It is our custom to associate gifts with Christmas rather than to think of Christmas as a gift. In this custom we are not wrong, but fail to see deeply enough. The greater portion of our lives is spent negotiating how to move with greatest efficiency and advantage from one moment or situation to the next. We lead anxious lives. The young anticipate their next birthday while their elders, admonishing them for their haste, anticipate their next promotion or project. We live lightly in the present and heavily in the past and future. This ambition to progress pays little heed to time or place. The days drift by and one satisfied objective is immediately succeeded by another. Eventually, death brings this drama to a close. What relief it is then that nature and man conspire to breathe greater meaning into this life with seasons, holidays, and other festivities. These events call us not only to rejoice, but as Winston Churchill once reminded his readers, to reflect. Christmas is such a time.

What students of history learn about Christmas is of a holiday so raucous that it was prohibited by religious and political authorities in early America. In Massachusetts from 1659-1681, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas and punishable by a fine of five shillings. Even as late as 1725, the Reverend Henry Bourne of England regarded the behavior of most celebrants as “a Scandal to Religion, and encouraging of Wickedness,” and that for the lower classes, Christmas was principally “a pretense for Drunkenness, and Rioting, and Wantonness.” Christmas, it might be said, was getting back to its Roman roots in Saturnalia. While Christians and non-Christians alike would eventually be successful in giving Christmas a more wholesome character, the holiday has remained a mixture of religious observance and secular mythogenesis. Common to both is an understanding of Christmas as calling men to charity.

Francis Bacon wrote in his essay on goodness that, “The desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall; the desire for knowledge caused men to fall; but in charity there is no excess, neither can angel or man come in danger by it.” Indeed, we cannot come to danger by it, but we often think the essence of charity lies in treating strangers and paupers well. Charity though, what early Christians regarded as caritas, borrowing from the earlier Greek γάπη, meant something closer to treating others with affectionate regard.

Normally charity is remarkable for its lack of fanfare. The quieter and more inconspicuous, the more noble. Christmas, though, is a festival of giving. It is loud and colorful. It is festooned with ornaments and decorations, beautiful music announces its arrival, and the smells are so unique that we remember them late into our adulthood. Whereas charity at other times of the year is done with dutiful sobriety, charity at Christmas is done joyfully with a clap on the back. It is not a charity reserved for the stranger in the street, but is most particularly shown to those we are likeliest to take for granted. While no one is excluded, Christmas calls us home to our friends and family. While the religious element adds depth, largeness of heart does not come only from those who keep or profess a faith. Christmas does not require that we be especially talented, deeply intellectual, or particularly devout – only that we be generous. Each of us, no matter our station or circumstances, has something with which to be generous, even if it is only a bit of the time with which we have all been apportioned.

With this time, we bake, string lights, put up the tree, put out the decorations, light the candles, sing songs, play music, listen to the choir sing; we put down our work, play on the floor with the small children, go ice skating, drive through lit up neighborhoods, build a snowman, and watch our children make snow angels. We wrap presents, buy a poinsettia, put on a Christmas movie, cozy up with a cup of hot chocolate and a stack of books we have read a dozen times before. We drink cider, and eggnog, hot toddies and stout, we laugh with friends, exchange gifts, light the incense, put the cookies out, and hang the stockings with care. Somewhere in the midst of this, preparations cease to be preparations for the next thing and become instead a participation in this thing – participation in the present. The things we have given do not matter so much as the good will we have shown, the mirthful spirit in which we have shared our time, the hugs and laughing, and the bread we have broken. That a holiday exists that calls us to peace, to pause, to behave charitably towards one another in a celebratory rather than an obligatory way – it is in this that we realize the gift of Christmas.

 

D. Anderson

Principal

This Principal’s Perspective was originally published in December 2016.

American history has always been given pride of place within the curriculum at Ridgeview. Our country’s culture and history are given this sort of attention because whatever else our students may go on to become, very nearly all of them will go on to become American citizens. As a recipient of our fellow citizen’s tax dollars, we believe we are uniquely responsible for ensuring that our youth are suitably educated. The prominent placement of two American flags in the lobby serves to show that Ridgeview teaches the whole of American history. The flag on the left is that of the American Republic, which lasted up until the Civil War. The flag on the right is the flag of the American Nation, which has lasted through to the present day. Between these two flags there is a tremendous amount of history that every citizen ought to know, and periodically passersby will see our kindergartners seated before these two flags learning a portion of that history.

The academic awards on the opposite wall, as well as on the wall to the far right, name the recipients of Ridgeview’s academic and character awards. The Students of the Quarter plaque in particular demonstrates well what Ridgeview prizes most – character. A theme throughout this tour is that character matters more than either academic accomplishment or intellectual acumen. When deciding the student of the quarter, faculty are asked to weigh not only who is doing best in their classes, but who understands best the motivating spirit of Ridgeview’s ethos, who has contributed most to its culture, and not only who has done well for themselves, but who has exhibited true Hoplite spirit in bringing others along with them.

As we proceed towards the PAC, one will notice to the right of the doors a large plaque with a lengthy quotation in Greek from Plato’s Republic. While it is translated into English for visitors, it is initially left in Greek to give students a greater appreciation for the beauty of that language. Like so much of Ridgeview’s décor, neither is its placement incidental. It is through these doors that every student who wishes to graduate with the Hoplite emblem on their diploma must eventually proceed to deliver their senior thesis. The passage reads as follows:

Every single one of us has to give his undivided attention – to the detriment of all other areas of study – to trying to track down and discover whether there is anyone he can discover and unearth anywhere who can give him the competence and knowledge to distinguish a good life from a bad one, and to choose a better life from among all the possibilities that surround him at any given moment. He has to weigh up all the things we’ve been talking about, so as to know what bearing they have, in combination and in isolation, on living a good life. What are the good or bad results of mixing good looks with poverty or with wealth, in conjunction with such-and-such a mental condition? What are the effects of the various combinations of innate and acquired characteristics such as high and low birth, involvement and lack of involvement in politics, physical strength and frailty, cleverness and stupidity, and so on. He has to be able to take into consideration the nature of the mind and so make a rational choice, from among all the alternatives, between a better and a worse life.

It is this that the student who once sat in front of the flags contemplating his country’s history will eventually have to decide for himself: how ought I to live. That everything that is done here is done with this in mind is one of the centerpieces distinguishing a Ridgeview education.

D. Anderson

Principal

Ridgeview Classical Schools

Few who walk into Ridgeview for the first time in 2017 could imagine that it began life as a church in 1978. Upon entering through the front doors, students see the Hoplite logo inlaid in the flooring. It is a mascot first chosen by Ridgeview students in 2001. The ancient hoplites were primarily propertied farmers and artisans who owned their own armor, fought with a spear and shield, and were regarded as formidable because of their use of the phalanx formation. The classicist Victor Davis Hanson described the hoplites as “independent small farmers [who] had little free time or desire for constant drilling. Yet they came to battle with an abundance of courage, if not controlled recklessness, and possessed a spirit of camaraderie with those of the same class and background…these men were natural hoplites, in short, awesome soldiers turned loose to battle on their own turf, the farmlands of Greece, men to whom Pericles in his famous funeral oration was no doubt referring when he said they ‘would rather perish in resistance than find salvation through submission.’” For Ridgeview’s students, the Hoplite represents the free individual’s capacity to think and act independently in times of peace and to work with unbreakable resolve in times of crisis.

As one looks up from the floor, a stone tablet can be seen hanging prominently between the reception and attendance desks. The inscription carries one message in three languages. Across the top of this stone is Ridgeview’s Latin motto – Veritati Virtutique Dedicatum, which means “dedicated to truth and virtue.” For a school that proposes to study the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and to place a priority on what Matthew Arnold described as “the best which has been thought and said,” there is little else that a school such as Ridgeview could dedicate itself to. Latin, moreover, was the most appropriate language for this message, because it is not a dead language, but a timeless one. It is how we speak to one another when we wish to be heard across millennia. Beneath this is a list of the character pillars Ridgeview regards as essential: citizenship, courage, cooperation, perseverance, honesty, integrity, respect, and responsibility. These topics are taken up again and again, from kindergarten through the senior thesis, across all subjects, and as much in parent reading groups as Socratic seminars. At the bottom of this tablet is an inscription in Greek from a fragment of Heraclitus: θος νθρώπ δαίμων – character is destiny. It is a reminder not that Big Brother is watching, but that what we choose to make of ourselves will determine the kind of lives we lead.

The lightboxes in the wall opposite this stone tablet change periodically, but each picture serves to represent the community Ridgeview students have forged not out of the happenstance of districting, but through shared endeavors. Such endeavors range from the flush of victory at Science Bowl or Mock Trial to the triumph of summiting one of Colorado’s fourteeners. Our community – our Hoplite community – is composed of plucky individuals fortunate enough to be exposed to and reminded of the interconnectedness of the intellect and one’s character.

 

D. Anderson

Principal

Ridgeview Classical Schools

Students and faculty spend an inordinate amount of time on Ridgeview’s campus. For those whose sense of awareness has been dulled by exposure, it is merely a building, a campus, a piece of property. Over time, it becomes simply, and somewhat pathetically, “just Stuart and Lemay,” as a parent once explained to me. Unless it causes some offense, our humble surroundings are given scant and usually utilitarian attention. When called to reflect upon our facilities, some might wish for furnishings, artwork, and architecture better suited to the aims and ideals of the institution. “If only we had more money,” some might think, but in general, even those district schools that have much larger budgets generally do little with it that is inspiring. They discard their books, buy more computers, and build better athletic facilities. If they are better than us, it is chiefly in that their facilities better reflect what they find most ennobling whereas ours reflect the pragmatics of always deficient coffers.

Nevertheless, efforts have been made for our building to tell our story. In addressing the importance of architecture, the French writer Alain de Botton noted that, “Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.” Architecture and ambience, in this light, are similar to the objectives we have in mind by requiring a particular standard of attire. According to our premise, the attitude brought to a task is at least partially determined by the type of place in which that task is carried out.

Court houses and churches both set particular types of expectations, but a school, is too often designed like a prison. If it is our aim to inspire a reverence and respect for knowledge and wisdom, it does little good to conscript children for social experimentation, mandate universal, free, and compulsory education, and then see it housed in places destitute of beauty or inspiration.

As a charter school, we pay for our autonomy in part by receiving less per student than our district school counterparts. However, it might also be the case that our facilities, though more meager, are less sterile and less devoid of the potent symbols relevant to knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

In a series of Principal’s Perspectives to be published over the coming months, a complete tour will be provided of Ridgeview’s facilities. It is hoped that in so doing, students, parents, faculty, and staff will gain a better understanding of the various ways in which the building reflects the aims and ambitions of a classical, liberal arts education and endeavors to be the type of place in which we become the type of people who gladly and cheerfully pursue such noble aims.

D. Anderson

Principal

Ridgeview Classical Schools

 

 

A remarkable holiday is now before us, and it is one that speaks to our sense of American exceptionalism in a way few holidays do. The event we have mythologized and romanticized occurred in 1621 and lasted for three days as a group of English Dissenters and Wampanoag Indians came together for a great feast. The idea of a thanksgiving was not new to them. Thanksgivings were days of prayer thanking God for blessings before they were days of feasting. Our Thanksgiving only took on its political and legal form in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln decreed it in the midst of the Civil War. He was responding to a plea from Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who had petitioned a long string of presidents to create a single, national day of thanks. President Lincoln, unlike his predecessors, did so in quick order and his secretary of state, William H. Seward, wrote the proclamation on Lincoln’s behalf. Seward’s proclamation was as follows:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

I would encourage all of us to embrace Thanksgiving and to make it real within our homes this year. It can be a day on which we unashamedly realize our most Rockwellian sentiments, and allow our nostalgia to triumph. It can be a day on which political and familial squabbles subside long enough for us to breathe freely of the crisp autumn air, to take in the scents of a home-cooked meal, to converse with neighbors and old friends and delight in our children, our health, and our good fortune.

The holiday will be celebrated in different ways of course: some will watch the parade or the game on television, or worship, or volunteer; but, it is likely that each of us has something to be thankful for and someone to thank for it. Take the time to thank them. Set aside your pride and fears of awkwardness. Demonstrate to others that you acknowledge you would be less if it were not for them. Make room in your heart, if not your home, for those who have less, and give them cause to give thanks as well.

These moments are so scarce that it gives us all the more reason to mark them well and make them the bearers of cherished memories. The type of day you have is up to you. Eat too much, drag out the board games and the cards; throw the football in the yard until you fingers are numb with cold, and the let the young ones play in the piles of leaves. Build a fire, grab an old novel, put up your feet, and rejoice in the material and immaterial abundance by which you are surrounded.

As you pinch yourself awake to claim that final piece of pie, look to the future and know that it is also a day of hope. It is a hope, easily mocked, but heartfelt nonetheless, that there will yet be more to be thankful for.

Enjoy your turkey, your family, and wine in good cheer and good company. Realize the myth and revel in gratitude, charity, and hope.

D. Anderson
Principal
Ridgeview Classical Schools

The Spring is like a young maid
That does not know her mind,
The Summer is a tyrant
Of most ungracious kind;
The Autumn is an old friend
That pleases all he can,
And brings the bearded barley
To glad the heart of man.

This time of year makes it remarkably clear how fortunate we are to live in Colorful Colorado. It makes it much easier as a school to exhibit a life lived in harmony with the seasons. It is a life that celebrates not only our unique setting, but also the notion that the education of the parent body is no less crucial than that of the student body. While our efforts are often presented as academic, we recognize that education proper continues outside of the classroom and long after classes have concluded. We endeavor to be an institution that acculturates, ennobles, and edifies, and we are acutely conscious that our efforts to foster wisdom are tied to the experiences our students carry with them from all aspects of their lives.

Ridgeview is a community in earnest. The parent book groups, the Senior Lock-In, and Humanities Day are all expressions of this. Each demonstrates that an education can be had here by anyone humble enough to learn. For instance, the parents in the weekly book group have worked through understanding what is meant by shared inquiry, discussed Robert Hutchins’ sense of what the great conversation entails, and dissected E.D. Hirsch’s idea of cultural literacy. The monthly parent book group recently finished reading three short essays by Seneca, and it was clear from our conversation together that the most affecting of these essays was the one entitled On the Shortness of Life. Herein, Seneca discusses mankind’s continual longing for leisure, the benefits of a liberal education, and our general inability to make a short life feel as though it were long and fulfilled. Seneca writes that when we are looking forward to some type of amusement, we “want to leap over the days between. Any deferment of the longed-for event is tedious…Yet the time of the actual enjoyment is short and swift, and made much shorter through [our] own fault.” Continuing on later in the text, Seneca writes that, “They lose the day in waiting for the night, and the night in fearing the dawn.” It is a wonderful text made more wonderful by conversation among lively and intelligent people, but it also highlights why we should wish to be a school that lives its life in harmony with the seasons.

In contemplating the season just begun, many consider it only as the miserable end of summer or the dreary prelude to ski season. Too many are mingling in the past or anxiously awaiting the future at the expense of the present. “Life is long,” wrote Seneca, “if you know how to use it.” Here is our present, a season of corduroys, sweaters, flannel, down duvets, and heavy quilts. A polychromatic season of changing leaves, and not only the Aspens, but the Sugar Maple, Cottonwood, Oak, Black Tupelo, Sourwood, Sassafras, and Sweetgum. The Aster, Toad Lily, Goldenrod, Russian Sage, Sunflower, Helenium, Autumn Crocus, Monkshood, and Witch Hazel are all in bloom, and split wood, straw bales, gourds, and pumpkins lend timeless beauty to our land. It is a bountiful season of foods and smells. Caramel apples, pumpkin spice, cinnamon, cardamom, sweet potatoes, lingon berries, meaty stews, game birds, cider, baked breads, ginger cookies, freshly split pine, squashes, cranberries, plums, pears, toffees, and roasted chestnuts. It is a season of hunting, pheasant, quail, grouse, chukars, teal, ducks, geese, and wild turkey. It is a season of plentiful fishing, beautiful day hikes, corn mazes, and haunted houses. It is a season for making leaf prints, carving jack-o’-lanterns, and making a big mess with papier-mâché. It is a season for reading Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Stoker’s Dracula, Shelley’s Frankenstein, or even Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Notebook. It is a season that has inspired wonderful music like Vivaldi’s L’autumno, Haydn’s Autumn, Tchaikovksy’s September, October, or November movements, Joseph Joachim Roff’s Symphony No. 10, George Whitefield Chadwick’s String Quartet No. 4, and Gustav Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite. It is a season for putting on a pot or brewing a cup of coffee and settling down with a good view of the wind blowing the leaves around to read Brontë’s Tennant of Wildfell Hall, Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Doyle’s The Hounds of the Baskervilles, Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, or du Maurier’s Rebecca. It is a season for poetry that appeals to the young and old. Consider Robert Frost, John Keats, Christina Rossetti, or even Shakespeare’s Song of the Witches from Macbeth.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

What child, giddy with the promise of Halloween, would not delight in this being their introduction to the greatest bard of the English language?

This is a season for being with our families, listening together, reading together, talking together, and simply being together. Life is short, but it is for us to learn how to use it, and as parents and teachers, to impart a way of using it that it makes it fulfilling. Appreciation of the world around us and all that it contains is but a beginning, but it is one that we are honored to have a part in this autumn. We invite you all to join us, whether in our reading groups or the many events we host throughout this delightful season.

Note: This piece was originally published on October 3, 2016.

Over the past three weeks it has once again become clear how Ridgeview is different and what it is that makes it special. While children throughout America will spend a minimum of fifty percent of their waking hours between the ages of five and eighteen in a school, Ridgeview’s students and families unarguably get more for their investment. For any student willing to avail himself of the opportunities and test himself against the rigors of a classical, liberal arts curriculum, Ridgeview remains an undiminished beacon.

Throughout our faculty training, we were introduced to passionate, positive, and enthusiastic teachers who had come from Indiana, Massachusetts, California, and elsewhere to be at Ridgeview. Not simply to teach somewhere, but to be here; and not only to teach, but to start clubs, create new electives, go on camping trips, and share in the hundreds of adventures our students will partake in over the next twelve months.

They have seen the photographs of our students summiting fourteeners, playing paintball with their teachers, spelunking, or completing a ropes or land navigation course. They hear about a school that begins teaching Latin in kindergarten, that introduces students to the Greek alphabet in third grade, that emphasizes phonics, cursive, primary texts, Socratic discussions. They are intrigued by a school that does not beleaguer their teachers with requirements for daily lesson plans and instead allows the personality and personal genius of the teachers to work within a framework to engage students, create memories, and change lives. They are surprised that a place still exists that rejects the Common Core and the myriad of other educational fads that have made a wasteland of so much of public education, or that having taken the risk to get a serious degree does not prohibit their employment at Ridgeview. Here, their intellectuality and curiosity are advantages, and we engage them in discussions about John Adams, the American founding, the notion of patriotism, the importance of imagination, the difference between schooling and education, the enduring relevance of culture, the manner in which one teaches and the ways in which one learns, and the challenges of modernity and relativism. Throughout our faculty seminar reading, we treat teachers like adults and foster the sorts of conversations with them that we wish to see them foster in our children.

Over the course of the coming year, we will leave our classrooms open to members of our community. We invite you not only into our classrooms, but into our community whether by attending the parent reading groups that occur both weekly and monthly, the various events that see us drawn together whether they be concerts, recitals, principal’s coffees, the Turkey Shoot, or any of the other multitudinous events that showcase our incredible curriculum, our talented teachers, as well as the commitment of our community and the enthusiasm of our volunteers. There are many new faces with us this year, and I encourage everyone to make your introductions and find some way to support the remarkable project that is again underway at Ridgeview Classical.

D. Anderson

Principal

Welcome parents and students, faculty and staff, friends, neighbors, and all others who are joining us today to celebrate the achievements of these thirty-two students.

Welcome also to a venue that, while new to us, is a place familiar with the grand purpose of such occasions. In 1889, when this building was opened, the students studied what might today be called a classical curriculum. Students at that time were asked, “Do you desire to become a better, more learned person?” Students at Ridgeview today are asked: “What will justify your life?” Students at this school, in the 1890s, studied English analysis and composition, arithmetic, bookkeeping, American history, drawing, rhetoric, American literature, algebra, geography, government, general history, physics, moral training, physiology, botany, geometry, Latin, English literature, chemistry, political economy, astronomy, trigonometry, and music. The boys took classes in military tactics and there was an indoor rifle range in the basement. In 1889, there were forty students, and by 1891, there were just four graduates – one boy, and three girls. Then, the class motto was Ad astra per aspira – through hardships to the stars. Today, Ridgeview’s official motto is Veritati Virtutique Dedicatum – dedicated to truth and virtue, and its unofficial motto, πάθει μάθος– we learn by suffering. Then, the school’s colors were blue and yellow. Ridgeview’s are blue and gold. Interestingly, a local man named Robert Pike wrote a history of this school in which he ended the chapter on the school’s curriculum with this thought: “A return to the past can only lower the overall quality of education.”

Ridgeview’s mission and philosophy is predicated on the idea that only with a knowledge of the past can one properly prepare for the future. Today, however, we consider the past, the present, and the future of ourselves and the young people whom we have shepherded out of adolescence. Today is about them in one way, and in twenty or so years, it will be about them in another. All the moments of their childhood that we could have more fully taken in, regardless of how thoughtful or deliberate we have been, are coalescing. It is the rare man or woman who has no regrets over a flash of their temper, a missed opportunity, or some lingering regret about a thoughtless cruelty. If we have committed ourselves to our careers to provide materially for our children, we regret that we did not take more time with them; if we have given more time, we tend to worry that we ought to have provided more materially. Paternalism is fraught with endless anxieties. Our children move on now, as much a product of our careful deliberations as of our incautious expediencies. It is a thousand childhood moments from their first laugh to their first word, from their first genuinely kind deed and the clothes they outgrew to the toys that were discarded along the way. Today marks a moment when we move from first steps, first dates, and first hurt feelings to a moment in which pride is comingled with a sinking feeling in our chests as we imagine the vacant room, the empty place at the table, and the quietness that replaces mundane conversations. It is a childhood that can never be regained, and though revisited by swiping through the photos on our phones, it is a childhood that can never be amended, corrected, or brought to a more perfect or ideal form. We move from a life in which we have been chaperones, directors, and organizers to one in which we are observers of the work we have wrought. Our actions, all past, matter. Marcus Aurelius was correct in noting that “what we do now echoes in eternity.” What we have done manifests itself in their temperament, character, attitude, and the possibility that they will live happy and fulfilled lives. Nor does it end with them, the manner of our living will inform these same qualities in the grandchildren and great-grandchildren we may not live to meet. While it is difficult to remember in the moment, every moment has mattered.

Jonathan Swift, in his most famous satire, has Gulliver encounter Lilliputians who remark upon the foreigner’s obsession with time. In removing his watch, they remark that, “We conjecture that it is either some unknown animal, or the god that he worships; but we are more inclined to the latter opinion.” The Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov gets to the crux of our issue with time. He begins his autobiography by noting that, “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour).” Nabokov may be right or wrong about those two abysses, but our mortal lives are winding down from the moment they begin, and we are forever trying not to miss appreciating the most poignant parts. The French ophthalmologist Louis Émile Javal intensely studied the way in which people read, and identified what he called saccades, in which the eyes did not flow fluidly over text, but moved jerkily along resting in one position and then another. We are in much the same situation concerning our sense of attention and memory. Attention is a matter of learning how to think, which implies exercising control over how and what we think. As David Foster Wallace asserted, “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” We are not Sherlock Holmes – our attention, and our memory, are imperfect. The ways we wish we would have behaved, the moments we wish we could relive, and the sense that the present might be different were our past better, plague even the best of us. As Milton put it, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” The poet in Beowulf gets its mostly right in contending that, “Every life has more than enough sadness and more than enough joy.” None of us, if we have any capacity for reflection, can be perfectly content with our past, but we can, as one modern author suggested, treat our minds as we would a private garden and be careful and deliberate about what we introduce and allow to grow there. Our time may be finite, but what it means to us and holds for our future is for us to determine. One thing is certain, appreciation requires attention.

The past being what it is, we want to be present in this moment for our children, but it is not the same moment for us as it is for them. In what the Greeks called Kairos, we see designated “all the possibilities within a given moment.” Clearly, based upon our experiences, what is possible for us in this moment is not possible for someone without these experiences. In our pursuit of serenity, we yearn to live in the moment, but as André Maurois wrote, this state or “combination of phenomena which occupies a person’s consciousness at a given moment,” for an unchanged duration seems inconceivable. “If it is a question of another person, death may intervene; if of music, the music will cease; if of a book, its last page will eventually be read.” The philosophies, or even therapies as they might be understood, such as Stoicism and Epicureanism were “intended to provide a cure for anguish, and to bring freedom and self-mastery, and their goal was to allow people to free themselves from the past and the future, so that they could live within the present.” The great Russian littérateurs like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pasternak regarded these as the accursed questions – the ones that all human beings had to contend with, and only by grappling with them could they grow in wisdom. These were questions that neither schooling nor the experiences of others could wholly prepare one for, and such questions, issues, and ideas became the centerpieces of their novels. We want our children prepared to face these confrontations, for them to appreciate properly in the present and minimize guilt in the future, and to have the capacity to focus on what matters most. One of the ways that we have given them to achieve this is through slow reading and the enjoyment of things partaken in for themselves. Virginia Woolf, in “How Should One Read a Book?” wrote,

Are there not some pursuits that we practice because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards – their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble – the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

An enjoyment of the present and a realization of the possibilities in it, has as one of its requisites that we are able to do a thing without recourse to an ulterior motive – for joy, for play, for satisfaction. Our life in the present is a matter of what we are paying attention to. As the psychologist Winifred Gallagher writes, “At any one moment, your world contains too much information, whether objects, subjects, or both, for your brain to ‘represent,’ or depict clearly for you. Your attentional system selects a certain chunk of what’s there, which gets valuable cerebral real estate and, therefore, the chance to affect your behavior. Moreover, this thin slice of life becomes part of your reality, and the rest is consigned to the shadows or oblivion.” In this moment, think of everything that your children have accomplished and all that you hope they will do and become. See them here before you, compare them in your mind to the moment when you first held them in your arms, then their swaddling blankets and now their gowns. Let this moment be appreciated with as much intensity as that with which you cherish those memories.

As they prepare to join the ranks of Ridgeview’s alumni, consider their future and your own. How shall we see our future selves? Are we apart from or a part of something? We can conceive of two very different conceptions. First, the sixteenth-century poet Sir Edward Dyer who wrote of sovereign self-sufficiency as follows:

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
Which God or Nature hath assigned.

Do we really intend to propose that we are so complete? That we take so little inspiration and have so little impact upon our fellows? Contrarily, is our condition better described by the seventeenth-century poet John Donne?

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thy friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

If we perceive ourselves – parents, teachers, and students – as interconnected, our vision of the future appears very different than if we perceive ourselves entirely self-reliant, atomistically individual. In order to appreciate these interconnections, we must continuously cultivate the skills we have developed for reading. More attentive readers will mean more attentive people, but this sort of attention is not our default condition. As Alan Jacobs notes, “as long as we have had readers we have had readers frustrated by their inability to concentrate.” As Jacobs continues, “Reading is a way of connecting with others, but the connection is an odd combination of the intimate and the virtual: if we say that when Machiavelli entered his study there was really no one there, we speak a half-truth. In a way he sat there alone; in another way he enjoyed the best of company.” Reading’s relevance to the kind and quality of our future is its ability to show us our relation to not only those alive, but to all of those who have ever lived. In becoming attentive to this, we habituate ourselves to overcoming our mental sloth.

There is much that has the potential to distract us from this sort of attention, and none more problematic than social media. It has been described as the anesthetic of loneliness, but when its novelty fades, what is revealed is a state difficult to discern from certain addiction behaviors. It is fair to describe the various digital interferences in our lives as the chief distraction from the sorts of things that we will later most regret not having given our attention to – namely, our children. In Adam Alter’s book Irresistible, he cites a psychologist named Catherine Steiner-Adair who studies the effects of digital media on children. She wrote that, “many American children first encounter the digital world when they notice that their parents are ‘missing in action.’ ‘My mom is almost always on the iPad at dinner,’ a seven-year-old named Colin told Steiner-Adair. ‘She’s always ‘just checking’. Penny, also seven, said, “I always keep on asking her let’s play let’s play and she’s always texting on her phone.’” Instead of cultivating an online presence, we ought to be cultivating the qualities we suppose will produce individuals capable of appreciating what it is they are paying attention to.

After a decade’s worth of teaching, I was heartened to hear this year’s seniors thank the faculty for the work they have done on their behalf. I am heartened each time I hear our students thank their parents at the end-of-the-year concerts. I am heartened each time I hear our faculty thank their TAs and the parents who have volunteered. I wholeheartedly believe that there is little better than gratitude and few things worse than ingratitude. I am not alone in this. The eighteenth-century poet Samuel Garth wrote that,

That man may last, but never lives,
Who much receives, but nothing gives;
Whom none can love, whom none can thank,
Creation’s blot, creation’s blank.

And, Plautus who wrote that, “He is ungrateful who denies that he has received a kindness which has been bestowed upon him; he is ungrateful who conceals it; he is ungrateful who makes no return for it; most ungrateful of all is he who forgets it.” I, however, am grateful to work in a school wherein gratitude is a common currency. That it is, becomes a part of what signals our student’s capacity to appreciate and attend to the fact that they have others to esteem besides themselves.

If we want to complete our paternal role, we must recognize that it is not over – only changed. As I noted at the outset, we are moving from directing to observing, but we will continue to be emulated in intentional as well as unintentional facets of our behavior.

There is a story about an aging Roman soldier who was involved in a lawsuit that seemed likely to go against him. He stood to lose most of what he had, and left with little recourse, is said to have accosted his former commander, Augustus, in a public place, asking him to appear in court on his behalf. The emperor selected one of his men to appear on behalf of the man, but the soldier rolled back his sleeves to reveal his scars and shouted, “When you were in danger at Actium, I didn’t choose a substitute, but fought for you in person.”

There can be no substitutes. Our students will continue to confront real challenges and temptations. They will have whatever we have given them in their arsenal, but most of all they must have us, able defenders of those principles that are dearest. We must not assume that some other substitute – friend, teacher, or professor – may stand in our stead. In the Talmud, it states that, “The righteous promise little, and perform much; the wicked promise much, and do not perform even a little.” “Say little and do much,” it says in Sayings of the Fathers. So it is, our roles – parent’s as well as student’s –  have changed. We should live the advice we would give them, continue valuing what we have taught them is worth valuing, and take great pride in the magnitude of their accomplishment today. We must not let their capacity for attention, appreciation, and gratitude be dulled or diminished by the world’s apathy, and if it seems – ever – that this is asking too much from people so young, consider their theses. Consider that they wrote on focus, on attention, on gratitude, on balance, on beauty; that they contemplated self-reflection, service to others, adventure, self-confidence, and fulfillment; that they extolled love, self-examination, perseverance, the value of struggle, peace, freedom, moral sense, purpose, and harmony. When one considers with what they have filled their heads and what they have poured out of their hearts, it is not difficult to imagine a world made better by their involvement and participation in it. To answer the question posed to students in 1889, our students have desired to be better and more learned, and they have become so. In answer to the question we posed to them at Ridgeview, the answer is that they will justify their lives – by their attentiveness, appreciation, humility, charity, and gratitude.

Please join me in congratulating the Class of 2017.

Fourth Quarter – 2017

The end of this year will represent the end of middle school for many of you. The years between elementary school and high school can be some of the most difficult. This is not merely anecdotally true, but statistically validated. Several years ago, researchers looking for a way to predict who would excel at college and university culled through data trying to determine whether there was any single indicator. The obvious choices were high school GPA and various standardized test scores. What they ultimately settled on was a student’s performance in eighth grade, and as unorthodox an indicator as this might seem, I think that it actually makes fairly good sense.

The students who excel in university are not always the smartest people. I used to tell a story to my students about people being divided into gazelles and lions. Gazelles can find food virtually anywhere; they do not have to work hard for it. The lion does. It is always competing for its survival, and it must always work hard. There are some students for whom traditional academic subjects come quite easy. They glide from one success to the next. They may work longer hours, but those hours do not feel long because they enjoy what they are doing; and frequently, they enjoy it because they are already good at it. For other students, the time passes more slowly, the work is more difficult, it is a chore. However, because one student learns to push through, when it is not clear that there is anything truly riding on it, one habituates themselves to hard work. These people learn the value of persistence, which is something that will serve them more frequently than perfect grammar or algebra. It is almost an Americanism to want to cheer on the underdog and see them challenge the meritocracy that they are told exists.

In a quotation that is popularly attributed to Calvin Coolidge, someone wrote that, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

If the work has seemed difficult at times, or the subjects not to your taste, know that as long you as you are striving, you are acquiring the habit of persistence, which will serve you well in life. Now, the opposite of persistence is simply quitting. In life, as in all hard things that you attempt, there will be those who quit. I was fortunate this week to get to visit with one of our alumni who is currently training for a very elite unit within the Marine Corps. He noted that his group started with ninety men, and is currently down to just twenty-one. Now, the twenty-one remaining men have a choice: they can knuckle-down and commit themselves to finishing the course, or they can emulate those who are leaving and quit as well. Quitting, compared to trying, tends to look easy, but one has to live with it for much longer. There will be those who leave. Be polite, be civil, have a due regard for them, but do not emulate them. Be a finisher, not a quitter.

There is also much that warrants staying. There is comradery, there are trips, there is academic excellence, there are winning teams, a legacy of successful students, students who have come before you and attended prestigious universities and collected fantastic scholarships. The work is tough, but it is not too tough, and there are people who care to know you, to help you, to see you succeed here. But, the days in which you may depend upon your parents for your initiative are coming to a close. Those who will be successful are those who want to be successful. Do not ask others to care more for you than you care for yourself.

Today we celebrate not only those who will be called to the stage, but all those who have dared continue along this path. Who have committed to doing something difficult under their own initiative, and who have chosen to emulate the finishers rather than the quitters. At the head of this group are our students of the quarter. Our final student of the quarter this year is a young lady who is well-read and always polite. She is a hard worker who understands the value of persistence and perseverance. She has taken seriously the challenge Ridgeview poses to all of its students, whether by virtue of its academic rigor or the moral challenge posed by living up to its character pillars. She takes herself seriously, and she thinks seriously about others. It is my pleasure to announce Anne Rutherford as our student of the quarter.

At the end of each year, we like to acknowledge two students for their outstanding character. We obviously do this in part to encourage good character, but also to remind ourselves that we should not prize intellectual or academic achievement above character. The latter matters more, and as a faculty, we should always bear it in mind.

Our first character award goes to a young lady who has proven herself at Ridgeview in a fairly short span of time. She has been a Student Ambassador, an athlete, and a very strong student in the classroom. She has taken her subjects seriously, and she has taken her fellows seriously. She has helped where she can, served her school through the Ambassadors, and has the sort of initiative I discussed earlier. Please congratulate Hannah Harling.

Our second character award goes to a young man who many have perceived as somewhat bashful, but also as someone who is always polite, always attentive to what he ought to be doing, and a young man in the process of becoming a very good man. He studies hard, is willing to share his experiences with his friends and peers, gives every appearance of believing that his studies are worth his time and curiosity. Next year, he will serve his school as a Student Ambassador. Please congratulate Josiah Durrell.

Fourth Quarter Honors Assembly 2017

With the end in sight, a brief retrospective is in order. While I intend to speak at greater length and hopefully with greater force at the graduation this weekend, it is difficult not to address the seniors in everything one says at this time of year. While they are undoubtedly eager to partake in the banquet, pull off their prank, attend the picnic, don their robes, and receive their degrees, it is harder for those of us who have been inspired, frustrated, and encouraged by them over the years watch as they clear out their lockers and make their final preparations to be done with Ridgeview. Describing all of this as ‘bittersweet’ is patently cliché.

When one considers all that has gone into a year and the finite number that any of us are granted, time trips by almost unmercifully. We are very near the end, and those of us who teach here are well aware that what we do does not bear immediate fruit. The realization of what you have achieved here, whether in the past year, or over the past thirteen, will likely not sink in for some time to come. Nevertheless, I hope that when it does become clear what you have accomplished, what this place and these people have attempted to do for you, you will look back upon these years wistfully and with some measure of gratitude.

As much as you long for summer, I hope that you have enjoyed the year. If you have not, unfortunately, you have only yourselves to blame since happiness is largely a matter of attitude. It is easy to disregard that, to claim that circumstances beyond our control write our destiny, but there are seniors here who we will celebrate this evening and tomorrow afternoon who have demonstrated the verity of the Heraclitus’ assertion that character is destiny, and of Churchill’s that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Epictetus is right, of course, and it is our attitude towards events that we can control, not the events themselves. I am appreciative to all of the students, some of whom have endured things that it seems only a thoroughly unjust world would force them to endure. In so enduring, to those of us who are observant, patient, curious, self-examining – their perseverance and endurance show us what we might be and the possibility of surmounting all that is placed before us. They become our ablest teachers.

For all of those who have been recognized, and for all of those who struggled without being acknowledged, I appreciate you for being good mentors to one another, for carrying yourselves with dignity and self-respect; for looking after your peers, and for thinking of others more than yourselves. I am grateful to you for setting yourself to something difficult, challenging, and in many ways, something unforgiving. Ridgeview’s curriculum, its manner of study, the introspection it requires, the undiluted realism that it asks us to encounter the world with – none of these are perfectly synchronous with the mercuriality of one’s teenage years. That you do as well as you do would be commendable in itself; that you often do exceptionally well in this, speaks volumes about the quality of your character. So, to all of you, thank you for being here and for persisting in hard work at a turbulent time in your young lives.

Our final student of the quarter for the year is a young man of many abilities. Others have known him far better than I have, but they have been clear in their praises. As a singer, as an athlete, as a friend. I have tried to think of some instance in which I heard someone say something disparaging about him, or allude to some dirt they might have on him, and I can think of nothing. His senior thesis made me think about attention, focus, and flow for the past month, and I appreciate his congeniality, affability, and good cheer. Please join me in congratulating Mr. Logan Broedner.

The faculty have met and thought hard about the students we would like to acknowledge with this year’s character awards. These meetings with the faculty are always interesting in that each of us has had a slightly different relationship with any given student. None of us has all of the pieces, and even were we to have all the pieces, our judgment would hardly be infallible. Nevertheless, our student’s character is essential to our ability to sustain and propagate Ridgeview’s unique culture. Neither can our classrooms look like they do nor our conversations proceed as they do if this culture is not maintained. Consequently, it is a matter of some importance to us to take a moment and acknowledge the moral stamina of some of our students in contributing to a positive culture.

First, I would like to acknowledge a young man who has consistently been a good man. He has, of course, done well. Were this all he had done, his tenure here would be unremarkable and merit only mention in passim. Instead, I think that he has endeavored to be conspicuously moral. That is, he was aware of himself and his actions, as well as the events that took place around him, and scrutinized them for their ethical significance. While he and I have disagreed a couple of times, my opinion of him has not been diminished by these disagreements because of the way he comported himself. It is obvious that he takes himself and others seriously, that he approaches life with optimistic good cheer, and attempts to be good in all that he does, whether that is being a friend or a conscientious student. This first of this year’s character awards goes to George Smith.

Second, I would like to acknowledge a young woman whose enthusiasm has rarely waned. Like George, she seemed conscious of what she was doing and how she could be perceived in each moment. Some would see in this a falseness, but I think that we ought to have a regard for whether we are endeavoring to be our best selves, even if sometimes we have to pretend until it takes a deeper hold of us. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Would we preference the company of the malcontent because they were authentic over the company of the person who was trying hard to be better amidst the chaotic swirl of circumstances inclining one to the contrary? I think that others are often given the courage to see the world as it can be by those pretending that it already is. If it is pretense, I hope that it is contagious and that we are all emboldened to be better by it. This is what I have seen in this young woman, and it is for this reason that the second of this year’s character awards goes to Grace Westfall.

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