An Independent School • Grades 5-12
Go high: Helping students develop a moral code
Go high: Helping students develop a moral code

by Bernie Noe, head of school

I hope you all are enjoying the longer days, warmer weather, and budding flowers of spring. I love that I can go to Green Lake and run at 6:30 p.m. and it is still light out! I also love knowing that the days are going to get longer for the next three months. 

Last week I sat in on an 8th-grade English class and listened to the students discuss William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." It was a spirited, wide-ranging discussion. They examined the motivations of the characters, the plot, and what was to be learned from the book. They also talked about Freud's id, ego, and superego and ended with a brief discussion about how the book related to Rousseau's or Hobbes' state of nature. I don't think I had even heard of Rousseau or Hobbes in the 8th grade and was impressed with the students' level of understanding and their ability to work with the concepts presented by the book. The teacher expertly guided the class while speaking less than 10 percent of the time!

I have the privilege each week of sitting in on at least one class, attending a number of games, and talking to students in both divisions of the school, and I am always amazed at what the students are doing. They are a bright, curious, hard-working group and are learning a lot in their classes, in the theaters, and on the playing fields. It is a joyful part of my week!

I do worry, however, that our students are growing up in a very complicated, morally unmoored time, which is a challenging environment for young and impressionable individuals forming and testing their personal code of ethics. The public dialogue emanating from the highest offices in the country has become substantially degraded, with crude insults being leveled against opponents, facts and truth being disparaged, and the basest, most polarizing instincts in people encouraged. 

Add to this the fact that students at almost any age have complete access to the internet, where they can easily find the good, the bad, and the ugly, and where, depending on the site, the publishers seem to abdicate all responsibility for the content. I have asked students if they think their parents and guardians understand their use of technology and 100 percent of eighth graders through seniors that I've talked to say, "not even close." They told me that even the parents who think they are on top of it, are not. So, our students now have access to a world their parents and guardians little understand.

We have seen some of the impact of this new unmoored era at school and are redoubling our efforts to hold students to a high standard of personal conduct. I ask that you do the same at home. It is a time for all of us to be vigilant about taking the time daily to talk to our students about what they are thinking; what we as adults value and why we value it; about their moral code, now in development; and about how they are using that code to make decisions about their lives. My colleague Jamie Asaka has some good suggestions for how to enter into those conversations with your student. 

Lakeside students are good people, but they are not immune to the influences of the larger culture, and they need our guidance more now than they did a few years ago. Conversational openings are everywhere – like those 8th graders using literature to explore what it means to be a good leader, the power of negative influences, and how individuals are treated by the group. It is up to all of us to understand as best we can the dynamics of the world our students inhabit and to counter the negative influences of the larger culture. This will take more of both our time and attention, and it is some of the most important work we will do as adults. For those of you who know the book, we need to counter those "Lord of the Flies" behaviors in our students.

Enjoy the spring, everyone. See you at games and performances!

Bernie Noe is Lakeside's head of school. You can reach him at Head' and 206-440-2714.