All School Meeting Address: Winter Welcome 2014 and Discussions in the Wake of Ferguson

Good morning, Andover!

Over the Thanksgiving break, I wrote to you all an email, asking that you take some time to understand what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri.  A few members of the community — a student and a parent, in particular — wrote me back, respectfully, with deep concerns about what I had written, along with Dean Murphy [our Dean of Students] and LCG [Dean Linda Carter Griffith, our Dean of Community and Multicultural Development].  I wanted to respond to those concerns and also to explain why I think this attention and this discourse are so important.  [The original email is here.]

I asked you to pay attention to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, not because I want you to think something in particular. In fact, while I do have a point of view on this issue, and I’m happy to share that view with any of you anytime, I very much do not want for 1129 young people to think what I think – what a disaster that would be!  In fact, let’s agree to start from a perspective of valuing intellectual freedom and the importance of being open to hear every voice in our academic community.

I asked you to pay attention for two reasons. One is that, despite the common phrase, we do not live in a “bubble” in Andover. We live in a community that is deeply connected to the world outside our beautiful campus. We live in a world where students are required to go off-campus – whether home or elsewhere – during breaks. We live in a world in which all students have friends and family who live outside of our little world here. And we live in a world that is increasingly complex – more global, more interconnected, more diverse, and moving ever more quickly.

The other reason I asked you to pay attention to what happened in Ferguson is because I think it matters a great deal in an historic sense. It matters to every single one of us – Latino/a, Asian, Black, White, regardless of the race, or races, or ethnicity or ethnicities, that you claim. It matters to each person, perhaps in a different way. But it matters to all of us because it stands for a few important things. It stands for the difficulty we continue to have in talking about race and difference in the world. I know, in what I will say to you today, I will offend one or more of you; or perhaps I will stumble badly over my words.  We must each run that risk — of offending one another, of saying the wrong thing, on the way to the truth and to productive dialogue.  This issue also stands for the very real challenge of effective law enforcement and global security — which we must accomplish with real effectiveness — and to do so in a world in which it is not possible to ignore the inequities between people in our society.

I would not have wanted for the world to be in the position that faced the policeman, Darren Wilson that night. I would not have wanted for the world to be in the position that faced Michael Brown that night — and I know, because of the color of my skin and other factors, that I am highly unlikely ever to be. I would not wish on anyone the job of being on that Grand Jury. My heart breaks for every one of their families and friends. Ditto for what happened in Staten Island, in the death of Eric Garner. Ditto for hundreds, if not thousands, of similar cases in recent years. This is hard, and this is heart-breaking. These events happen all too often in this country and in countries around the world.

We need to be better – and it starts here, in this august high school. We need to do better – and we can. We can prove that we can be empathetic toward one another. We can prove that such a diverse community can work, that we can listen and learn from one another, and that we can work toward a more just and sustainable world.

More broadly, these matters speak to more than race. These matters call the question: What does it mean to be a citizen in a republic? What it means to me is that you must have a point of view. There is a cost of freedom; there is a cost to having a say in who governs and how they do it. That cost is that you must engage. You must learn. You must listen. You must come to have a point of view on issues that matter; we cannot govern ourselves if we do not. And you must act upon it. You have no choice.  That might mean that you start a new journal, as some of your colleagues have recently done, on matters of fiscal policy; it might mean that you organize a forum and a candlelight vigil; it might mean that you put yourself into the public arena with a point of view on something else that matters to you.  But to make democracy work, you must find your path toward being a true citizen.

It may be that one of us in this room will be in the position of Darren Wilson one day; maybe one of us will be in Michael Brown’s shoes; in America, we will all be on that Grand Jury; we will all be their friends and family. Not in exactly the same way, and – we pray – not with the same outcome. But when we sign up for life in a republic, we sign up to do the work of being a citizen — to being on that jury, to making those hard decisions, to figuring out how we can have effective law enforcement and global security in a way that is consonant with the Constitution and with international norms of human rights. That work is hard; it matters; and it is all of our work.

I could not be more proud to live in this country; I could not be more proud to be an American.  I could not be more proud to live and work at Andover; I could not be more proud to be your head of school.  Neither America nor Andover is perfect. Neither one is completely exceptional. But on their best days, they are both completely wonderful.  We can and must make both of them better – and with them, the world at large. Andover, it starts here – it starts with each of us and with our community.  We can show that democracy works in the context of free, open, orderly discussion on topics that matter — whether they relate to what is right in front of us or what is occurring in the world at large.

I will end with a quote that I love.  I know that there are valid critiques of this quote, but I love it – for its spirit and for what it calls on each of us to do. It is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States. He almost certainly did not have in mind as inclusive a community as I do today, but he got the call to engaged citizenship just right.  Where I say “man”, you can choose to hear “person.”  Otherwise, please just listen to it for the spirit and the challenge it presents:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

All School Meeting dismissed.

Learning in the World: Global, Community-Based, and Experiential Opportunities

As the Phillips Academy trustees are arriving for a spring weekend, we’ve been talking with a few alums and parents about our plans for the Andover Institute.  One of the three areas of focus involves expanding the global learning opportunities we offer to our students, coming together as ideas here:

Learning in the World: Global, Community-Based, and Experiential Opportunities.

The overall Institute plan is shaping up here.  We are targeting a launch likely in November, 2014.  Stay tuned!

Concussion: Returning the Student Athlete Back to Life, with Dr. Gerard Gioia

Tonight at the Phillips Academy faculty meeting, we are talking with Dr. Gerard Gioia of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. The purpose of this discussion is to ensure that we are adopting best practices to protect our students from traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussions, and that we have sound policies and practices in place to help ensure that students get treatment and care for injuries they do sustain.  Dr. Gioia is a very clear and effective speaker with access to a great deal of relevant data and practical guidance for schools.

We are talking about the concussions that are most commonly seen in residential academic settings.  Research shows that about half of all concussions in these environments occur in the context of sports (hockey, lacrosse, football, and soccer are among the most common) and about half in everyday life.  After a student has a concussion, we, like many schools, have adopted accommodations for them on a case-by-case basis.

According to Dr. Gioia, the definition of traumatic brain injury, or concussion for short, is an injury to the brain due to a blow to the head or body that jerks the head forward and backward.  The damage is a “software” problem: that the brain’s electrochemical function changes as a result of the trauma.  Put a slightly different way by Dr. Gioia, it’s less of a “hardware” problem than a “software” problem.  Kids experience physical, psychological, cognitive, and socially-related symptoms that can last for hours, days, and much longer.  Concussions happen much more than we realize, among both kids and adults.  Injuries are one-off; there’s no one-size-fits-all in terms of the way to treat it and how quickly to bring kids back into their ordinary pattern of life.

The primary effect of TBI is to damage the working memory.  Students can experience slower reaction times, have trouble paying attention, or struggle with concentration.  Students can also experience greater irritability as a result of the injury.  Recovery time tends to be between 1 day to 140 days.  Our understanding and treatment modalities need to take into account this range and the variation within it.

Dr. Gioia suggests that best practices include ensuring that kids experience no additional forces to the head during recovery, by keeping them out of sports and other activities that might lead to re-injury.  Running, jumping, jogging the head; working too hard on homework; and emotional stress all can harm the brain further during the recovery period.  Students who have experienced a concussion especially need to rest their brain and get good sleep.  We need to help facilitate their physiological recovery.  The cognitive demands of school can slow recovery or exacerbate the negative impact of the injury.  (Studies show that math, it seems, is the hardest thing for students to do, by far, after a concussion.)  Dr. Gioia recommends a moderated approach to bringing kids back into their regular activities after a concussion.  The rest right after the injury is most important, with only a gradual increase in activity thereafter.  Dr. Gioia suggests setting up a team on campus that works with students after concussions, which is the approach that we’re taking at Phillips Academy.

Dr. Gioia ends with a positive message: these kids who get concussions will get better.

Mimi Ito Comes to Andover

This morning, Prof. Mizuko (Mimi) Ito is at Phillips Academy, Andover, to lead us, as a faculty, in a community conversation to start off the year.  Mimi is setting forth the core data and arguments behind Connected Learning, which is our professional development theme at Andover for the year.  She has us all on an Etherpad page hosted by Mozilla (a “mopad”) as a back-channel, which is leading to lots of discussion about whether we can pay attention to her lecture as well as our own chat session (not to mention Twitter stream and live-blogs, like this one that I’m writing contemporaneously).

The Connected Learning model is built around encouraging kids to tie together their learning in three areas: their Interests (diverse, self-directed), their Peer Culture (the social, peer-driven), their Achievements (academic and otherwise), in ways that are both online and offline.  Mimi also talked some about the desired outcomes for Connected Learning, the 21st century skills and deeper learning.  She stressed that it is very early days in terms of how digital media and education are evolving, and that assessment and evaluation are major areas for future focus and collaboration.  For more on the theory of Connected Learning, see a seminal blog post from Mimi (which includes a seven-minute embedded video) and many other posts from the DMLCentral community.

Mimi stresses, and I completely agree, that a technology-centered approach to education isn’t ever going to work.  There are many experiences that we can draw on to show that this is true: TV and education is just one example.  Our approach needs to be grounded in clear and compelling pedagogical goals, figuring out where technology can help and where it cannot.  Our use of technology can help us to transform teaching and learning in fabulous ways, but the technology will not do all that on its own.

Ways to follow along: our hashtag today is #connectedandover.  Mimi Ito can be followed @mizuko.  And Andover’s Twitter handle is @PhillipsAcademy.  And for other schools: I highly recommend a professional development day focused on Connected Learning — it’s both provocative and a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, Andover students are trickling in all around us, with many more to arrive in the days to come.  Some are back for sports, others for community service, others who are international students coming from around the world.  It’s our goal to connect the learning happening in these many domains, in the service of our students’ overall education and growth.