October 15, 2019
It was lovely to see so many of you here this weekend, and it was a delight to watch new students share their new world with their families. I also appreciate the opportunity to share ideas with you, to talk about what we are working on, and to hear your observations.
For those of you who were not able to be here, I want to let you know that among many other topics, we discussed the issue of vaping. This is a problem here, as it is in virtually every place with teenagers right now. We can’t tell you exactly how many students are doing it, but any number is too high, and it’s becoming increasingly clear how unhealthy vaping is. Even if your student is clearly not involved, I encourage you to know what the vaping paraphernalia looks like. The majority of our students are clear that they don’t want this on campus, and they are increasingly willing to strategize with adults to find ways to address the problem. Our Health Office is working hard to help nicotine-addicted students to quit, and if you think your student is struggling with this, please do reach out to their advisor or the Health Office.
In early October, I and several others from Putney went to Minneapolis to attend and present at the national conference of the Progressive Education Network. Along with two colleagues from the Progressive Education Lab, Kate Knopp, dean of faculty, and I ran a workshop on how to mentor new teachers in progressive teaching practice. Math teacher Mike Keim presented on financial literacy, and science teacher Dawn Zweig and student Julia Angell ‘20 led a session on how to teach students to discuss difficult topics in the classroom. We each also attended a wide variety of workshops, many of which came under the broad theme of social justice. This conference takes place every other year, and brings together about 400 people working at progressive schools across the US. The majority of these are K-8 schools, but it is still a wonderful opportunity to learn, share challenges and opportunities, and have stimulating conversations. Putney is one of the older and better known progressive schools in the country, and I sometimes find myself being treated a bit like a village elder in that company. At the same time, I can learn from all of the different ways people are approaching the same basic topics. There is an increasing number of public schools working to integrate progressive principles into their school programs and culture, in spite of the many roadblocks placed in their way. Progressive education is designed to create citizens for a democratic society, and this challenge was much at the forefront at this conference, as it must be in these difficult times.
I wrote this summer about what I had been reading, and this spurred interesting conversations with many of you. I’m always eager for recommendations, so if you have any, please do send them along. Articles, novels, non-fiction—whatever you find useful in explaining or shedding new light on the world as we find it.
Best to all of you,