Last year, conflicts involving airline passengers and reclining seats forced three flights to land prematurely. What these conflicts have in common is the declining amount of personal space on planes as the airline industry works to maximize profits at the expense of passenger comfort. One person’s reclining seat impedes the functionality of another’s tray table. These two standard amenities of airline travel are colliding with a customer base that is pushing back against the increasing discomfort of airline travel.
There is no doubt that the airlines have reduced passenger space during a time that coincides with larger passenger size. Airline travel, however, has never been an individual process. It has always been a lesson in community. Airline passengers often sit next to people whom they do not know; coach seats have never been overly spacious; people have always had to wait to share tiny restroom facilities; and, all must wait patiently for those seated ahead of them to deplane. Airline travel has always been an exercise in being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Schools, particularly boarding schools, are places where there are myriad opportunities for young people to discover the many gifts associated with living in community. Boys at Trinity-Pawling know that they are cared for at school by their teachers, coaches, and dorm parents. The importance that the School places on community, such as gathering for chapel four times a week or having family-style meals five times a week, reflects a commitment to create a learning environment where the School is not only a community, but like a family as well. As in any community, there are times where all of its members must be comfortable with being uncomfortable (or any family, for that matter!). It is often in the periods of discomfort where the greatest growth occurs.
As parents, we want our children to learn to take healthy risks in order for them to grow. We teach our children how to ride a bike, knowing that they will fall off and possibly hurt themselves. This risk, however, is a necessary and healthy one because learning how to ride a bike provides a child with greater independence to explore his or her world. Challenging young people to take healthy risks is all about embracing the opportunity for growth and revelation that comes from being uncomfortable.
The learning environment at Trinity-Pawling promotes healthy risk taking. Teaching students, particularly boys, the importance of distinguishing healthy risks from unhealthy ones is a priority. Healthy risks demand vulnerability and lead to growth. For students to risk being vulnerable, perhaps risking failure, they must feel safe and connected in their school environment. This winter, the students and faculty will begin to explore new ways of learning through interdisciplinary projects. For many, this will be a new experience and there is no previous template from which to work. It will be a time for being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And, it will be a time of learning and growth.
As an Episcopal boarding school, Trinity-Pawling is in a distinctive position to help boys discover that it is through these moments of discomfort that there exist opportunities for tremendous growth and revelation of God’s love. Jesus challenged his disciples to see God’s grace and love in the uncomfortable moments in life. Whether it was highlighting the love shown by the Samaritan on the road to Jericho, breaking bread with tax collectors, or the cleansing of the lepers, Jesus’s ministry is a call to live in community with one another, especially when that call challenges us to grow through moments of discomfort or even confusion. This, I might add, also holds true for the communities we encounter when we travel on airplanes!
Toward the end of the film, Steve Jobs, the eponymous character confesses to his daughter, “I’m not well built.” The confession is presented in the film at a point of escalating self-awareness on the part of Jobs regarding his role as a father. The dialogue, and that line in particular, struck me as a poignant summary of the film and as a reflection on life in general.
Steve Jobs is less a biopic and more of a snapshot of a man struggling to find purpose and success amidst a rapidly changing world. The film essentially follows Jobs through three different computer rollouts: Apple’s Macintosh, The Next Cube, and the iMac. Paralleling this story is the one depicting Jobs’ relationship with his daughter. The metaphorical thread through these two stories is connection, and lack thereof. Jobs’ first two rollouts fail to connect with their commercial expectations, and his relationship with his daughter during most of the movie is strained and basically non-existent.
Throughout the film, the antagonist to the Steve Jobs character is the Steve Wozniak character, among others. In a flashback scene to the creation of the first Apple computer built in a garage, it is the Wozniak character who pleads with Jobs that the computer must be an open system, one capable of connecting with other computer products. The Jobs character adamantly refuses this entreaty, promising that Apple computers will be a closed system, rendering any outside connection unnecessary and, therefore, superfluous. During two of the three rollout scenes, the Wozniak character unsuccessfully prods Jobs to recognize the hard work and contributions of the team of engineers who worked on the commercially successful Apple II computers, those who built the foundation for future iterations. Jobs refuses to connect innovation with the tradition of innovation that preceded his work.
The line, “I am not well built,” is presented as an apologetic confession spoken by the Steve Jobs character to his daughter just prior to the rollout of the iMac, toward the very end of the movie. As the movie ends, the viewer is left to ponder the future of the relationship between Jobs and his daughter. However, if one considers Jobs’ confession, the fact that the film depicts Steve Jobs to be devoting precious time to his daughter instead of meeting the rollout’s scheduled deadline, and the film’s final scene (which I won’t reveal), the viewer is left with the conclusion that the connection between Jobs and his daughter in the film is transitioning to a different, more positive state.
The film ends without a summary of the success of the iMac and the future market-changing introductions of the iPod, iPhone, iTunes, and iPad. Importantly, the iMac’s success was partly due to the fact that it included a USB port, or a way for the computer to connect with other products. The later i-products also connect with other technologies and mediums (although iTunes did not initially).
As I reflected on the film and on the trajectory of Apple products before and after 1998, the theme of connection reverberates. As human beings, we are built to connect with others. We are not designed to be closed systems. Rather, we need others to sustain us, to challenge us, to make us grow. We are enriched by and through our relationships with others. The most powerful human emotion, love, is dependent upon the presence of others.
Steve Jobs ends with an acknowledgment that human fulfillment is dependent upon relationships with others. It is purposefully ironic that one of the film’s subjects, computers, is a force that can detract us from relationship with others. In a rapidly changing world, technology can either bring us together or force us apart. It can be used to collaborate or to isolate.
Educators are connectors, as are schools. They connect with students; they connect students with knowledge; they connect young people with their future. Technology is an incredible force in our lives, particularly in the lives of young people. And, it will be increasingly so. Accordingly, it is incumbent upon teachers and schools to incorporate technology into the learning process in a way that augments and enhances collaboration that will be necessary in a world of expanding networks of interdependence.
Importantly, Steve Jobs never rolled out a new technological product in isolation. He did it in front of an audience, within an ever-expanding community. Young people today will be leaders in a world that is increasingly dependent upon a growing network of mutuality. Collaboration and effective communication skills are increasingly valued in the workplace. While technologies exist that threaten to pull us collectively toward greater isolation from one another, it will be those who can function most effectively within a community who will emerge as leaders. This, after all, is what we are built for.
“Your integrity is a valuable commodity,” a teacher once remarked to me when I was in school. “Invest in it and treasure its returns.” As a teacher, father, and school leader, I have always sought to share this sage advice, but also to build upon it as well. Integrity and honor are pervasive virtues, either evident or absent in all aspects of our daily life. In the life of a school, it is important to emphasize that honor and integrity are not solely limited to a student’s academic responsibilities. They are virtues that are accessible each day in a myriad of situations. At Trinity-Pawling, it is incumbent upon us as teachers to teach our students how best to avail themselves of these opportunities to exercise these virtues so that they become habits rather than acts.
I have always had a strong affinity for Volkswagens, “the people’s car.” During the course of my childhood, my parents owned three of them. As an adult, I have owned two Volkswagens. Today, my son and daughter each own a VW.
The appeal of the VW for the Taylor family was always the combination of safety, efficiency, and enjoyment. They are fun cars to drive. From a customer satisfaction perspective, the Taylors have been loyal customers for quite a long time. Now, this loyalty is being tested for good reason.
After denying allegations for over a year, Volkswagen recently admitted that stealth software had been installed on many of its diesel vehicles that would essentially prevent the emissions controls from working unless the cars were undergoing emissions testing. Understandably, this news has sent the world’s largest automobile maker into a tailspin. The company’s CEO has resigned amidst the scandal; the company has allocated billions of dollars to the recall process; exorbitant fines are on the horizon; and, prison terms for those directly responsible for the fraud are likely.
While the short-term consequences for Volkswagen are, indeed, staggering in their scope, the prospects for the company’s long-term future are equally dismal. Without question, their brand has taken a major beating. The situation is exasperated further when one considers that those purchasing the diesel vehicles were likely doing so because they felt good about their investment and their contributions to environmental citizenship. In reality, though, the vehicles with the fraudulent software were emitting as much as 40 times more toxins into the air than the standards allowed.
The Volkswagen debacle is far more encompassing and noxious than other manufacturing recalls because it combines both greed and dishonor. In an effort to promote “clean diesel” technology in the United States where the environmental standards are more comprehensive, Volkswagen dishonored themselves as a company. They created a false impression of environmental citizenship that would appeal to those interested in such stewardship. If dishonor can be defined as trading integrity for short term-gain, this particular situation is a prime example of dishonor that will have long-term consequences for this company.
Not only did VW compromise its own integrity with the fraud, it attracted thousands of investors who unknowingly were contributing to something they felt strongly against: environmental degradation. Moreover, the dishonesty initiated by a relatively small number of employees will have adverse effects on thousands of innocent people whose lives are dependent on Volkswagen for income and stability: workers, designers, technicians, dealers, etc.
The VW scandal provides allegorical relevance to all who work with young people. In an era where “situational ethics” can create seeming ambiguities between right and wrong, the VW scandal provides a clear backdrop of a stark ethical void. By installing Trojan-horse software, Volkswagen traded their brand integrity for the promise of profitable gain. While it remains to be seen just how deep an impact this trade will have on people’s loyalty to Volkswagen, I suspect that many current VW owners may never choose to buy another in the future.
The impact of this scandal can speak directly to young people as an example of the long-term implications associated with the loss of integrity. Trinity-Pawling aspires to cultivate a culture of honor that permeates the teaching and learning environment of the School. As such, care and time are invested into discussions associated with integrity and honor with the goal of teaching young people that exchanges of integrity for ill-gotten gain are trades that can haunt the soul. The wisdom of Proverbs speaks directly to this: “Such is the end[a] of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors” (Proverbs 1:19). I suspect this is a lesson that Volkswagen will be grappling with for a long time to come.
My brother and I grew up on the water and learned how to sail when we were kids. Sadly, my sailing skills never progressed passed the ability to sail a Jayhawk sailboat on the Long Island Sound; I became a proficient member of any sailing crew, however. My brother, on the other hand, became an accomplished sailor. He lives on the coast of Maine and spends his brief summers sailing his wooden sailboat, Navajo, around the Northeastern coast.
While I lack his sailing acumen, I often find myself using nautical imagery in my references to the life of a school. This time of year, for example, I find myself talking about getting the boat out of the proverbial harbor. I love the beginning of a new school year because it is the beginning of a new and somewhat unpredictable journey. Toward that end, I think a water journey is an apt metaphor for the school year and education in general.
Water symbolizes life. A sailboat, moreover, is not built for the safety of harbor. A boat’s journey through the water is characterized by various stages of challenge. So it is with growing up; so it is with the life of a school. The school year is a journey for students, parents, and teachers. Each year, there are times of smooth sailing and there are times of rough water. Sailboats, much like schools, are built for the rough waters that inevitably accompany any journey.
For students, teachers, and parents, periods of calm waters allow for a much needed respite on the journey. A sailboat, however, doesn’t move very well in calm waters. It may be peaceful for a time, but the sailing will quickly turn tiresome and, ultimately, unproductive. You need wind and friction to move productively through the water and take you toward your planned destination.
To sail, you don’t just aim your sites on your ultimate objective and then set out on your journey. Sailing involves learning how to tack, how to traverse from one direction to another in a way that efficiently captures the wind in the sail. In sailing, taking the direct path between two points will not be the most effective or efficient means to reach your destination. Instead, you must traverse while moving forward. The same is true for young people on their journey through school.
As parents and teachers, we may want our children and students to move unwaveringly toward the objectives we have set out for them. This never happens, however. There are always changes in directions as they move toward their destination. As young people grow older, moreover, it becomes increasingly important to let them take the till and steer the boat with our guidance. As such, their destination and the one that we have envisioned for them may end up being slightly different. Yet, by learning to tack and capture the wind behind them, their destination is never very far from the one that was envisioned when the boat left the harbor.
So, as we begin another school year, I also think of the larger ship known as Trinity-Pawling. The ship has some new members of its crew, some upgrades to its structure, and some additional passengers. Its cargo, though, is as ever precious and prized as it always has been. Its ultimate destination, however, is envisioned in its mission. During the course of this journey, boys will become young men as they discover the potential for greatness that exists in each of them. They will further explore their distinctive gifts and talents, assisted by caring faculty and a camaraderie of brothers. To be sure, the turbidity of the waters will change from time to time on the journey. Time must be devoted to tack when necessary so to fully capture the wind that will direct this journey.
I look forward to the sail and to the journey that will lead us to a new harbor come next June. Onward!
My first paid job was that of a garbage collector one summer when I was nine years old. That summer, my father was on sabbatical on Iona, a small the island in Scotland. While my father and mother were enrolled in a program at the local abbey, my six year old brother and I were left to entertain ourselves while safely trapped on the island.
To facilitate our entertainment and to promote goodwill with the locals, my father created a work-study program for my brother and me. For each piece of garbage we collected on the island, he would reward us with one half of one pence. While not fully aware of the relative value of the British currency as it related to the price of a candy bar or ice cream, I did grasp that an island beautification campaign could be a windfall. Each day, then, we hunted for garbage and each afternoon we counted our trove that was measured toward our weekly payout.
By collecting garbage, I was rewarded with candy, ice cream, and memorable days spent exploring the island. This job, though, also reaped other benefits that became apparent years later. First, I still collect garbage. I am always picking up pieces of litter around campus and even away from school. Secondly, and more importantly, the garbage collecting job provided me with an opportunity to exercise conscientious discipline on a daily basis. This practice led to other paid work experiences in middle and upper school such as delivering newspapers, cutting lawns, shoveling snow, and working in a supermarket. Before the age of 18, I had many experiences that demonstrated to me the rewards and value associated with conscientious discipline. Importantly, the practice of conscientious discipline also carried over to my academic responsibilities on a daily basis.
Trinity-Pawling School compels me as an educator because of the emphasis of conscientious discipline that pervades its learning culture. Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, it is a habit.” At Trinity-Pawling, boys learn that details are a critical component of excellence and finding success. They learn that the value of an education is not measured solely by what can be known, but what problems can be solved. They learn that asking the right question is just as important as knowing the correct answer. They learn that effort reflects character and that their character is something built and strengthened over a lifetime. They learn that a community must enriched through acts of kindness, charity, and forgiveness. At Trinity-Pawling, boys learn that the camaraderie of brotherhood creates bonds of friendships they will share for a lifetime. They learn that a school can be like a family and the mutuality that exists with their teachers is a powerful dynamic that distinguishes their learning and their growth as young men. They learn that honor is something to be respected and protected. Boys learn by doing at Trinity-Pawling and this can be joyful. In this process, they discover that conscientiousness builds confidence and is the key toward unlocking the potential for greatness that each of them possess.
In his book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough touts the importance of conscientious discipline and its importance in helping young people learn the measures of success. Tough’s book is an insightful analysis of how certain character traits are predictors of various forms of success in adulthood. Individuals with high qualities of conscientiousness, writes Tough, achieve at higher levels in high school and college, are physically healthier, and are high achievers in the workplace. While it may be customary to associate success with conscientiousness, the research demonstrates that conscientiousness is a trait that can be nurtured and grown. For Trinity-Pawling School, this research is validation of a learning environment that has been helping boys find their greatness as young men and leaders since 1907.
As a high school junior I learned American history from Mr. Hougas, a teacher whose career was defined by a love of history and the depth of relationships he was able to forge with his students. Mr. Hougas had a profound impact on me as a student and as a teacher.
Mr. Hougas was passionate about history. Often, he would grow emotional about the topic at hand. I remember him chastising the Daughters of the American Revolution for refusing to allow Marion Anderson to sing on the steps of the U.S. capitol in the early 1930’s. I clearly recall his eyes welling up with tears when he taught us about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I can still hear the disappointment in his voice as he described the failure of Woodrow Wilson’s peace efforts to gain the approval of the U.S. Congress after World War I. For Mr. Hougas, The text book was a reference, not the foundation of his teaching. This foundation, rather, was his deep knowledge of history that stemmed from his passion for the subject. This foundation, more importantly, was complemented equally by his desire to share this passion with young people.
As a teacher, Mr. Hougas was effective and successful because he conveyed his passion for history through the relationships he forged with his students. He connected with his students, albeit some more deeply than others. On the whole, however, his classes were ones in which the students were engaged and were connected to him and to one another. We were connected because he took the time and cared enough to nurture his relationships with us by getting to know what motivated each of us. We were also connected to him because he was a demanding teacher, one who was challenging because he wanted us to succeed rather than settle for mediocrity or the hollow acceptance of a good grade that was bereft of solid learning. Through the high expectations he had for his students, he made it clear that achievement was a process and that potential was ours to own. As a result, I began to recognize the potential he saw in me.
Whatever our area of expertise or responsibility, teachers at Trinity-Pawling are called to convey our passion for teaching through the relationships we forge and nurture with our students. In our work with our young men, we have the responsibility to relate to them that achievement is a process and potential is theirs to own. We are called to help our students cherish success and abhor mediocrity as we model this in our own work. We are called to ensure that we and our students understand that achievement bereft of learning is a weak foundation upon which to build and an unfulfilling way to move forward in life.
Such a call can be challenging as it takes time, effort, humility, and commitment to nurture these relationships. This call, however, is a tremendous opportunity for it beckons us to be better teachers and it leads us to advance a school that will be stronger tomorrow than it is today. Finally, this call can be a gift and a reward for it allows us to reach the young men whom we teach - challenging them to work toward the fullness of their potential and leading them toward a deeper appreciation of their gifts and talents as students and children of God. As we work to prepare for the next academic year, this call remains a bar toward which all educators at Trinity-Pawling must aspire as we help prepare the boys whom we teach to be leaders and young men of honor.
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