"A Life Well Led," by Head of School Bob Henderson '76

Allow me to share a hyperbolic example of the evolution of education over the last half century.

A math problem that appeared in a math textbook in 1965 read like this: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of this price. What is his profit?

By 1972, after the impact of the late sixties on the thinking of educators, the same problem had evolved to sound like this: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of this price; in other words, $80. What is his profit?

After the impact of the so-called “new math” on textbooks in the 1970’s, the problem had evolved in 1978 to sound like this: A logger exchanges a set L of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100, and each element is worth $1. Make one hundred dots representing the the elements of set M. The set C of the costs of production contains 20 fewer points than set M. Represent the set C as a subset of M, and represent the following question: What is the cardinality of the set P of profits?

By the early 80’s, the story goes, math ability had so declined in the country that the problem read as follows: A logger sells a truckload of wood for $100. His cost of production is $80, and his profit is $20. Your assignment: underline the number 20.

In the late 1990’s under the influence of so-called “outcome-based education”, we had this: By cutting down beautiful forest of trees, a logger makes $20. What do you think of the way he is making a living? Topic for class discussion: How do the forest birds and squirrels feel?

Finally, in 2000’s, the same problem was projected on a Smart Board using an iPad.

It is my view that while we need to stay on top of trends and innovations in the world of education, we also need to be alert to faddism and sales pitches. There will always be a “next big thing” and a transformational technology that will, we are assured, “change everything.” While there certainly will be innovations, good ideas and opportunities to grasp, at the same time, we can never lose sight of what really matters most.

So what really matters in secondary education? I assert that what matters most is what has always mattered most. Learning best occurs in an environment where the expectations are uniformly very high in terms of both achievement and behavior. More importantly, learning flourishes when those standards are set by adults of inspirational intellect, admirable character, unflagging dedication and intuitive empathy. And, of course, those same adults must be able to connect with kids, be able to laugh and revel in their company, while never forgetting the degree to which they serve as role models of balance, engagement and success in life. Such adults create schools that are fundamentally joyous places. Not joyous every minute of every day, because getting through high school is tough, requires hard work, and there are inescapable disappointments. But today, at the end of the road, it is my hope that this senior class can feel the essential joy of having grown up here, under the care of this remarkable faculty.

The historian David McCullough over a decade ago in a commencement address at Dartmouth College shared a profound insight about life and how we navigate from where we are to where we want to be.  He said, “no one is, or ever was, self-made.” He continued, “We are all what we are in large degree because of others who have helped, coached, taught, counseled, who set a standard by example, who’ve taken an interest in our interests, opened doors, opened our minds, helped us to see, who gave us encouragement when we needed it, who reprimanded or prodded when we needed it, and at critical moments, inspired.”

Indeed, this year this class has inspired us. Faced with obstacles that included a brutal and relentless winter and the passing of someone profoundly beloved in this community, among many other challenges both personal and collective, they have drawn together with deeper mutual understanding and comprehension of mortality itself that is rare and, I think, even unfair, among people so young. Confronted by sadness and hardship, they have responded with both kindness and determination. Even as we have taught them, they have taught each other and the adults around them about resilience, perspective, motivation and dedication. They have behaved as if, even in their youth, they are aware that none of us are, in fact, self-made. And thereby they have set themselves unmistakably upon the path to the life well led.

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"A Life Well Led," by Head of School Bob Henderson '76