This has been an exciting few weeks here at Solebury as our seniors have heard from the colleges they applied to. Just as it is at all schools, this time period contains a mixture of joy and disappointment. All our seniors have some wonderful choices including some of the top schools in the country such as Yale, Penn, Georgetown, Bryn Mawr, Bates, Bowdoin, Skidmore, etc. I couldn’t be happier for, or prouder of, them. Certainly this is one of the things that the students, their parents, and we as a school, think about a lot and a great deal of effort on everyone’s part (first and foremost the students) is spent to get to this moment. At times though, I feel like we as a society get mixed up. Certainly some colleges have better reputations than others, and having gone to one of the big-name schools, I can look back and see the way my alma mater has impacted my life. However, I’m 100% convinced that the impact is less than we generally perceive it to be, that what really determines success is an individual’s drive, and his or her ability to solve problems, to communicate effectively with others, and to think critically about the information presented to them. These are the skills I see among people who I would label “successful”. They go far beyond their ability to perform on a standardized test or many of the traditional metrics schools use to determine success.
This is why when I see some of the things that our classes are doing here I am so envious of the experience the students here are having, and so proud of the job my colleagues are doing. They’re dealing with real world issues; they’re solving problems; they’re taking things they see and trying to figure out how to make them better; they’re not simply memorizing things out of a book and figuring out how to regurgitate them. Here are a few examples:
1) Gretchen’s Honors’ Physics class was given a challenge – help Owen. Owen is Erika’s (the Head of our Art Department and one of our dorm parents) beloved pug and one of the unofficial mascots of the school. He’s got a physical issue that is making it more and more difficult for him to walk effectively (don’t ask me what since at my previously mentioned big name college, I managed to avoid getting any education in the hard sciences by taking Astronomy one semester). The class was challenged to create a mechanism or contraption that would allow Owen to move more easily and without pain. They developed a really cool prototype that, while it looks a little clunky, has really improved Owen’s quality of life and made Erika incredibly happy. Here’s a picture of it:
2) Four of the students in Lauren’s journalism class had their editorials published in local papers. They were insightful analyses of the society these students see around them and demonstrate an awareness, a maturity, and a sense of perspective that will serve them incredibly well as they go forward. Here they are (click on each name to read their editorial):
3) In the 10th grade Honors Ethics class that our Head of School, Tom Wilschutz is currently teaching (he, the Head of the History Department, and I each do a trimester of it), they have been discussing the tension between modern capitalism and the desire/need to continue to progress, and the damage that this desire/need has caused to the environment. Every day in class, they are wrestling with ideas such as what role can an individual play in resolving this tension, what would it mean to be an “ethical” actor in this theater, and is it possible to find a new path forward that would allow for both progress and protection of the world.
4) Our Middle School just took a trip to the United Nations in NYC after studying it in class. Their interdisciplinary History/English class – called Identity, Connection, and Change – has been examining governments, decision making, the role that individuals can play in solving problems, etc. through social studies and literature. They’ve spent a great amount of time discussing utopias and dystopias, so they went to see what the UN is really like since it was very much the world’s attempt to move us closer to being a utopia, and further away from the dystopia that was World War 2 (we’re not there yet, but maybe someday).
I don’t remember a lot of specific things from Middle School or High School. What I remember are the moments where teachers did something unique, something that I could connect with – a group research paper I did my senior year on whether there was a racial bias incumbent in the SAT where a really diverse group of people had to figure out how to work together and present a unified viewpoint, the calculus problem that involved a traffic light dangerously swinging in a high speed wind, etc.
As a teacher I love imparting the knowledge I have to my students; it’s great to know things and one cannot be truly successful certainly without a strong knowledge base. However, what’s really wonderful is helping students develop the skills I mentioned in the beginning of this post – in short, to help them develop wisdom.