Monday, May 31, 2010

I’ll Blame it on the Ny-Quil

Last week some flu bug invaded my body on Monday evening and took up residence for the week. I attempted all the duties on the docket, swigging ny-quil as often as I could thinking that would evict the flu from my body. I’m not sure how good of a job it did on the flu, but that ny-quil left me with such a strange coma that I am just getting out from under that ny-quil cloud.

Last weekend I went from morning nap to mid-to-late-morning nap, congestion, night sweats, and, well, I don’t think I need to relay all the prosaic details of the week. But it was a week in which I chaperoned the first prom at KA but also kept looking for when my next nap could be.

Anyway, it was not a great week for composing blog entries. The ny-quil malaise left me so uninspired and unmotivated (naptime yet?) that all the words just left me…
But as we leave May behind tonight, I did muster a little energy to think about one of my untended ideas from the month, and it makes for a nice coda for May, especially on a Memorial Day May 31st.

This month I thought about Mother’s Day on and off.

Maybe because I nearly forgot about it on the actual day three weeks ago. Jordan celebrates Mother’s Day in March, and since Sundays are school days here anyway, I remember at bedtime on May 9 wondering how I had forgotten to call friends/loved ones who are mothers. The day just didn’t dawn on me throughout the day. Of course once you lose your mother, Mother’s Day is always a little more wistful anyway.

I remember the story of a friend whose church celebrated Mother’s Day in a poignant way. One wore a red rose in honor of a living mother and a white rose in memory of a mother. Each would help the other pin the rose to their clothing - one red, one white - each carrying in their hearts their mothers, one here, the other on a farther shore and in a greater light. Thus flowered and empowered by love, parishioners helped celebrate the power of mothers among the rose-decorated parishioners . . . each literally wearing on their hearts, their love, or their grief, or their memories.

Mother's Day can be complicated and conflicted, fraught and freighted: for the mother whose child has died; for the child whose mother has died; for the one who gave up her child for adoption; for the child given up for adoption; for the family whose mother is not a good mother. Mother's Day can be fraught and freighted. Or it can also be gentle and good. Somehow this month, by practically missing Mother’s Day, I thought about it far longer than I might. I thought about how complicated Mother’s Day can be.

Welcome to planet earth and to the life among humans. We are a complicated lot: by turns tender and sentimental, principled and practical, quirky and scratchy, cynical and suspicious, broken and breaking. The other day when I had little energy I decided I needed to do a little research on Mother’s Day (again, I almost missed the day and somehow became a bit obsessed the rest of the month about it!) and I discovered who is really behind the origin of Mother’s Day.

If you know much about how complicated history can be, there are several sides to the origin of Mother's Day, one rather benign, and one weighted with a bit more controversy…hmmm…like most things in U. S. History (by the way, did you know Helen Keller had some controversial socialist leanings? We like to suppress the things that are a little edgy…).

So the benign story is that a woman missed her mother and so petitioned the government for a holiday honoring mothers. Sounds plausible…but also about 50 years later than when Julia Ward Howe urged the United States for Mother’s Day. Wait…Julia Ward Howe…the name rings a bell…yes, she wrote the words to the Civil War anthem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Was this supposed to be a corsage and luncheon holiday? Hardly.

Dear friends, allow me to introduce a Port key. In the world of Harry Potter, the Port key is an enchanted object that carries you to a specific location. Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870 is a Port key. To touch it is to be transported to a room, a great, grand room in a universe parallel to this one. It is a room in which mothers from around the world have gathered (can you see them: kimonos, saris, burqas, ponchos, Lederhosen, aprons?) Can you hear the tinkle and jingle of jewelry?

They are in congress, these mothers. They are gathered in solemn assembly. They are gathered for “a great and earnest day of counsel.” They are conspiring together to make peace. They are scheming about how to rid the world of war. They have locked the doors; they have locked the men out. This is a mothers-only assembly. The room is filled with mothers whose beloved sons disappeared to war and never returned. It is filled with mother's whose sons marched off to war hale and whole, bursting with pride and courage, but who returned bloodied, bent, broken and forever altered.

The room is filled with mothers for whom war is not nobility but brutality, not triumph but torment, not victory but the very definition of failure.

Julia Ward Howe was a mother of seven. She penned her defiant proclamation after her son, Sam’s, death in the carnage of the Civil War. She penned it as a radical abolitionist who cherished the aims and ends of the Civil War—who supported the Civil War and who wrote its most stirring summons to arms, the Battle Hymn of the Republic about the grapes of wrath. She cherished the purpose of that war, but its means chastened and sobered her. She penned it as a mother battled-scarred and grieving (not only over what Confederate sons did to their Union brothers, but also over what Union sons did to their Confederate brothers). It was penned by a mother who dared challenge the alliance of war and patriotism and who disagreed that a soldier's prowess could be measured in the number of enemy he killed.

This is America's underground Mother's Day. It was born, not as a call to arms, but as a call to disarm. Not as a battle cry, but as a mother's wracking sobs.
How interesting to contemplate this original intention of Mother’s Day on Memorial Day.

Harry Truman in 1945 proclaimed the second Sunday in May as a day to “acknowledge anew our gratitude, love, and devotion to the mothers of America . . . “ The truth is that Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day lives in a parallel universe to Harry Truman's. Howe's Mother's Day is underground, clandestine, because a nation like ours can hardly abide it. We cannot abide it in full view I daresay. We cannot abide it as a nation because it was in its day and remains today an open and defiant challenge to our national assumption that patriotism and militarism are inextricably bound.

I have a heart for both Mother's Days: the one which honors mothers; the other imagines women from the world gathered in earnest and solemn counsel to foment peace.

Let this be a deep, complicated and important day . . . as deep and complicated and important as our lives as sons and daughters, as our lives as mothers and fathers, as our lives as men and women, as our lives as citizens both of this nation and of God’s whole wide world.

Red in honor of your mother. White, in her memory.

Red, for revolution. White, for peace.

Either. Both.

Happy Mother's Day! Happy Memorial Day!

by Julia Ward Howe (1870)

Arise then ... women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: "We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace ...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

God bless my mother; all I am or hope to be I owe to her. —Abraham Lincoln

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mystery and Misery

Yesterday I was asked by a parent of a prospective student what the point of AP Art History was. The parent’s child wanted to take the course next year with me, but the parent felt economics was a more important course. I agreed that studying the allocation of resources, essentially that being the study of economics, was indeed valuable. But I thought a moment and responded, “But studying art history explores the mystery and misery of our human existence. It is thousands of years of visual images and how we imagine the spaces around us.” I was kinda proud of my explanation of what it all was.

Last week 53 young art historians from KA undertook the AP Art History test. While it didn’t have quite the historical significance as last year’s AP World History test—none of those students had ever undertaken an AP test before; who knew what would happen???—there was that kind of building momentum that I have known so many merry months of May.

Taking an AP test is a little like 24, one of my favorite TV shows. If you know the show, you know that it is about many things, but among them most prominently are the villains and this FOX show’s forthright depictions of torture (that is not the only parallel, however, dear readers to my course—be careful!). But one of the exquisite things about 24 is that moment. If you know the show and the work of Jack Bauer, you know what I am talking about. It arrives near the end of every season of 24. I call it the moment: the unmarked but discernible instant at which you know you can relax.

When you teach an AP course, one eye is either on the calendar or the clock at all times. From the moment we started AP Art History last August 30, I was aware of the 5,000 years I needed to explore before May 12, 2010. When you start a season of 24 you are so aware that there will be 24 episodes played out in “real-time,” and never, no, never, can you indeed reach that moment until we have reached the climax of the story. Even when I turned the corner of Jackson Pollock a couple weeks ago, I thought, can’t relax yet—I still have to try and sum up the art of the 1950s-1990s in a short time…the moment hasn’t arrived yet!!

In the TV show when that moment arrives, when all the turncoats have been exposed and all the innocent hostages rescued, we can risk confidence that no one else we care about will be killed. The music takes on a more triumphant tone, and super-agent and chief worrywart Jack Bauer starts to shed the death-mask expression he’s worn for the entire season.

I can’t decide if I am at all like Jack Bauer. He is certainly a super-hero and I am, I guess, just a super-grader. But there is a certainty about Jack Bauer that I like to borrow. While Jack is relentless in his pursuit of the baddies, I say on the first day of class that as we work our way through these 5,000 years I will be relentlessly happy during class. The great virtue of 24, as with any great superhero, is certainty—the knowledge that in moments of crisis, Jack Bauer will always come to the right conclusion and do the right thing, a satisfying combination of supercompetence and incorruptibility.

I like taking students on this ride, and while I have feet of clay, I do enjoy the perils of the ticking clock and rushing calendar taking us to that day when each and every student takes that test. No one is allowed to dodge the test and all those students took that test and emerged excited and confident last Wednesday.

I don’t actually know what was asked of them on the test. I know parts of some of the prompts, but it is still shrouded in secrecy from the College Board. But I do know what the College Board put on the mock exam they made available to us to use. There were 115 multiple choice questions, and 7 mini-essays, and 2 longer essays—all over the course of 195 minutes. In the mini-essays the students were asked to analyze a page from a Gothic illuminated manuscript, analyze a post-modern building by Philip Johnson, analyze two Degas paintings, analyze a Romanesque Cathedral façade, analyze a quotation by a Renaissance art theorist, analyze a mortuary temple for an Egyptian pharaoh, and analyze a crucifix from circa 1000. The long essays asked them to write, first, about sacred sculptures and how they reveal beliefs and practices, and secondly, about papal patronage and the arts.

So last week that moment came—the test is over, and the course winds down. We watch movies about artists now.

I thought it might be interesting to share the journal sheet from one of my most intrepid students. Dana came to KA in the fall of 2008, and we did not hit it off well, at first. In fact, she made it into the blog—I know this, because she discovered an entry that had observations about a new girl and her “dollop of cyncism” she added to class. I am happy to report that my assessment of Dana has deepened over these two years. Dana is among the most exciting students I have ever taught, a fellow lodger in Clio’s house. I think her work on this weekly Journal Sheet, the last of the year, reveals so much of the wonder and the mystery of art history.

Masterpiece of the year:

My favorite artwork this year is Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, by German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. I thought for a long time about what my favorite artwork of the year would be, but I kept coming back to this one. The wanderer has just climbed a mountain, and now he is standing on the mountaintop contemplating all the work he has just done, and the many more mountains he must climb. On this day, at this point in my life, I feel like I am about to reach a major mountaintop. High school trials, tribulations, and triumphs have made the climbing of this mountain impossible to forget, and in 20 days, I will reach the peak… before climbing back down to start another climb in three month's time.

Needless to say, I feel kind of like the wanderer. I've spent a few hours over the last 2 days staring at this painting and contemplating the meaning of the phrase "Life isn't about the destination, it's about the journey," in a Dr. Phil voice, of course. The wanderer doesn't have a clearly defined destination - the mountains go on forever. He doesn't even have a clearly defined journey - it is obscured by fog and distance. But, he's going to climb down the mountain and see what's next. I'M SO EXCITED/SAD/SCARED/READY!

Best textual example of the year:

My favorite textual example of the year is this excerpt from the Ingeborg Bachmann poem, "Bohemia Lies by the Sea:" If Bohemia still lies by the sea, I'll believe in the sea again. / And believing in the sea, thus I can hope for land." Essentially, context aside, this poem is wondering of there is hope for the future. In Anselm Kiefer's accompanying painting, also entitled Bohemia Lies by the Sea, we are shown Bohemia, but we are unable to see if it lies by the sea (and by extension whether or not there is hope for the future).

So what do we do? We have only one choice - we have to step onto the road and take the long journey (I'm starting to sense a theme here) through Bohemia and find out for ourselves whether or not Bohemia lies by the sea (and how much farther we have to go to find hope if it doesn't). Again, like the wanderer on the mountaintop, my classmates and I are about to start trudging through a wonderful mix of poppies and gunk until we find the sea.

Best insight from Mr. John of the year:

One of the finest pieces of advice I have ever received from Mr. John was given to me unwittingly: from Mr. John's December 25, 2009 blog entry comes this quotation: "Peace: It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart." The idea is similar to finding your eye of a cyclone (an area of calm weather located directly in the center of a storm)…. And in such a whirlwind time of my life, I like having this bit of wisdom as a reminder to center myself and find peace, even when I’m in the “midst of noise, trouble, and hard work.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the things that bother you – people, actions, decisions, and tasks can all disrupt our days and make us feel like Pandora’s Box has been opened and we are powerless to order everything and make sense of it all. But, if we remember to find peace in our hearts, we can work through the mess and move forward. This doesn’t relate much to Art History, but there you have it.

Best peer insight this year:

Who else could I pick for this but Ghassan? This won’t really have much to do with Art History either, but everything Ghassan does is insightful. He and I attend a school where many people get things because of who their parents are or the size of their bank accounts, and despite all of that he works incredibly hard to earn everything he gets. Outside of the classroom, he sweats empathy and compassion. This may sound a little like a love letter, but he is a truly admirable human being, who is in no way perfect, nor does he pretend to be – but he does do his best to correct his wrongs and make the best decisions possible.

We talk a lot about role models in high school – leaders, politicians, athletes, and authority figures. But I believe the most powerful role models are peers, because we don’t feel as though their age makes them capable of so much. Ghassan has been a wonderful role model to me throughout my time at King’s Academy and has inspired me to work hard and have a sense of humor about life.

Best vocabulary word or phrase of the year:

My favorite vocabulary word/phrase from the year is the name of my favorite movement, Romanticism. Romanticism is the movement that suggests God and religion can be found in nature, and indeed that they are one in the same. I believe it’s a beautiful philosophy, and can be applied to the somewhat industrialized world too – if you look hard enough, God can be found everywhere.

Similarly… good can be found everywhere. Even in the tiny corner of the world known as Manja, Jordan. Romanticism, however unintentionally, has become a reminder to look for goodness in even the unlikeliest places and an assurance that such a search will not be unrewarded.

If I ever wonder if it was a worthwhile year, I can just read this and feel quite blessed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

At the end of the day

It is not uncommon for me to have music in my head. I mean just now as I was walking over to my apartment to write this blog entry, I had the Cowardly Lion’s song, “If I were king of the for-ehhhhhhhhst” resounding through my head (in large part because today is my wonderful nephew Jack’s birthday, and he is a fellow fan of the 1939 classic movie). When I direct plays I often comment on how the actors should hear (maybe sense?) the musicality of a scene. And of course, there are the ad jingles and sit-com theme songs (“Come and listen to a story ‘bout a man named Jed…”) that have taken up residence where there might be knowledge of science or car repairs instead.

But last Tuesday I had a sing-song ditty in my head that I hadn’t thought of in a generation, I guess. Remember at summer camps, or whenever you had skit night with conferences or youth events, and the sing-song group participation number that goes, “If I were not a _____ [insert wherever you were] I know what I would be…” Maybe you don’t know it. For example, in 1980 at West Hi (ahhh…I was but a callow sophomore 30 years ago this spring) the Thespian Society (I was a new inductee) performed in the “Varsity Vanities” variety show an act with about a dozen of us. The sing-song round went, “If I were not a West High student, I know what I would be. If I were not a West High student, a ______ [insert strange profession here] I would be.” I remember this from camp, and a group of extroverted, silly drama-types would come up with a great, warped profession that you could define in 8 crisp beats and a laugh line. For example, in that fabled (in my mind, at least) rendition of this at West High, senior Ken Bowald in his best Uncle Fenster-impression, said, “If I were not a West High student, I know what I would be. If I were not a West High student, a mortician I would be! Six…by four…nail him to the floor…Dead!” You would do this in a round, adding each person after the “solo” and somehow if the group had the right pizzazz, it was really funny. I remember my contribution to this Job Fair ditty, “If I were not a West High student, I know what I would be. If I were not a West High student, a butcher I would be! Kill the chicken, kill the chicken. Ring its dirty neck!” And on that last beat I let out a squawk that resounded through the West High auditorium…I got a huge laugh. I got a laugh in part because my squawk was loud but also as I channeled my inner chicken, I had bug eyes that might make Jim Carrey envious. Oh, this group of serious actor types killed, killed, as I recall.

Now…why was I remembering this lo these many years later? Was it nostalgia for my high school days (“West High, Best High, West High, for dear old West High on the hill!”) or my lost youth (um, I still act sometimes like I did in high school, so probably not that one)?

Last Tuesday I think this song went into overdrive in my head in part because I was angry. I won’t go into exactly why I was angry—the reason is not for worldwide web consumption, and I don’t use my blog as a bully pulpit for vendettas or a hit list (ahhh, just the thought does tantalize a bit!) but suffice it to say, some adult decisions/actions/treatment here at KA made me angry enough to imagine these lyrics to the song…“If I were not a KA teacher, I know what I would be. If I were not a KA teacher, a…” hmmmmmmmm….what would I be? You know when you deal with what you consider shoddy treatment in the work place, it can help to just wonder…what else would I be? I decided a baker would be nice. I liked the idea of going to work with no preparation, no piles of grading around you, and then spending a day punching dough. Could be therapeutic, no? So as I strategized to myself about how to manage my discontent, I enjoyed the sing-song possibilities of other jobs.

I can mask that anger around the students pretty easily—in large part because going into the classroom and teaching is the best part anyway, and you can forget for a bit what is causing those thoughts/songs of greener-pasture professions. But last Tuesday I did what was probably not the wisest thing—before 7:00 a.m. Jordan time, I had already talked to two dear friends on the phone in the US, which you know, sometimes just stokes the anger a little more.

By the end of those conversations I had another song battling in my head, albeit a bit more of a highbrow tune. My brain kept marching to the martial beat of the song, “At the end of the day,” from Broadway’s Les Miserables:

At the end of the day you’re another day older
And that’s all you can say for the life of the poor.
It’s a struggle—it’s a war
And there’s nothing that anyone’s giving,
One more day, standing about, what is it for?
One day less to be living.

Oh, that’s a great start to the day! How optimistic! Pollyanna is dead. I am pretty sure I walked to morning meeting in the steps of the revolutionaries from the musical too—just waiting for somethin’!

While the image of the baker enticed me a bit, by the end of the day, my mood had changed. The adult(s) in question had hardly made life sweeter or kinder, but it’s those darn students. Class was exciting, the review for the upcoming AP test was strong and compelling, and yes, At the end of the day, my mood was different.

As the nightly review of art history drew to a close, a handful of us tarried a little in my room, breezily talking about, you know, just stuff. Then Rob, marvelous, inventive, extroverted Rob, suggested that we (a group of about six of us) play Art History Charades. We laughed, but Rob was serious, and so the game group jumped in—Zack, Abdullah, Dana, Rob and Swara started thinking of ways to stump each other as they decided to act out, as charades, art history vocabulary, art history movements, famous art works and artists.

For about an hour we took turns pantomiming such things as cantilevers, tenebrism, Bernini, American Gothic, and on and on. It was just fun. It was just a nice hour. And there was some good studying and review as well. Abdullah was usually chosen to play the female in the art works requiring a feminine presence! Swara tried to act out these complicated myths. But the play was a welcome oasis and relief from the unremitting stanzas of “At the end of the day” in my head. Of course eventually we realized we needed to head back to the dorms, and get cracking on the next day’s work. But for that blissful hour I didn’t think once that I would trade it all in to punch some dough.

I get back to the dorm, start to prepare the slide show for the next day’s lecture on environmental art of the 1970s-80s and I get a tune again (remember, there is lots of room in my head!). It’s the "At the end of the day" again, but at the real end of this day, I have a different stanza in my head. In the show, the previous stanzas had a flinty minor key driving the song. But for a short while, the key changes to major, and the down-and-out sing,

At the end of the day there’s another day dawning
And the sun in the morning is waiting to rise.
Like the waves crash on the sand
Like a storm that’ll break any second…

At the end of the day there’s another day dawning

In the course of that day, the music in my head changed from that minor key to the major key.

Thank goodness for the jukebox in my head!

Somehow this musical montage reminded me of something I found when I was cleaning out the office of my predecessor at Hackley, a venerable teacher who stayed at the school for over 40 years. I was going through a desk drawer and came upon a flask…I called Walter up on the phone, and said, “Well, I guess I discovered how you survived the traumas of school life for 40 years!” The tone in his voice was more Brahms-like than Barney Google, and he assured me that he used that simply as a prop to discuss in his United States history classes the accoutrements of a well-heeled man from the 20s…sure, Walter…

It takes a variety of things to make school life sing and work. But I hope to keep handy in that ipod of my brain that marvelous line, At the end of the day there’s another day dawning.

My class will be emerging from the AP test in under an hour. I will report soon how they have fared as they ascended this mountain.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Recidivism—Bah, Humbug!

Well, that was certainly a long day, wasn’t it??? I promised a blog entry “tomorrow” about 9 days ago…yes, the days sometimes feel that long here with all the demands!

Anyway, I will still speak about “recidivism” since that was on my mind 9 days ago and then the consuming nature of KA went into high gear…the definition of "recidivism” is sort of funny since I failed to come back and pontificate as I had promised…

In the first year of KA, our headmaster, Dr. Eric, often warned our students about the perils of recidivism—he loves great words and this was a doozy of a word that not only our Arab friends weren’t sure about, but many of the English-speakers were unclear about. Recidivism is a noun that means “repeated or habitual relapse,” and on they also add after ‘relapse,’ the words, “as into crime.” (!!!)

I started thinking of the word recidivism on Thursday a week ago when the seniors met in the Lecture Hall for a special speaker arranged by one of our counselors. The counselor had invited a friend of hers to speak about breathing techniques and exercises and how these might help reduce stress, especially as seniors came into the month of May with all of the AP exams and the attendant emotional stress of graduation.

This was a 40-minute presentation, and I discovered the speaker does many of the techniques and exercises I have done over the years with actors before performances. It was not a gathering where adults urged them to attend classes (seriously—we have to do this with our seniors!) or follow through on their obligations or show respect to the adults in their school world. That is what other class meetings are for. This was a man from an organization called “The Art of Living” who hoped to help students breathe their way to peace and harmony. Well, many of the seniors acted like…I don’t know…seven-year olds? They couldn’t sit still. They couldn’t follow directions. They laughed at everything. They could hardly focus for sixty seconds. They spoke nastily to the counselor when she asked them to pay attention. Their poor behavior took me back to the first months at KA when many of the adults here decided that these students acted more like “wild dogs” [see those old blog entries from the fall of 2007—I am sure I commented on it then!]. In our minds they acted in those early days exactly like immature middle school children. We had our work cut out for us, back in the days I called “Scratch.”

Here we are—30 months later, 5s on AP exams later, free trips around the world with His Majesty later, free trips to conferences around the world later, acceptances to Ivy League colleges and elite universities and scholarships proffered over and over…and we are back at the beginning. We aren’t at Scratch, of course—too much water under the bridge to count for that. We are in the Sea Change known as Senioritis. Yuck.

This is hardly the first senioritis I have endured. I have taught seniors 18 times over the years, in all four of my schools, and this icky phenomenon rears its head everywhere…I guess here it feels worse…it feels more recidivist.

In a school where so many came from so far away, and we worked so hard to train them to elevate them from their “middle school” status, it just feels a little more hard-hitting. I receive about a dozen emails a day from teachers of seniors (remember, I am their dean, and oh, the glory of the position certainly feels exalted these days!) asking for advice about the rudeness, the irresponsibility, et cetera. But I could change the names from Arab names to Wasp names and it could have been really any of my other schools in terms of how a churlish-senior attitude can transform a happy school into a tense showdown, hmmm…shades of the OK Corral? But the students here skip classes in a wave I have never seen. There is even a deeper malaise of “I am into college so what do I care?” that pollutes the scene. There are some fine scholars in this class, yes, but there are some ill-equipped as well, who need to sharpen all their skills before they face their American counterparts in a few months in university.

Many of these seniors have been the oldest grade here three times, a luxury/curse almost never afforded anywhere else. The school opened with 9th and 10th graders, and this class was the “top dog” three times. But they never got to watch a class go through the motions of struggling and learning to lead, and emerging as mature young adults at the end of the process. Some of them have—please know, but many are still just bigger 10th grade babies, unenlightened, ungrateful, and unwilling to reflect.

It has become standard from some teachers to “wish away” the seniors—indulging in the countdown until they are out of our sight. But whenever that happens, and I am tempted, believe you me, I am reminded of some wisdom from my father many years ago. I was a junior in high school, and there was a crush of assignments and deadlines coming my way before Thanksgiving, and I created an elaborate countdown to “wish away” the days until I felt some peace. How normal is this! It is our impulse to wish away the rough times, or simply to be in the dead of winter and wish that spring could come a mite faster.

I hear my father’s voice saying, “Don’t wish you life away. If you live always counting down, you’ll find yourself at the end of life having counted it all away.” What a smart guy that former firefighter. In longing for some future good, we forget that every day—regardless of the weather or our circumstances—is a gift from God. I guess that we are where we need to be and learn what we need to learn. As my father would advise, we must stay the course because the things we experience today will lead us where we need to be tomorrow.

My grandmothers would chime in and remind us of the exhortation in Ecclesiastes 3:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under Heaven….
A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away….
In every season there is a reason to rejoice and an opportunity to do good.”

Of course, the challenge for each of us every day is to find something to rejoice about and some good to do—and then to do both.

So, that same Thursday when the seniors challenged our sanity and proved themselves deft recidivists, about 9 hours later another group was in the same Lecture Hall—a group of sophomores and juniors recently chosen to lead their hallways as proctors in our dormitories for next school year.

Julianne and her crackerjack team of deans planned an extraordinary weekend of leadership training for these 60-some students. Over that 48-hour period they led them in initiative games, exercises, discussions, movies, fun, speeches, and planning for next year. These students were marvelous. On the first night, after a rousing opening speech on leadership by Julianne, we watched the movie, We Are Marshal so as to explore and analyze various styles of leadership. I was leery being in the Lecture Hall again since earlier that morning I simply couldn’t believe the recidivism of the seniors. I also remember when the whole school watched a movie during Orientation last September and our student body just couldn’t sit still and focus. It was like going to a movie with 400 7th graders…

But see, here is where the hope springs eternal…maybe some of the seniors never learned some of the lessons or internalized the guiding principles of the school’s mission statement, but there is another class awaiting their chance to lead. They have been in second place three times now, and they have watched and grown. These 60-some students represent only about 15% of the student body, so I am not naïve to think that all the underclassmen will assume the mantle of leadership easily or maturely, but this group is ready. Those deans planned an incredible weekend—giving some of the best hope in a long time.

This fall I have 16 students signed up for a course where I made the pre-requisite that you have to have survived at least one AP course with me. They know what they are in for—and they are ready for that challenge to continue to grow. They know what I stand for, and they believe in the value of laboring over something. They remind me of that great Oliver Wendell Holmes quotation: "The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving."

Yes, there has been some recidivism, but no, it is not choking the school. These leaders to-be will plunge in, and hopefully be the tipping point that allows the school to thrive and grow.

I remember a student in the class of…well, I won’t say, but early in the 21st century, and I remember how everything changed on a December 8th. That was the day he received the acceptance to the college about which he had dreamed and worked. He had been a poster child for hard work and charisma in the classroom. Well, the day after that important letter, he began to slack off—he was “entitled,” he said, and sadly, the charisma, and the persuasive powers he held over the rest of his class created a wave of recidivism. It just isn’t as much fun to teach them then. But you don’t give up over a couple of recidivist bad apples! And I guess you don’t wish them all away. That would mean you might miss the glorious moments with the students whose curiosity and enthusiasm and thoughtfulness propel your day with excitement and wonder.