Tag Archives: learning

Civil Discourse

by Tina Oddleifson ’82

I’m related to the first person executed for murder in the U.S. You may not have heard of him, but his name was John Billington and he came over on the Mayflower.  He was a troublemaker who killed a fellow colonist and was hanged in 1630.  My grandmother bravely fought for access to birth control in the 1930’s, despite the social stigma. But she also once told me that she thought Apartheid wasn’t so bad.  My hometown of Boston is often the first to stand up for higher American ideals like equality.  But it also has a long and complicated history of racism. I could tell you that I’m a Mayflower descendant, that my grandmother crusaded for progressive causes, and that Boston is a leader for enlightened thought in America.  But that wouldn’t be the whole truth, would it?

As humans, we tend to hold onto certain parts of our story and ignore or gloss over the messy parts because they don’t support our idealized version of reality.  This has become an alarming practice in today’s political environment where partial truths and absolutes are ubiquitous, often in the form of memes and sensational headlines addressing the outrage of the day.  “Liberals want to take down the flag – share if you don’t give a damn” or “Conservatives are literally pining for a dictatorship” are two that came through my feed recently.  One of these is bound to irritate you, maybe even both.

Our obsession with sound bites, memes and partial truths may serve our need for self-justification and help us commiserate with our political team, but they not only promote divisiveness, they miss the chance for exploring a much more fascinating and complex story.  The recent cultural conflicts over civil war memorials and kneeling during the national anthem are just two more examples of how our social media obsession is drowning out civil discourse and the opportunity to explore those gray areas, where the truth actually lives.

So where does one go to have an honest and respectful conversation these days?  How do we move forward as a country teetering on the edge of a democracy and something altogether different?  Admitting that your life story or point of view is filled with a certain degree of hypocrisy is a good place to start.  Having a murderous Pilgrim, a feminist but prejudiced grannie, and a hypocritical hometown forces you to admit that maybe things are a little more complicated than they appear. Recognizing your own inconsistencies can help others admit theirs as well. The next step is to find someone who thinks differently than you and actively listen to them.  This is not the kind of listening where you spend your time figuring out your next counterpoint while someone else is talking.  It’s about being curious and asking questions.  It’s about making the other person feel “heard,” even if you don’t agree with what they are saying.  Civil discourse is not about trying to change someone’s mind.  And it’s not about giving up your own values, or trying to avoid conflict altogether. It’s about disagreeing without being disagreeable.  It’s about being open and respectful enough to consider a different viewpoint, so that we can engage in the healthy deliberation of ideas that a successful democracy requires.

If you’re wondering how someone you have always liked can have such a different worldview, maybe it’s time to reach out and ask them how they got there.  And maybe it’s time for all of us to admit that not all conservatives are racist, not all liberals believe in unlimited government handouts, and we all love our country.  It would open up a desperately needed conversation for addressing urgent policy issues from sensible gun laws, to health care and immigration.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to advance civil discourse, the National Institute for Civil Discourse has launched the Revive Civility project in Maine, Ohio, Iowa and Arizona with plans to go nationwide.  They offer resources for talking to friends and family about issues that divide us, including a new program called “Setting the Table for Civility” with tools for families and friends to have civil conversations over the Thanksgiving holiday.  You can find them at ReviveCivility.org.  Additional resources to explore include Allsides.com  and Livingroomconversations.org.  If we begin to model civil discourse, maybe our politicians will too.

Note: This op-ed was originally published by Portland Press Herald on October 16, 2017.

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Summer: The Perfect Time to Learn?

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by Addie Gerszberg ’18

While rest seemed to be a critical part of many students’ agendas this past summer, so was learning for the many of us who take the time to investigate passions that the busy grind of the school year often prohibits us from pursuing. For me, those passions are international relations and learning more about the world’s languages and cultures. This summer, I focused my attention on learning about Japan after I was grateful to have been accepted to the High School Diplomats Program at Princeton University.

This program, which has run for the last 30 years thanks to the generosity of AIU Insurance Company of Tokyo and the Freeman Foundation, focuses on friendship, community, and peace: values that were all consistent with what I have learned at George School. During the ten days of this program, my Japanese roommate, Hana, and I had the opportunity to see diplomacy at its most basic level: through friendship. Through each days’ themes and scheduling, all of the Japanese and American students engaged in meaningful activities and conversations. I will never forget when my friend, Mizuki, from Hiroshima, shared her grandmother’s experience of the atomic bombings of their city during World War II. Likewise, my friend Sayaka’s story about being from Fukushima and the impact the nuclear power plant disaster following an earthquake and tsunami in 2011 has had on her life was also profoundly moving. Through these friendships, what I had previously only learned in history books, came to life, and while those examples are of atrocities, the positive stories these new friends have shared are already too numerous to count. These jovial experiences of connection among us “high school diplomats” are best exemplified through two of my favorite days of the program: the Japanese culture festival and the Paula Chow Diplomat Talks.

During the festival, I gained cultural insights, and a closeness to Hana, that I had not had before through partaking in a traditional tea ceremony, appreciating the art of calligraphy, and playing games. This experience was only strengthened by wearing traditional Japanese dresses called yukata (light cotton kimono) with Hana. This gift from my roommate is one I treasure dearly.

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While the festival was light hearted, the Diplomat Talks took on a more serious note, enabling all of the Japanese and American students to have discussions about the world in which we live. Being a George School student and having learned about how to have these kinds of difficult discussions was the best preparation I could have had to fully embrace the experience. The program and my education complimented each other, and while George School has taught me how to be an engaged community member, High School Diplomats enhanced my ability to be a global citizen. Now a month after I have completed the program, I have been gifted with lasting friendships and a new knowledge set that has already enriched my first classes back at school. I hope more George School students can take part in this life altering experience, and current sophomores and juniors can check the program’s website for the application (available online from 9/15/2017–1/8/2018) for this fully funded opportunity.*

*For more information please visit the website: Highschooldiplomats.com or contact the American Director, Mrs. Celine Zapolski at (571) 234-5072 or celinezapolski@highschooldiplomats.com

 

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Friends Council on Education Statement – August 15, 2017

The violent expressions of hatred, racism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism in Charlottesville, Virginia were directly opposed to the values our schools stand for. These events serve to deepen our commitment at Quaker schools to teach our students habits of heart and mind that insist upon a disposition of openness and respect for every member of our community regardless of race, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, place of national origin, gender identity or gender expression.  

As we wrote in November:

William Penn founded the first Quaker school in 1689, one hundred years prior to the formal addition of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.  Penn directed that the school educate students from all walks of life, genders, religions, and ethnicities to prepare them to be moral leaders within the Commonwealth no matter what profession or trade that they might someday pursue.

Penn’s school created a program of study through which these young people might together imagine a more ideal society. Today all Quaker schools strive to serve this critical public purpose just a Penn imagined it in the earliest days of what would become the United States.

In time of uncertainty, and deep distrust, Quaker school communities turn to the Quaker values of peace, integrity, equality and community, as well as the longtime practices of peaceful conflict resolution and nonviolence, as touch points for navigating these turbulent waters.

It is our sincere hope that as children everywhere return to school that they may come together, in the spirit of respect for all, to find a way to listen deeply to one another, to value the gifts that all students bring with them to school everyday, that they might, together, imagine an ideal society.

Each of the 78 Quaker schools across the United States is founded on core Quaker values and practices. These principles strive to address issues of societal injustice. Friends schools seek to create inclusive and diverse communities and to live into the Quaker values of peace, equity, and social justice.

Friends Council on Education supports schools in their efforts to teach for justice and equity. To that end, we lift up just a few examples of how Quaker schools and Quaker school educators are actively working to provide students with skills in mediation, conversations about differences, and peaceful ways for resolving differences.

Upper school students have a social justice collective where they meet weekly to engage in conversations utilizing the model of Intergroup Dialogue. (Germantown Friends School)

Students participate in a Peer Facilitator Training Program that strives to provide students with skills in asking open ended questions, clarifying and summarizing what you have heard, giving respectful feedback – all with the goal of preempting conflict. (Media-Providence Friends School)

The social curriculum serves as a foundation for a Social Justice Unit as early as preschool focusing on fairness, inclusion, and community. (Friends School Haverford)

Upper school students team up with students at other independent schools to host a student-led Mid Atlantic Regional Diversity Conference. Students explore issues of identity (sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, age, ability, socioeconomic status, gender, and religion) through activities that encourage building community and leaning into discomfort. (Abington Friends School)

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March 3

After our wake-up call at 2:15 a.m., smooth flights at 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and a warm reception at the Managua airport where the 11th grade class met us with their teachers, we drove to the school accompanied by the students. A late lunch of chicken, salad, rice, and fries was awaiting us. Everyone ate well! Soon after, we were entertained by dancers and a poetry reading as we took in the whole scene. Such excitement! The students in pairs went into the older students’ classrooms and helped the teachers with their lessons. By 6:00 p.m., one by one, families came by to pick up their GS student. It was lovely to see them meet. We hope you like the photos!

Starting tomorrow, the students will write the blog entries. They are doing fine; their Spanish is really quite impressive as they dive into their first evening of immersion. We’re heading to bed now and hope that they are too. Tomorrow, we will visit Managua.

Tom and Cheri

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The Opposite of Hazing

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Photo by Jim Inverso

by Amanda Acutt, school counselor and Paul Weiss, athletics director

Last spring Amanda and I presented a concept during assembly that we described as “the opposite of hazing.”  Our intent was to challenge the community to engage in purposeful behaviors that we called “Friending.”  Essentially, we asked the community to embrace the concept of engaging in pro-social, empathetic, and sometimes uncomfortable, leadership behavior. We were trying to communicate the behaviors and feelings that underpin being in a safe, supportive, and mindful community of Friends.

Most people are generally familiar with the definition of hazing. Traditionally the term is applied to ritual abuse used as an initiation rite in fraternities, sororities, military settings, sports, or clubs.  The actual definition of hazing has recently expanded to include “any action taken or any situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment, alienation, or ridicule, and risks emotional and/or physical harm to an individual, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”*

Many institutions provide community education and resources focused on identifying, reporting, and preventing hazing, and we believe this is an important part of culture creation.  However, our intent is to address culture creation in a different way.  We would like to start a dialog about an intentional approach to creating a safe, mutually supportive, and empathetic school culture or as we like to call it, the opposite of hazing.

This proactive approach to culture creation is consistent with many of the fundamental elements of a Friends community. The George School Mission (found HERE) says the following: “Students learn about the tension between the individual and community, that fairness and justice are inherently tied to each other.  They learn to express themselves without trampling others…” and “…in what seems a fitting fulfillment of our mission, George School students joyously go out in the world comfortable in their self-awareness and confident that they can make the world a better, kinder place.”

Our mission is not simply to educate academically, it is to perpetuate the values inherent in a Friends community, and for George School graduates to carry these values with them. When we ask if there is hazing in our community, we are asking the wrong question.  Instead, we should ask interconnected questions like:

  • What does it mean to intervene, to be a hero, to champion someone else, to be empathetic?
  • How aware are you of how others feel, of whether someone feels excluded, unheard, unseen, or uncomfortable?
  • What can you do, individually and collectively, to take responsibility for each other?

One of the things that is lost when we talk explicitly about hazing is the proactive ways in which we can do more for each other and our community.  The higher-level expectation is to seek out opportunities to connect with each other, particularly individuals and groups in the community who are most likely to feel different, disconnected, alienated, misunderstood, or invisible.

There are many examples of George School students exhibiting behaviors that embody the opposite of hazing. Here are just a few.

  • The student who sees a new student in the dining hall looking around nervously and calls out “come sit with us!”
  • The student who stops another student in class who is disrespecting a first year teacher.
  • The student who sees another student is upset and walks them over to the Student Health and Wellness Center, stays with them, and offers to let that student join her group of friends so they feel less alone and more connected.
  • A student who sets up a meeting with the school counselor to ask for tips on how to help a friend through a difficult time.

These examples are real. These students did not know they were being observed, and had no motive other than their belief that their behavior was the right thing to do.

Perpetuating a culture of treating each other as Friends is not limited to students interacting with each other.  This is one of the reasons we call everyone by his or her first name; we try to foster an environment in which every individual has intrinsic value, and making sure we see, hear, recognize, and care for each other is the shared thread in the fabric of our community.

The call to action is simple: strive to be intentional, externally aware, and empathetic.  Thinking about what behaviors not to do is a start, but leadership and positive culture creation is a deliberate process.

When the intent to do the “opposite of hazing” is shared by many, the effect is powerful.

*paraphrased from www.hazingprevention.org

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Five Reasons to Attend a TEDx Talk

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by Alyson Cittadino

Are you considering attending TEDxGeorgeSchool but aren’t really sure if it’s for you or not? This might help. Happening on December 3, TEDxGeorgeSchool features thirteen passionate and remarkable speakers that are doing innovative work in the fields of design, science, and engineering. Speakers include a Nobel Laureate recipient, the co-chair of Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans, and co-founder of BalletX. In addition to the great lineup of presenters, TEDxGeorgeSchool will feature informative breakout sessions and opportunities to interact with George School students.

But, if we still haven’t convinced you, here are five reasons to attend a TEDx Talk.

It will expand your knowledge base. TEDx Talks have a theme, but the individual subjects are usually relatively different, making it a well-rounded event. For example, TEDxGeorgeSchool is focused on innovation, but subjects range from opera to bean breeding to engineering toys that inspire learning.

Attendance at TEDx builds community. Network with likeminded individuals, industry professionals, or leaders just like you and grow your professional (or personal) network. Plus, adding the experience of a TEDx Talk to a resume, shows future employers a desire to learn and a real interest in the industry.

The breakout sessions. In between each speaker session, TEDx requires breakout or “brain break” sessions. These sessions can include anything from learning tai chi or singing to dancing lessons and chocolate tastings. Audience members will not be disappointed with the wide selection of choices designed to get the juices flowing just in time for the next fascinating speaker.

You will meet really interesting people. TEDx Talks encourage a diverse audience to mingle with the presenters. TED requires an application-based registration process to guarantee that a good mix of professionals, students, and community members are in the audience. The unique format of the talks also allows ample time for attendees to interact with speakers and each other.

Experience face-to-face communication in a digital world. TEDx Talks allow presenters the opportunity to speak directly to a live audience; not through a camera or chatbot. Interact with these speakers in person, in real time, face-to-face, and learn about the innovative work they are doing.

Learn more about TedXGeorgeSchool here.

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TEDxGeorgeSchool

by Ralph Lelii, English Department

In his 1964 work, Understanding Media, Marshall McCluhan famously, and certainly prophetically, claims that the “medium is message” in modern industrial societies. By that phrase, he suggests that we find it difficult to separate the content of the message from the status conferred on it by its inclusion in powerful public media systems. One only has to glimpse the massive celebrity culture that has evolved since then to know how prescient he was, but there is a new wrinkle to his notion that is perhaps even more worrisome. Continue reading

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Lessons from Squirrels

This post was adapted from a speech written by Head of School Nancy Starmer and delivered during the Opening Assembly on September 1, 2014. 

Those of us who live year round on the GS campus know that it’s hard not to pay attention occasionally to our squirrel friends.  I, personally, have an ambivalent relationship with them.  Like many of you, I’ve been startled often by a squirrel flying at me out of a dumpster and they’ve eaten holes in the screens of my house and gotten into the kitchen cupboards. I’ve chased them around the dining hall in the summer when they’ve just waltzed in through an open door, and just this past summer I found myself having to apologize on behalf of all of GS for the behavior of our squirrels when one ate through the zipper in a house guest’s suitcase to get at a granola bar she’d stored in the front compartment for her trip home (she’d left the suitcase out on the driveway for five minutes while she waited for her ride and in that brief period of time the squirrel managed to completely destroy the bag.) Continue reading

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