By John Clements, Co-Principal, Nipmuc Regional High School
I recently finished reading Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews. I wanted to share a passage from the book that has stuck with me. Matthews wrote about how on the evening that Bobby Kennedy was shot, Ethyl stayed with him in California. She reached out to family friend John Glenn, asking him to take her children to the Kennedy home in New York. Glenn ushered the kids to their home, and - after putting them to bed - made his way to Bobby’s study. Seated at Kennedy’s desk, he noted a copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson's “An American Scholar”. As he paged through the text, he noticed a passage that Bobby had highlighted. It read:
“If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side and admit of being compared; when the energies of all men are searched by fear and by hope; when the historic glories of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
It stood out to Glenn - I assume - because it represented the spirit that defined Kennedy and his work. It captures his ability to recognize change, to empathize with those who are strained by our evolving reality, and to celebrate the glories of the past while looking with hope and excitement at the emerging future. Perhaps most of all - it embodies his confidence of purpose in acting to make that change a reality.
As an educator, these lines resonated with me. I believe that education is entering an age of revolution - a time when students, educators, and parents are becoming aware of the juxtaposition of traditional education and the schools of the future. An era in which we stand between two different cultural understandings of what school should be.
I am not willing to suggest that the revolution we are facing rivals the importance of the social justice and equality issues that Kennedy fought for, nor will I draw parallels between our work as teachers and leaders and the fight for civil rights of Kennedy’s era. I will say, however, that I see the challenge to evolve school as a matter of social equity.
We have nearly 1 million minutes of learning time across 13 years with each of our children. We must articulate the beliefs and values that should drive each of those minutes. We must recognize the successes of traditional practice and never shy away from the difficult work of evolving the strategies that do not align with our aspirations. Beyond that, we must develop a mindset of action, exploration, and curiosity with an appreciation that - as Emerson says - “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
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