Message from the Head of School
When I watch children get out of their morning carpools, I often think how complicated school and the enterprise of education can be. They arrive with their relative strengths and weaknesses, enthusiasms and worries, and a book bag full of expectations, only some of which they have packed, plus they are constantly changing and not all in the same ways or at the same pace. In their school day, they will encounter many of life’s timeless challenges: the need for motivation and perseverance, the values of friendship and the tests of character, individual differences and community norms. Those who describe or criticize schools often miss the complexity of everything that happens in school. For those of us who spend the day teaching children, our job is to embrace it.
I encourage you to dig deep in looking at Paideia School. There are many ways to compile information and perspective. On this web site and in other Paideia publications, there are enough words to fill an encyclopedia. Check with a variety of people who have attended Paideia or who have or have had children here. Come to prospective parent information meetings and ask questions; arrange for a tour with the admissions office. Look at school data you find relevant. Try to get a feel for the culture of the school and important dimensions of its intellectual and emotional climate. Consider some immeasurable things: the enthusiasm for learning apparent in students of all ages, the appreciation of diversity, the respect for excellence, the opportunity for service to others, and the natural flow of empathy.
A good school, like good teaching, is an art, and no school is perfect. Two generations of parents and teachers have joined together to build the best school we can, and we are committed to making it better with each passing year. We hope you get to know Paideia, and we welcome your interest.
Head of School
Paul Bianchi’s Graduation Address, May 16, 2021, Python Park
One thing students learn at Paideia, and they learn it well, is to begin an essay with a strong thesis statement. So let me begin here with a strong thesis statement: Congratulations, to you, the members of the Paideia School Class of 2021. Bravo! We are proud of you. And congratulations to your families, to your teachers, and to the larger school community. None of you signed up to spend your last 15 months of high school the way you have had to, but you have proceeded with endurance and great heart.
You are graduating from Paideia School. Being a school person, I, of course, want to ask the question, ‘What have all of us possibly learned from this experience?’. Teachers and heads of school never stray far away from the learning question. We always want to know what everybody is learning or has learned. But these are questions with complicated answers.
Paideia has never been a place that assumes that we all learn the same things, or learn in the same way, or with the same priorities. We believe that assumption in so-called normal times, and it applies even more so in abnormal times. Let me suggest some possibilities –my thoughts and what I have heard from some others.
First, I hope we have learned humility, how wrong we have been in understanding what was happening around us, and predicting what came next. I remember that first weekend in mid-March a year ago. We had called off in-person school for the next two weeks, but I decided that I would wait before canceling the final week of school before spring break. “We’ll probably be back in two weeks,” I remember saying to Brett Hardin. Brett smiled tolerantly, but it was so obvious that he thought I was nuts. However, having such a flawless record of calling off school over the years probably gave me confidence in my call.
I think many of us learned early on and have kept learning, how vulnerable we are: vulnerable to getting sick, vulnerable to experiencing a different kind of emotional turmoil than usual, vulnerable to the anxiety of being isolated.
We learned in profound ways how much we need each other. I’ve always known that about myself and have often said that I did not mind being alone as long as I had other people to talk to. However, even more self-reliant people than I struggled. When said out loud, asserting the need for other people seems like a P.G.O., a penetrating glimpse into the obvious. Of course, we need other people, individuals, and a larger community. Seeing the joy and relief when most high school students returned to campus a few weeks ago revealed just how obvious this penetrating glimpse is.
We have experienced the many things we have in common, and we have also become even more aware of the differences among us. It is impossible for me to think of this past year apart from Black Lives Matter, the racial reckoning that one tragedy triggered and then connected to the systemic racism that our society and most white people have ignored for far too long.
As a country and as a school, we have been challenged to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves, about the privileges many enjoy and some do not, about the pain that lands on some in our community and that others are oblivious to. It will take long-term dedication to face these uncomfortable truths and go about changing them, the same degree of dedication and courage shown by the young people who insisted passionately that we not avoid these truths. We have a lot of work to do, together.
Another lesson coming out of the past year is the unexpected fragility of our political system. I have a lifelong addiction to political history, but it never occurred to me that what happened on January 6 could happen in America. That day remains, for me, profoundly unsettling, and makes me worry about the democracy we are handing over to these young people in front of us.
One of the things I hope we all learned over the last months is the importance of honest introspection, the necessity to try as best we can to make sense of what is happening around us and to us. As we take off our masks, we will understandably wish to slide back into many previous routines. Our graduates will be in college hoping to leave ZOOM life behind and probably trying to make up for lost time.
We all look forward to getting out more, getting out physically and emotionally. I hope, however, that we do not remember the last year only as a bad dream. We also need to leave room to recall how it felt to wake up, and the different contours of the world we woke up to. Some of these realizations might come slowly or not be digested until later in our lives.
The extraordinary happenings of the last 15 months offer us an opportunity to know ourselves, which is, as you know, the foundational advice Socrates gave us centuries ago. It’s essential advice, whether or not one is part of a school community with a name and concept also emanating from the ancient Greeks.
For almost 50 years, I have had the privilege of awarding the Paideia School diploma. The diploma represents much hard work on your part, the faith your teachers have in you, the nurturance of your family, and the good wishes of the school community. I believe your perseverance and courage make this diploma even more meaningful this year.
I welcome you as graduates of Paideia School. Once more, congratulations.