Monday, June 1, 2020

Building Community from The Hill

by Brad Gioia

These last few days I have reflected on the state of racial divide in our country and the importance of developing our school’s commitment to greater respect and support of one another. The violence and senselessness in the death of George Floyd has been overwhelming, and the subsequent extent of pain and tension evident in our cities across the country suggests a great need to build a better nation centered on care for one another. Today we have talked with a number of students and faculty and staff about developing this discussion and our efforts. The MBA community should show leadership in this area. I sent the note below to our faculty and staff this morning to ignite that spark of action, interest, and unity:
This weekend highlighted the ways in which we have been touched by the recent racial tensions throughout our country. For the past two nights our Mayor has imposed a curfew on the city because of the violence. I have had e-mails from friends in Moscow, Slovakia, and South Africa about these racial issues in Nashville. I have also heard from several of you. We have an opportunity to build a better school and community, to ensure our students and each other respect one another and all people -- regardless of race or religion or background.

Yesterday afternoon I read a beautifully composed essay by the President of Middlebury College, Laurie Patton. She spoke of the plagues in our country: Covid-19 and racism. She referenced the book The Plague by Albert Camus and how that story portrayed the ways a pestilence can strip away the focus on material wealth and success and lay bare what really matters: human relationships, care, and connection. The two plagues we are facing now have the same potential for all of us. Let's hope we can find ways to strip away all that is wrong and broken in our world. President Patton went on to say that two forms of "oxygen"(she used the poignant and haunting metaphor from George Floyd's last words to connect the issues of racism and the coronavirus -- I can't breathe) can heal our world: education and action.
At MBA we all have the opportunity to give the world a better view of how we care for one another. Let's start this summer by talking with our students, advisees, and one another.

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

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