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.
I wish I could say I am just nibbling almonds and leafy greens, have quit sugar and dialed back on dairy, but the truth? It’s different. In the last week there was a road stop at Five Guys and a cheeseburger. And fries. And a carbonated beverage that was not kombucha. When I scroll back further, I do recall eating most of a pot of tapioca pudding and I have faltered around potato chips. Seriously faltered. Perfect in my diet? Far from it.
Watching the teams on campus this fall, talking to coaches, hearing the bell ring on Maxwell Savage after victories are all reminders of all the contests that are happening most days during the week. It’s not just Wednesdays and Saturdays anymore. Mondays and Fridays are roped into schedules, and buses are always pulling into and leaving campus. Uniforms are handed out, cleats are knocked clean before entering buildings, the training room ice bags are everywhere.
Climate change. It’s hard to miss these days. Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who sailed to New York to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit has been in front of Congress and has been interviewed countless times (see Trevor Noah interview below). Reports of Imelda’s drenching rains in Texas (over 40 inches in some places) have suggested that it has been additionally water stoked by a warmer atmosphere and we may see more of these tropical depressions. Dorian’s cataclysmic stalling over the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane is still fresh in many minds.
Last Sunday I parked the truck on the hairpin on the Kancamagus, hauled my pack out of the back, and started down the trail to meet Brooks Bicknell. He was coming out of the woods to tend to Ocean Classroom business; I was headed in to pick up the group for the second leg of the trip. Wisps of clouds began to knit together when I handed the truck keys to Brooks. I had a sense of what the next two days would bring. Rain.
I’ve called these places soul corners in the past, the pockets where energy coalesces in a particular way to reveal something of a community’s heartbeat, its delight, its potential. They are not often manicured spaces, prim and dolled up. They have an aura of work surrounding them, of student effort expended and adults guiding. Slocumb is one of those spaces. The tech lab, the woodshop, the machine shop, the forge - all soul spaces. So, too, is the Norris Theater with its paneling, the wooden beams that hold up the grid, the scene shop. It’s one of those spaces that invites lingering. It’s calming and energizing. It’s a place of music, of singing, of acting and set magic, of students making birthday announcements and game recaps. It’s a place of laughter and sometimes somber talks. It’s one of those places that makes Proctor…well, Proctor.