Seeing More, Seeing Differently

Dear Parents,

I hope this finds you all well. It’s been a busy summer at Putney, and a good one. We’ve welcomed our new Dean of Students, Karen Guttentag, and our new Director of Equity and Inclusion, Lisa Muñoz. Both are hard at work and eager, as am I, to see students back on campus. Darry Madden, Director of Communications and Marketing, started shortly after graduation in June, and is doing a wonderful job capturing the essence of Putney in print and social media.

I’ve been somewhat distracted from school matters by my daughter’s wedding in July, which brought lots of family and friends here for a couple of weeks—it was great fun. Even so, there has also been time for reading, and for reflecting on Putney’s roles and responsibilities in the world. Three books in particular have helped me see more, and see differently. Dignity, by Chris Arnade, is record of time spent with people in what he calls “back row America.” It brings into focus people that I often don’t really notice, and turns McDonald’s into a sociological construct rather than a fast food joint. Underland: A Deep Time Journey, by Robert Macfarlane, takes us deep below ground, exploring the biology, geology and the history of what lies beneath us, across time and around the world. You join the communities deep below Paris, drive with him along a potash mine shaft far under the shipping lanes in the North Sea, and explore the Serbian caves that housed terrible barbarity in WWII. The reader is drawn to speculate on both the vertical and temporal dimensions of any piece of earth they may be standing on. A third book, Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing, is a story is set thousands of years in the future, after an ice age disrupts civilization and technologies have become only dim myths. I read this first when it was published in 1999, but it has new resonance now that climate change is making itself felt. None of these books bear directly on how to run a progressive school in Vermont, but they each are reminders that we only start to understand what we care to look for. Since the first step of educational design must always be understanding what to focus attention on, these books of exploration and reframing are valuable to me.

Great teachers are those who can see kids clearly—really see who they are and what is going on with them. In order to do this they need to be conscious of what is there to be seen. Our faculty summer reading this year is on this theme. The teachers are reading excerpts from Jennifer Eberhardt’s book Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think and Do, and from Lisa DaMour’s book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. While this research was done on girls, the strategies for seeing and responding are universal.

I will be doing some traveling before the start of the school year, visiting Putney families in Beijing and Shanghai. I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet new families whose children will be here in September, as well as current families and alumni. I will also be spending time in several innovative schools and will talk with educators who are working to blend the best of Chinese and American education.

All the best to all of you, and have a lovely rest of the summer!

 

Emily H. Jones
Head of School