Category: Principal’s Perspective

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Principal's Perspective

Humanities Day 2017

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

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Principal's Perspective

2nd Quarter Awards

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

Principal's Perspective

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

 

 

 

 

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Principal's Perspective

Upon a Winter’s Repose

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

Principal's Perspective

Thanksgiving

 

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 your 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.

Benjamin Franklin was too cynical when he wrote that, “He who lives on hope, dies fasting.” Hopes may be shattered without shattering hope. Thanksgiving is not a day for despair or tragic thoughts since we may long look forward to the distinct possibility that we will know again all that has ever given men cause to be thankful.

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

Principal's Perspective

Veterans Day

We would like to convey our belated birthday wishes to the United States Marine Corps on its 241st year of service to the American republic. Marines have served our country with uncommon courage and less common valor. The Corps has been shaped by hard individuals, such as Chesty Puller and others who have spoken with Spartan like concision. In a frozen landscape in 1950, Puller was surrounded and outnumbered by Chinese forces at the Battle of Choisin Reservoir. Puller merely remarked, “We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem.” By such innumerable actions on the part of thousands of Marines, the Corps has helped to establish and define the quintessential spirit of our military forces. Even those whom we might suppose would hold a low view of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are awed by the character of the forces we are able to marshal in the field of battle.

Recently, a French ISAF soldier serving in Afghanistan alongside American soldiers and Marines wrote an op-ed entitled “A Nos Frères D’Armes Américains,” which translates as, “Our American Brothers in Arms.” The French soldier described the American soldier’s physique as “Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine- they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them – we are wimps, even the strongest of us – and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.” This soldier continued his description as follows: “And they are impressive warriors! We have not come across bad ones, as strange as it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us every day with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark – only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered – everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump. Here we discover America as it is often depicted: their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley.” And of their performance in combat the allied soldier writes, “And combat? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all – always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks: they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the enemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting: they just charge!”

We are fortunate to be so represented in contests so critical to our security. Though not all 22 million living veterans have served in combat operations, we thank each of them today for their sacrifice, their service, and the inspiring example they provide to Americans living and not yet born. I conclude with a poem by Sgt. Joshua Helterbran of the 224th Engineer Battalion entitled Final Inspection, Part I.

The Soldier stood and faced God
Which must always come to pass
He hoped his shoes were shining
Just as brightly as his brass.
“Step forward now, you Soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My Church have you been true?”
The Soldier squared his shoulders and
said, “No, Lord, I guess I ain’t
Because those of us who carry guns
Can’t always be a saint.
I’ve had to work most Sundays
And at times my talk was tough,
And sometimes I’ve been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.
But, I never took a penny
That wasn’t mine to keep…
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills got just too steep,
And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear,
And sometimes, God forgive me,
I’ve wept unmanly tears.
I know I don’t deserve a place
Among the people here,
They never wanted me around
Except to calm their fears.
If you’ve a place for me here, Lord,
It needn’t be so grand,
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don’t, I’ll understand.”
There was a silence all around the throne
Where the saints had often trod
As the Soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God,
“Step forward now, you Soldier,
You’ve borne your burdens well,
Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets,
You’ve done your time in Hell.”

Thank you to all who served, all who’ve given, and all who continue to do so on behalf of a grateful country.

D. Anderson
Principal

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Principal's Perspective

Recovering a Free Republic

If we suspend disbelief completely enough, we might still see clearly enough to take stock and vote as citizens of a free republic. It is sometimes the case that it is the preservation of our past that gives hope to our future.

The facts arranged on the political field before us are ugly and demoralizing. They are not limited to the current presidential contest. We are no longer a free republic. We have long been a nation with all that that implies about our diminishing liberties and our increasingly diluted representation. We are not a nation of laws. We move from one political personality to another and treat each more as a celebrity than as a servant. Ignoring the separation of powers, the question of which laws are enforced is determined by the political agenda and aspirations of the nation’s executive. Despite having a written constitution, changes to our fundamental law are made by nine unaccountable and unelected political appointees with little or no reference to the document itself. Our representatives, who we have allowed to become career politicians, unashamedly pass laws they have not read in previously unimaginable numeracy while growing rich in public office. The politically ambitious brag that they are able to keep the people “unaware and compliant,” and our people have been taught to believe that what is unethical or immoral for an individual ought to be de rigueur for a government without the slightest suspicion of hypocrisy. Contrarily, Thomas Jefferson once wrote that, “Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.” We live in, if not quite a tyranny, a time in our nation’s history of endless and routine tyrannies.

Knowing that the way we live through and comport ourselves during these times will inform future generations, and that we, as either parents or teachers, have a unique responsibility to preserve and protect the most noble of our ideals, it bears reviewing what it is that we call upon the next generation of Americans to preserve and what to recover. With regards to civic participation, we should seek to ensure that we are called back to the fundamentals before we cast our own votes, whether those votes be for an executive magistrate, a representative, or the imposition of our preferences upon our neighbor’s lives though a popular referendum or initiative.

James Madison and other founders recognized that more would be demanded of citizens of a free republic than subjects of a monarchy. We might fairly add that citizens of a republic must possess qualities that would be alien to the subjects of any number of other regimes, whether communist, fascist, or socialist. One part of what is required of such a citizen is that he should endeavor to perfect self-governance in himself before supposing himself capable or competent of extending his will over his fellows. We ought to further distinguish ourselves as citizens by our insistence upon adequate representation and the acknowledgement that all legitimate power can be exercised only through the consent of the governed. To insist upon anything, we cannot be cowed, servile, or simple sheep herded to and fro by demagogues and sophists. All power and everyone who possesses it should be viewed with suspicion, distrust, and circumspection since citizens will know that power is corrosive, that it corrupts, and that such facts are sown in the nature of man.

In returning to these fundamentals, it is worthwhile to recollect what the founders and others more ancient than they believed were crucial to the existence of a free republic.

First, those who may vote or hold office should be comprised of a virtuous and informed citizenry. Without a virtuous and informed citizenry, a free republic is impossible.

Second, citizens should rule and be ruled in turn. A republic disdains the professional politician and champions the citizen legislator. Individuals should achieve success in their own lives before turning to public service, and once there, they should serve for a limited period before returning again to private life.

Third, there should exist the rule of law as opposed to the rule of men. The law, through a written constitution, should be knowable to all people for whom it shall serve as the fundamental law. All subsequent law, whether statute or common, must exist within the limits prescribed by this fundamental law. The laws, like the rules of a game, must be knowable prior to commencement.

Fourth, a republic values the notion of isonomy, or the equality of all before the law. In a republic, there is not one set of laws for the nobles and another for the commons, one set for the government and another for the people, one for the rich and another for the poor. All come before the law as equals and all are treated accordingly with justice being the sole consideration of the state.

Fifth, a republic is composed of smaller, sovereign units. These states are better able to represent their inhabitants, act as laboratories of democracy, and when necessary, challenge federal overreach should the national branches of government violate their prescribed limits or enumerated powers.

Sixth, a republic preserves the natural law by acknowledging that no majority can be right that repeals or usurps the unalienable rights of the people.

Seventh, a republic espouses the value of secular government while ensuring that that government does not become hostile or immune to the salutary influences of religion.

Eighth, a republic, with limited qualifications, acknowledges that the people ought to be free to pursue their happiness as they see fit and so endorses capitalism as opposed to dirigisme or statism.

If we wish for our children to enjoy a culture that tolerates and even depends upon their liberty, we must shake off our slumber and take to the polls as thoughtful citizens who consider all of the above lest our children and grandchildren be left no choice except to once again take up arms as patriots in restoration of their lost rights.

D. Anderson
Principal

Principal's Perspective

First Responders’ Day

Most of the time most of our students are called upon to serve themselves, and this is because those careers which put others first generally receive such paltry financial remuneration. As such, students may festoon their college applications with the requisite community service projects in order to demonstrate their humanity or social aptitude, but a career in genuine service to others, while perhaps noble, is too often depicted as an unsuccessful bid for a college degree. In this respect, the career of a first responder shares some similarities with that of a teacher. Both are considered necessary for the continuation of civil and political society, and both are appreciated by those who would prefer their children grow up to choose other occupations.

Jacques Barzun famously described the reputation of the teacher in America as that of a “pitiable drudge,” and more recently we have seen law enforcement broadly disparaged by media and political elites. This dearth of public respect has put our first responders in even greater danger than they might have otherwise been. Indeed, so far this year 99 law enforcement officers have lost their lives in the line of duty as well as 68 firefighters. So it is that our students choose careers that promise to afford them as much security and as much social esteem as possible. To this end, they are relentlessly encouraged to say the right things in class, play the right the sports, the right instruments, take the right tests, write the right essays; to pander, contort, and distinguish themselves as anything but themselves until it becomes who they are – on paper at least, and in the end, perhaps in reality too. Insofar as they do these things, they do them for themselves. All of this has been uncompromisingly detailed by William Deresiewicz in his book Excellent Sheep, and to expound on what he describes therein, it would be safe to say our system of schooling and social anxiety as parents is more adept at producing either sheep or wolves than sheepdogs.

Those with little experience of careers that put others first aspire to positions, whether in law, politics, or public policy in which they will invariably oversee the lives of others, first responders included. It therefore behooves us as a school that claims an allegiance to truth and virtue to do something early on in our students’ lives to give them some greater appreciation for those who choose careers that require that they deal with things as they are rather than as they would like for them to be. If this begins with a helicopter landing in the parking lot, so be it. Hopefully, it grows beyond a fascination with things that fly, water hoses, and weapons, to an understanding of the first responders themselves and why they have chosen to do what they do given all the sacrifices such careers doubtlessly entail. The more we can move our students from private contemplation to the activity of doing something to carry their ideals beyond themselves, the more deserving we will be of the public’s trust and the public’s funds. We cannot suppose that the safety of our society rests secure abstracted from real people, and this is ultimately what First Responders’ Day is about: meeting and coming into conversation with people who have chosen lives of quiet dedication to public service despite the sacrifices, the waning public appreciation, or the social currency of such a decision. We thank each of them for the time that they have given not only to Ridgeview on October 5th, but for the time each of them has generously given to our community.

D. Anderson

Principal

 

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Principal's Perspective

Autumn’s Arrival

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.

D. Anderson

Principal

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Principal's Perspective

9-11 and the Duty to Remember

It would be indecent not to dedicate the Principal’s Perspective this week to the event that changed our nation fifteen years ago. On that day, nineteen Islamic terrorists killed 2,507 civilians, 343 firefighters, 72 law enforcement personnel, and 55 members of our nation’s military. It would be indecent not to recognize that event, but it is less obvious how one goes about it than if one were a firefighter, a member of the armed forces, or a government worker. They lower the flag, while newspapers editorialize, politicians grandstand, professors pontificate, survivors grieve, and soldiers, sailors, and marines steel their resolve for a fight that they remain entrenched in. Schools, however, typically do little more than provide a moment of silence if they happen to be in session that day. Given that it is through education that we preserve our national history and culture, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that those who were born too late to remember that horrific day are able to comprehend how and why it transformed our nation.

It is estimated that taxpayers have spent approximately $1,147,000,000,000 fighting the war on terror since it ‘officially’ began on October 7, 2001. While wars are not only about the financial damage they bring, the expense of this war has been almost unprecedented. The Revolutionary War, when dollars are adjusted for 2011 levels, cost around $2.4 billion, and the Civil War cost nearly $80 billion when Union and Confederate expenses are combined. World War I cost $334 billion; WWII, $4.1 trillion; Korea, $341 billion; and Vietnam, some $738 billion according to the Congressional Research Service. In other words, only the Second World War, which was fought against two industrialized world powers, has cost our nation more than the current engagement with militant Islam. We remain in an unenviable situation as a country that can boast some of the finest warriors anywhere on earth, but who are led by some of the most unscrupulous political leaders.

As a result, our students, few of whom will have even a vague, first-hand recollection of September 11, 2001, will be the inheritors of a society and a country we were told would not be changed by terror. It would have taken quite the naïf to believe that, but as a nation we had not listened to the growing alarm prior to that awful morning. We could not have expected that we would soon rearrange and reorder our lives, and desperately trade away yet further of our liberties in exchange for ill-conceived securities. If the purpose of terror had been to change our lives, it was a stunning success. The price, however, to be paid for bringing terror to America would be steep for both us and our enemies.

It was not until after the attacks that Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Melanie Phillips, and many others began to see much publishing success in detailing what militant Islam was or what it would mean for the West. Only slowly, did people begin to piece together the scope or cause of the conflict. Prior to this, we ignored very direct warnings because of what would be described afterwards as a “failure of imagination.” We had failed to imagine that the intelligence was correct, that such an attack was conceivable, or that such a threat was actionable. In 1999, British intelligence had informed Americans that it was likely that commercial aircraft would be used against domestic targets. In 2001, German intelligence reported that those targets would be “American symbols,” and later in 2001, Egyptian intelligence informed Americans that twenty members of al-Qaeda had slipped into the US and were attending flight schools. Still later in 2001, Jordanian intelligence conveyed to their US counterparts that the code name of the operation was Big Wedding, and Russian intelligence noted afterwards of their conversations with US officials that “we had clearly warned them.” We did not have only reports to give some indication of what was coming. We had events. In 1990, El Sayid Nosair assassinated an influential rabbi named Meir Kahane. In 1993, Mir Kazi killed two and injured three people outside of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia before escaping to Pakistan. Later in 1993, Ramzi Yousef failed to blow up the World Trade Center but killed six people and injured more than 1,000. In 1997, Palestinian Ali Hassan Abu Kamal opened fire on tourists from the observation deck of the Empire State Building killing one person and injuring six others. In 2000, three men of Arab descent threw Molotov cocktails at a synagogue in the Bronx in hopes of igniting a war between Israel and Palestine, and the USS Cole was attacked while in Yemen killing seventeen sailors and injuring thirty-nine. What should our students learn from all of this? If you want to learn something from history, listen.

That day took us to war, and that war has gone from Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan (OEF-A), to OEF-Philippines, OEF-Horn of Africa, OEF-Pankisi Gorge, OEF-Trans Sahara, OEF-Caribbean and Central America, OEF-Kyrgyzstan, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. We have lost 6,852 of our nation’s bravest fighting everyone from the Taliban, to al-Qaeda, to Jemaah Islamiyah, al Shabaab, and ISIS. We have fought the Taliban for so long that our fifteen-year war against terror is beginning to resemble the perpetual war described by George Orwell in 1984 in that we are now debating alliances with the Taliban and paying billions to the largest state sponsor of terrorism – Iran. That our politicians are heavily complicit in this war being dragged on indefinitely is evident by reading the first-hand accounts of those who have fought that war in the field. From bombing runs that are approved by lawyers, and in some cases by the enemy themselves, to politicians running social experiments with our military forces rather than setting clear objectives for our generals and allowing them to push the fight, to ignoring gross human rights abuses against children when reported by our own soldiers, and even attempting to court martial them for it, we have done precisely the opposite of what Francis Lieber apprised President Lincoln of during the Civil War when he advised him that “sharp wars are brief.”

A school like Ridgeview should mean something when it claims to remember 9-11. What is it that is remembered by those too young to have lived consciously aware of what was happening that day? The pictures of those leaping from the towers to their deaths? The makeshift memorials erected by those searching for their loved ones? The New York Times intentionally altering a photograph of firefighters to fit their race-based national narrative? Mayor Giuliani addressing New Yorkers from Ground Zero? President Bush sitting stunned amidst a group of grade-schoolers after Andrew Card delivered the news? The tens of thousands of Americans who voluntarily rushed to enlist afterwards? The cheering of America’s enemies not just in the Middle East, but in posh European capitals? What does it mean to remember? For adults, we will always remember where we were and how we felt in that moment, but for a generation that came too late to remember, what should their schools teach them about a conflict that has taken on Cold War dimensions? How do we protect them from the propaganda and agitprop of the political and media elite, honor the heroes who have fought in defense of good and noble ideals, and have them learn enough from history that they stand some chance of not repeating it? This is not a challenge for Ridgeview alone, but for all those who come after. It is our job, our duty, not simply to memorialize the fallen, but to uphold the dignity and integrity of history.

Principal D. Anderson