Thursday, February 6, 2020

A Balance of Belonging and Exploring

by Michael Kelly

February is Black History Month. During this month, the African-American contribution to the cultural & social enrichment of the USA is recognized and celebrated. Visit our library to view an exhibition of famous African-American icons and heroes drawn from the world of art, politics, sports, and science. Biographies and pictures of such inspirational figures such as Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, and Katherine Johnson are on display. Black History month is celebrated not only in the USA and Canada, but also in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Black History Month was instituted in the city of Cork, Ireland in 2010. Cork championed abolition in the 19th century, and Frederick Douglas visited there at the time to study the tactics of peaceful protest. MBA students will host several events during Black History Month, including the screening of the movie, Freedom Writers, for students and parents on 2/23. More details on this event and others will follow.
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NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson
MBA hosted an International Boys School Coalition conference this past weekend. The event, which explored the theme of “The Culture of a Boys School” featured excellent speakers, including three women from MBA’s board of trustees (Varina Buntin, Beth Harwell & Pam Koban), parents drawn from the world of education (Kathryn Zeuthen & Catharine Hollifield), sports (R.A. Dickey & Neil O’ Donnell), music (Travis Hill), and of course, from our student body. All of our students (Robbie Barnes, Ike Cravens & Kiran Peterson) spoke eloquently and thoughtfully, but I particularly would like to share the observations of senior, Matt Kaplan. I think he captures well the notion of inclusivity and belonging.
“When I first came to MBA as a 7th grader, my familiarity and sense of fitting into the community was a paradox. On the one hand, I had two older brothers and a father who went here, and many older students would already recognize my last name. But on the other hand, I was one of 3 Jewish students entering my class, and most of my friends throughout my life thus far had actually been Jewish. I was familiar with MBA’s campus, and I had attended football games on the Hill longer than I had been able to stay up past 8 o’clock Simultaneously, though, I came from a 6th grade class with 11 students and had no experience mixing with 120 all at once, especially in an all-boys environment. But my unique set of experiences and background only reflected what everyone else was going through at the time. As I would find out gradually over 6 years, each one of us has his own different story to tell, not only in where we came from, but also, and especially, in what we’ve done and who we’ve become since we’ve gotten here. As I’ve progressed through my time here, I have grown to appreciate so much of the work I’ve done here in my classes, and applied it outside of the classroom too, and really found my own intellectual center as a boy, one of curiosity and determination. I have found gratification in working on our school’s newspaper, in competing on our school’s mock trial team, in running on our school’s cross country and track teams, and in serving on our school’s honor council. Within class, I have found the satisfaction of solving a calculus problem, an infatuation with important leaders of American and world history, an appreciation for the subtle ways in which the Chinese language reflects its culture, and the inspiration to make my own life more meaningful through the literature I’ve read here. But I want to particularly emphasize that last part, the books we read, because I think that English class at MBA, at its best, is a great window into the connection between an intellectual center and an emotional center of a boy or young man. The discussions we have here, in an all-boys environment, allow us all to express our thoughts and feelings about the subjects of the books we read, without fear of ridicule or judgement. Reading Great Expectations last year, I would find myself relating to Pip and his experiences and thinking hard about them, and then I would go to class to listen to my friends describe how the novel hit them a different way. I really think we all became smarter through those conversations, and smarter through the essays we would write or quotations we would consider, but more importantly, we gained a better senses of ourselves, together. And that English class is just one way I have found my own emotional center, and it came through my intellectual center, through a shared experience of dealing with human emotion together with my classmates, in an environment where we all felt comfortable doing so. That’s what I think is so special about a community like MBA: it allows us to be vulnerable, we’re allowed to express ourselves, and we go through it all together. The all boys environment, at its best, is one where we are comfortable to launch into ideas and see how they feel, to explore our interests and find our passions. And this place does that through giving us the opportunity to explore our own lives, to use not only our intellectual centers, but our athletic centers, our creative centers, to unlock our emotional centers.” (Edited for length)
Quotation of the Week: “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott
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Louisa May Alcott

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Faithful Friendship Across Deep Differences

“Be a voice, not an echo.” – Cornel West

Watch the full conversation here.
On Monday MBA and St. Paul Christian Academy hosted two eminent scholars and teachers, Dr. Robert George (Princeton University) and Dr. Cornel West (Harvard Divinity School). The event was presented by the Trinity Forum, an organization that “endeavors to cultivate, curate, and disseminate the best of Christian thought, to equip leaders to think, work, and lead wisely and well.” Famously, Dr. George and Dr. West are close friends, though the former aligns himself with conservative thought, and the latter identifies himself with leftist perspectives. West and George spent the evening talking about their friendship and how their differing political, sociological and intellectual points of view ironically brought them together. It was a special treat to listen to these two great intellects talk, one calling on the mesmerizing cadences probably learnt from his Baptist preacher father, the other speaking with the quiet power of eloquence. Both men proved their intellectual greatness by preaching a message of love, of the connectedness of humanity and of the power of dialog, with great simplicity and humility. According to these men, their friendship was founded on the recognition of integrity, thoughtfulness and kindness in each other. They both agreed that these qualities could not have been discerned in each other had neither of them had the willingness to listen. Indeed, West
went on to observe that present day discourse in politics and matters of race had substituted civility and politeness for kindness and respect. I think what he meant was that no one listens to an opposing argument these days, rather, he or she just waits for his or her turn to speak, to harangue, to beat down. West spoke of the modern day phenomenon of the “echo chamber”, where the sound bites of the market place, the slogans and the rants ring loud but hollow and endeavor to replace the high music of morality and thoughtfulness. He cited the People of Color Conference as an example of the echo chamber, “full of like-minded people who might be wrong.” Invoking the ghost of renowned Irish playwright and funny man, Samuel Beckett, West wondered if our arguments should be prefaced with the word “perhaps”, to replace the stridency and self-righteousness prevalent in public discourse today. Perhaps “perhaps” means love.

Speaking of the PoCC, Sophomores Darin Hall and Yadev Surati attended this year’s event in Seattle. The boys worked hard, from 8:00 am each morning until 9:30 each night, discussing issues of social justice, social tolerance, and self-awareness and listening to the life stories of others. Darin and Yadev, who will present their experiences and findings at the PoCC at assembly next semester, were accompanied by Mr. Redmond and me. We attended workshops on Authenticity, Maintaining Inclusion, and The Importance of Minority Faculty in Independent Schools. We will have much to discuss with the Inclusion committee next month. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the PoCC was that dialog must continue and that solutions must be found for old and continued grievances.

Well, 2019 nears its end and roasting chestnuts, open fires, and great Christmas movies such as Die Hard beckon brightly. We wish all the boys great success in their exams and hope they enjoy a well-deserved rest and holiday. To the parents and faculty and staff too, Jamie and I hope you all have a marvelous break and celebration.

-Michael Kelly & Jamie Redmond

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Serving with Swords and Words

by Michael Kelly

MBA’s Veterans Day event honored all those who served in the United States of America’s Armed Forces with a marvelous breakfast ceremony. Mr. Gioia hosted the breakfast in a packed dining hall. Senior Wylie Ritter introduced the MBA choir who performed a powerful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner under the metronomic limbs of choir director Matt Smyth. Friend of MBA and father of two graduates, Matt & Steven, Mr. Steven Smith introduced the keynote speaker for the ceremony, Lieutenant General Keith Huber of the United States Army. Mr. Smith briefly listed Gen. Huber’s many accomplishments. According to Mr. Smith, if General Huber were a graduate of MBA, a more robust rendering of the MBA motto might apply to him because of his courageous actions in the field of combat.

Gen. Huber, whose grandfather served during WWI and whose father served in WWII, spoke passionately about his serving in the US military, how neither he nor any of the men with whom he served ever saw themselves as heroes: they felt that role should be reserved for the families left behind. He noted that 158 alumni of MBA had served in the armed forces. He also spoke about the connection between communication and leadership, how effective leaders still know how to look a person in the eye rather than their relying on social media or email to communicate effectively. General Huber now works at MTSU, overseeing programs that help veterans return to their communities. Unfortunately, not all veterans return and one such veteran was Tom Kettle who wrote this poem for his infant daughter in an attempt to explain the call to serve during war time. Kettle was killed in action on September 9, 1916.

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God
In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother's prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You'll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To dice with death. And oh! they'll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor. 

                                                           Tom Kettle MP, 1880-1916

MBA is proud of our current teachers who have served in the US Military:

Chris Calico (Lieutenant): Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico doing counter-drug patrols; Desert Shield; Balkan War. Flight instructor at NAS Kingsville, TX )Math teacher

Dr. Jim Lech: US Air Force Intelligence Analyst 1991-1994. Economics teacher

Joe Sharbel (Lieutenant Colonel), United States Marine Corps: Served as Tank Officer, Data Communications Officer 1983 – 2005. History teacher

Stephen Shone (Capt): West Point Academy graduate 1989. Served in Operation Desert Storm. Captain of a nuclear missile battery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Math teacher.

Patrick Simpson (Capt): Served in the US Army from 2006-2012. Served in Baghdad, Iraq. History teacher; Dean of Lower School

Mike Raney (Lieutenant Colonel): Served in the U.S. Army commanding task force operations in various units in the United States and in Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East. Also served as an instructor at West Point Academy. Math teacher

Steve Walsnovich (Sergeant): Served in Louisiana and Pennsylvania. Chef/Operations Manager, Sage Food Services

In other news, a war of words broke out on campus this past Tuesday where the top gun student team of Aden Barton (’20) and Sam Meacham (’21) took on the sartorially tailored team of Josh Clarke and Kevin Hamrick, two of MBA’s finest debate coaches. In a packed Paschall Theater, Mr. Roddy Story, doyen of the history department and owner of a lovely tweedy blazer, introduced the debaters, the panel of five judges and the topic: “Should President Trump be impeached?” The exchanges were sometimes flinty but always informed and entertaining. Barton spoke with fire and delivered the facts with the dramatic flair of a Kobe restaurant chef. Meacham’s performance was equally convincing as he engaged in razor sharp exchanges with Hamrick who was almost on the ropes until Clarke, with the assurance of a sleepwalker, delivered the coup de grace by quoting a “noted American historian’[s]” incontrovertible evidence for the teacher team. After about 20 seconds consultation between librarian Robbie Quinn and his panel of judges (three teachers and two students), the teacher team was declared the winner in a 3-2 vote. No hanging chads were reported.

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