage, the better the school must be. Sadly, I believe that the theory is probably correct because of our search for the one school that will perfectly fit each student’s needs and aspirations.
Perhaps the one thing is not so tangible as a particular school or a particular occupation or a particular place in which to live. In her NAES address Dr. Levine also said that she “is over happy, and is now into meaning. Maybe meaning (or conviction or passion or values or principle, if one prefers) is the one thing – a “thing” that does not lend itself to reduction or confinement to the “one things” which occupy so much of our energy and attention, especially when we ponder what is most important for our young people. The one thing may indeed not be the one thing for them.”
Last week Ann Mellow, Associate Director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES), visited Episcopal schools in Arizona- including All Saints’. As part of her visit to All Saints’, she was able to attend CrossWORLDS. CrossWORLDS is an annual multicultural celebration at our school. Her experience of the event- and particularly our art show- inspired her latest blog that I am happy to share with readers of this blog.
I was lucky to visit All Saints’ Episcopal Day School in Phoenix, Arizona this past week while the spring art show was on display. As I entered the art studio, I noticed a simple, hand-painted sign which read, “Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.”
This sign really made me stop and think. It did not assume eventual bad behavior (such as the “seven deadly sins of the art room” I once saw posted in a middle school art studio). Nor did it invoke creativity, hard work, focus, or any number of other specific attributes. Instead, it simply asked us be mindful and intentional, recognizing that whatever we bring into a room affects not only ourselves, but others.
May is a crazy time of year in schools. Ironically, just when the year is “winding down” we feel more frazzled than ever. Frustration comes easily, and our quotient of mercy can be all used up. Maybe some students have displayed an appalling lack of judgment in the last weeks of school. Perhaps the overload of school events and field trips has worn us thin. Maybe, like the students, we find ourselves counting the days until school is out.
It’s a time to pay extra attention to the energy we bring into our classrooms, schools, homes, and relationships — and to help our colleagues, students, and parents in those moments when the end-of-year-frazzles threaten to get the better of us.
Ann’s reflections resonate strongly with me, and her reference to “our quotient of mercy” is particularly compelling. That term also put me in mind of a consistent concern addressed by Pope Francis. He has spoken regularly about the perniciousness of gossip; the language he uses in speaking of the evils of rumor and gossip is uncompromising. At various times he has spoken of gossip as poison or social murder and urged people to join him in being “conscientious objectors” to gossip. One of the reasons for the high esteem with which many people of various traditions regard Pope Francis is that he speaks frankly and regularly about real-life issues. The Pope’s words about the effect of rumor and gossip in a church apply just as much to a school like this one. Gossip is a real-life issue for our school community, one more distressing in light of the values articulated in The All Saints’ Way to which our community aspires. As we seek the energy we need in May, perhaps we can commit together to being conscientious objectors to gossip so that our quotient of mercy will not be sadly depleted in damaging ways.