Deep, Thoughtful, Engaged Lives NOW for our Students

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St. George’s Independent School –A view of the Collierville Campus, affectionately called “The Lodge” by the student body.

As I left The Westminster Schools this summer after serving as Upper School Head, I found myself refining my wishes for high school students in this particular moment in history. In an interview about my departure for the school’s magazine, I said:

“It’s not what our students are going to do ten years from now; it’s what they’re doing now. We spend too much time worrying about what students will do next when what really best paves the way forward is to live our lives richly, deeply, and thoughtfully now…”

When I look back on that statement from my new post as Head of St. George’s Independent School in Memphis, TN. I am more convinced than ever that we owe our students opportunities for deeper engagement now in life of the body, mind and spirit, as well as the life of civic engagement we need for them to lead. While the answers can, will, and should vary widely between schools, the priority should be clear:

If we want students to live creative, passionate, and civically engaged lives as adults, they must go about living toward those priorities now, and we must go about the work to support them in this effort.  

If we want them to contribute to the communities in which they will live and work as adults, they must contribute now. In order to accomplish this, our schools, places of business, and non-profit institutions must go about modeling the same priorities we wish for young people.  

…And most importantly we must model the priorities in our lives as individual community members. To do less risks creating a generation passive and cynical about the positive role they might play in the world.  

As I have been going about the business of learning my new town, a number of factors have conspired to keep the topic of this blog front and center for me:

  • The Memphis area has explicit needs that should demand all hands on deck—young, old and in-between. The community doesn’t simply need them at some future date–it needs them now.
  • The seniors at St. George’s are so clearly ready to live toward the priorities named above. St. George’s is fortunate to have a great senior class who lead in myriad ways. They are deeply engaged in the life of the school and the life of the community.
  • Meeting people in the Memphis area who are leading lives toward the priorities I named are making a real difference everyday. I want our students to know them and to learn from their example, so that before they head to college they can see clearly that such lives are not only necessary to the success of our communities, but that the lives of these role models is achievable and rewarding.

4 thoughts on “Deep, Thoughtful, Engaged Lives NOW for our Students

  1. Vinnie November 9, 2015 / 9:27 am

    Wonderful points, Ross. If they experience the rewards and fulfillment and spirit that come from living a life like this now, they will be “sowing acts to reap a habit, and sowing habits that reap a character.” And they will want to keep doing so. Your thoughts remind me of the first page of Thich Nhat Hanh’s PEACE IS EVERY STEP, something I read to Pasquaney campers at the start of most summers. I think you will love this book if you don’t know it yet. It also makes me think of something that I learned at St. Christopher’s as a teacher. Kinlaugh Nelson (not sure if he overlapped with you. Later I am pretty sure.) wrote an outstanding freshman research paper about the causes of the high murder rate in Richmond at that time. It was carefully researched and nuanced. My one regret is that I did not suggest he send it to the local paper for publication. Especially at a time when most papers do not have the resources to conduct this kind of research, students could be an excellent resource themselves, and it would engage them in work that is very much needed. They would see the value NOW of what they could contribute. When a colleague once told me that until 11th grade he gives his students their theses, my response was that I let my ninth graders know that I expect their central point to be something new to me. Otherwise when they get to 11th grade they won’t have the habit, and besides, they surprise and amaze and interest me with their original points. The students are more passionate about their writing, and they inspire their classmates. You got me going this morning. Thanks.

    • J Ross Peters November 9, 2015 / 9:41 am

      Vinnie,
      Thank you so much for this–I will find the book. I love your ideas about student research, particularly the thought to submit student work to newspapers. Here’s to teachers who challenge students to research what their teachers don’t already know! Best-

  2. Vinnie November 9, 2015 / 10:01 am

    One of the hardest things for me was learning to teach them to develop new ideas, especially in literary criticism. When I was chair of the English department at Noble and Greenough School, we brought in some folks from the Bard College Thinking and Writing program for a seminar with our department. Great stuff that I use whenever I teach.You have my Adrenalin pumping thinking about this! Best to you as well.

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