Last Monday, I had the great fortune of attending an interfaith celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy at the United Methodist Church in New Canaan. The focus of the event, with songs, prayers, reflections and speeches, was Choose Love. Love was a constant theme in Dr. King’s writing and speaking: love as the antithesis of hate, love as the force that connects, love as a sentiment that finds commonality even in the face of difference and destructiveness, and that love, even in small quantities, is more powerful than other emotions.
Throughout the week, I have found myself sitting with the feelings I had during that event, reflecting on the ways that we at Country School show and encourage love and help instill in our students great capacity for love in all the forms Dr. King described. Certainly, there are great, macro ways, such as our commitment to the tenets of ethics in our Mission Skills, our central focus on character development, our commitment to fostering civil discourse, and the many explicit ways we weave the teachings of King and others into lessons in classes. There are also myriad, more subtle and implicit ways students practice these lessons in daily school life: learning to thrive through partnership, disagreement and compromise, sportsmanship on the playing fields and healthy, open-ended play on our playgrounds.
Just yesterday, I saw so much of this in action. The first class of 6th graders gave their speeches yesterday (the ones that I wrote about last week as they prepared), all on topics important to them and many of which are major issues in our world today. The speakers were fantastic. Even more, the audience included the entire 5th and 6th grades, as well as many adults. Throughout each speech — and the session lasted two hours — the entire audience was engaged, silently and respectfully listening most of the time, responding when asked and applauding generously in appreciation of each speech. Directly following, I attended the weekly Upper School Assembly and listened to an Upper School presentation from the six 9th grade students who attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Nashville in December. They spoke about their experiences at the conference with over a thousand other independent school students from around the country and educated the other students on various terms and personal identifiers before leading their peers in a reflective exercise about their identities. Once again, the students in the audience were fully present and engaged, supporting their peer leaders and learning from the presentation.
These examples, small and significant, strike me as examples of us ‘choosing love’ and encouraging the principles Dr. King espoused so powerfully half a century ago. Reflecting back on the celebration Monday, I am proud that I recognized most of the several dozen children in attendance as Country School students and know that they, along with so many of their peers, will actively promote Dr. King’s ideals and work to — in the words of Country School’s mission — make a positive contribution to the world. It is this hope for a future better than our present that inspired me to become an educator initially, and in the face of harmful rhetoric in our nation and divisiveness from so many places, it is the hope that I feel in our children and our approach at Country School that continues to inspire me.