At The Gunnery, we traditionally hold an all-day Faculty Meeting at the start of the Winter Term to talk through the progress of each student in the school as an entire faculty. For me, this meeting confirmed that the fall term was indeed a very good one for our school, and for the students and faculty who comprise it, as we heard one story after another of students thriving both in and out of the classroom. Whether it’s their first time away from home and they’re learning to become autonomous, or they’re learning how to solve problems with the help of adult mentors who are not their parents, or they’re overcoming a challenge, such as not succeeding in a class, and working through that, both intellectually and emotionally, our students are learning.
This week, I am pleased to share with you Melissa Schomers’ remarks on information, knowledge and wisdom, which were presented at The Gunnery on October 3, 2017. Ms. Schomers is a faculty member in the English Department and the Wallace Rowe Chair. Although her thoughts were initially intended for our students and faculty, I believe many adults who have too much “information at their fingertips” will find her words meaningful and relevant.
In keeping with tradition, The Gunnery celebrated the formal start of the new school year, our 168th year, with Convocation on Friday, September 8. This event provides us with the opportunity to reflect on our past and the legacy of our founder, Frederick Gunn, as well as the chance to look forward and celebrate a new beginning.
The start of a new school year is also a time to look at the world around us and recognize that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Given the events that have recently taken place around the country and the world, I am reminded of a letter that Mr. Gunn wrote to Abigail in 1847, three years before they started The Gunnery and at a time when Gunn was living in exile as a result of his unpopular views on the question of abolition.
Charlottesville, Virginia, was back in the news recently, as celebrities and ordinary citizens continue to react to the violence that erupted there the weekend of August 11-13. The Dave Matthews Band organized a “Concert for Charlottesville” on Sunday, September 24 at the University of Virginia that was promoted as “an evening of music and unity.” The concert raised funds for victims, their families, first responders and “organizations devoted to the promotion of healing, unity and justice locally and nationwide.” The same evening, a story aired on CBS’s “60 Minutes” titled “Divided,” which featured a focus group discussion moderated by Oprah Winfrey that illustrated how politically divided we have become as a nation. Among the many controversial topics discussed by more than a dozen participants, Charlottesville emerged as one of the most contentious issues.
Initially, I struggled to know how to respond to what happened in Charlottesville. No. That’s not accurate. It was (and is) easy to respond to white supremacy and anti-semitism in action: they are awful and grotesque. I reject them unequivocally and I hope that the people I know and love in the world do, too. Even more awful are the actions of James Fields Jr. — his decision to drive a car into a group of people, injuring 19 and killing Heather Heyer. I’m glad the police caught him and that he will face justice.
That’s the easy part — the part that I don’t think there should be any question about, whether from me or anyone at our school.
As teenagers and high school students, the young adults in our community ask themselves at one point or another during their time here, “where do I fit in?” Tanya Nongera, Mandarin teacher at The Gunnery, originally from Harare Zimbabwe, addressed her journey of “fitting in” at different points in her life at a recent school meeting. I share her remarks here:
The night before returning from spring vacation I wrote a letter to our entire school community, including students, and thought, based on feedback from them, that some of it should be shared more broadly.
On the night before school let out for winter break I challenged our students (and faculty) to create a twenty-four hour period during the break when they would be screen-free. As a colleague put it later, for some students that’s akin to asking them to go without oxygen. As my 8-year old son put it a few days into the break, “And when are you doing your 24 hours, Dad?” Good question, William.
I confess to cheating a little bit. Our family celebrates Christmas so I planned my 24 hours without screens to start Christmas Eve–from the moment I went to sleep on 12/24 until the moment I woke up 12/26 (that’s more than 24 hours, William, so there!). I’ve done 24 hours away from my phone before and that’s always been a good experience but something about this was different. Continue reading