Just Look

I would like to take this opportunity to offer my best wishes to all for the new school year.  I hope that everyone has enjoyed a holiday filled with opportunities to connect with family and friends and has found time to relax and recharge.  Before our school year officially starts, I would like to thank you on behalf of the administrative team for all that you do to support our community.  A huge thank you to the 20 plus teachers for their input into our collective attempt to give the first week of September and our new school year a clear, firm focus in terms of our school goals, as well as a bit of spark.

In reflecting upon the year ahead of us, I could not overlook the amount of change, at all levels, with which we will be dealing.  However, change is universal and not unique to us as educators.  One of the first things I read this summer brought this point home to me.  Rem Koolhaas has been, after Frank Gehry, the most influential architect of our age.  In the July “Vanity Fair,” he spoke of architecture in the twenty-first century:

The areas of consensus shift unbelievably fast. The bubbles of certainty are constantly exploding.  Any architectural project we do takes at least four or five years, so increasingly there is a discrepancy between the acceleration of culture and the continuing slowness of architecture.

With an appreciative sense of professional irony, we could substitute the word architecture for education.  Our bubbles of certainty will always be exploding because teaching, our project, is not a process of moving incrementally toward a pre-established or provided solution: it is, if nothing else, open-ended and exploratory.  However, amidst the daily pull between acceleration and slowness, in an environment where we are continually facing new and unpredictable challenges, what is our ‘constant?’  Here at JO, you have shown me that educational change (and we’ve seen a lot of it in the past two years) is a process of learning best understood as knowledge creation within the context of human relationships.  Michael Chabon, in his essay, “Sky and Telescope” helps me make this point.  Chabon writes of star gazing with his son.  Looking into a telescope, he talks to his son about the sensation of feeling like he is four hundred million miles away, orbiting a star:

It kind of freaks me out to think about that, Dad,” my older son said after I had him look through the telescope at one of those endlessly deep and star-packed regions of space that look empty to the naked eye.  “I mean, we’re so small.”

            “True,” I said.

            “We’re, like, nothing.”

            “Well, yeah.  Except to each other.”

         And then I pointed the telescope at Jupiter and its brood of moons and had him take a look, and he did a little thrilling himself.  It’s just so shocking somehow to see them there, plain as stars, when you can look at the same spot with no telescope and see a solitary speck of gold. “Think of Galileo,” I told my son. “You and I know those moons are going to be there, but Galileo had no idea when he first saw them that they were going to be there. He just had the weird inspiration to point a newfangled set of lenses at the king of planets and check it out.  Think how surprised he must have been!”

            “Okay, that’s awesome,” my son agreed, backing away from the eyepiece. “What happens if we point it at the moon?” 

         Maybe he or one of my children will turn out to have the gift of stars.  He or she will be able to look up at the sky and see not myths and legends and a history of failure but information, gases and voids, cold, infernal, luminous and pure.  Or maybe my children will just look up and remember the weight of my hand on their shoulders as they stood beside me on a warm summer night, the rasp of my beard against their cheek, my voice soft at their ear, telling them, Look.

The one constant in Chabon’s life is the lived relationships with his children.  As it is for him, so I have seen it is with you as you constantly manufacture opportunities to build understanding within the context of your relationships with students and with each other. Initiatives, directions and curriculum will always change.  However, in continually speaking to the hearts of all, addressing not only what they learn but what they feel, you stay committed to the promise that your students will always remember how you took the time to reassuringly ask them to “look”, how you helped them understand that “we’re,  like,  everything to each other.”

I hope you enjoy the remainder of your summer and I look forward to seeing you all on Tuesday, September 7th.