Friday, October 25, 2013

Wisdom

Each year we ask every student to write a “this I believe essay” so as to help each individual to develop and strengthen his or her unique identity and voice. This is a way for our students to take charge of their lives, lead rather than follow, and commit to something meaningful with a genuine sense of purpose. I also write a yearly “this I believe” essay as this process is certainly a life-long endeavor.

Wisdom - A Kent Denver School Core Value
I believe learning represents the process whereby we convert observations into useful information; integrate information into knowledge; and through application, experience, courage and reflection achieve wisdom. I believe that wisdom should be the goal of school and life.

I believe that the scarcity of wisdom is at crisis proportions worldwide. In fact, if there were an endangered species act in the area of cognition, wisdom should be first on the list.

How can this be? Doesn’t the universal, instantaneous access to a vast array of digital resources provide a bounty of raw material from which wisdom can be distilled? Isn’t there a TED talk that yields wisdom on every major dilemma and issue? Can’t a digital search replace the antiquated trial and error approach of experience? Perhaps. But really, what is wisdom?

Wikipedia (speaking of digital access) defines wisdom as, “a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgments and actions in keeping with this understanding. “
It is clear that wisdom has rational, moral, emotional, cognitive, and psychological dimensions. It combines unique personal attributes with the discovery of truth.  It is a disposition and attitude as well as an ability.

I believe that wisdom is hard to define and includes both objective and subjective elements. Much like US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous observation, “I know it when I see it,” wisdom is often revealed  - usually  through good judgment - more easily than it can be defined.

So, why is wisdom in such short supply? First, it is being crowded out by technology. Search engines, smart phones, artificial intelligence, and big data dashboards expedite and facilitate decision making in a way that favors speed and agility in a world that is faced-paced, rapidly changing, and hyper-competitive. Wisdom can appear sluggish, ambiguous, and “totally analog” in a digital world. Wisdom does not travel at the speed of light.

Second, wisdom can be interpreted as “what you know” in a time when everything you need to know you can Google. To paraphrase Thomas Friedman, we have entered an age when people want to know what you can do, not what you know. We have a bias for decisive action over thoughtful reflection.

To Socrates and Plato philosophy was literally the love of wisdom (philo-sophia).  When I started my career the gravitas of quoting Plato would trump quoting a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Not so much these days. In many ways, looking forwards has eclipsed looking backwards, and market success has become the ultimate affirmation.

Our goal at Kent Denver School to make sure that the pursuit of wisdom is not crowded out by expediency. I concur with the founding President of Stanford University who said, “wisdom is knowing what to do next; skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.” Wisdom blends knowledge of self, understanding of the world, moral courage, dedication to the pursuit of truth, and superior judgment.


I believe that wisdom should be the goal of school and life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on Newtown

I remember where I was, and what I was doing, when I heard about the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and when I learned of the Columbine shootings in 1999. When I first heard about the events of last Friday in Connecticut, I was clearly reminded of how I felt 49 and 13 years ago. Disbelief, disorientation, and shock are hard to achieve in our world of hyper media and digitally enhanced imagery. That said, Friday left most of us speechless.

Once you become a parent, your relationship to all children changes, and it becomes easy to feel deeply connected to other parents. Parenting is hard. Not only does it require a huge investment of time, energy, and resources, it also includes a cascading sequence of vulnerability. The typical bumps and bruises (physical and emotional) of growing up are first felt by your child and then by you. It is easy to inadvertently amplify this process, and it takes perspective gained through experience (often with a second, third or fourth child) to remain balanced and calm in the face of challenging circumstances.

I remember one fabulous parent joking that it was emotionally difficult parenting her first two, but became much easier with her third child as she realized it was "us against them." Then a tragedy happens and all parents shudder, feel a renewed sense of vulnerability, and simply want to hug and protect their kids. So what do we do?

We know that there is no single answer to this question, but it seems that a few themes emerge. First, limit exposure to media and do not let your fears add to whatever uncertainties your child may (or may not) be experiencing. Just as my friend and bestselling author Michael Thompson recommends to not "interview for pain," it is important to not "interview for fear." Ask open-ended questions, spend time together, be observant, and continue to reassure your children -- and yourself -- that schools are safe and supportive places.

I also believe that this is an opportunity to talk with your children about what you do when a question or event has no answer or explanation. Some violence is incomprehensible. Bad things do happen to good people. This is where faith, helping others, and the importance of community provide a path, if not an answer. Mental illness, the norming of violence in media and video games, and the powerful role of alcohol and drug abuse in bad decision making are topics that might also come up. Tragic events can be a cautionary tale, but more often they open a door to conversations that empower young people to come to their own conclusions.

We are thankful for the ongoing support of local authorities to help ensure our children’s safety.   Like you, I will be comforted by their enhanced presence on our campus.

At Kent Denver, most students are focused on mid-year exams, drama rehearsals, athletic contests, and the like. Most students are looking forward to some time to rest and renew. All of us will welcome the opportunity to better appreciate all that we have to be thankful for and will keep in mind those who are less fortunate or suffering.

My very best to you and your family for the holidays,
Todd

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Good Day!



Greetings all-

Saturday was 21 years in making (1991 was our last Football State Championship team). It started with a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem by Ellery Jones ‘14 and then the contest began. In front of a record crowd of almost 2,000, DeSo field came alive with the very best spirit that high school sports can generate. 100's of loyal and loud KDS alums returned to see our team prevail 28-17 against an accomplished, courageous, and highly motivated Platte Valley team. Coming from behind (14-17 at half) , our student athletes demonstrated great character - fulfilling the last four team themes of Brotherhood, Toughness, Grit, and this year, FINISH! Scott Yates, Bill Boatman, and the incredible coaching staff deserve recognition and credit for bringing out the best in the team and rising above the pressure to demonstrate the very best of poise, sportsmanship, and heart. The leadership of our ten seniors was a critical element in this undefeated season.  Scott finally got a full night's sleep, and I imagine that a good night of sleep it was.

Thanks to everyone who worked and attended the game, it was a fabulous event!

Best, Todd

Friday, November 2, 2012

Presidential Poise

When Sidra Bonner ’08 introduced the President of the United States recently I was immediately reminded of her announcements at Kent Denver when she was the all school co-president. We take leadership very seriously at Kent Denver. Our goal is to make sure that every student has leadership roles and leadership practice every year. We believe that effective leadership boils down to bringing out the very best in others - the best work, the best thinking, and the best self. Sidra spoke with clarity, compassion, and conviction about the many opportunities her education has made possible. It was clear to everyone in the crowd and those watching the TV broadcast that leadership includes personal achievement, personal responsibility, and maintaining a heartfelt interest in the welfare of others. Sidra spoke to how strong communities make for a strong society. In some schools leadership is a popularity contest; at Kent Denver it is about making a difference. Having something meaningful to say, and the confidence and skills to say it persuasively, is our goal for every Kent Denver graduate.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Respect


I believe in the power of respect.  

If asked what were the three greatest inventions that improved the human condition, students might answer, “the Iphone!” or another product designed by Steve Jobs, and produced by Apple. I love Apple products but I am thinking bigger. 

If you study history, undoubtedly one of the three greatest inventions that improved the human condition was the discovery of antibiotics. Antibiotics fight infection, antibiotics relieve suffering, antibiotics save lives, and antibiotics have dramatically improved human health. So how does this relate to respect?

I believe that respect is the ultimate moral antibiotic. Respect fights the moral infections of arrogance, selfishness, and a wide array of self-defeating syndromes. 

Arrogance is the feeling of being superior to others and is the enemy of empathy, sustainability, and compassion. It is blinding and it is debilitating. Respect for others, for our shared future, and the environment crowds out arrogance and stops it in its tracks.

Selfishness destroys our ability to see the power of cooperation, sharing, and collaboration. Selfishness denies us the great breakthroughs and innovations that come with the synergy of great minds working together. Respect is the great foe of selfishness. Respect is open and outward looking, not closed and inward focused. Respect shuts down selfishness.

Self-defeating syndromes are various and universal. Most of us have inner demons of one sort or another. They can include self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, and various dependencies. Humans are social animals which means comparing ourselves to others is endemic. There will always be someone smarter, more popular, or more talented with whom you spend time every day. This can lead to thinking less of oneself.

All respect starts with respecting oneself. Respecting your body, respecting your mind, and always respecting the very complicated assortment of factors that when blended together in a perfect proportion, make you.

 I believe in the power of respect to inoculate and immunize us from the evils of arrogance, selfishness, and self-defeating syndromes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

From The Desk of... Todd Horn

Writing teachers remind young writers to show rather than tell. We encourage vivid description, engaging narrative, and revealing portraiture rather than prescribed conclusions. In my pride about what our students accomplish, I often lose sight of this critical advice. Yes, this week we announced that a record number of students qualified for nationals in speech and debate, our robotics team won the world champion design award, we have a record number of students in the junior class who qualified for National Merit recognition, and Downbeat Magazine recognized one of our vocalists and bands as best in nation.  But I prefer to tell you a short story about a family who recently moved to Denver from Eritrea.

This is a story of a close-knit family of six living in a very cozy apartment who have made a heartfelt commitment to becoming contributing members of their community. The challenges are many  —language, economic, cultural, separation from the familiar  – but they understand that through education their family can create a new beginning that will bode well for them and for the organizations that they serve. One daughter was struggling in math and science when the family discovered our Breakthrough program. She applied, was accepted, and enrolled.  Still struggling, the family asked if a tutor might be available.

A Kent Denver senior, looking to fulfill his community service hours, volunteered to spend two hours a day over spring break tutoring the daughter.  The student was told that he had fulfilled his required hours but he had become so close to the family, and to his work helping them learn, that he joined the family each Wednesday afternoon to tutor.  He also got to know a brother who needed help with English. In fact, the father of this family recently wrote of the Kent Denver student: “He has become part of our family. He is teaching my kids what they do not know in order for them to perform better in school. He is teaching Urusalem vocabulary, helping David with his writing, and has started tutoring Yohanas in math. He is truly a brilliant young man and we are so lucky to have him. Thank you Breakthrough!"

This student has done more than tutor. He has learned the joys of sharing meals like Tsebhi (stew), Injera (flatbread), and Hilbet (hummus?) with a family that has adopted him. As he teaches English vocabulary, he learns Tigrinya (one of the nine language groups in Eritrea) in return. The student admits that perhaps his tutoring is more effective than his learning, but it is in the exchange that this relationship has grown and strengthened, well beyond the required service hours.

Authentic, purposeful, and meaningful engagement is what makes for a great education and a strong community, and it builds capacity in an individual. There is no local or national award for this type of activity, and yet this is some of the very most important work that we do.

My best to you for a purposeful, meaningful, and fun spring!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Getting it Together for College

Last week I had the good fortune to spend a couple of days with four college presidents in conversations that were far ranging, deeply thoughtful, and a bit disconcerting. A central theme focused on the developmental continuum of adolescence to adulthood, and all of us shared a deep concern that as we consider offering greater freedom and independence to young people, brain research indicates that the centers of mature judgment might actually develop later than previously thought. This gap is most evident in the college years - a tricky, complicated, and both expansive and expensive time for quasi-adult children. While offering extraordinary academic curricula, college life seems less sure-footed when it comes to the development of character, judgment, and ethical consistency.

One president reflected on the fragmented and disjointed nature of form and function in college life. College students often attach discrete and different meaning and associated behaviors to what they do in the dorm, in the dining hall, in the gym, in the library, and in the fraternity or sorority house. The same student can take on very different attitudes, dispositions, and associations as he or she moves between the disconnected spheres of college life. This is exacerbated by the transient nature of electronic social networking - an increasingly influential part of college life - and the distinct lack of an adult presence from late afternoon through bedtime, often the most active and influential hours of the day. This also has become an even longer stretch of time as many students regularly stay up until 2 or 3 AM.

While some colleges have developed house systems with professors in residence to help provide guidance, few adults are well-matched to the diurnal rhythms of college students. Some Resident Advisor programs are successful, and some colleges are hiring mature students as agents to curb excessive behaviors -- not through enforcement, but rather through positive role modeling and counseling. That said, there was some agreement that colleges are generally not well-designed to strengthen and improve maturity of character.

This places an additional burden on college prep programs. Beyond making sure that students can think critically, communicate persuasively, write coherently, and compute accurately, we must encourage strong, formative, and engaging relationships with adults so students naturally and routinely seek out adults as guides and mentors. We must help students to internalize habits of consistent, principled behavior as a binding element of all activity. And, finally, we must develop in each student a refined capacity for pro-active self-assessment linked to an appreciation for what constitutes a life of meaning and purpose.

I am glad that we have extraordinary faculty and that our community reinforces habits of character as much as habits of mind at Kent Denver. And while I believe that we can do more, I am reassured that as our students prepare to lead Ethics Day seminars for the entire school, and as each student thoughtfully reflects on his or her yearly “This I Believe” essay, we are headed in the right direction.