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.
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.
Working 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.
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.
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!
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.
I started writing these monthly “Thoughts” nearly nine years ago. The original purpose was to offer students (in this case my senior ethics class) some power and perspective: just as teachers generally require students to write essays that are corrected and graded, these students might be encouraged if their ethics teacher and headmaster wrote a monthly essay which they could similarly correct. Good ideas rarely achieve intended results. Nine years later, I suspect few of my seniors read these pieces, but still in hope I write them, and this piece is for them.
Since school started again last week, I have watched the new senior class obsess (as previous senior classes have) about being seniors. The fact is that this year is one long goodbye to 12 years of elementary, middle and high school. It already has become a focus of conversations: “Can you believe we are seniors?” Which can also mean: “Can you believe that next year we will be on our own without all of the family and school support we are used to?”
There is not only a fear of the unknown next year at college and in the future thereafter, but also, perhaps implicitly, a genuine nostalgia for the place where they have felt comfortable for so long. School is where you become an adolescent, overcome puberty, create a persona, and make close friends among your classmates. Right about now, every senior is beginning to realize that those times, those challenges and even those friendships are nearing an end. Particularly in this age of cellphones, Skype, and text messages, friendships don’t disappear entirely, but it is one thing to have a best friend live nearby and attend the same class every day, and quite another to have him or her 500 or more miles away. In their hearts, they know that this is the last year of the class of 2014 (and they are a cohesive class) being together.
Being a senior is a protracted farewell. It starts on the first day of the year with a talk by administrators about senior responsibilities, and it ends of course with graduation. All the while the clock of youth almost perceptibly ticks away. Seniors know that something is about to change, which they both want and not want to occur, whether it is the secure place in their parents’ home, their sense of place in their own neighborhood, their ease with teachers they know, and above all, the unified nature of their class. Tick, tock, tick, tock!
So to any seniors who actually are reading this, I want to tell you that it is absolutely okay to feel nostalgic about a place and time you have not yet left, it is scary to be on the brink of one of the major transitions that you will face in life so far (and it may be even be the largest you will face,) and that you have every right to feel vulnerable. Growing up generally also means growing independent, and it is not painless.
My hope is that you will find a partner or friends to share the loneliness of leaving your classmates with whom you have been with for so many years, that you will successfully handle the new experience of having to make decisions with less assistance or pressure from your parents, and that you will always remember that you must be your own best friend – ethical, responsible, a decent community member who is kind to others, but one who is also good to yourself and able to protect your own future.
It is a bittersweet year. There is nothing that can prevent that clock from ticking. But try and make it a great year so that you can leave your school years with pride and remember them as years of friendship and joy. Nostalgia and happiness are not incompatible.