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Making Sense of Tragedy

As we try to understand the violent events of the last months - Ferguson, Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando, Minnesota, Louisiana, Dallas, and now Nice - and reactions to them across the country by individuals and groups, I want to assure you that these events are very much on our minds here at Wooster. We are grieving for the innocent victims and their families and trying to sort out our own thoughts and feelings so that we can work to help our students make some sense of these national and world events when they return in September.

I expect that many parents, like myself, are trying to make meaning of these events and the rhetoric swirling around them for our own personal well-being, but also so that we can discuss them with young people in a way that will help them to think more clearly about them in the context of their own lives, and the wider world. This is no easy task given the underlying history and complexity of the issues, beliefs, and behaviors that contribute to these actions - and the emotional weight of the horrible results. There are no easy answers for anyone. This is a large part of the problem.

Race relations, xenophobia, identity and its politics, the economy, crime, the media, police brutality, gun laws, mass immigration, fundamentalism - where does one begin? In order to make meaning, we will have to think deeply, to search our own identity, to confront our own biases, AND listen to the stories of others as they do the same. If we work with our kids on asking the right questions in the face of what they are seeing and hearing, we can then start to begin the process of making meaning, or sense, of it all. Can we understand the roots of some of the issues? What are roots of people’s anger? Why are they afraid? How can the energy of that anger be best directed toward positive change? What does real, verified statistical data tell us? What are the underlying ideologies? What does history tell us - and who wrote it? And importantly, what conceptual constructs are other people who are thinking deeply about these issues using to try and understand things - and how can they help us in our thinking? As some initial understanding emerges, perhaps we then can talk about how to make it better.

Deep thinking, investigation and honest reflection are hard work. If we share the burden, it may lighten the load. To that end, I am providing some links to resources which are helping me to think more deeply about things. We began this work in earnest last year at school, and will be continuing the dialogue and the learning next year.

A Book: Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates. A strong, beautifully written expression of one man’s thinking about race in modern America. I found it very valuable in broadening my perspective.

A Reflection: A review of Between the World and Me from the NYT Review of Books. Reading this review helped me to better organize my thoughts about the book, and go a little deeper.

A Conceptual Framework: Whether one agrees with the theory or not, a brilliant example of someone trying to create a framework of ideas and connections to make meaning.

A Podcast: Multiple voices speaking in thoughtful ways about tolerance, inclusion and bias.

These are just a start, and I would invite others to post suggested reading/watching materials which have helped you to better understand aspects of these very difficult problems. I would also urge you to be gentle, generous, truthful, kind and brave in your own reaction to these events. The thoughtfulness of your approach and commentary will be closely followed - and likely emulated - by your child.

Posted by Matt Byrnes in Learning, Thinking, Community on Friday July, 15, 2016 at 01:13PM


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Matt Byrnes

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

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What I Have Been Reading:


The Martian, Andy Weir

Not just for sci-fi fans. Fun, exciting, and interesting story about what it would be like to survive on Mars.

Sold, Patrica McCormick

The story of a 12 year-old Nepalese girl who is sold into slavery in the sex trade of India. Based upon true accounts. Tough to read, but important to read as well because human trafficking is a real, and growing, problem.

Non-fiction for Fun:

The Boys in the Boat, Daniel J. Brown

Great story and some very interesting history.

An Army at Dawn and The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson

The first two books of the Liberation Trilogy will teach you a lot about the evolution of our involvement in World War Two.

About School, Thinking, Teaching, Learning, etc.:

Why Children Don’t Like School, Daniel Willingham

Lots of neuroscience well-connected to the life of school, teaching, and learning.

Make it Stick, Peter Brown, et al.

More neuroscience but a deeper dive into how we (and students) can “forget less” if we make some changes to our behaviors, routines, and assessments. Our faculty read this past summer.

Leadership, Innovation, and making things work:

The Hard Thing about Hard Things, Ben Horowitz

How successful start-ups and innovators work.

Things a Little Bird Told Me, Biz Stone

Twitter Founder writes about his journey -- a great read for any teenager or parent of one.

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