It’s hard to imagine a school that’s more dialed into the outdoors. It’s not just the land, the nearly three-thousand acres that we use for academics, sports, and recreation. It’s not just about the 50 year tradition (next fall) of Wilderness Orientation, the off-campus programs of Ocean Classroom and Mountain Classroom. I believe our students spend more days in the outdoors, in total, than any year-round school I know of save for NOLS or Outward Bound.
There’s no real easy way to do this, to make this announcement. I have wrestled it, spent time journaling, talked with a few folks in a very tight circle, but it simply comes down to this: the 2020-21 school year will be my last as Head of School at Proctor Academy. It is a decision that I have come to in consultation with the Board of Trustees, and it is a decision that I have moved towards over the last six months. It is not an easy decision, but I have made it with a full measure of pride in the accomplishments of this community and complete confidence that the school has the leadership and the wisdom to continue on with its current success.
I am up early on Friday morning, 4:30ish, thinking about the start of the break, listening to the wind push down from the north. It’s cold, seven degrees outside. Some students have left already, the majority are leaving today, and a few will be around for holiday tournaments, finding their way home this weekend. In the early dark, with coffee and the dog on the sofa next to me, I look at the tree.
My default these days is to wish everyone a happy holiday. I want to be circumspect, want to honor the various celebrations that coincide with this time of year - Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa - I want to tread lightly. It happened last night at the holiday celebration in New London. There were close to 130 alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of Proctor at the event at the Lake Sunapee Country Club, and amidst the good cheer and laughter and Proctor stories, holiday greetings rang out. “Happy Holidays” dominated.“Merry Christmas!” could be heard as well, but the preponderance were holiday greetings, and that’s got me thinking: to Christmas or not to Christmas?
It was a breakfast joint that will remain nameless, but I can still see the coffee maker over Matt’s shoulder, and the way the waiter slipped it easily off the hot plate and filled mugs, replenished hot water for tea, scribbled an order on a small pad of paper; scrambled eggs with jack cheese, corn, hash browns and cilantro. Heaped plates, a pile of fresh fruit, toast. The tables shouldered up against one another. The kitchen about the size of a generous baker’s table. It wasn’t an airy place, but it was a comfortable place, a good cafe, an excellent breakfast spot. It was the perfect classroom.
I am traveling this week, criss-crossing the country from Atlanta to San Francisco, which is where I am today near Union Square. I can’t help but wander over to the Apple Store at times, venturing in to ogle the newest products. How could I not? There, on the front of the store, a huge photograph advertises the AirPod noise cancelling headphones, the newest iteration of a wildly popular little knobby white knuckles people are popping in their ears all over the world to listen to music and podcasts and to talk on the phone. I had to try them out, and I have to admit to being impressed. But this got me thinking about whether education is simply a product that goes through iterative phases. It made me a little uneasy.
I am not a social media user, but I like to stay somewhat connected to that nether world, and this week I have become more aware of a phenomena that I had only been vaguely aware of: the cancel culture. A couple of articles in the New York Times sharpened awareness of a trend that plays out from middle school to college and beyond, the act of severing ties to an individual as a result of what are perceived to be irreconcilable differences or offenses. In an age of hypersensitivity, the cancel culture has taken off. In an age of fractured communities, I find it worrisome.
We’re obsessed with sports. So many fans, so many teams, so many opportunities to lose oneself in a quarter, a half, or a period. I’m not saying that it is a bad thing, and truth be told it might be one of the few distractions that can push the dire din of news off to the side. At least temporarily. One can only imagine that having the Washington Nationals in the World Series is a good thing for D.C. How could the first two games played in Houston and won by the Nationals not bring needed distraction and cheer to the beltway region? It’s just the nature of the beast.