Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

Following the inauguration of a new President of the United States, what better time to reflect on the founding principles of this country? 'We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men [and women, incidentally] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness'. Ah, goosebumps!

Last week it was brought to my attention that Jefferson (and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence) was basing his ideas of 'happiness' on Aristotle's 'Ethics', of which he owned a heavily annotated copy (in the original Greek, of course). This isn't any surprise - of course Jefferson studied Aristotle. It was expected at that time. What is more enlightening is to think about what Aristotle actually meant by the concept. He used the word 'eudaimonia', (which if you break it up must surely mean 'spirit of good'), and he interpreted it as human flourishing, self-actualization, knowing who you are and what you believe and having the courage to live according to your beliefs. That is the principle that was invoked in the Declaration of Independence, and interestingly enough it is also the principle we invoke at Summers-Knoll when we talk about a child's happiness. What we are seeking here is not the superficial happiness of every child at every minute of the day, a happiness brought about by having everything go smoothly, never coming into disagreement or irritation with another child, never having to try anything demanding or disagreeable, never having to experience conflict. To aim for that kind of happiness would be a huge disservice to our children. Watch Will's students responding to stories written by Sudanese refugees, or debating the meaning of life as they prepare for class. Watch Elaine's students racing to read books that will bring donations to kids in need. Watch Susan's class in math grappling with concepts of fairness (or unfairness) as they learn about probability. Watch them find power in helping each other through their 'Tribes' activities. Watch what they each come up with when they discover the intensity of Degas, or the ancient resonance of stories from Homer and Ovid. The happiness we're looking for here comes from self-actualization: the quest to become the most 'themselves' - and the best 'themselves' - that they can possibly be. We want to foster in our children the insatiable curiosity of the Elephant's Child (if you haven't read that story, it's a must. Look for it here), to help them grow to new awareness, new understanding, to develop in them the ability to think deeply, flexibly and creatively, to make connections, to explore their beliefs and have the courage to live accordingly, to discover passion in knowledge, skill, and service. (Albert Schweitzer famously said, 'The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.' I think his notion of happiness fits right in here.)

If you have a chance, go here, and listen to what Ben Dunlap (president of Wofford College) has to say about the living of a full life. The people he describes and whose stories he tells did not necessarily live the most comfortable lives. They experienced suffering and injustice - more than we may be equipped to understand. Their happiness certainly didn't come from getting everything their own way. They found fulfillment through a passionate, empathetic engagement with life and an unfailing curiosity and zest for new experience. That's what we're shooting for here: the pursuit of happiness as an open-hearted exploration of life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Inauguration Day

I opened up my blog to write about Inauguration Day, and found that Susan Carpenter had beaten me to it. I encourage all of you, no matter which classroom your child is in, to read her blog entry - it is relevant to everyone. History is being made right now - live in the moment! Experience it! No amount of school can be a substitute for that.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Annual Fund Thanks and Celebration

With deep respect and gratitude, I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the Summers-Knoll Annual Fund. We have raised an amazing $23,000 to support Summers-Knoll programs and operations. In the current economic climate, that figure is a huge indication of your support and belief in our unique little school. Thank you for your recognition and appreciation of the important place that Summers-Knoll fills in the educational community - this school truly is like no other in this area. You, our community, play a tremendous role in making our school what it is: your children are our raison d'├ętre, and your involvement in their education is a crucial part of our success.

I want to extend special thanks to Sunny and Steve Chapel, who funded a $5,000 match for donations in December. Sunny and Steve, I am always in awe of your involvement and commitment to the school. You share so much love, warmth, support, and wisdom with us, it is truly an honor to have your family be part of our community.

Our goal for the Annual Fund was $30,000. The generosity you have already shown has contributed hugely to our current financial stability and I am thrilled with the level we have reached. I am keen to continue the Annual Fund and maintain our goal of $30,000, with a focus on building scholarship funds with contributions from this time on. Summers-Knoll is passionately committed to supporting a diverse community of families and students, and currently has 23% of families receiving some level of financial aid. I will be fundraising for 2009-10 scholarships enthusiastically for the remainder of the year. If you have not yet contributed to the Annual Fund (or even if you have, but wish to contribute to this great cause) now is your moment!

Last but not least, Fran Loosen and Nick Giardino are very kindly hosting a thank-you party for contributors to the Annual Fund on Saturday January 31st . I am delighted to have this opportunity to celebrate with you. Watch for your invitation in your email!