Heads Up

Welcome to Heads Up, a blogging experiment that aims to: 

  • connect the people, parts, and principles of Durham Academy;
  • share ideas about learning and human development;
  • spotlight a few of the many wondrous things I get to see every day at Durham Academy. 

Thanks for reading the posts below — and sending news, links and ideas worth sharing. 

Michael Ulku-SteinerHead of School 


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The most important questions we ask

Just before Thanksgiving, an article at once depressing and hopeful went viral among parents at DA. In “The Three Most Important Questions You Can Ask Your Teenager,” author Michael Mulligan begins:

“According to the social scientists, the last of the millennials are now gracing our high school campuses. The Pew Research Center report on this cohort describes them as "confident, connected, and open to change." I agree. Technology is their metier. They embrace diversity like no generation before them. They seek to serve the dispossessed and the disadvantaged. They work to find green solutions to the environmental mess we have bequeathed them. In this regard, they are focused and unrelenting: a good thing for all of us.

“Beneath their energy and commitment to building a better world, though, is stretched, for too many, a fragile membrane that is easily punctured. We have raised a generation that is plagued with insecurity, anxiety and despair.”

Mulligan buttresses his argument with passages from William Deresiewicz Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (a book I admired in a blog post last August) and Madeline Levine’s The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.

After fifteen paragraphs, I and many fellow parent/readers were ready to weep. But Mulligan (Head of the Thatcher School in California) sees a path through the dark forest.

“Truth is, we know full well that lasting happiness springs from good health, solid values, meaningful work, multiple positive relationships, and selfless service. So how about we cease and desist on the pressure front - and get our eye back on the ball that matters - stop asking What (What grade did you get? What team did you make?) and begin asking Who, Where, and How?”

Click here to see Mulligan’s magic questions and the rest of the essay, an excellent example of stretching the time horizon beyond this week’s quiz grade, beyond the college application game, and into the open plains of adult life. DA’s mission compels us to prepare students for “moral, happy, productive lives.” Mulligan offers a compelling part of the road map.  

Every day at DA, our teachers drop similar breadcrumbs on the path to moral, happy, productive adulthood. One great example: the “Hero Books” of 6th grade Language Arts teachers Patti Donnelly, Marian Saffo, Julie Williams, and Amie Schwartz. As detailed here in Patti’s blog post, and Melody Butts' great news story, the project moves quickly from an academic exercise to a life-changing experience. Among the reasons why: the Hero Books include:

  • Hands-on learning that draws on linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences
  • Abundant room for individual creativity
  • Repeated drafts of writing for an authentic audience
  • A meaningful connection with a professional artist
  • Authentic assessment in the form of a real-life gallery opening and face-to-face presentations
  • Powerful relationships forged and deepened with mentors and loved ones

As I read my own daughter’s Hero Book last week at the Frank Gallery, I felt, as I often do,  incredibly grateful that our students spend their days among adults so willing and able to ask them questions that matter . . . .and help them construct answers that will matter even more.


Posted by mulkus on Sunday March, 29, 2015


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