Why we get “acupunctured”?

I want to begin by saying that I am not a masochist; neither, to my knowledge, is Jayme. And yet every week for many, many years we have allowed ourselves to be stuck all over our bodies by pins. And we also allow a small lady with extremely strong hands and particularly vicious knuckles to pummel the heck out of us.
Yes, we get “acupunctured” and “acupressured” every week.
We are a strange species, we human beings. Naturally suspicious, we allow ourselves to have interesting things done to us which go against our intuition. It is certainly against my normal instincts to have someone insert needles into my face, and yet for nearly twenty years that has happened on a weekly basis.
It all began for me with a favorite horse, Counterpoint. He came with the name and I never called him anything else. He was a great horse: affectionate, brave, and proud. He could jump anything. Every so often, and always at night when no one was watching, he would jump over the five-foot fence around his paddock, and in the morning he would be on the outside of the fence eating the best grass which the other horses could not get to. He never ran away, never went to the local mall or the movies; he just jumped out and ate the uneaten and longest grass.
One day, Counterpoint started to limp on his front left leg. Anxiously, I called the vet (an excellent one in my opinion) who came and examined him and could find nothing wrong but recommended a horse acupuncturist. To say that I was skeptical would be an understatement. I thought acupuncture was somewhat of a placebo and that its healing power was all in the mind. Intelligent as Counterpoint was, I should stress that he was still a horse, and I doubt that horses think too much about the placebo effect. Anyway, the acupuncturist arrived, put needles into Counterpoint’s left leg, and his limp immediately went away. A lame horse walked into the stall with the acupuncturist and a sound horse walked out.
At the time, my left knee was sore. In my rugby-playing days, doctors had completely removed my left outer knee cartilage. Bone on bone can hurt. So I figured that if acupuncture worked for Counterpoint, what the hay, I might as well give it a try. Twenty years later it is still working for me and, notwithstanding an orthopedist’s gloomy prediction at that time that I would need a knee replacement, my knee gives me no trouble. I just get needles stuck into it.
I have no idea why it works. I have read up about it and I still have no idea. I have learned that historically, Chinese soldiers would get an arrow prick in their arm and their hip would feel better, or maybe it was an arrow prick in their hip and their arm felt better. Who knows? I have never understood what Chi or Qi is, and I could not explain a meridian if I were looking at the Wikipedia article on it. But for me, at any rate, acupuncture works.
The lady who sticks the needles in my body is famous. She works in the pain management clinic of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, established her own natural healthcare center, and teaches acupuncture as an honored guest all over the world. We talk a great deal while she inserts needles in my head, in my face, in my hands, in my legs and, sometimes, between my toes. We talk because I am extremely nervous that she is going to hurt me. We talk about her family, what happened when she was sent to a farm during the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, and about her daughter. When I am scared, clearly, I talk. But, and this is a very big BUT, it does not hurt.

Amazingly, she can push a needle into the top of my nose between my eyes and I do not feel it. She can stick needles into my cheeks, my ears, my back, between my toes, and I feel no pain. And afterwards, I feel no pain. This is some smart lady, and her name is Dr. Ming Jin.

The acupressure lady is a totally different deal. We don’t talk because she does not speak English. She comes from the Chinese School of Acupressure and Torture. She starts by digging her ferocious knuckles into my head and finishes by doing the same to my feet. I lie there—stoically, I might add—while thinking: “Ow!” “Oh, no!” “Ow!” “Ow!” “Please God, get me out of here!” “Ow!” I think these thoughts for the entire time. I remain silent because once, when I actually screamed in pain, she started to laugh. And there is nothing worse than having someone beat you up and find it funny. “Tee hee!” she giggled. I have been silent ever since.
The peculiar thing is that the pain is fleeting because it keeps getting replaced by other pain. When she attacks my neck, I forget the pain she just inflicted on my head. When she squeezes the muscles in my back (total agony), I forget the pain I just felt in my neck. By the time she is pulling my toes, I have forgotten all the other pain, since I am now focused on the fact that my feet are killing me. And when she stops, and this is where it gets bizarre, I say: “Thank you, Dr. Judy!”  She smiles and all the pain is gone and I feel great!
So, am I gullible or sensible? I have no idea. But I think back to Counterpoint, and I know that after both treatments (and “treatment” is a generous word for the torture doctor), I feel better. Much better!

We are strange creatures, we human beings. And I am not a masochist!

Ronald Stewart, Headmaster

Proprietary Education: My View

What would today’s private school educators make of Ms. Spence, Mr. Brearley, Mr. Browning, Messrs. Allen and Stevenson, Ms. Chapin (a notable suffragette), or Ms. Hewitt? Would they consider them educational entrepreneurs who created private schools that provided choice to New Yorkers, or would they regard them as dangerous dreamers? The fact is that all those august heads started proprietary schools. They owned them. And yet today, those schools (and, by extension, their founders) would not be allowed full membership in the New York State Association of Independent Schools because they were not governed, as these schools now are, by a Board of Trustees. It has been a peculiar evolution.
I come from England, where proprietary schools are often the norm for private education. My college at Oxford was located very near a wonderful all-boys boarding prep school called the Dragon School, founded and owned by the Lynham family. (The Head when I was an undergraduate was Joc Lynham.) Back then we used to call their students “little dragons” as they cut through the college to get to the center of Oxford. Since that time, they have gone co-ed and have formed a close relationship with St. Bernard’s School here in New York (also founded as a proprietary school by an Englishman, Mr. Jenkins, a graduate of Cambridge). In 1969, after my wife and I left England where I had been a barrister and began to think about starting York Prep, I really had no idea how schools were run except that many great schools were founded and run by families. It certainly made logical sense that, if one were to start a school and invest one’s total energy into that creation, simultaneously establishing a board that could fire you would likely dampen one’s enthusiasm for the enterprise. I would like to think that Mr. Brearley (also a graduate of Oxford) and his cohorts felt the same way.
Now in our 44th year, our school, like all schools, has survived and succeeded only because parents send their children to us. Over the years, I have sometimes encountered both opprobrium and envy from my fellow heads of schools who come from non-profit schools. The fact that they can be fired and I cannot (at least by a Board of Trustees) is perhaps the most salient difference. I hope here that I can explore some of the more meaningful distinctions, as well as the many similarities, between the two models of private school education.
Clearly, both models of private school education–proprietary and those run by boards–must respond to market forces. The hyphenated word “non-profit” when referring to schools controlled by a board of trustees is misleading. If any school runs out of money, it will close. This is called bankruptcy, and I could name eight New York non-profit schools that have closed, or merged with another school which is tantamount to closure, since we began York Prep in 1969. For a variety of reasons, they had no other option except to either close their doors or add their name to that of another institution. All schools must have a positive bottom line if they are to remain viable. And schools are schools. They have to pay competitive salaries to keep their teachers, charge competitive tuitions to keep their students, and maintain attractive facilities. Thus the “bottom line” for both proprietary and so called “non-profit” schools is very similar.
The difference lies in the locus of control. In a proprietary school, the head/owner truly has the freedom (and the burden of ultimate responsibility) to make the crucial decisions, while in a school run by a board of trustees, the head makes educational decisions subject to the board’s overview. This may explain why in some non-profit schools, there is a rapid turnover of headships. Indeed, the average life for a head of a non-profit school in New York City is somewhere around seven years. I recognize the “fresh ideas” argument for change, but I would counter that with the fact that a lack of continuity carries its own problems. The changing composition of the board coupled with a head who lacks authority because he or she can be second guessed by that board, results in an absence of a permanent voice of the institution.
If it were not for the Mr. Brownings of this world, the choice of schools offered to parents in New York would be less. There would be far, far fewer independent schools. I happen to believe that choice in education is a good thing. For parents, the way a school is controlled is generally unimportant. The question is solely whether the school is an appropriate fit for their child and provides excellence in education. It is also important that the school be accredited, particularly for graduates when they send their transcript to colleges. (For example, we are accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and School and registered with the New York State Board of Regents.)  It is important that the school have the resources to be able to stay the course for the child’s entire education. It is important that the school be diverse and provide scholarships for students that represent the great city where we live. But why and how the school is run is not that important so long as it is, in fact, well run.
When Jayme and I started York Prep, many New York private schools were elitist. There was a running and perhaps inappropriate joke about certain schools that their diversity ran the gamut from children with light blue eyes to those with dark blue eyes. Let me be frank at the risk of ruffling a few feathers: exclusivity was a factor in the admissions decisions made by some private, non-profit schools in 1969. If you look back at the photographs of the graduating classes in 1969, I think you will see what I mean. Jewish students had fewer opportunities than non-Jewish students; students of color and Hispanic students had even less. We decided to offer scholarships to a diverse student body so that, from our first year onward, there were a substantial number of students of color. I suppose that it was fairly groundbreaking at the time, though I am delighted to say it is not so anymore. We did this because we believed in the idea and had the freedom to act on our beliefs, without having to consult with any group.
Some may wonder: What happens to the “profit” in proprietary schools? In our case, we use it to reinvest in our school for the future, to pay ourselves, and to match whatever is raised for our scholarships. We do not actively fundraise; we have neither auctions nor galas. We do not fell trees to produce the paper to list the different levels of which parents gave what. You know the sort of thing: “Headmaster’s Friends” (over $25,000), “Headmaster’s Associates” (over $10,000), “Headmaster’s Acquaintances” (over $1000 dollars), and, by absence of listing, “Parents who are neither Friends nor Associates nor Acquaintances” and who have not given anything. I find these lists in poor taste. They imply a susceptibility to inappropriate levels of influence. As far as equal treatment is concerned, is there anyone in private education who truly believes that trustees’ children are treated the same as non-trustees’ children?
I will be the first to admit that I have greater latitude than most heads. Jayme and I have had a consistent vision for our school, and we have the freedom to effectuate it. I have other freedoms: I teach all the seniors, write a monthly blog on our website, and even take risks on some students who could have fallen through the cracks and instead fill my heart with joy at their success. We have a program that challenges our most gifted students, but we also have a program that supports students with incredible potential and have learning differences. This past May, we graduated students from that LD support program to many fine schools, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Brandeis, and Oberlin. Of course, the fact that my wife has conducted college guidance continuously at the school for 44 years enables us to have a very strong college counseling program.
So we come down to what some consider the greatest downside of proprietary education: the head is essentially “unfireable.” If parents choose to leave their children at such a school, they are stuck with that head for the foreseeable future for better or worse. On the positive side, that head is someone a family can get to know, understand, and trust–and expect that he or she will be there guiding the helm of the ship for some time to come. If the head is consistent, then the parents will soon get to know the “voice” of the school; by contrast, a school governed by a board not only has many voices, but they are often changing. In a proprietary school, parents can meet the head and decide whether this is a person they can trust. Then they know precisely what they are signing up for and can be assured of constancy. The informed decision is in their hands. In my case, they can look at a track record of 44 years. Parents know they are stuck with me. Sorry! That is the downside.
Finally, I can honestly say that I passionately enjoy what I do and treasure having the freedom to run the school. I have a valued group of fellow administrators, and they will tell you that at weekly meetings, we decide most (but not all) issues by democratic vote. I am sometimes outvoted, and the vote stands. Apart from my wife (who has obviously been at York for 44 years), I am also fortunate to have two valued colleagues who have each been with us for 43 years. Great teachers stay at York Prep, and the average tenure of a York teacher is over 11 years.

During my headship, I admit that I have made mistakes. (The same cannot be said of my wife, who is the best college guidance counselor in America, bar none.)  But the very factors that gave the two us the nerve to start a school at a young age and dedicate our lives to it are the same factors that have made us resist having others control us or it. Ms. Chapin and her fellow pioneers, I believe, would have agreed.

List of Lists

I suppose there are people who do not like lists, but I am not one of them.  The internet is flooded with them nowadays, and I read them all. The ten best ways to cook a squirrel, the ten things one should never do on a crowded train, the ten best movies of 1965, the… you get the picture.  Of course, list likers like me (ah, the art of alluring alliteration) are naturally pushed into hypochondria by all the websites available. You have a cough and wonder how long it will last.  Most sites will tell you 17 days (which is longer than I have ever had a cough) and then will give you other symptoms to help you find out whether you have a more serious condition. Are you tired?  Yes! Check that!   Do you want to avoid doing any work? Yes, certainly sometimes!  So check that!  Do you feel tense?  Yes!  Do you feel that you are unappreciated? Yes, sometimes!  Check that!  When you add all the checks, they give you a diagnosis according to how many yesses you have. I always have ten out of ten and therefore am likely to die from total lung collapse at any moment.  Indeed it seems surprising that I survived to the end of the list. And this is merely looking up about a cough.

All of this has little to do with the subject of this piece, except to say that I really like lists. And if I have a “to do” list, I truly enjoy the pure pleasure of filling in a box as “done!”  I think that is why I look back at my high school years with fondness as a time of real growth in my learning.  We did not get that much homework at my school. I don’t know why, but we did not. There were never multi choice answer tests (few believed in them then, and I have never been totally convinced of their value since) but we were required to write essays. Since I actually like to write essays (you may have noticed over the last ten years of these “thoughts”) I did the requisite two or three hours a night on them and did (if I do say it myself) well at them.  Now I grew up an age where there were no computers, cell phones, text messages, and, at least not in my home, no television set.  This left a great deal of time on my hands, particularly as I was not allowed to go out to see my friends on a school night. In practical terms I was alone a great deal of the time. But I was very fortunate because we had a great library system in our part of London.  Willesden Green library system was quite remarkable. It had several branches, and you could take out four books at a time. What, looking back, is even more extraordinary is that they gave me my own room at a local branch to study.  Why they did this for a schoolboy like me I have never quite found out.  They had these archive rooms upstairs to the main collection, and I was offered the opportunity to study in the one that archived the local newspaper (The Willesden Chronicle) every day until the library closed at eight at night. I suppose they must have offered this to other people who just did not take them up on the offer, and maybe three or four times in my several years of use of this room, someone would come and look at one of the volumes of this complete collection of the “Chronicle” dating back to its origin in the time of Queen Victoria.  In reality, I was just left alone in a room with a large communal desk and several chairs.

So, and you might be wondering where this is going, after I finished my homework I would read.  And I would take books home with me to read after I ate dinner and until I went to sleep. I want to stress again that there was nothing else to do. The list part is important  because when I was about fourteen I read a book called “The Idea of History” by R. G. Collingwood, and at the back of the book was the greatest bibliography of important books I had ever (and indeed have ever since) seen.  R.G. Collingwood was a Professor of History at Oxford in the nineteen twenties and thirties who had some physical issues probably caused by strokes from which he died at a young age. He was, apparently, a brilliant historian.  At fourteen, I did not fully understand his “The Idea of History” but I knew, even then, a good list when I saw one.  Collingwood not only had this great list of the most important books (in his opinion, and who was I to argue?), but he also had brief descriptions of what was in each book with comments about their relevance, value and validity. In other words, the man had actually read them all.

So there was my list of lists. Alphabetical by author, over a hundred books, with publication dates and the publisher’s name so that I could ask the librarian to get the book if it was not available in the collection in the grand lending section beneath me. And to their great credit, the librarians tried on every occasion (with virtual total success) to get the books I asked for.

I kept R.G. Collingwood’s “Idea of History” all the way through high school as one of the four books I was allowed to borrow. Unfortunately I gave it back when I got my university scholarship and left school to live in Paris before I went up to Oxford.  I say unfortunately with real emphasis because I have never again been able to find that edition of the book with its wonderful bibliography.  It was re-published as a paperback (easy to find) but that came without the bibliography, the list, the very best part of the book. Because of writing this piece I think I have tracked down a hardback first edition through AbeBooks.co.uk .   I have not received it but they say they have found a copy and I should get it in 60 days.

I did not manage to read close to all of the books on the list (only R.G. could have accomplished that) but when I did finish a book (or at least that part that I could understand) I would put a very small pencil check mark against the name of the book in the Bibliography. What a wonderful feeling that was!  Early on I could check off Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” (not very interesting because they basically are lecture notes) and later Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” and so alphabetically through the world’s great books.  Darwin’s book had such an influence on me that as a family we have been to the Galapagos Islands nine times and are going again (if I survive a cough with all those deathly  symptoms) next year.  Some books I tried and skipped because they were above me (Kant is not light reading), and some because they bored me (actually quite a few fell in this category.)  But I can say that I tried to read as many as I could because I wanted to check them off the list. That is what it was all about.  I wrote in one of these thoughts about the summer of 2009 when I finally read (and became mildly obsessed by) Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”  That was a book that I had never before made it through the first 80 pages (and the first 80 pages are boring….War is so much more interesting than Peace,) but, joy of joys, I completed that item in the list in my sixties.  Now if I still had that old Collingwood book I could make another checkmark.

In the twenty-first century it would be naïve to even hope that a young person would spend his or her time doing what I did. But, as I said, there was little else to do and I did not have a particularly happy home.  My parents were divorced, and the “List” filled my time and gave me a love of reading I have never lost.  I still read several books a week and often two or three different ones during the same time period (particularly if I want to break the heaviness of one book with the lightness of another, I will switch around).

So, as I said at the beginning, there are people who do not like lists but I am not one of them.

Metamorphosis: Works by Upper School Students from York Prep

york-prep-gayla-artworkWorking with the theme “metamorphosis,” students at York Prep explored the concept of personal transformation. Through diverse media, they sought to understand both physical and psychological change. Students drew inspiration from Surrealism as well as artists and photographers whose work investigates similar themes. In doing so, they worked to unearth their own identities and transform those internal dimensions into concrete expressions. The artists were particularly successful in visualizing this theme of metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis: Works by Upper School Students from York Preparatory School

We Are Thankful For 45 Years

Ronald and Jamie Stewart So here we are in our 45th year! That translates to over 10,000 student “years” and well over 2000 graduates. We just finished our fifth successful Middle States accreditation visit and we remain firmly committed to our mission as a great school with a wonderful student body and faculty!

Does one celebrate after 45 years or wait until the golden anniversary of 50? Maybe that is pushing one’s luck! Jayme and I feel at the top of our game right now, but who can predict the future? The ancient Greeks used to say that if you want to amuse the Gods, you should tell them your plans.

What we have done is start an appeal for the Scholarship Foundation to fund 45 scholarships for deserving but needy students. Its success would be a fitting celebration.

Most importantly, in the season of my favorite American holiday, Thanksgiving, the word “Thanks” is the one that comes obviously to mind. Thanks to our parents, to our student body, and to our faculty and staff. Thanks for 45 years. The person who deserves the most and gets thanked the least in these Thoughts is my wife, Jayme, co-founder and Director of College Guidance. Many people see us as a couple that works together in harmony. We do, but there is also a great deal of back-and-forth discussion (some might call these arguments) as we debate what is best for the school. We are both what could be called “strong personalities,” both passionate about what we believe in. It is a productive dialectic. One of us proposes an idea (the thesis), the other opposes it (the antithesis), and together we thrash out the best solution which is usually a compromise (the synthesis). Hegel would be proud of us.
This continuing analysis (such a neutral expression) has served the school well. It has the qualities of Yin and Yang, and it has produced a creative tension that has kept us challenged for so long. The plain fact is that neither of us (at least I believe this) could have run the school alone for this long with this much passion and plain fun without the continuing support of (and debates with) the other.

This was not a relationship that had an auspicious beginning. I well remember Jayme’s mother crying throughout the wedding, convinced that the marriage would end quickly. That was at the beginning of October in 1968. We had only given them very few weeks of notice that we were getting married, and then, immediately after the wedding, I whisked their daughter off to live in London. They thought they had lost her. I am glad to say that eventually they realized that the marriage might last, and as an added bonus, their daughter was miraculously returned to them in New York.

So, in this peculiar and singular year when Thanksgiving and Chanukah are at the same time, a phenomenon which I do not honestly understand, I dedicate these thoughts to my wife.

Children Are Our Future

I was an evacuee. In June of 1944, three months after I was born, the Germans started to fire V-1 rockets at London, and they were followed by V-2’s. The classic air raid, with warning sirens giving time for the population to gather their babies and get to shelters, no longer existed. At any time, any Londoner could be killed by a flying bomb.
The British decided to evacuate all of the children from London. My mother, my sister and I were sent to a farm near Chester, away in the West Country and out of flying bomb range. By taking this action, the British protected their children who were, of course, their future.

Though my example is grave, my point is that we have always recognized that our children are our future. We, as adults – and particularly parents and teachers – have the responsibility of creating a better place for our children (or in 1944-45, of keeping the children alive). This has to be a team approach where trust exists on both sides. It is our common goal. It is not political (I write this as the government is in shut down mode) or ideological. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that children, the literal future of this country, are provided with the best possible tools to achieve personal success and improve society.

A lot has been written about progressive versus traditional education. I have found that these are mainly just tags that have different meaning for different people. It is indisputable that good teaching is the fundamental strength of a school, and therefore I truly wonder why anyone would try and confine good teaching into a pre-determined and limiting philosophy. We consider ourselves a traditional school. There are grades, bells, dress code, and standards of mutual respect. But in the classrooms you can find teaching that defies labeling. Michael Roper virtually re-enacts historic battles as he gesticulates in his classroom. Wendy Jin uses her interactive whiteboard to bring Mandarin characters to life in a far more restrained manner. Dr. Nicole Grimes has her students launch their self-designed model paper planes from the balcony of the Christian Science Church as she measures, from the pews below, the best engineered plane that flies the furthest. Eric Tull distributes his outline planners and quietly ensures that his students are organized. These are all excellent teachers. I could go on with my list of great teachers, but, apart from their excellence, it is difficult to see a common philosophical thread of pedagogy among them except that they agree that students are the future and that they are the focus of all that is done at York Prep.

I cannot actually remember being evacuated, since I was a one year old when the War ended. The experience reminds us that a country must first protect its children. I wish we would shift our priorities from endless testing and the hand wringing over our education systems, and instead recognize that teaching, great teaching, is the only thing that really counts in schools. Some students will naturally perform better on certain tests than others; some children will have intellectual epiphanies; and some will face failures and overcome them. Despite these differences, let us agree that all students are entitled to the best education, and that means being taught by great teachers.

The children of London were evacuated regardless of who they were. We, the evacuees, were truly a diverse group in the best sense of diversity: rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, orphan or not. In America, in contrast, the word “diversity” is often exclusively linked to race. Sad as it is, concepts of diversity in America are fraught with its tumultuous history. Understandable, and race is unquestionably part of diversity. But it is not the only criteria. When you protect your children, you protect all of them. Hopefully, the school, as much as it is able to, reflects all of that diversity. We still have not yet had the son of a female Maine island lighthouse keeper as a student. I live in hope!

Ronald P. Stewart

York Prep Video

York Preparatory School, a fully accredited private co-educational college preparatory day school located at 40 West 68th Street in the Lincoln Center area of New York City, has launched a new video featuring commentary and interviews with students, parents, teachers and York Prep’s founders, Ronald and Jayme Stewart.

“The video gives a brief introduction to York Prep, our mission, teaching style and gives an overview of our unique Scholar’s Program and Jump Start Program,” said Ronald Stewart, York Prep’s headmaster and co-founder.  “We hope the video gives viewers a glimpse into daily life at York Prep and encourage those that are interested in learning more to contact us to tour our campus.”

The video was filmed in a single day in May, 2012 and was produced by New York City-based Strange Case.

Founded by educators Ronald and Jayme Stewart in 1969, York Prep’s goal is to help students achieve success while upholding academic excellence. 100% of York Prep’s graduating classes are accepted into college, with more than 85% of students getting into their top choice. The Scholars and Jump Start programs ensure that all students are appropriately challenged and supported. Technology is integrated into every aspect of learning.