by Bernie Noe, head of school
I hope you are all having a great summer and enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest! After being away on sabbatical for three months, Killian and I decided to enjoy Seattle this summer. I love the city's informal vibe and all of the natural beauty, not to mention the long days and more frequent sun. I haven't purchased any Birkenstocks yet, or pierced anything, but after 18 years here I am getting closer! Seattle's quirky, celebrate-everyone events (like the Fremont Solstice parade) are, for me, one of the best parts of being here in the summer.
When Killian and I left on sabbatical last winter, we wanted to step away from our day-to-day life in Seattle and spend time thinking about what really mattered to us and how we wanted to live our lives going forward. We decided to make walking the theme of our sabbatical, as we wanted to slow down and take in things at a slower, more thoughtful pace. So we walked in the desert in New Mexico, on the island of Santorini in Greece, and in Italy especially, where we took a 25-day walk from Florence to Rome. We talked the entire way, to each other and the people we met, and never ran out of topics to cover. We also read a number of books that seemed to fit with the theme of what life is all about: "The Consolation of Philosophy," "The Analects of Confucius," "When Breath Becomes Air," "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience," "Letters to a Young Poet," Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life," Tao Te Ching, "Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life," "I am Malala," and "The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World." It was a luxury to be able to both read and spend time thinking through the implications of each book while walking along — a sort of bliss, really.
And of course as I walked, I found myself thinking about how we all live our lives at Lakeside. I want, in my opening letter, to share a few of those thoughts with you.
I think we are too busy as a school, with all of our students trying to do too much every day. Lakeside students are a smart, high-energy, high-integrity, dutiful group of students. They will do everything we ask of them and then some more. But I believe that as a school and as parents and guardians we are at the point of asking too much. No matter the causes (though they certainly include college pressure, concern about an increasingly competitive global economy, and the current pace of change), I have seen demands on our students increase over the past five years. We pressure them to take the hardest courses, even if they are not ready for them and should not, and then tutor them into oblivion when they struggle. We want them to join numerous clubs and activities even when we, as adults, know that they are overcommitted. We certainly do not let them walk through life, but rather encourage them to run, or even sprint. And while running or sprinting is sometimes necessary, it is not productive or possible over a period of months.
All this busyness comes at a significant cost to our students. To be healthy, well-adjusted human beings they need time to let their imaginations wander, to be bored, to notice beauty that is right in front of them, to learn to find meaning in what they are doing, to see the larger good, to be kind, to be patient with you (and themselves and others), to be empathic.
They need time, and we in the adult community need to help them plan for and take it.
The irony here is that in the dynamically changing economy that our students will experience for most of their working lives, the most successful will be those who can step back to derive meaning and make connections in what they are learning and experiencing! The future belongs more to the contemplatives than to the grinds.
In the "Tao Te Ching," Lao-tzu writes that one who is concerned with the destination is not a good traveler. Well, as someone who has always been sort of obsessed with the destination, I found this was hard advice to follow — but I think it is good advice for all of us at Lakeside! Lakeside has always stressed the idea of lifelong learning for everyone — students, faculty, and staff — and I believe we still do a pretty good job of encouraging lifelong learning and advocating the joy of learning as an end in itself. But I am concerned that in recent years we have begun to focus too much on the destination — grades, college admission, a good job and career — with the result that the joy of the journey is diminished. We in the adult community need to continue to stress the joy of learning as an end in itself, not as a means to an end.
So, good parents and guardians, I hope we can all work this year on asking our students to structure their lives so they can take more time to enjoy the journey. For those of us who are driven Type -A's (and I include myself in this group), this will be especially challenging and so even more important to do. We all might even want to test and model this behavior for our students!
Enjoy the rest of the summer, and I will see you all in September.
Lakeside Head of School