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-Steiner, Head of School
Using our electricity for private and public good
Life in a school community that celebrates all facets of diversity (including the fullest range of political opinion) can be challenging. Today we found ourselves in a swirl of emotions and a poignant teachable moment.
Whether students felt joy and celebration or fear and frustration, our goal today was the same as always: to create safe spaces for all our students to learn from adults and peers and grow into their fullest selves.
This election, despite the divisiveness and negativity of its rhetoric, does not shake our bedrock commitment to interpersonal respect. The final paragraph of our Statement of Philosophy provides useful guidance:
Durham Academy believes that enhancing the spirit of community among faculty, students and parents is essential to the achievement of its goals. The faculty approaches each student as an individual, and the school encourages close personal relationships fostered in an atmosphere of trust, respect for individual differences and appreciation for the racial, cultural and religious diversity in our society.
How can we be our best selves in diverse and occasionally divisive environments? How can we be at once authentic, courageous and inclusive?
This morning my wife pointed me to these thoughts [emphasis mine]:
Today is about finding connection with the people who share our joy, relief, and optimism, OR our grief, rage, and heartbreak. In the midst of such division, we desperately need to know we’re not alone and that we will continue to fight together for what we believe in.
However, if this democracy is going to work, tomorrow or the next day must be about finding the strength and courage to turn toward the friends, family, and strangers who do not share our beliefs and emotions about this election outcome.
Finding connection with people that we perceive as “the other” is our collective mandate. Maybe the conversation will be about something other than politics – something small that we share in common. I don’t think it will be easy, but I believe it is the only way forward.
Martin Buber wrote, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
We are often susceptible to the worst stereotypes and myths about groups, but people are hard to hate close up. My hope is that we can turn toward each other and find even the smallest bit of grace surging between us.
These words were posted by Texan psychologist Brené Brown, who happens to be a keynote speaker at this year's National Association of Independent Schools conference.
Independent schools occupy a curious place in the republic. We are (by our very existence and governance) self-consciously apart from the public enterprise of schooling. At the same time (as we’ve recognized in our mission statement and strategic plan), DA is a private school for the public good – wholly entwined as individuals and as an institution with the broader communities with whom we partner and interact.
With this dynamic tension in mind, I know that all of us – students, faculty, alumni and families alike – must continue to engage authentically, courageously, and inclusively in our private relationships and in the public sphere.
By doing so, we can put to best use this post-election, high-voltage electricity that Buber described, when all kinds of people relate “authentically and humanly.”
Thank you – especially this week - to all members of the DA community who strive to preserve our school as a fundamentally safe place for every child, united by our mission to equip students for moral, happy, productive lives.
Some useful guidance and resources for teachers and parents to consider, via Teaching Tolerance magazine and Georgetown Day School: "The Day After"
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