Alumni Horae: Vol. 95, No. 1 Fall 2014 - page 2

Empowering Students to Actively Do Good
At the end of the
summer, I returned
with my older brother,
Rob, to our childhood
home in Cheshire,
Conn., on the sad oc-
casion of our father’s
rapidly declining
health. Between two
of our visits to see
him in the hospital, we took the time to walk
around our old neighborhood, a collection of
suburban homes built in the late 1960s.
As we walked, we named every family who lived
in the 30 or so homes we passed. We noted the
individual gifts those families brought to our lives
as we grew up. We also recalled specific, powerful
memories of how we interacted with one another.
What Rob and I were really talking about was liv-
ing in community those years ago.
It was a wonderful place to grow up, but it
couldn’t be described as an intentional commu-
nity. St. Paul’s School, of course,
an intentional
community. One overt intention is to make sure
we are providing our students with the very best
classroom experience, grounded in the philosophy
that learning should be student-centered. I sus-
pect the phrase “student-centered learning”
sounds like redundant educational jargon; in
some ways it also does to me. But the phrase
describes our effort to better understand our
students as learners.
While understanding our students as classroom
learners is important, it is more important to
extend this effort to understanding them as social
beings in this particular age so we can continue
to advance the noblest intentions of this commu-
nity. The allegation of a sexual assault here last
spring and the subsequent media coverage of it
reminded me of the School’s fundamental calling
– to do good.
I spent my summer searching for answers to
questions about our community and the raising
of adolescents. One of the places to which I
turned was the writing of Fourth Rector Samuel
S. Drury. He was a person of certainty and I was
looking for certainty this summer. It was within
this context that I read his
Fathers and Sons
, an
instruction manual of sorts for family life “as it
was supposed to be” in the early 20th century.
Drury’s book did not provide all of the guid-
ance I was seeking, but it gave me one timeless
bit of wisdom:
Our day seems the wildest page in human history.
Was there ever such an unfortunate time to bring
up children! Oh for the good old days, the quiet
simple protected days of long ago. Do you think
they really existed? Do you suppose that the social
fabric of the eighteenth century, for example, was
less menacing than that of the twentieth? The fact
is that the moral arena of human character has
always wild beasts in it. At any stage of history
the adversary takes varied forms, but the forces
of evil are no cleverer today than they were in
Galilee two thousand years ago, or in any century
since. Youth has ever been beset, and has always
been empowered to win.
St. Paul’s School has never been impermeable
to the wild beasts of the real world. It would be a
mistake to believe it is now or ever was. Recog-
nizing this reality and using it to teach our students
is one of our most sacred responsibilities.
More interesting and certainly more inspiring
in my view is Drury’s faith in adolescents. I love
the last line of his words above. You can hear the
confidence in Drury’s voice.
I’ll confess that I do not share Drury’s faith in
youth’s ability to overcome the challenges the
world presents. I am not less confident that youth
can improve the world, only less confident that
they can do it alone. This is the work we are called
to do; to give our students not only the skills to
win against whatever the “wild beast” of the day
may be, but to ground those skills in moral con-
fidence, one that will empower our students to
actively do good.
Michael G. Hirschfeld ’85
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