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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De Tocqueville, Crossfit, and the Purpose of Clubbing at DA

 “There is only one country on the face of the earth where the citizens enjoy unlimited freedom of association for political purposes. This same country is the only one in the world where the continual exercise of the right of association has been introduced into civil life and where all the advantages which civilization can confer are procured by means of it.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1831.

On Thursday our Upper Schoolers spilled from Kenan Auditorium into the quad, where student leaders of 75 extracurricular clubs competed for attention and new recruits. 

From Acapocalypse to Habitat, from the Crossfit club to Girls Who Code, from the Quidditch Club to the Crop Walk, our students chose from a dazzling array of associations. Click here to see the full list of clubs, leaders, and missions. Or here to see a gallery of images from the Club Fair

Behind the colorful posterboards, between the flirting teenagers, and beyond the piles of brownies were some fundamental virtues of our Upper School. Among them:

  • Freedom – Our Deans of Students welcome any and all aspiring club leaders. Faculty advisors coach student leaders with varying degrees of intensity. This means that a thousand flowers bloom in September. . . and a good number wither as winter approaches. We teachers sometimes fret about the uneven success of these clubs (should we set a higher bar for club status? Insist on more frequent reporting to adults? Let teachers take control more often?) but ultimately we are here to nurture the independence and ingenuity of our students. Floundering and failure can be valuable experiences for any young leader. While our Deans are piloting a new-and-improved leadership seminar this fall, we hope always to see our students reaching high – even when their aspirations exceed their skill sets.
  • Community engagement – More than forty of our extracurricular clubs build bridges beyond DA’s campus. A few are engaged in traditional charity work (raising funds and awareness to address local or global problems) but most build ongoing, reciprocal, humane relationships with outside agencies or populations. These clubs exemplify a central goal of DA’s 2015 Strategic Plan. As we phrased it there, “Durham Academy believes acting beyond self-interest (both individually and institutionally) furthers our mission of enabling students to live moral, happy, productive lives. We also believe in expanding the worldview of our students – allowing them to live, learn, lead, and collaborate with teams both near and far. To that end, Durham Academy will increase its commitment to service learning and opportunities for global exposure – propelling students and our institution to see beyond self-interest and participate actively in our communities.”
  • Multidimensionality – Among the glories of a small school: that every student is welcome – and in fact needed – to participate in several extracurricular activities. While some 9th graders signed up for a dozen clubs (cookie-based recruiting strategies do work!), it is not surprising to see DA students carry two or three meaningful club affiliations through graduation – in addition to a pair of sports and a deep commitment in the arts. Here again, we expect students to use the safe space of high school to sample from the buffet of options. And we know that every student needs meaningful athletic, aesthetic, and civic commitments to buttress their academic work.

Perhaps most importantly, our students need practice leading and following, succeeding and floundering, creating and sustaining their own teams (the ones not organized and rule-bound by adults). Whether these teams devote themselves to origami, martial arts, meals on wheels, or philosophy, our students are doing precisely the work that de Tocqueville applauded nearly 200 years ago. Here’s to our Upper Schoolers as they render the dangers of freedom less formidable!

In their political associations the Americans, of all conditions, minds, and ages, daily acquire a general taste for association and grow accustomed to the use of it. There they meet together in large numbers, they converse, they listen to one another, and they are mutually stimulated to all sorts of undertakings. They afterwards transfer to civil life the notions they have thus acquired and make them subservient to a thousand purposes. Thus it is by the enjoyment of a dangerous freedom that the Americans learn the art of rendering the dangers of freedom less formidable.


Posted by mulkus on Sunday September, 13, 2015


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