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A Not Your Father’s School Manifesto


Previously I have told the story of how I came to be here, and perhaps at a later date I will write more on this, but since I have stated that Not Your Father’s School is “a kind of idealized place,” I think I am obligated to lay out those ideals. So here is a manifesto, I guess, for this “construct,” this “test-bed for new ideas.”

Not Your Father’s School must be a place

· where students come first; students work first and foremost on behalf of their own learning and growth and not for the greater glory of the school

· where teachers and administrators quest ceaselessly for the most outstanding, engaging, challenging, effective, and worthy learning experiences to offer students

· where successes are measured not in grades, win–loss records, and graduate placement but in the deep inner satisfaction and development of each student and of each adult

· where failure is viewed not as a calamity but as a step toward a richer success

· where complacency and arrogance have no place; pride in authentic accomplishment and true excellence and personal growth are the engines of confident progress

· where integrity rules, everywhere

· where advancement goals and practices grow directly and palpably from the school’s mission and from the desire to have ever-improving student experience drive the institution’s growth forward

· where compassion and a sense of equity and justice inform all endeavors from classroom culture to extracurricular programs and goals to the recruitment and support of students and faculty

· where authentic and multifaceted engagement with the community and the world is the norm

· that recognizes, respects, and responds mindfully and energetically to the developmental, cultural, and personal differences among students

· where intellectual curiosity, creativity, and athletic prowess are celebrated equally

· that strives to help each student become, at any given moment, the best possible version of her or himself

· where new ideas are sought and welcomed as grist for an ever-turning mill of institutional progress to improve the experience and learning of students

In my ideal world, Not Your Father’s School would deliver on 100% of the school’s mission and “brand promise,” 100% of the time—a tall order, demanding qualitative and quantitative metrics we don’t yet have and perhaps the ability to change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in our bare hands, and leap tall buildings in a single bound. (A few years ago Pat Bassett entertained and challenged us all at the NAIS Annual Conference with Captain Independent; maybe we really need this kind of superhero right now.)

Optimistically, I would guess that the very best of our schools deliver on that promise somewhere around 80% of the time; the other 20% remains as the aspirational part of most missions. But I suspect that many schools deliver somewhat less, not out of lassitude or inattention but because of inertia—like Marley’s Ghost, weighed down by chains forged of compromise, complacency, and obliviousness to consequences.

Circumstances are changing—in classrooms, in politics, in society as a whole—and complacency, above all, has no more place among us. Each independent school has to become the best possible version of itself—not just to fill desks and coffers, but because we must do a better job telling our collective story and have better stories to tell. We have to show and tell, in the most compelling ways, the nature of our missions and our covenant to a world prepared to view us in the most materialistic or cynical ways.

We have to be better than just that, folks; we have to deserve to be viewed as we most want to be! We must be not anyone’s father’s school but schools for our own children and other people’s children—real schools: excellent, accessible, innovative, and ready.

1 Comment
  1. Peter,

    This is a vision for ALL schools, not just wealthy independent schools. Were that your vision was shared by our policy makers. Thanks for continuing to provide a beacon for all of us to strive toward.