York Prep School Open House – April 19th, 2016

Tuesday, April 19 from 9 – 10:30 a.m.

Join us at an Open House for prospective Middle and High Schoolers

Come see the school, meet the staff and learn more about the York Prep experience.

Parents will meet the Headmaster, Ronald Stewart, as well as the Associate Head, Admissions Directors, and additional senior staff.

Mr. Stewart will share the school’s approach to learning, all aspects of the educational programs (Curriculum, Tracking, Scholars, Jump Start, College Prep, etc.) as well as the admissions process.

This is an interactive session where Parents are welcome and encouraged to ask questions of the administrators as well as the students.
          We look forward to meeting you!  

IVF and Ethics

One of my favorite times of the school week is when I teach our seniors. There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which is the freedom I have to teach almost anything. The seniors often set the subject to be discussed with their ideas and questions. They ask, and we all explore. If I am lucky, they argue fiercely with each other. Lots of fun!

The title of the senior course, “Ethics,” is deliberately vague. Clearly, there are philosophers whose work needs to be understood by students before we immerse ourselves deeply into ethical dilemmas. But the subsequent subjects we look at (apart from my love of “trolleyology,” which I have discussed before in these thoughts) change with the particular issues raised by each senior class. This year, a discussion about whether or not human kidneys should be sold (currently in the United States it is illegal, which has resulted in an unregulated black market), has led to long discussions on in vitro fertilization (IVF). Should there be limits on who gets insurance to pay for IVF or how old or young should you have to be for the procedure? Should you be allowed to have a baby by IVF specifically to harvest its organs or bone marrow for other members of your family? This conversation quickly turns to genetic engineering of humans and crops. In other words, sex, drugs, and rock and roll without the rock and roll.

If you want to see how science has been welcomed into the world of childbirth, you might want to look up IVF in that modern mine of advertising, misinformation, and useful knowledge; namely, the Internet. The very first listing for IVF on Google is headed, “Choose your Perfect Donor,” and directs you to a center on East 69th Street. They might as well write, “You want a baby with dimples, we give you a baby with dimples!” Frightening!  Soon, and the science is very close to this, if you want a baby with greater speed, memory, height, or weight-lifting ability than the average baby, then they will be able to offer that too.  We already have doping in the Olympics; what will happen when we have these scientifically-enhanced babies competing against the rest of us?   I can see children asking their parents, “Why didn’t you get me the gene for running faster that my friends got?”  I am not sure how to answer that. “You want a baby with dimples, we give you a baby with dimples!”

I fear that in all sports, modern science has the potential to give competitors an advantage. (I was going to say “huge” advantage, but since Mr. Trump has started his campaign, I cannot in good conscience write the word “huge” without flinching.)  While I totally agree with genetic engineering for health reasons (for example, to prevent muscular dystrophy), I am frightened by the potential creation of super people who have enhanced faculties.  And I well recognize that this is a gray area; should we allow genetic engineering to prevent crooked teeth or a crooked nose?  Goodbye to nose jobs, in come the dimples again.  There is a line that demarcates good enough “health reasons” that will someday have to be explored but has not yet completely been defined.

The future “Olympics of Genetically-Improved Humans” would be rather like NASCAR racing, something that I cannot express how little interest I have in watching.  What is there about fast cars going round and round a track that makes it the largest spectacle sport in America?  Of course the drivers are very skillful, but in the end, the best engineered (by which I mean the fastest) car wins the race. Round and round they roar, round and round, round and…wake up!  It would be just the same with genetically-engineered human/robots; round and round, round and round, and the best genetically engineered one wins the race.  And, rarely but it happens, there is in NASCAR racing a crash, an explosion, and a tragedy.  Could that happen in the “Engineered Olympics”?  Announcer:  “He is going too fast; he is out of control; he is running into the crowd; he is mowing them down!  Yuck!”

Of course we already have the winning of races via the use of technology in the example of Rosy Ruiz, the lady who claimed victory in the Boston Marathon in 1980.  Further investigation revealed that after she started off with everyone else, she then took the Boston Subway system for the course of the race, and emerged later, joining the pack of runners and winning because she had a surprisingly strong (at least if she had run 25 miles) finishing kick.  Her story reminds me of my close friend from high school, Bruce, who had a taxi waiting near the start of the mandatory, yearly school cross country run on Hampstead Heath in London. The taxi would take him to Kenwood House (a visit that, if you are in London, is well worth it), where he had a cream tea (by which I mean scones loaded with whipped cream and strawberries) and then got back into the waiting taxi and joined the rest of us as we staggered towards the finish.  In the three years that he did this, not one student gave his secret away.  I think we were just so impressed by his imagination and “Chutzpah.”  I can translate that last word for any of my readers who hail from Mississippi.

I may be going into all of this in detail because at last year’s graduation, one of the Masters of Ceremonies introduced me as the teacher who always discussed sex in his class.  Let me admit that I try to capture the interest of my students, and sex is always interesting to 17-year-olds. (I am not talking about the plumbing which they know already.)  IVF is an example of sex in a different context, and here there are multiple, complex questions that are not easily answered. For example, if we do not ask parents who have children “the old-fashioned way” if they are having children for the sole reason of harvesting available kidneys or bone marrow, why ask those who use modern science to do the same thing?  We may be totally appalled by the challenges facing 13-year-old mothers, but we should not force them to abort.  Jayme and I know mothers who have had IVF when they are close to 60 and fathers who have given sperm for their partner’s IVF when they are in their 70’s.  With money, I am sure these things are easily arranged (as is an “illegal” kidney”), but should it be allowed?  “We can get you dimples!”

As I began, so much fun!

 

Ronald. P. Stewart

Should kids get participation trophies?

Occasionally, one will read an article by an educator who believes that we give out too many awards in schools today. Their objection is that if every child competing in an academic or athletic event gets a medal, then the whole process of receiving accolades is demeaned, and the medals are insultingly worthless.

I disagree. And my disagreement is totally based – as so many things are for most of us – on my personal experience. I was an enthusiastic, but not a particularly talented, athlete. I was a fast runner, and that is about it. The last real athletic achievement I remember is winning the 100-yard race at my high school’s annual field day. That I remember who I beat (Nigel Chidley and Colin Campbell,) only serves to show that I am still recovering from the shock of winning, because I was convinced that they were both faster than I was.

When I went to Oxford, each residential college of the 24 or so that comprised the total number in the University (there are more now) played each other in a competition called “Cuppers.” I assume that means the winning team won a cup, but none of the teams I ever played on did. The important thing was that we played every sport possible. At the time I was at Wadham College, there were about 180 male students. (Now there are over 400 students both men and women.) Out of those 180, there were a few outstanding athletes, and about 20 of us who played a great number of sports because we were needed for the team and not because we were any good. Wadham was known as an intellectual college that took most of its students from State Schools. The result was that it had a very good soccer team and a truly mediocre rugby team. Rugby was considered a more upper-class enterprise played by young aristocrats at boarding schools. It happened that at my state secondary school, which was run like a very prestigious private school by its excellent Headmaster, we played Rugby and not soccer. And so, at Wadham I played Rugby. One season we lost all 18 of our games.

If you look at a photo of the rugby team at Wadham that hangs in my office, you may notice the skinniest player in the back row. That is me. There are no advantages to being thin in playing rugby. Newton’s Third Law of Physics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In my case that meant that if I collided with a heavier player, the reaction would not be equal. I, to be blunt, would get hammered. So I spent a great deal of energy avoiding getting caught with the ball since the rule states that you can only get tackled if you have the ball in your possession. Considering that holding the ball while carrying it over the end line to score a “try” was essential to my position, left wing three-quarter, you can begin to see that I was not destined for greatness in the sport of rugby.

Apart from rugby, I played wherever I was needed. Badminton, croquet (now that is a sport that can be both mean spirited and yet very safe), track (sprints) and field (long jump, pole vault and high jump), water polo and swimming, ice hockey and sailing. I should mention that I had never pole vaulted before, and I think I could jump higher without the pole than with it. Let us be honest; it just gets in the way. I learned to sail well enough on the upper subsidiary reaches of the Thames that I could teach it when I came to Tripp Lake Camp for Girls in the summers as a counsellor. It is there that I met Jayme. Across all sport, the whole “team” experience was fun not because of winning, since we did not do much of that, but because of the fellowship of the players.

There were a few astonishingly gifted athletes at Wadham. The right wing three-quarter, who played for England (yes, England!), was my contemporary E.L. “Ted” Rudd. He rarely played for the college (Can you blame him?) but when he did, I would stand around and watch him run. The ball was certainly never passed to me. An extraordinarily gifted Canadian ice-hockey player, also a brilliant Rhodes Scholar physicist, Henry Glyde, was the mainstay of the hockey team. I could not skate backwards so I just skated around (forwards only) and if, by some chance, the puck came my way, I did my best to get it to Henry who then would score a goal. Similarly in water polo, we had Murray McLachlin, a Rhodes Scholar from South Africa. He placed 6th in the 1500-meters swimming freestyle final at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. A superb water-polo player, he stood about six feet six inches and was universally called “Titch” (which means “tiny” in England) because of his size. I paddled around, and if, again by chance, the ball came close to me, I would work quite hard to get it to Titch, who would promptly score. The fact that we never actually won “cuppers” in any of the sports I competed in only proves that one outstanding athlete does not a team make.

The most fun of all was playing a sport that I am terrible at; cricket. The rugby players like me, who could not make the college cricket team (which tried to play seriously), instead had our own team called the “Freebooters.” This was a drinking and cricket-playing club that is best described as “liquid cricket.” The liquid was always beer. Thus you could take a full beer mug with you when you went to the outfield as a defender. One of the rules of the club (in fact the ONLY rule of the club as far as I could see) was that “failure to score a run or hold a catch shall not be ascribed to moral obliquity.” Thus, you could not be called out for a duck, another name for scoring zero, and would bat on until you scored a run. (This would be the equivalent in college baseball of a player staying at bat until he scores a hit that gets him to first base.) Sometimes, getting that run could take time. Now that I think of it, there may have been some other rules, but they all had to do with who paid for which beers and had nothing to do with the sport itself. We were the worst cricketers possible and played the local teams of very rural villages. Our opponents may have been surprised that our batsmen stayed in and continued to play after the ball had knocked the wicket over and the batter was technically out. They may also have been surprised by the relaxed way the team reacted when one of our members dropped a catch, or by the presence of girl followers whose roles were to ensure that fielder’s beer mugs were kept full, which involved trotting out onto the field with full beer jugs. When, as inevitably happened, the village teams understood what was happening, they joined in the spirit of the whole thing quite enthusiastically with many of their jugs carrying far more powerful liquids than the ale we were drinking. I cannot remember if anyone ever “won” a game, but they were always considered a great success, and we would be invited back for the next year with great expressions of friendship. It must have been our “insouciance.” In fact, we had so many villages who wanted to play us that we tried never to visit the same team two years in a row. This helped preserve that special sense of “surprise” for the new, young players of the opposing team.

I have come a long way from my original statement about everyone getting medals, but like a runner racing on a track, I have returned to my original position after all; at the end of the season, every one of the Freebooters got a medal. You could not get off the field without a triumph of a run, a drink, and a medal at the final match of the year. For a student at a highly-pressured university where students were very competitive, the Freebooters represented the perfect antidote to stress and perhaps taught a deeper lesson about friendship, teamwork, and fun. Now that is worthy of medals and glory for all.

Though I say I am wishing you a happy New Year, what I am really wishing you is a happy future

Happy New Year!

No, really, I mean it. I wish you a happy New Year. I can understand why you might not take this sentiment seriously since, by now, countless people have offered you the same sentiment.

I have received best wishes for the New Year from everyone with whom I come in contact (and some people I do not)—the sanitation men, the mailwoman, the people who refill our fire extinguishers, the . . . you get the picture. It is just that time of the year.

I certainly do not subscribe to the “New Year’s resolution” business. I do not like to put all of my eggs into one basket, funneling promises into a single day of action. Like my favorite egg, Humpty Dumpty, I prefer un-birthday presents to birthday presents, because, as Humpty explained to Alice, you get so many more of them. There are 364 un-birthdays a year except during Leap Year, in which case—yes, you got it right—there are 365 un-birthdays. I think the same goes for a good resolution; why would you possibly wait until the day of New Year to put it into place? I will get fit, be nicer to my relatives, eat healthier, smell the roses, etc., etc. They are all good goals, but surely ones that should be carried out as soon as you conceive of them. Why delay until January 1, a totally arbitrary calendar date?

In fact, without wishing to be a wet blanket, can we agree that these artificial dates stress us out? I personally have no wish to celebrate my birthdays anymore. (I think I stopped doing that when I hit 40.)  I remember time periods, not by specific years but, by the activities of Jayme’s and my children and by the dogs and horses we had. This is the “Timmy” (our poodle) time period, long may it last. Before that was the “JT” time period, a beloved bearded collie. I cannot remember the technical years, I suppose I could look them up, but I remember the time when our children were very young. I remember them as they grew older, and I remember when they went to college. What was the year? Who cares about numbers?

So, though I say I am wishing you a happy New Year, what I am really wishing you is a happy future. We are spinning on a small planet, around a fairly insignificant sun, in a large galaxy. We celebrate on a specific day, one full spin around our sun. Frankly, it makes no difference to me. I do not feel as though I am spinning. I know the Earth is round, but to me it appears flat. What I do care about are my relationships with all the people I cherish, the animals who are part of my family, and the well-being of humanity—virtually none of whom I will ever meet. The first two categories (I say selfishly) are by far the most important.

I am sure it is the same for all of us. Yet, we wish each other a happy New Year, as I do too. But my happiness wish is not just for the next year. We all know there will be times of happiness and unhappiness in our futures. Certainly, you will have more un-birthdays than birthdays. May your future also have more happy days than unhappy days.

Sincerely,

Ronald P. Stewart

 

December in the city

Welcome to December . . . the month where you pay the most for any product that could possibly considered a present for someone . . . the month that is followed by January, when you pay less than half for the same product!

Ah, December . . . the month of packed streets and shopping tourists . . . the month when someone actually buys their fellow man bright-pink trousers with whales on them.

This is the month when you cannot walk your dog off its leash in Central Park until 9:00 pm (just as all other months) even though in December it gets totally dark by 6:00 pm. When can we get a city council that realizes no one cares if dogs are walked off their leashes in our parks after it gets completely dark outside?

There is something weird about December because everything fills up . . . the stores; the restaurants; the public transportation system; the roads; the tourists. Where did all these people come from?

Lately, we have a new type of tourist bus in New York. You may have seen it. From the front, it looks the same as any other bus; but when it passes, you notice there are three ascending rows of stadium-style seating, facing left. I understand this type of bus is called “the ride.”  Every passenger has an excellent view of what is to the left of the bus as that is the direction the seats face. They have poor visibility towards the front or back of the bus and certainly cannot see the right side of the bus. But they can all see clearly out of the large left-side windows.

The tourists who ride this type of bus tend to be the “better sort” of tourist, by which I mean they own the expensive cameras that my definition of the “better sort” wear. Generally, they carry large Nikons, but equally large Canons are acceptable. And they happily snap away at what is on the left side of the bus.

Why the left side, you (and I) might ask? I think the answer lies in the way the bike lanes have been recently built on our one-way avenues. Thus, the new bike lanes are on the far left side of Columbus Avenue as you drive. Between the bike lanes and the traffic is now a parking lane. (It looks strange in the middle of the road.)  The parking lane on the right of the avenue has stayed the same. As a result of this “progress,” our city elders have turned a potentially six-lane thoroughfare into three lanes at best—one which shrinks down to one lane when trucks unload their goods. Massive traffic problems have been created by these bike lanes, and Columbus Avenue has become a slow-moving snake of cars inching its way through numerous one-lane gaps.

Thus, I believe that tourists (the “better sort”) have come from around the world to see how New York has created traffic jams. There must be an attractive travel poster in some foreign land that invites its country people (I am so politically correct, it hurts) to come and see the greatest city in the world pretend that it is Amsterdam and destroy its traffic patterns in the process. “See New York come to a full stop!” For those who live in a lesser city, it surely is irresistible!

Incidentally, in Amsterdam, Wikipedia tells me, there are more bicycles (1.2 million) than there are people. If this makes sense, you probably are on the New York City Council. One day, you might actually see a cyclist on Columbus Avenue who is not delivering Asian food. But never in December!

It is attractive to watch other countries screw things up. We go to Germany to see their Holocaust Museum—there is irony for you. I always have to restrain the temptation to ask them if they have burned any good books lately.

We go to Greece to find out if the economy is really as bad as we read about.

When Jayme and I were last in Russia, of course, I asked our guide what he thought about Stalin?  He thought he was great!

So it is not surprising that thousands of tourists, cameras at the ready, should come and see us destroy the New York road system. They go back happily and say “lovely city, great shops, but you cannot get around in a car,” and they are right.

Even within our country, we have this “town schadenfreude.” I remember going to Hollywood and asking a film cameraman whom I knew why the wheels of cars in every movie seemed to be going the wrong way as if the cars’ wheels are driving in reverse. He gave me some technical answer, but I did not care. I just wanted him to know that although we have destroyed our road system in New York, we still know that the big film companies in California have their own problems too.

Anyway, it is getting cold at this time of the year. Time for a cup of something warm! I like to follow people who say they are “dying” for a cup of coffee. I watch them go into Starbucks and then complain about the price of their cappuccino.

Einstein had it right when he said that the only two things that were infinite were the universe and human stupidity. As I reflect upon the pairs of bright-pink trousers with whales I have been given as gifts, I think maybe he was being unfair to the universe.

Ronald Stewart for President!

(Look earnestly into camera.)

My fellow Americans,

I have decided to run for President of these United States of America. (Cue the applause.)

I pledge to bring back to our great country its past glory and power. I will see to it that our military is strengthened, that our valiant veterans are better taken care of, and that we will once again be the strongest and greatest nation in the world. I will be transparent and authentic. That is what is written on every one of my campaign buttons: “Authentically Transparent.”

I pledge to reduce the taxes of all of you who vote for me. I will decrease your taxes down to virtually nothing while raising the taxes of those who are in the opposition party.  It is time to get this great country back to work again, and I will do it by creating jobs, lowering taxes, and bringing prosperity to you all.

I pledge to dramatically reduce the crime rate. If anyone commits a crime, they will have to pay a large fine, and, in this way, I promise to reduce the national debt so that eventually we will have a surplus. We should only allow crime that makes a profit for us and not for the criminal.

I have heard a lot of talk lately about health care costs. I have an answer to this problem. Under my administration we will have “Universal Health.”  Yes, no more bunions when I am president. And I have a solution to climate change:  we must make climate change work for us. When you have your friends and family around for your special burgers that only you know how to flip, I pledge that it will not rain on your barbecue under my administration. And I will get rid of ugly scaffolding.

I met today a man called Bob who asked me why there was no one running who shared his beliefs?  And I told him that I was running on that platform; what he believed in.  Bob is a decent, hard-working man who loves his wife and children, and so I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that he could trust me. And Bob knew that he could.

And only yesterday I met a lady called Mary, a decent, hard-working mother of three, who said that she had lost faith in the candidates running for president. I told Mary that I was running, not for personal gain or power, but because I believed in what she believed in and was dedicating my life to public service.  And Mary looked at me and said that she trusted me, and I put my hand on her shoulder and said that she could.

I want you to know that I love my wife and our four children. My wife (who is standing next to me), and my four children (who are next to her), believe that I am the best man for the job. They know this because I came from humble origins. My parents were good, hard-working, poor people.  We were so poor that I had to hop to school when I was young because they could only afford one shoe for me. It was difficult to live in that cardboard box, but we called it home, and I loved it.  From these lowly conditions, I achieved the greatness that is my record, and it is on that record that I am running.  But I will never forget the dying words of my father, who told me to fight for this country.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I am doing in this fight for the presidency.  I am happy to say that my mother is still with us, and she is an enormous force of nature who believes in me. She, along with my wife and four children whom I love so much, taught me right from wrong, good from evil, and other wonderful values that are the basis of my life.

I see a brighter future for America. In my presidency, there will be more tissues in every tissue box, and bigger rolls of toilet paper that will not run out when you need them most.  A land of clean air and water, where planes will take off and land on time, where we will eliminate traffic jams and ensure that American goods come first. I see a world where we will rarely hear of China or Russia, because they will no longer be important. It will be a place where the problems of the Middle East will be solved by us, and where printers will never need new ink cartridges.

This can be a new dawn for America . . . a new age of glory . . . a time when, once again, we can be proud of our country . . . a place where you will get a large cappuccino when you ask for a large cappuccino. You deserve that!

I want you to know I am not a Washington elite insider. I have never been to Washington. Delaware, yes, Maryland, yes, but Washington D.C., not for me.  I am a complete outsider.

So, my fellow Americans, it is with fortitude, humility, and conviction that I run for the presidency, assured that I will realize the full potential of this nation, bringing it to greatness and solving all of the problems that now confront us.

Thank you and God bless you. (Smile at camera!)

(Fade in the National Anthem with video of warplanes taking off into the sunset for no apparent reason. Run the following in small letters at the very end: “This ad was paid for by the ‘Great for America PAC’, who bears no relationship or connection to any candidate running for public office.”)

Ronald P. Stewart
Headmaster
York Prep