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.

Ridgeview’s unabridged Latin credo is neque popularitati neque utilitati at veritati virtutique dedicatum. Translated into English, this means, “Dedicated not to popularity or utility, but to truth and virtue.” Herein, ‘dedicated’ does not have a commemorative sense. Instead, it expresses what individuals working and studying at Ridgeview are dedicating their lives to. These lives are not dedicated to what is popular, because what is popular is so rarely good. Neither is what is popular typically permanent; evanescence is almost a requisite condition of popularity, and Ridgeview is a celebration of permanent things. Moreover, an education chosen purely for practical or utilitarian ends, lacks the epistemological humility to be the one best suited to arranging human affairs, securing liberty, answering the accursed questions, or allowing individuals to develop their quiddities and explore the fullness of their potential. By contrast, we acknowledge that we are at work with those for whom this time may be the last time wherein every choice need not be determined according to strict economic calculations. This education, because it is holistic, must consider the totality of the person and not merely his role as a student. This pedagogy concerns not only how information is communicated, but in ascertaining what manner of living is best. It is an education that inculcates in people an interest in truth, and as such, acculturates them in a disposition anathema to apathy and relativism. It aims to produce people accountable to virtue who reject the solipsistic supposition that such ideas originate within them solely as a result of their own genius. Ridgeview is, as much by its rejection of popularity and utility as by its embrace of truth and virtue, committed to remaining a haven for those genuine individuals who want an education corresponding to their condition as such.

Ridgeview is an inadvertently countercultural institution. It is not idiosyncratic or eccentric for the sake of appearing different, but because we adhere to traditions and believe that education ought to convey a comprehension of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, Ridgeview appears out of step with society at large. While greater educational choice has resulted in an explosion of gimmicky curricula, Ridgeview has as the author of its curriculum the steady erosive power of time. What remains true or worthy of our contemplation after centuries, remains worth teaching. We persist in a belief that given a properly developed historical imagination, history can teach powerful lessons. We believe that there are forms of authority external to ourselves, and that it is foolish as well as dangerous to disparage religious conviction. We believe that virtues trump values, that there is a comprehensible order in the world, and that reason gets us a long way, but not all the way. We believe that we are obliged to treat one another as ends and not as means, and that our thoughtful and humane participation in the present determines our future.

This form of education is possible only by the combined and coordinated efforts of parents, teachers, and students. At base, the parent’s role in this is to behave paternally and support the style and manner of instruction they have chosen for their child. The teacher is expected to dress, speak, and conduct himself in a manner that shows that being here is a calling and not simply a vocation. The student must bring good character, curiosity, initiative, and work ethic. Each of these constituencies must have conversation as a common interest. Each must want Ridgeview to become the public square, a place of both study and deliberation, that exists for everyone’s edification. Each must be committed and contribute unabashedly to the greater public good. It is not enough for the administration or the faculty to endorse these goals – the community must live by them. We must all reject utilitarianism as an unsuitable end of education since despite our best laid plans, we cannot know what we will be. We may be a son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, father, mother, but these are circumstantial roles. Whether we are the best version of ourselves in any of these roles is determined by how we commingle knowledge with experience, and the manner in which we cultivate our life with some measure of wisdom. Wisdom is about how we will live, and how we will live is a more pressing concern than the comparatively narrow concern of how we will make our money. While money is necessary, and capable of great good, we must be prepared to live a good life whether riches come to us or not. We must develop the capacity to balance overlapping areas of our lives within the finite framework time and mortality impose. The intellectual, social, physical, spiritual, and mental aspects must all be fed, and what we feed these different dimensions of our lives informs our capacity for fulfillment, contentment, and Eudaimonia.

The cultivation of this community depends upon our not recklessly pursuing an ever-larger enrollment. There is a size beyond which we cannot do what we do. Our goals require a measure of intimacy. Instead of pursuing greater numbers, we pursue greater purpose. Those whom we are most desirous of, are those who understand clearest and are most grateful of what we offer. People who can be mindful, conscientious, appreciative, deliberative, considerate, respectful. These qualities are the precursors of wisdom, and the necessities of paternalism. That we insist on these, and eschew shallowness, pettiness, self-entitlement, apathy, pretentiousness, and ingratitude focuses us on our commitment to the development of both intellect and character, but always of character before intellect.

In this endeavor, we are ever conscious of posterity. Institutionally speaking, we do not live for today. The seeds we plant in education take time to yield the desired fruit, and we know that those with whom we work are not yet who they will finally be. Such a recognition calls for compassion and leniency, as well as the humility to acknowledge that there is much about our endeavor that is unknowable. Nevertheless, Ridgeview must have as its primary constituency people interested in leading a life of the mind. Those adults who are held up as models must live lives worthy of emulation. Each of us must have a regard for his surroundings. Where we study and what we write on our walls informs the culture we immerse ourselves in. The art we look at, the music we listen to, the books we read, the people we befriend – all of this is our education, and no part of it is insignificant. It is because of this that a vigilant regard for truth and virtue is at all times and in all things pertinent, and it is for this reason, that Ridgeview chooses these to which to dedicate all of its considerable efforts.

D. Anderson
Principal
Ridgeview Classical Schools

Thank you for coming this evening. It is easy to skip these types of events as our students are safely enrolled, the Board is safely seated, and our school safely re-chartered. God willing, the school will still be here on Monday when we drop off our children. I do not wish to heighten anxieties by contradicting any of this. There are, however, considerations about our school’s present and future, as well as concerns that extend beyond Stuart and Lemay.

I begin by acknowledging our good fortune. We have much to be appreciative of. For instance, Mrs. Calvert, Mr. and Mrs. Carvalho, and the many faculty who helped plan and organize the back-to-school camping trips for all our upper-school students. While a blazing fire and a night beneath the stars can be romanticized, there is little that is romantic about the position of school nurse, who nevertheless tends to minor wounds, dries countless eyes, takes temperatures, and hands out innumerable ice packs. Neither is there much glory or acknowledgement for the janitor’s Sisyphean endeavors whereby he carefully mops a section of floor only to watch hundreds of muddy shoes march across it as he nears the end of his task. Neither do our lunch monitors or TAs get the credit they deserve, much less the remuneration; yet, our children see tremendous kindness from them on a daily basis. The music teachers, Mr. Davis, Mrs. Cowan, Mrs. Faust-Frodl, and Mrs. Nichols, work with bashful children and bring out qualities in them that might have remained hidden for a lifetime. There are the ladies at our front desk who get sneered at by unpleasant people, but who, with an upturned heart, manage to smile at the sneerer’s child. We have elementary teachers who patiently wait until the last child is picked up, and who know, by this time of year, every vehicle, parent, and nanny. There are the upper-school faculty who have waded through hundreds of pages of student writing, marking every passage and every grammatical error, in the hope that the next draft will be a little less impoverished. We are blessed with wonderful elementary teachers who create conditions in which learning is possible and make available knowledge worth knowing. We have teachers with such a high reputation that our parents fear for their retirement, and we have teachers like Mrs. Schmidberger who hold themselves to high standards with projects like Veritas. We have parents who each morning who come to read with children, and in so doing, help to bestow the gift of literacy and all the treasures that attend it. We have a wonderful staff in the Resource Room and the Business Office who have had to work some days without heating or cooling or much appreciation. They have worked early and they have worked late in order to ensure everything carried on smoothly. We have an administrative team that have stepped up on more than a handful of occasions to save an event, or to go above and beyond in order to make someone else’s life easier. And, we have parents who show up to book groups on a weekly basis to do some important, but often difficult reading. Our last book, Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of a Tub, was by far the most vexing. Nevertheless, Zak Smith, Ian Rutherford, Alexandra Hobaugh, Kristina Menon, Kelly Trosper, and Genevieve Rives dutifully showed up and made what had been a frustrating read into a productive discussion. I am profoundly indebted to all of these people, and I am indebted to our Board of Directors for having given Ridgeview a marvelously stable foundation on which the rest of us are able to do our good work.

I would like to thank all of you who show up each morning, endure our parking lot, and provide us with a good reason to do what we do. The good news is that there is much that we are doing exceptionally well. Ridgeview has sometimes been regarded as ‘just’ a humanities school, which is attributable to a fading segment of the population who understand what a liberal arts education entails. In reality, Ridgeview has been exceptionally successful in mathematics, whether in Math Counts or the Colorado Math League. It has done well – even ranking nationally – in the High-School Science Bowl, and did tremendously well with its Middle-School Science Bowl team this year. In one ranking, Ridgeview even ranked higher as a STEM school than those who label themselves such a thing. Ridgeview’s students have done well in chess, with many state victories under their belt. We were impressive this year at the State Spelling Bee, at Mock Trial, in All-State Choir, All-State Orchestra, and the PSD Middle School Honor Orchestra. Our students have put on both a play and a musical every year since 2006. This year, seventy-one students were involved in our musical, The Mikado. We excelled in Mock Trial, and have appeared at state in four of the last five years. This year, we ranked ninth overall, and won two best witness awards thanks in large part to the help of Tom Martin, Karl Ayers, and Kristen Carvalho. Depending on which ranking one prefers, Ridgeview is either the top-ranked high school in Colorado or someplace in the top ten. The Class of 2017 collected a total of over $1.6 million in merit scholarships. Our high-school students earned 137 awards in the National Latin Exam, and for the first time, thanks to the efforts of Ms. Krause and Mr. Dahl, we sent five students to the Junior Classical League competition, and they earned a total of thirty ribbons between them. We have outperformed many schools with better resources and larger student bodies, but more importantly, our students are flourishing. We are also continuing to improve in our fundraising efforts, and I would be massively remiss were I not to acknowledge Amy Cohen and the other parent volunteers who helped to organize the Hoplite Hoedown. It was an extraordinary event, and our most successful ever. Also, because of Mr. Rhead’s efforts, we received a sizable grant from Otterbox that will help our students in engineering, programming, and robotics. Finally, another sizable grant from the Johnson-Hanson Foundation has made materials available for our students in the elementary that simply would not have been within our budget, and we extend our deep gratitude to them as well.

I would like to thank the parents who have made it to either or both of the new parent reading groups. These parents have met nearly every week since September to discuss some of the ideas central to Ridgeview’s curriculum. We have talked about shared inquiry and what is meant by Socratic discussion. We have worked through the ideas of numerous authors about what precisely is meant by classical education, looking at everyone from Dorothy Sayers and E.D. Hirsch to Eric Voegelin and Richard Livingstone. We have discussed virtue, and the ways in which it is different from values and the much-lamented values clarification programs. Here we have read from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and Cicero’s On Duties, and considered Claes Ryn’s notions of moral reality. We read about and discussed character, what it is and how to develop it. We looked at Kilpatrick’s Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, Lord Moulton’s Law and Manners, and C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. We are now embarked on a longer discussion about patriotism and its place in education. In the monthly meetings, we are working our way through the Penguin Great Ideas series. Parents have read and discussed Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Seneca, Montaigne, Thomas à Kempis, Swift, Machiavelli, and we are now set to explore Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Rousseau’s Social Contract later this month. Each of these parents has related to me privately about how the readings have altered and improved the conversations they have had not only with their children, but with their spouses and friends. It is an incredible thing to feed the mind on these texts, and each of us becomes better through discourse. If we truly believe that this manner of education is best for our children, how can it not also be the case that it does us well? Our community is strengthened by having such people in it, and I would heartily encourage you to join our circle wherein we are all students of one another’s.

Perhaps most incredible about Ridgeview’s accomplishments are that they have been achieved against a dreary backdrop, which is the state of education nationally and the state of educational choice and charter schools within Colorado. In a climate of disastrous educational schools, mills that turn out empty educational jargon, and even undergraduate programs that produce students who in many instances read at a lower level upon exiting than they did upon entering, finding teachers competent to teach in a school such as Ridgeview is a unique challenge. Too frequently, those who might have made for inspiring teachers either burn out within a few years or choose never to enter the profession to begin with. We live in a society in which nearly everybody wants for their child to have a great teacher, and in which nearly nobody wants for their child to become a teacher. If we look at Ridgeview’s challenges, among its greatest is that we need faculty who live by and model a noble creed, and we are forced to find them in a society that scoffs at creeds. We need teachers who do not simply have the work ethic to show up each day, but who feel as though they are answering their calling. We need teachers who hold high standards for themselves and their students in an age of mediocrity. We need people of hope in an age of apathy, and people for whom, self-examination is a way of living, when most the rest of the culture cannot distinguish it from self-centeredness. Against all of this, we see Ridgeview’s greatest asset, its rigorous curriculum and character development, as also its greatest liability. Ridgeview’s real nemesis is the relative ease of every other program with which it competes for students. At the most impressionable age, students are given the choice between doing what is easy and doing what is difficult, and they will for the most part make predictable choices, which makes those students who remain evermore impressive.

All of this is to say that it is hard – not that it is hopeless. Our community may be small, but it is not the case that Ridgeview stands alone upon the precipice. There is interest in the type of life we describe and teach about, and there is scattered evidence for this across the country and across the globe. It astounds me that there are thirty-four Amazon customers who thought it worth their time to write a review of Dostoevsky’s The Adolescent, or twenty-nine that wrote reviews of Hesiod’s still more obscure Theogony and Works and Days. Add to this the number of people subscribing to the Times Literary Supplement, the Claremont Review of Books, Literary Review, the New Criterion, and any number of other outstanding periodicals. How many challenging books remain in print? How many Ted Talks or podcasts can we find on an interesting topic? How many people are taking up a new language or purchasing books and videos from the Great Courses catalogue to remedy some perceived deficit in their learning? How many patrons of museums or orchestras? How many people writing a blog about trying to understand or better appreciate a work of art or music? A former student once told me, at a moment in which she was fearful she would not find a community like Ridgeview’s that, “Ridgeview had prepared her for a world that did not exist.” This community may be in diaspora, but it exists. There are curious people with inquiring and capable minds seeking out knowledge, not for its novelty, but for itself. It is for us to find them and the opportunities for conversation are manifold. Endless discussion may be had with which we can pass what leisure we have in this world with benefit and pleasure. Ridgeview’s contribution to the world is that it adds to this stock, and that many will benefit by our efforts who know not even our school’s name.

Towards these ends, Ridgeview has made numerous improvements. The addition of weekly and monthly parent reading groups, the periodic meetings with Student Council and Student Ambassadors to answer questions and put down rumors, and the fine tuning of the senior thesis project have all sought to remain answerable to our first principles in their own way. A larger percentage of our parents understand the intent and aims of a liberal arts education, our students better understand what it is that underlies the decisions we make as a faculty and an administration, and the seniors hopefully produce a more contemplative thesis. Our media presence, whether through our website or our social media platforms, has improved tremendously, and we will continue to work to bring due attention to our students’ achievements and accolades. In the coming months, we will be working to produce the second volume of the Ridgeview Reader, a curriculum sequence detailing the kaleidoscopic variety of topics studied at Ridgeview, and the publication of a prospectus for students interested in enrolling at Ridgeview. We will emphasize in these documents that though Ridgeview enrolls nearly 800 students, we are a school that strives to continue providing mentorship and instruction that feels intimate and personal. Mr. Rhead will continue to roll out an impressive array of technology courses in programming, robotics, and engineering. We will offer AP Biology, Chemistry, Physics: Mechanics, Physics: Electricity and Magnetism, Statistics, Computer Science A, Calculus AB, Environmental Science, and Computer Science: Principles. Additionally, we will continue growing the number of our faculty who are CU Succeed certified so that juniors and seniors will be able to obtain CU credit for an increasing number of interesting courses.

There is, then, this world before us, and there is this frame of mind, or inner life, that we can come to discover as a sort of metaphysical home. It is not, however, everyone’s vision of what education ought to be. There are those for whom the person is not an end, but the means of animating some vast machinery in which the individual is only dimly aware of his consciousness. His is a life not fit to live in our sense of living a fulfilled life, but rather of a mind fit to be trained in how to work, produce, and consume. He is a man naked to the ambitions of others. Frighteningly and tellingly, when we look at our judges, legislators, and educational mandarins at either the state or federal levels, the story of educational choice takes a disconcerting direction. Choice, the instrument of freedom, is perverted. We see talk about Common Core, now adopted, now rejected, and only to be replaced by something the people comprehend less than what came before. We have corporations competing for our student’s data, and a hundred McCharters opening each year hoping to cash in on parent’s fears that their children will not amount to anything. We have workforce programs that are the enemies of education as the method by which we convey knowledge. Those documents that were supposed to protect us, such as the Colorado Charter Schools Act, could not withstand the cleverness of legislators and lawyers who are so much like the learned brother in Swift’s Tale of a Tub. In this story, three brothers are gifted three coats by their father along with a will that states how they are to take proper care of them. One of the rules is that they are not to adorn them, but shoulder-knots become very fashionable, and so after a handful of years the brothers come together to examine the will to see if there is a way they might not justify so adorning their coats. As there is nothing in the will that would justify this, two of the brothers grow forlorn. “After much Thought, one of the Brothers who happened to be more Book-learned than the other two, said he had found an Expedient. ‘Tis true, said he, there is nothing here in this Will, totidem verbis [in so many words], making mention of Shoulder-knots, but I dare conjecture, we may find them inclusive, or totidem syllabis [in so many syllables].” So, of course, they do, and they ‘find’ many more ways to alter the document to accommodate what is en vogue. So it is with our rights as regards education. They shift with the political winds, and such unsteady rights are hard to distinguish from despotism, the heart of which is always arbitrariness.

In thinking about this issue of education and freedom, it has been remarkable to note the parallels between what we are seeing here and what other commentators like Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted about totalitarian regimes. Havel, for instance, wrote that:

“Between the aims of the post-totalitarian system and the aims of life there is a yawning abyss: while life, in its essence, moves toward plurality, diversity, independent self-constitution, and self- organization, in short, toward the fulfillment of its own freedom, the post-totalitarian system demands conformity, uniformity, and discipline.”

Genuine educational choice produces plurality, diversity, self-organization; standardized systems of education produce conformity, uniformity, and discipline. They do not do so because people choose them with a full awareness of what they choose; instead, there is a coercion that is admittedly subtler than what occurs under totalitarian regimes. It is through vague, numerous, and complicated laws that the average citizen is so overburdened by trying to make sense of the whole mess that they find it easier to accept the services of the State – the bus, the lunch, the ‘free’ education, and the game on Friday night. Havel continues in describing this ‘freedom’ in the totalitarian state by writing that,

“This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance.”

How similar does some of this seem in the efforts towards greater and greater political correctness that are imposed by severe and even crippling punishments for those who refuse to comply? In 1978, in a lecture at Harvard, Solzhenitsyn said of the West,

“Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness – in the morally inferior sense of the word which has come into being during those same decades. In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to attain them imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition fills all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development.”

Our comfort in material things, which has been no minor accomplishment, has created a situation in which we overlook other aspects of our development. That schools are complicit in this perpetuation of a false happiness, is a genuine threat to the types of students we can produce and the type of the world they will inherit. In looking forward, these types of challenges – cultural and political – are for our community, and ultimately our children to surmount. Our school, while it is in good standing, survives, develops, and progresses only with the active interest and involvement of its community. I urge you all to find ways great and small to be involved with Ridgeview, and for all of you who have given so much of your time, I thank you for the opportunity to serve a place that puts first principles first.

30 March 2017

We have reached a point in the year at which no one ever seems to have gotten enough sleep, a long enough break, or enough caffeine. There are many who will say that this should never be the situation at a school, or that if it is, that it ought not be discussed. We are told that study is leisure, and leisure calls to mind some self-indulgent images of men and women enjoying their holiday. So, these long and late hours that we are all working through at present stand in stark contrast with such happy and romanticized images, and this contrast leaves us unhappily, but eagerly awaiting a change in our conditions as the end of the year approaches. It is a miserable thing to live out our lives in a cycle of drudgeries that are only periodically relieved.

There are those too, mostly of the Pollyannaish variety, who would say that if only outside circumstances could change, individuals would be happy. But, as Marcus Aurelius and others would point out, anyone who depends upon a change of circumstances beyond their control for their happiness is likely to be miserable. The world does not accommodate us; we adapt to the world. Hopefully, we adapt in such a way that we do not reflect its callousness, but we also take stock in the fact that we are capable of surmounting challenges, taking lessons from them, and living a better and a happier life as a result. When Albert Einstein noted that the only road to true human greatness was a road through human suffering, he was only echoing an older truth articulated by Aeschylus and often repeated by Ridgeview students that we learn by suffering, or that he who learns must suffer. As we wish to learn, so too must we suffer. For the student who does well easily, if such a person genuinely exists, it is likely they are not learning that which they most need to know. For the rest of us, our hard work and faithful industry are not solely or even principally about the acquisition of more facts, but of greater wisdom. It may be that the memorization of formulas and various arcane knowledge grows our intellect, but it is the experience of working hard that strengthens our character. So, when someone says that we should only learn the former, and even that only in the strictest comfort and with the greatest ease, I contend that we would lose much in so doing.

When we refer to our character pillars and read under perseverance that, “I recognize that no great thing is achieved without great effort, and that constancy, tenacity, and resolve are the handmaidens to success in an endeavor shared with my fellows,” we can recognize what it means for us to work together. This hard work, which grows harder as the year draws to an end, is something we share. We want to find our fellows filled with constancy, tenacity, and resolve, as well as good cheer, because association with the opposite qualities will prove our undoing. There is nothing so despairing as the hopeless.

“There are some things which cannot be learned quickly,” wrote Ernest Hemingway, “and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring.” Good character, a keen mind that possesses the habit of attention, the art of expression, discrimination, mental courage and mental soberness, and self-knowledge are among those things that cannot be learned quickly. And, time, as Hemingway notes, is all that we have. We have limited time in which to do great but hard things, and consequently it matters very much with whom we choose to share that time. Hard things will be more easily done in positive company, and those who come to pity us rarely lighten our loads. As we run this gauntlet, whether it is Ridgeview’s or life’s, we must choose carefully the types of people with which we will surround ourselves. There are those who will cheer you on, and risk even their friendship with you to improve you, and there are those who are good for little more than sour commiseration.

We will not be remembered for how we behaved during the freshest and earliest hours of a hard venture, but during the trying hours, when exhausted, overworked and worn, we persisted through the drudgery, the trumpery, and the menagerie of inconveniences, frustrations, and disappointments to see a succession of small victories bolster our confidence and prepare us for the still greater challenges to come. When we quit because we believe the challenge too small, too insignificant, too toilsome to be bothered about, we will find ourselves too small, too insignificant, and too frail to attempt the larger and weightier things of life. In order to acquit ourselves of this great charge, we must demonstrate more than resolve, but must also show great resilience in seeing through what we have begun with an enthusiasm unmitigated by the days that have passed since we began.

An author recently noted that resilience is often thought of as the capacity to bounce back. It is a definition that we have borrowed from science, and as one dictionary defines it, resilience is the “capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation, especially if the strain is caused by compressive stresses – called also elastic resilience.” The important discernment is that no one returns to their original size and shape. Stress, frustration, agitation, disappointment, hurt, and all the various lamentations great and small, change us. As this author noted, “If we limit our understanding of resilience to this idea of bouncing back, we miss much of what hardship, pain, and suffering offer us.” It is the “offer us” that is so critical. These feelings, almost always and everywhere characterized as negative, are offering us something crucial. It is precisely when we are struggling that we are growing, but we get to determine what it is that we are growing into. Do we grow into a monster destructive of our best ends, and most likely those of other’s as well? Alternatively, do we grow into a better person possessed of ever greater wisdom who does well by himself and well by others? We choose, but there is no growth in perfect safety and self-indulgence regardless of how attractive such images may be.

What inducement there is in this is fairly straightforward: dig deep and find those reserves that allow you to complete the tasks you have begun with the same energy and conviction with which they were started. Be of good cheer and good courage for yourself and your fellows. Be the type of person you think would do you the most good in the hour of your greatest need.

Middle School: Our middle-school student of the quarter is a hard-working student who is never too proud to ask for help. She is more than willing to share her knowledge with those around her, whether teachers or students, and she always does so with a cheerful disposition, even as late as the eighth period when enthusiasm can generally be said to be waning. She always has a smile on her face. She is quick to serve, quick to help, and quick to encourage. She has been an excellent ambassador for the school, and has served her peers with distinction. Our middle-school student of the quarter is Hannah Harling.

High School: Our high-school student of the quarter has been a long while in the making. His involvement in Ridgeview’s extracurricular activities is extensive. He has been a part of the choir, the madrigals court, the juggling troupe, the plays and the musicals, Student Council, a leader of class discussions, and a young man of growing maturity. He has taken challenging courses, and especially those that set the Ridgeview curriculum apart. Within Ridgeview, wherever one goes, there he is. Our high-school student of the quarter is Austin Schmidberger.

 

 

 

Welcome. It is heartening to have all of you here with us today. Nearly seventeen years ago, a group of parents who were deeply disappointed by the education their children were receiving in the public school system banded together and began having conversations about starting a classical, charter school. At the time, they understood classical to mean traditional, and they had few set ideas about curriculum. However, as their ideas took shape, they found a principal, a building, faculty, furniture, and eventually students. It was the students who were the most important, or rather, the way in which they found these students. They did not pick, select, test, or screen them. They took in students of all ability levels because they believed that the inherent dignity of personhood entitled them all to the opportunities only a liberal arts education could provide. They earnestly believed that all would benefit from such an education if they were willing to work, and they openly and bravely acknowledged that students drawn from such a diversity of backgrounds would likely require brilliant teachers and an intense amount of work. Seventeen years on, this aspect of Ridgeview remains unchanged.

There is a story about starfish many of you will have heard. A young boy is walking along a beach when he sees thousands of starfish stranded and dying along the beach. He begins picking them up one at a time and tossing them back into the ocean when a man walking by pauses to watch him. Eventually, the older man asks the boy what difference it can possibly make as he will never be able to throw them all back into the ocean. The boy says, as he throws a starfish back, “To this one, it will make all the difference.” We can dismiss this story as vapid and sentimental, but there has been a profound significance for each of the students Ridgeview has reached these past seventeen years. Authors like Robert Hutchins were correct. If a liberal arts education is the best education, it must also be true that it is the best education for all. The only question is how it can be made available to all.

What a betrayal then that so many schools have intentionally denied students access to this type of education. Such schools have limited a liberal education to only the most obviously academically talented. Those students, whom we sometimes term educational casualties, whether because of the adverse effects of social promotion within the district schools or the unfair burdens of a broken home, are set aside as undesirable and uneducable. To grant them entry into supposedly prestigious schools, would be to risk the school’s test scores and in turn their rankings. So too is the situation with students working through a learning disability, or dyslexia, or any of a myriad of other medical and psychological challenges. These students are counseled out to protect the supposed prestige of their programs, and again, to ensure the allegedly impressive test scores of the school. Such is also the case with the students who come late to reading or who do not have the luxury of an involved parent in their home who has prioritized their child’s education.

Such is also the mentality of those running private schools who believe the benefits of a liberal education are best reserved for the fortunate few at the top of the economic spectrum. Several years ago, while attending a philosophy book group at a university with a group of professors, I heard how ridiculous this whole idea of providing every student with a liberal arts education was. As one professor purred, “A liberal arts education is a case of a wealthy man’s education for a wealthy man’s money. Besides,” he opined, “what use would such a thing be to the masses?” Such sentiments should perhaps come as little surprise given the state of free speech or intellectual diversity on our college campuses today. Nor should it be surprising that our political elite brag about the elimination of civics courses and who seek to sustain a population that is both “unaware and compliant,” as was recently revealed of our political elite in an e-mail from Bill Ivey to John Podesta.

So, when Ridgeview says that it believes in the principles of Highet, Barzun, Adler, Hutchins, Barr, Chalmers, Everett, Galantière, Genzmer, Reis, Trilling, Van Doren, and Weaver, it is because we believe in those principles for all students. It is because we believe that it is precisely by opening our doors and inviting everyone in to have a conversation about important texts that have some measure of permanence, that we will be most likely to change lives. This is the nobility of Humanities Day. It is about bringing people together because most of the other institutions within our culture that might have fostered this type of dialogue have failed to play the part of the public intellectual or be the sustainer of an intellectually vibrant public square. What further distinguishes Ridgeview is who it perceives to be a student. The phrase life-long learner is now so hackneyed that it is difficult to resuscitate, but in a culture that believes that learning is lifelong, we are all students. Ridgeview cultivates the great conversation with our students on everything from Aesop to Zweig. Our faculty read and converse together. For the most interested and the most interesting, there is genuine collegiality here in ways simply not found elsewhere. Our parents are reading with us too, and so far this year alone they have read Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, and Machiavelli. They have read, considered, and discussed shared inquiry, classical education, the importance of Greek and Latin, and are now considering virtue as described by such authors as Aristotle, MacIntyre, Cicero, and Kirk.

Today, just as on any other day, in which we would welcome all of you to sit in on our classes without invitation, special reservation, or any other pretense, we propose to do what we do every day: bring all who are interested and willing into a conversation about substantial matters that are of the greatest interest to our faculty. We welcome you all, and in hosting this event, it is my deep hope that each of you will go away from here today persuaded that a classical, liberal arts education is something that ought to be available to every person of whatever ability, whatever political persuasion, and whatever religious adherence, that a life of the mind is important because of how it allows us to live better lives.

Thank you all for being here and I hope that you enjoy each of your sessions.

D. Anderson
Principal

Welcome. I hope that everyone enjoyed a wonderful and restful Christmas break and is now settling back into a comfortable routine. In preparing for today’s assembly, I have spent a portion of my time thinking about our previous awards assembly in which I questioned what was meant by honor when we call these honors assemblies or refer to the honor roll. There has been some resistance to their being so called, and even greater resistance to some of the choices the faculty have made in their nominations. As I have oftentimes noted, any human institution is prone to error. As a faculty, we are trapped between what we should know and knowing too much. While our students are entitled to their privacy, they are not entitled to being false, but detection of such a thing is a difficult thing. While some have suggested that students should be nominated by their peers, predicating who should be named student of the quarter based upon a student vote seems more appropriate in electing Student Council members since popularity and merit always co-mingle in matters political.

Nearly every Ridgeview student who has passed through the elementary will recall Aesop’s fable about the fox walking through the vineyard. The fox, who was famished, could not reach the grapes despite his best and cleverest efforts. Defeated, the fox sulks away, pouting that the grapes were likely sour anyway, and that he would not deign to eat them even if they were served to him on a silver platter. In one translation of this by Phaedrus, the final line reads: “People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.”

It has been disheartening to hear those who achieved some measure of success disparaged by those who have not been similarly recognized. In speaking with the alumni of classes long past, it has often been said that our community was intimate enough that, where the achievements of others might be belittled elsewhere, they were celebrated here. There was and still is some way for everyone to find their own path to distinction, and another’s recognition does not lessen their own. This has been a notable cultural attribute, but I sometimes fear that it is at risk today. Our orientation as it relates to our peers, even when they fail to rise to the level of deep and abiding friendship, ought to be one of encouragement and support. The opposite of this inducement goes by many names: jealousy, envy, covetousness, desire, resentment, bitterness. Each does harm to both he who is animated by it and he towards whom it is directed.

There is another story about a famous Greek athlete named Theagenes who achieved such fame that a statue was built of him by the people of Thasos. One inhabitant, so infuriated that his own achievements were paltry in comparison with Theagenes’, would nightly express his hatred by whipping and beating the statue until he was exhausted by his rage. One night, with the intention of toppling the statue, the man was killed when it fell on top of him. While we say that our envy harms others, it is not infrequently the case that we are the principal victims of our angst. The victim in this case often mistakes intemperance for rightful indignance. So it is as Seneca said that, “It is the practice of the multitude to bark at eminent men as little dogs do at strangers.” The targets of our wrath are little bothered, and it is we who are most disturbed.

This moral tale is hardly one that only has relevance in youth. Academics are rarely better. Oxford was famously described as the “city of dreaming spires” by Matthew Arnold, but rivalries and fits among its faculty were so intense and so common that a later professor lampooned this line by calling it the “city of scheming ires.” There is also the story, perhaps apocryphal, of Oscar Wilde relating the following conversation to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about a hermit in the desert.

“The devil,’ said Wilde, ‘was once crossing the Libyan Desert, and he came upon a spot where a number of small fiends were tormenting a holy hermit. The sainted man easily shook off their evil suggestions. The devil watched their failure and then he stepped forward to give them a lesson. “What you do is too crude,” said he. “Permit me for one moment.” With that he whispered to the holy man, “Your brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria.” A scowl of malignant jealousy at once clouded the serene face of the hermit. “That,” said the devil to his imps, “is the sort of thing which I should recommend.”

If we abide by such motivations uncritically and uncharitably, we will find our own lives more impoverished not least because we will be a less certain friend. We should want to do more than appear good. We should wish to be good. Joyfully, it is a season for resolutions, and if we should find ourselves wanting in this regard, we have opportunity now to rectify that and wish those well who have done well. If we are envious of their achievements, in addition to celebrating them, we should study them in hopes of improving ourselves. Not for the baseness of awards or recognition, but because we wish to lead better and fuller lives – to be content within ourselves. I will stop short of asking you to all stand and “show one another the sign of peace,” but I would ask that you take the time to recognize your place in this community and congratulate your peers for the good work they have done and appreciate at least some small part of the great and normal human drama that they may have withstood to have done any good at all.

Our middle school student of the quarter has come a long way since I first interviewed her for the Student Ambassadors. A colleague recently described her as mature, composed, intelligent, and friendly. Her friendliness is something upon which all faculty who know her were in agreement. Most importantly, it was not the sort of friendliness that fades once she had completed a class or an academic year. While she was very meek in that first interview, she has developed into a much more confident and assertive young lady, and I am happy to name Sophia Schuemann as our middle school student of the quarter.

Our high school student of the quarter is well-spoken and a deep thinker who does not take herself so seriously as to be immune to the concept of humility. She articulates important truths and defends her positions ably. She is intense in her desire to understand what makes for a moral life, and is someone with whom a conversation may be had without worry over who will win. She appears, in all instances, to enjoy the intellectual tussle of a good and genuine conversation. For these reasons, Audrey Tsoi is the high school student of the quarter.

D. Anderson

Principal

Christmas’ Gift

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 obligatory way – it is in this that we realize the gift of Christmas.

 

D. Anderson

Principal

 

 

 

 

As our days shorten to scarcely a blink, few of us are likely enjoying anything resembling a repose as we make our lists and gather our gifts for the impending holiday. As we rush to and fro harried and wearied by the obligations of the season, we are wont to neglect the spirit we are desperate to imbue it with. Nevertheless, the idealized version of the season beckons and we should be quick to indulge it.

As our students make their preparations for Winter Ball, final exams, presentations, and term papers, and our younger children mark the midpoint of their year, it is incumbent upon all of us to see that we keep the promise that the skills acquired in youth shall not cease in relevancy upon exiting academia; that these skills are not exclusively vocational, but the prerequisites for humane living. In short, that we are all – young and old – engaged in an endeavor that our cultural and philosophical forbearers would have recognized and reverenced. Eric Voegelin, borrowing from authors long preceding him, described this as periagoge – the art of turning around, or the opening of the soul. In either event, the true and ultimate purpose of education as self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-understanding. The slow and edifying realization of a life of reason and of faith.

I have been privileged to spend many hours over the past several months with fellow parents reflecting on what it is we want for our children from a Ridgeview education. In separate groups, we have met weekly and monthly to discuss texts that have inspired, challenged, clarified, and exemplified the sorts of conversations Ridgeview’s faculty attempt to foster with their students regardless of whether they are memorizing recitations in kindergarten or softening the rough edges of a senior thesis. More important than the names are the ideas. We have considered the differences between work and play, the experience of genuine conversation, the notion of becoming ‘fully human’, Aristotle’s description of natural slavery and Jefferson’s of natural aristocracy; we have considered what survives of the Greek inheritance, the tripartite split in human nature, and whether a national community can be said to exist. We have dissected the classical and modern conceptions of man, and the nature of dialectic in classical education. We have read and discussed substantial excerpts from substantial texts such as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and St. Augustine’s Confessions. These texts have survived for centuries and even millennia. They have a way of working upon one’s mind. In professions likely and unlikely, one sees certain authors and ideas returned to demonstrating the timelessness of the endeavor we are all engaged upon. In unravelling ourselves, we come to a better understanding of what it is to be paternal, to set an example, to show our children what is worth exalting. To provide one brief example of what these meetings intend to convey, an excerpt from our next monthly meeting will have us read the following passage from Thomas à Kempis’s The Inner Life. Therein, it is written that, “A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always to think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace. We are all frail: consider none more frail than yourself.” We are not called upon to agree with this; we are called upon to consider it.

In doing so, we will model for our children the type of reading and reflection we expect from them in attending a school like Ridgeview. We will show a regard for more than how ‘they are doing,’ and show instead a concern for ‘who they are becoming.’ Let us allow our older children to see us reading and contemplating the types of grand texts that alter the course of lives and provide reconciliation between who we are and who we aspire to be. And, while profundity might diminish the magic of the season for our younger children, the number of books that embolden liberal charity and gentle kindness abound. Many of them are beautifully illustrated and will shape the imaginations of our youngest readers for decades to come. Stories like O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Louisa May Alcott’s A Merry Christmas, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Susan Wojciechowski’s The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, and Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. We are the inheritors of a wealth too great to be spent, and it falls to us to ensure that it endures as a bestowment to posterity.

As we hang the decorations and organize all the many preparations that bring this festive season to life, let us not forget that in each moment we are determining not only the way our children will remember this holiday, but the way that their children and grandchildren will celebrate it in years we shall not live to witness. In essence, whether they shall seek to act upon an admittedly romanticized ideal or a bare naked cynicism; whether the season, and all that is breathed into it, shall elevate their spirits or see them brought low; whether they shall find in their education, a manner of living or a set of checked boxes. We have entirely too much power in determining the lives of others. It is, during this season more self-consciously than others, for us to be the better version of ourselves.

D. Anderson

Principal

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