Political Emotional Maturity

As we approach the presidential election year of 2020, we educators are giving a great deal of thought to our role in creating an environment where young people can learn and practice the art of responsible citizenship.  I was quite interested, therefore, when a colleague sent me an article from the philosopher Alain de Bouton’s online Book of Life, entitled “Political Emotional Maturity.” 

In this brief piece, Bouton enumerates the unfortunately familiar litany of “politically immature thoughts that may take hold in human minds and become the heralds of catastrophe.”  He explains that such “casts of mind” are present across the political and ideological spectrum, claiming that, “It doesn’t matter so much what the idea is, it’s the manner in which it’s held and the response to those who disagree with it and who must be sacrificed in its name that tells us the degree of danger we’re up against.”   

Helpfully and hopefully, he concludes the article with a list of some of the key tenets of political maturity, including the understanding that;

  • “Large, complex problems require large, complex solutions.  The more immediate and total a solution being proposed, the more likely it is to be false.
  • “Rock solid certainty is the sure sign of rock solid idiocy.  The cleverer the person, the more they are haunted by the sense they may be wrong. 
  • “Because we are all invariably foolish and blind, politeness, gentleness, slowness, and forgiveness are key political virtues.
  • “One can never be both right and cruel. 
  • “Nothing can be made perfect; nothing will ever be totally pure.  Compromise is the cleanest word there is.”

It is useful for those of us who work with young people to have such a clear and concise delineation of both the challenges we face and the outcomes to which we can aspire.  We are left in the end, though, with the task of determining how to bring about heightened levels of political maturity among the students in our care.  I’m glad to be able to say that many of the necessary ingredients are, and long have been, mainstays of a Friends School education.  Indeed, the Quaker notion of “continuing revelation” pushes us to be open to the imperfection of our own ideas and the need to listen to others, particularly those with whom we disagree.   And the belief that there is that of God in every person demands that we honor the piece of the truth that others bring to any discernment process. 

We have plans in the works to help foster in our students the qualities of political maturity that Bouton describes.  For some of them, the 2020 election will be their first opportunity to cast a vote.  For others, that day is still in the future, but our aim is for them to be ready when their time comes.

Living the SPICES

The 2019 Friends Magazine has arrived and for this edition’s Query the editors would like to know:

Which of the Quaker SPICES do you find it most challenging to live into—and why?

[SPICES is the acronym for the Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship]

Alumni, faculty, and parents weighed in with their responses, excerpted below. We invite you to read on and share your thoughts using the “Submit Comment” form below.

Dan Griffiths ’89, senior vice president for business operations at Hippo Education

Before I was asked to write this piece, I hadn’t explicitly considered the Quaker SPICES in the 30 years since I graduated from Friends. That isn’t to say that that I hadn’t considered these individual values—it’s hard not to struggle with simplicity in the age of instant everything, or peace in an overly complicated world. Integrity requires constant vigilance, community requires constant effort (at least in my case), and stewardship feels needed more than ever.

So … yes, I have thought about these values, but lost sight of the Quaker teachings that were such a constant but unimposing part of my education at Friends. When I stop to truly consider these values and how I live into them, include them in my life, I jump right to equality. In practical terms, I’m not faced with the same kind of issues of equality that I think most people think of when considering the term.

For me, the most personal struggle for equality is the struggle that my family takes on every day. I am the very lucky Dad of a spectacular 17-year-old son named Cole…More

Josh Valle ’89, P 21’, Pre-K head teacher at Friends School of Baltimore at Friends

Simplicity is something I think we all crave, as the world around us grows daily more complicated and demanding. Simplicity seems to have two aspects—one applying to things and one to time. As a teacher, I struggle to maintain simplicity in the classroom, especially when it comes to time. It’s a bit easier because my students are so young, but even at their age there are many forces working to complicate their lives and crowd their schedules. I strive to balance the wonderful learning opportunities the School provides with their need to play outside, to have free time when they can create with paper or build with wooden blocks. I have to remind myself to always carve out time when they can play, listen to a story, or take a nap. Once we start rushing, hurrying from one thing to the next, I know that I’ve lost sight of this simplicity of time and need to slow down and reexamine our routine…More

Shaun Munroe ’12, admission associate and Middle School baseball coach, Friends School of Baltimore

At face value, the SPICES seem to be fairly straightforward. However, when you dig a little deeper the complexities continually emerge. The Quaker notion of “continuing revelation” speaks to the ever-changing and deepening truth of the world around us, a truth that I have sought out through the power of dialogue. Before working at Friends, I was a facilitator of dialogues between Afghan civilians and NATO cadets who were seeking to connect and humanize each other from thousands of miles apart. Finding equality with people who are so different and have differing needs is a challenge…More

Lindsay Leimbach ’84, mindful living coach, CenteredMoment.com

Peace is the most challenging of the Quaker SPICES. Peace, especially inner peace, is often disrupted due to my brain’s hard wiring. It is important for me to remember that all brains are hard wired, from birth, to have the tendency to focus on the negative. The amygdala part of the brain serves as an alarm system. Mine is often over anxious, which can hijack my attention and energy, and rob me of peace.

When I become aware that my amygdala wants to have an impulsive response of fight, flight, or freeze, I am able to supersede this response with mindfulness and conscious choice. My awareness and the power of conscious choice foster inner peace. These in turn become the building blocks for me to expresses the Quaker SPICES with skill and mindful action.

Here are two mindful formulas I use to cultivate the power of conscious choices with inner peace…More

Anne Friedlander Henslee ’88, P ’17, ’22, associate broker with Cummings & Co. Realtors

It was the late summer of 1973—on the heels of Watergate, the dust of the Vietnam War, and my parents’ impending divorce—when I, at the age of two, joined the Friends community. What we now refer to as the SPICES had not become part of our vocabulary, but the overriding Quaker testimonies of simplicity, equality, justice, and peace were the theme of how we lived our lives, and still do. So when I was asked recently about which of the principles—simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, stewardship—I find most challenging, my immediate response was, “Well, none of them. They have always been a fundamental core of who I am.” But, for the purpose of this query, I decided to dig deeper. It didn’t take me long to find my greatest challenge…More

MaryAnn Niclas, Pre-Primary and Lower School counselor at Friends School of Baltimore

Many years ago, I was in a little store buying a top.  A second top had been caught up with the first. The cashier separated out the two tops and asked if I wanted both. I said I did not, and added that I wasn’t sure how the second one was mixed up with the first. She said she was glad we straightened out the situation, and then she said something I’ve always remembered. She said, “It’s not good karma to take what isn’t yours.” This had been etched into me as I grew up.  Honesty was a big deal with my family, especially my dad. My dad tried to be as honest with himself as he could, and he was certainly honest with others. He expected the same from me.

This is not to say I was always honest; honestly I wasn’t! Sometimes honesty and integrity would get in the way of something I wanted to do (but wasn’t allowed), somewhere I wanted to go (but wasn’t allowed), or some object I wanted (but it wasn’t allowed). Sometimes my wants were in direct conflict with my integrity, and sometimes I would go against my own integrity and lie, sneak around, or hide things from my parents. I managed to get away with things most of the time, but I didn’t really feel great about it.

Then I grew up and had a daughter…More

Be a part of The Thinking Cap’s online discussion group. Weigh in on something you’ve read or add a new insight in the Comment section below. 

A Modest Proposal

September 3, 2019

In our opening meetings a few weeks ago, my colleagues and I discussed the demands we, as educators, face at this contentious moment in history.  Given the toxicity of current political discourse and the immanence of the 2020 presidential election, we, like so many of our fellow Americans, are bracing ourselves for a bruisingly indecorous year ahead.  Navigating these sure-to-be-troubled waters as a Quaker school provides its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.

With the frankly, and sometimes even proudly, uncivil tenor of exchange in the public square in recent years the primary challenge and opportunity we encounter involves trying to live out a fundamental Quaker tenet; that there is that of God in every person.  Trained, as we all seem unwittingly to have been, to assume that those who disagree with us on political matters must be some combination of immoral and uninformed or evil and stupid, adhering to this Quaker principle calls for what, in our current environment, can seem a radical step; imagining that differing beliefs on urgent matters of the day do not invalidate the goodness and worthiness of another human being.  Quakerism, a faith with little or no doctrinal creed, and one that is so often supple in interpretation and application, brooks no compromise on this point. That of God in all is an absolute that does not afford one the option for selective exemption. (Some Quakers go further still and state their belief in that of God in all in equal measure.)  If we believe this tenet to be true, it must be so universally.  

To truly embrace this principle, we must go beyond tolerating those with opposing viewpoints and strive to love them, and, further, to believe that they bring some piece of a larger truth to the conversation.  Our times put these aspirations to a stern test. At a moment when we seem, by default, to assume the worst of those with whom we fail to see eye-to-eye, can we remain true to this essential Quaker belief?  And if so, what does it look like to live it out in our modern context?

I’ll offer one simple, but potentially effective, tool in this effort; to abstain from ad hominem (directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining) attacks, the unfortunate bread and butter of our current politics.  What if we were to steer clear of any references to the character and motivations of those with whom we disagree and instead focused entirely on their words, actions, and policies?  Would this seemingly modest change allow us to recast the very nature of political discourse and, in the process, to practice the belief that there is indeed that of God in every person?  

I for one intend to find out, and I invite you to join me!  When you consider the sorry state of contemporary public dialogue, what do we have to lose?

Do Private Schools Serve the Community?

Do private schools serve the community?

Posted by Heidi Blalock, Director of Communications on Oct 17, 2018 1:29:19 PM

In the opening Query of the newly published 2018 issue of Friends Magazine, editor Sue DePasquale posed the following question to members of the School community:

What, if any, responsibility do Baltimore’s independent schools have to be a good neighbor?

Several readers weighed in with thoughtful (and thought-provoking) responses, which we have excerpted below. We invite you to read on and then share your thoughts using the “Submit Comment” form below. Do independent schools, like Friends School of Baltimore, located in urban environments beset by myriad challenges bear a responsibility to go above and beyond community service? Lend your voice to the conversation.

David Olawuyi Fakunle ’05, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, Morgan State University School of Community Health & Policy; co-founder/CEO, DiscoverME/RecoverME: “I would state that most, if not all, independent schools do not have an inherent responsibility to be a “good neighbor” of service to the urban environments in which many are located. That is one of numerous consequences of white supremacy and the inequitable distribution of power and resources that allow independent schools to create and perpetuate their own figurative bubbles of comfortable ignorance. However, such a responsibility becomes prudent as the demographic and philosophical composition of the schools’ student, teacher, and administrative bodies begin to reflect the diversity of the environments that surround them and beyond….More 

Amy Schmaljohn, Ph.D., inaugural Bliss Forbush Jr. ’40 chair of Friends School’s Institute for Public Engagement and Responsible Dialogue: “Well, I suppose I’d begin with a slightly different question. If I see our city as a place beset by challenges, I’m not likely to see the vast resources and creative spirit present in Baltimore. And if I ask myself what responsibility, if any, I have to be a good neighbor, I am overlooking the reality that I am already a neighbor, already in relationship with Baltimore….More 

Liz Lauros ’98, Deputy Commissioner of Strategic Partnerships for the City of New York’s Department of Social Services: “For me, the first step of answering this question is to examine why we want to be a “good neighbor.” Independent schools and other institutions often talk about this concept in the context of doing service work, and/or in reflecting on the experience of having resources when a larger community is lacking. We should pause when we are going down that path of thought and shift the framework toward considering that we all have a stake in a just and fair community, not only those who are oppressed or marginalized….More

Heidi Hutchison, Director of City Curriculum, Friends Select School (Philadelphia): “I believe our country is desperate for a renewed understanding of what it means to be a good neighbor…Although we now have technology that connects us, we seem to be less connected. Being a good neighbor takes courage and effort. We want to live in good neighborhoods, but are we good neighbors ourselves? Our own city of Baltimore literally bleeds on a daily basis. This year we have had 209 (as of 9/18) homicides and nearly 24 percent of Baltimore’s residents live below the poverty line. Erricka Bridgeford, one of the co-founders of Baltimore Ceasefire, asked our community to help Baltimore not just by calling for peace during Ceasefire weekends, but by attending community activism meetings. She doesn’t want us to throw money at a problem, but rather bring our children and families in unity together by getting to know one another … to listen and listen deeply….More

Ariana Sharifi ’18, first-year student at University of Maryland, College Park: “At Friends, I have learned what it means to be a good neighbor. Having gone to Friends for six years, the Quaker testament of community has been ingrained within me: We all have the right to a full, safe, and healthy life. A key part of Quakerism is integrity: Our School’s beliefs of equality and community must be manifested through our actions, and we must act on what we believe in. For these reasons, I believe that Friends’ responsibility to be a good neighbor is heightened….More

Tom Buck, Friends Upper School English teacher since 1987: “For so many of my friends and colleagues, being ‘a good neighbor’ in Baltimore means reaching out to help in some concrete way, whether it be tutoring or serving meals or rehabbing houses or providing needed supplies or chipping in with one kind of sweat equity or another. God only knows that I honor that, and have tried in some small way to do my part for decades…Perhaps because of the fact that it’s less complex, I choose to take on the challenge of finding ways to take advantage of Baltimore’s myriad cultural institutions…. During the 2017-18 school year, I shepherded groups of 10 to 25 kids and colleagues to plays at Center Stage (“Skeleton Crew”), Everyman (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “Intimate Apparel”), Iron Crow (“The Goodies”), and the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (“Red Velvet”). All of these theaters are in classic old, often-rehabbed, buildings downtown. To my way of thinking, these trips, mostly at night but occasionally for student matinées, are win/win. Members of the Friends community are getting what is often, if not always, a great experience at an urban cultural institution that likely needs all the support it can get…More

What are your thoughts? Be a part of The Thinking Cap’s online discussion group. Weigh in on something you’ve read or add a new insight in the Comment section below. 

Building Empathy and Curiosity in Middle School

Posted by Jay Golon, Middle School Principal on Nov 14, 2017 2:16:43 PM

I first encountered “The Middle School Paradox” as a graduate student living in Boston. I was visiting a school when I saw it posted prominently on the wall — six little words that would change my life.

“Know Thyself. Then, Get Over Thyself.”  

The middle school journey is full of inherent contradictions. On the one hand, we do all we can to instill in our children a robust sense of self. Since the tween years are prime time for discovering who you are, we want to expose our kids to a wide range of hands on learning opportunities and diverse perspectives. At its best, this process develops poets who love to play soccer and violinists who love robotics. In other words, kids who are curious about the world and willing to try on many different “hats.” Hence, “Know Thyself.”

On the other hand, our children must also learn that they are not the center of the world.  Instead, they are a part of several caring communities within communities – family, school, city, class, team – and that through their actions, or their inactions, they have the potential for great positive or negative impacts on others. We want them to gain experience; at the same time, we don’t want them to feel overwhelmed.  Hence, “Get Over Thyself.”

I see these two contradictory forces at work every day in our school.  In one moment, a student might be discovering a love for something they had never tried before. In another moment, I see students setting limits on themselves in order to manage their time effectively; or forced to consider the needs of others. This is never more true than in instances of middle school bullying. Students must question: What is my responsibility when I witness bullying?  What if the person being unkind is my friend?  

Helping children remain true to themselves while being a force for good is not a perfect or easy process. In fact, the developmental bumps during the middle school years are often built-in, so adults need to pay close attention and offer guidance as needed. Still, I like to think that from these contradictions comes great learning and growth.

I invite you to consider how the Middle School Paradox plays out in your own homes.  When have you seen your children experience “Know Thyself” moments?  When have you seen them experience “Get Over Thyself” moments? Share your thoughts.

Promoting empathy in middle school, edutopia.org

Emotional development in middle school, education.com

Schools are missing what matters about learning, The Atlantic

Empowering Students Beyond the Classroom

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Apr 26, 2019 3:03:00 PM

I read recently an article by New York Times columnist David Brooks entitled “Five Lies Our Culture Tells Us.”  Brooks has, for several years, been tracing problematic issues in our politics and public life to their deeper roots in America’s culture. His overall diagnosis is that, “We’ve taken the lies of hyper-individualism and we’ve made them the unspoken assumptions that govern how we live.”

In this piece, Brooks fiercely rejects “the lie that happiness is an individual accomplishment.”  The truth, he says, is that “people looking back on their lives from their deathbeds tell us that happiness is found amid thick and loving relationships. It is found by defeating self-sufficiency for a state of mutual dependence. It is found in the giving and receiving of care.”  He takes similar issue with our culture’s glorification of the “individual journey” (think Huck Finn and his many successors in American literature). This mythology, he writes,

… encourages people to believe freedom is the absence of restraint. … In reality, the people who live best tie themselves down. … They respond to some problem or get called out of themselves by a deep love … By planting themselves in one neighborhood, one organization or one mission, they earn trust. They have the freedom to make a lasting difference.

Such deep and abiding commitment to others is at the heart of the connected education we lay out in our strategic direction, Friends Connects. With its emphasis on relationship-building within and beyond Baltimore and its experiential approach to our School’s foundational Quaker testimonies, or SPICES (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship), this vision calls upon the Friends community to fully live its values and embrace its interdependence with the human and natural ecosystems that surround us.

Brooks claims that the path of individualism ultimately leads towards isolation and moral confusion.  “(V)alues,” he writes, “are created and passed down by strong, self-confident communities and institutions. People absorb their values by submitting to communities and institutions and taking part in the conversations that take place within them. It’s a group process.”  At Friends, we couldn’t agree more. By continuing to make the SPICES the cornerstone of the Friends community and by boldly seeking out challenging conversations, we are empowering future generations to build a more honest and compassionate society.

# # #

5 Things to Know About Implementing Social-Emotional Learning – Education Week (April 25, 2019)

Education Policy for Alienated America –  Forbes (April 25, 2019)

Topics: Teaching empathy, Quaker schools, Quaker education, values education, stewardship, community service, service learning, community engagement

Exercise and the Brain

Posted by Anne McGinty, Director of Physical Education on Dec 5, 2017 3:22:47 PM

It’s 9 am and 15 third graders straggle into the gym for physical education class, something students in grades 1-5 do, on average, 3 days a week at our school. (Students in grades 6-12 take phys. ed. once or twice a week.) We form a wide circle and begin a gentle warm up. “Stand with your arms and legs stretched wide apart!” I instruct them, taking a quick inventory of each child’s alertness and energy level. One boy looks like he’s had a rough morning, his eyes are red from crying. Another child is wiggling her hips and grinning from ear to ear. She’s wearing a paper crown covered in stickers (it’s her birthday) and is raring to go.

Today we are working on bilateral brain activity and large motor skills, but the children won’t realize it. They think we’re just going to stack cups in a relay race. I divide the class in groups and blow the start whistle. Instantly, three little bodies fly across the gym floor to their designated stations where they attempt to stack a half dozen colorful plastic cups before racing back to tag the next person in line. The task is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re hurrying. The children laugh and shriek as the cups fall over. Even the child who barely made eye contact earlier is fully engaged. They are having fun. But something else is happening, something important: Their brains are growing, creating new cells, and increasing neural connections.

The importance of exercise in brain function is well documented. Research has shown that regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise improves memory, focus, and mood. This is why schools need to offer physical education classes to students from preschool age to high school. 

And let’s not forget recess! Schools that eliminate recess because they want to build more classroom time into the day are shortchanging students of much-needed stress relief. Whether they recharge their batteries through physical activity or by finding quiet time to read, daydream, or chat with friends, students need recess to help reset their brains. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention touts the importance of “safe and well supervised” recess in improving students’ cognitive, social, emotional, and physical well being.

Back at our relay race the children celebrate their accomplishments. They are flushed and sweaty. One of the teams won the race but it doesn’t seem to matter to the children as they collect their coats and we escort them back to their homeroom teachers who, like the kids, have used their “down” time to regroup and reset the course for a productive day.

How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains, New York Times, Oct. 8, 2014

The Crucial Role of Recess in School, American Academy of Pediatrics, Reaffirmed Aug. 2016 (originally published Jan. 2013)

Regular Exercise Improves Memory, Thinking Skills, Harvard Health Letter, Nov. 29, 2016


Topics: exercise and the brain

Final Exams: Are we having fun yet? Actually, yes.

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Dec 20, 2018 2:18:29 PM

Exam Week; hardly a phrase that conjures visions of innovation in pedagogy or laughter and collaboration among students. And yet, for 10th grade U.S. history students, all of these qualities were on display yesterday during a most-inventive final exam. Teacher Molly Smith ’82, in lieu of a standard multiple choice or blue book exam, had devised a pair of historical whodunits for students to solve and, in the process, demonstrate their knowledge of history.

In one room students playing the roles of various real-life individuals gathered information to solve the actual murder of a governor in colonial New York.  Meanwhile, in the next classroom over, another group worked their way through an escape room challenge that required them to research and analyze historical incidents from the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

Later when I asked one of the students engaged in cracking the escape room code how her exam went, she furrowed her brow and said, “I thought it was going to be easy, but actually it was really hard – and also fun!”

The stark contrast between Molly’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) exam and those we recall (often, in my case, in still-vivid nightmares) from our own school days demonstrates that, contrary to conventional wisdom, joy and rigor can – and I would argue should – be a common and seamless pairing.  As humans, we thrive on overcoming challenges, and, as we all know, the opportunity to master difficult tasks, particularly in collaboration with others, can be intensely rewarding. Brain research has also taught us* that “play is critical to the emotional and intellectual development of every child.  We must create appropriate opportunities for play at every grade level.”

There may well always be a place in schools for the kind of cumulative production of factual information that the exams of our childhood epitomized. Surely, the ability to summon discrete pieces of knowledge is valuable and necessary, even in the age of Google, when the sum of human knowledge is, quite literally, in the palm of our hands. But we must also make room for new ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned (content knowledge), what they can do with it (analysis, synthesis, and hypothesis), and how these learning experiences will shape their developing hearts and minds. And all educators need to obliterate the false dichotomy between joy and rigor, relegating that antiquated distinction to the ashes of educational history.

*  Mind, Brain, and Education Research Informed Strategies, from the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning

# # #

Project-based learning is a new rage in education. Never mind that it’s a century old. Washington Post, December 12, 2018

8 Play-Based Strategies to Engage Youth in Learning Edutopia, October 16, 2014

Topics: Importance of play, student assessment, final exam, project based learning, joy in learning

How Can Schools Foster Safe Spaces and Freedom of Expression?

Posted by Heidi Blalock, Director of Communications on Oct 18, 2017 9:39:53

This week we are thrilled to launch our newly reimagined school magazine, simply titled Friends. Among the editorial innovations readers will discover is an opening Query, in which we have posed a compelling question and invited members of the community to weigh in. Their thoughtful (and thought-provoking) responses, excerpted below, represent a wide range of viewpoints and are meant to be just the beginning of the conversation. We invite you to read more and then share your thoughts on the Query using the “Submit Comment” form below. Here, again, is the Query:

How can schools simultaneously foster safe spaces and freedom of expression?

Kaitlin Toner Raimi ’02, assistant professor of at the Ford School of Public Policy: “I teach at a public policy school, so it’s incredibly important that my students engage with the full range of perspectives on controversial topics that they will face after graduation. But it’s not easy: In many classes, the students don’t come in with a great deal of diversity of political views. And, as my own research has shown, both liberals and conservatives are really skilled at ignoring information that doesn’t fit their own worldview (what psychologists call ‘motivated reasoning.’) …More 

Deloris Jones, Friends Middle School social studies teacher since 1983: “It would be superb if teaching at a Quaker institution made this question moot. Those unfamiliar with Quaker education may imagine peace and tranquility govern our campuses, and we all wear gray garb Earth Shoes. Perhaps they believe, as my own parents and siblings suppose, that I teach in a stronghold of liberalism, where alternative viewpoints wither and die, and people always talk using library voices…More 

J.H. Verkerke ’77, professor of law and director of the Program for Employment  and Labor Law Studies at the University of Virginia School of Law: “You might expect me as a law professor, to emphasize how legal rules determine the limits of free expression. Instead, I hope to persuade you that the law — and even university policies — should play merely a peripheral role in establishing the conditions for a productive exchange of ideas. To be sure, various sources of law prohibit falsely defamatory statements, protect individual privacy, and outlaw discriminations, threats, and harassment…More

Jennifer Kneebone ’13, admission counselor at Earlham College: “There seems to be a misconception lately that creating a safe learning environment will hinder a free discourse of ideas, because it requires that some voices will be stifled or censored. I would argue that the opposite is true: There can only be open and dynamic academic discussions in environments were all participants feel safe…More

Molly Smith ’82, Friends Upper School History Department chair: “I think this may be the biggest challenge we face today in our classrooms. Tackling discussion topics that invite a range of opinions, many of which are deeply held and intensely personal, can feel like a minefield. I can recall times when we set down the road of a difficult conversation in class, got to the point where it was messy and unsettled, only to have the bell ring…More

Elijah Muhammad ’12, teacher in Baltimore City Schools through Teach for America: “It has been very helpful watching the debate surrounding safe spaces on high school and college campuses evolve. Some take ‘safe spaces’ to mean ‘repressing speech,’ leading to the hotly debated term “snowflake culture.” This is bemusing, as creating learning environments where debates don’t devolve into insults is hardly repressing speech…More

What are your thoughts? Be a part of The Thinking Cap’s online discussion group. Weigh in on something you’ve read or add a new insight in the Comment section below. 

 Safe Space vs Free Speech? Engaging in difficult issues to find new approaches to controversial issues, Harvard Graduate School of Education

An unusual way schools can create ‘safe spaces’ for learning, WashingtonPost.com

From the Inside out: Reimagining School in the Information Age

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Mar 7, 2019 1:57:49 PM

This past week, several of my Friends colleagues and I traveled to Long Beach, Calif. for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference. The theme for this year’s gathering was “Reimagining Independent Schools” — a subject that is near and dear to my heart. (It is also central to our School’s strategic direction, Friends Connects,

Over three days, speakers argued for the urgency of education reform, citing the startling resemblance today’s schools bear to those of a century ago (“How confident would any of us be if our hospitals operated much as they did 100 years ago?”) and offering compelling rationales for re-examining our assumptions about education. Two of the developments undergirding this argument are the easy accessibility of knowledge we have as a result of technological advances and the groundbreaking brain-based research about learning now available through functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, which allows researchers to monitor in real time how the brain processes information.

Consider that just 20 years ago schools were the primary repositories of knowledge, the source, through teachers and printed materials, of nearly all our students’ factual information. Today, the average teenager (or younger!) carries the accumulated sum of human knowledge – quite literally – in the palm of their hand. This epochal shift in the ubiquity of information – both accurate and dubious – demands a similarly dramatic change in the model and practice of modern education. As one aptly titled conference session asked, “If the Answer Is Googleable, Is the Question Worth Asking?”

Rather than memorizing and summoning discrete pieces of knowledge as we have in the past, students must now learn to critically navigate the barrage of information they encounter and must constantly assess, apply, and synthesize it in creative and collaborative ways. Cultivating these skills in our students requires a shift towards more problem-based and experiential learning, a direction we have consciously taken at our School.

It also requires that we embrace the burgeoning science of learning, in our teaching and our professional development. At Friends, we are guided in this work by our partnership with the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, an institute that helps teachers understand and apply the latest brain research in order to enhance student achievement. Our efforts to deepen student-teacher-family relationships and our move towards greater personalization of the educational experience, for example, are informed by proven research that a feeling of connectedness to the adults with whom they’re working and an enhanced sense of individual agency both lead to improved student performance.

The NAIS conference theme of “Reimagining Independent Schools” is a direct echo of our promise in Friends Connects, to “reimagine the very purpose and shape of School, given the rate and complexity of change that is taking place in our world.”  Tackling this daunting goal involves a willingness to question our long-held assumptions and an openness to reconsider such fundamental structural elements of our work as how we assess student achievement and how we use our time on, and beyond, our campus. Our recent decision to join the Mastery Transcript Consortium allows us to be part of a network of innovative schools and educators who are at the forefront of the national conversation around these issues and who are collaboratively developing a new paradigm for modern education.

Change is never easy and as my NAIS colleagues will attest the challenges of reimagining school are great. Friends is fortunate in that we are a Quaker school; A commitment to “continuing revelation,” through new ideas and possibilities, is steeped in our institutional DNA. We will need to draw upon this foundational tenet as we move forward on this exciting path.

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Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America – American Enterprise Institute – June 22, 2018)

The Truth About ‘Crisis’ in American Education – Forbes (Dec. 31, 2015)

Educators Innovating Learning – Edutopia (April 13, 2015)

Topics: Quaker schools, Quaker education, student assessment, personalized learning, Mastery Transcript Consortium, Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, NAIS

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