Whatever your political leanings, I think we can all agree that the polarization of our country has slowed our ability and responsibility to evolve as a democracy. Our children are the ultimate casualties of this divisive landscape, as they struggle to make sense of the deep chasm they see dividing so many adults in their lives. We owe it to them to continue foregrounding the values we want them to learn from us: candor, respect, integrity, kindness, sincerity, self-control, inclusion, equity, justice, and love.
I remember clearly when President Clinton appointed Justice Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, as I was just beginning my doctoral studies. While she was not the first female Supreme Court Justice, her ascension represented the breaking of a glass ceiling (I also naively imagined by the time I’d finish my Ph.D., the challenges women face juggling work and family would be ironed out!). But despite coming to terms with the too-slow rate of positive change, I did find myself inspired by and replicating some of her virtues: hard work, a life partner who would support my ambition and not be threatened by my success, and a commitment to mentorship and to service.
As we take a moment to appreciate where we have been, I think we must state the truth: that persistent racial inequities in myriad institutions in society are the result of systemic racism, and independent schools are not exempt. We charge tuition and can have practices that benefit those with financial resources. I believe we must use our position of privilege to redouble on our efforts to identify and address injustice both inside and outside our community and commit to embracing antiracism as a guiding tenet of our work.
Yesterday morning I hiked to the top of a peak in the Santa Monica mountains. After spending this past week facing a wall in my bedroom office, helplessly following the news while working on wrapping up this school year and scenario planning for next year, I needed to see the horizon and a broader panorama in order to reflect in and synthesize the wide-ranging feelings and thoughts that had collected during this agonizing week. This morning, I am looking at a very different panorama, and I am shaken by the images of rage, pain, and destruction that we all are seeing in our beloved city and cities across the nation.
Throughout my personal and professional life—my dissertation research, my high school and undergraduate teaching, my experience leading P-8 educational programs, and my counseling work with adolescent girls—I have seen firsthand hundreds of girls and young women wrestle with the challenge to thrive in a male-dominated society. Through their struggles, these young women continue to impress me with their resilience and fortitude.
Our admiration for teachers at Turning Point often lingers in the abstract, so it was powerful for me to see firsthand how our teachers skillfully use reliable routines and expectations to maintain a positive, consistent learning environment. Teachers prepare for as much as they can, but lesson planning does not translate into cruise control in the classroom. Children’s moods are mercurial, so the real skill kicks in when teachers leave room for the inevitable micro-adjustments that need to be made all day long.
Children develop positive self-identity through open conversations, being valued by peers, experiencing supportive relationships and settings, and by seeing other people with similar identities be appreciated and valued. A recent study by Sesame Street and the University of Chicago demonstrated that children as young as preschool notice and talk about difference in race, class, gender, culture, and religion. Open conversations with even our youngest children can help them learn about themselves and others.
Creating a school culture where we all understand and embrace differences is ongoing work which requires us to first see and acknowledge difference. When we nullify differences in favor of likenesses, the “likeness” is often anchored in culturally dominant norms. This invites “color blindness,” a well-meaning gesture that attempts to find commonality among different groups but instead can further divide us through its use of a single lens. It is crucial that as adults we develop the self-awareness and humility necessary to have courageous conversations with our children about differences and diversity.
The overwhelming state of climate change can shut us down in denial or despair, but we must find the courage to educate ourselves and our children about it, take action and inspire our children to take action, and support initiatives that will slow down or reverse the damage to our planet that is occurring with increased speed as each year passes.
We are all social beings who depend on each other for connection, cooperation, and competition. Status anxiety, predicated on the position we feel we occupy on the ladder of success, functions because our self-identity depends on the approval of others. I look at our school and feel so grateful for the thoughtful guidance, purposeful direction, and positive encouragement our students receive. If status anxiety is about feeling alone, unloved, and unworthy, the education Turning Point provides and the community we build provides antidotes to these deep worries.