Headmaster’s Thoughts – November 2013

I was an evacuee. In June of 1944, three months after I was born, the Germans started to fire V-1 rockets at London, and they were followed by V-2s. The classic air raid, with warning sirens giving time for the population to gather their babies and get to shelters, no longer existed. At any time, any Londoner could be killed by a flying bomb.

The British decided to evacuate all of the children from London. My mother, my sister, and I were sent to a farm near Chester, away in the West Country and out of flying bomb range. By taking this action, the British protected their children who were, of course, their future.

Though my example is grave, my point is that we have always recognized that our children are our future. As adults, we—particularly parents and teachers—have the responsibility of creating a better place for our children (or, as in 1944-45, of keeping the children alive). This has to be a team approach where trust exists on both sides. It is our common goal. It is not political or ideological. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that children, the literal future of this country, are provided with the best possible tools to achieve personal success and improve society.

A lot has been written about progressive versus traditional education. I have found that these are mainly just tags that have different meaning for different people. It is indisputable that good teaching is the fundamental strength of a school; therefore, I truly wonder why anyone would try to confine good teaching into a pre-determined and limiting philosophy. We consider ourselves a traditional school. There are grades, bells, dress code, and standards of mutual respect. But in the classrooms you can find teaching that defies labeling. Michael Roper virtually re-enacts historic battles as he gesticulates in his classroom. Wendy Jin uses her interactive whiteboard to bring Mandarin characters to life in a far more restrained manner. Dr. Nicole Grimes has her students launch their self-designed model paper planes from the balcony of the Christian Science Church as she measures, from the pews below, the best engineered plane that flies the furthest. Eric Tull distributes his outline planners and quietly ensures that his students are organized. These are all excellent teachers. I could go on with my list of great teachers, but, apart from their excellence, it is difficult to see a common philosophical thread of pedagogy among them except that they agree that students are the future and that they are the focus of all that is done at York Prep.

I cannot actually remember being evacuated, since I was a one-year-old when the War ended. The experience reminds us that a country must first protect its children. I wish we would shift our priorities from endless testing and the hand wringing over our education systems, and instead recognize that teaching—great teaching—is the only thing that really counts in schools. Some students will naturally perform better on certain tests than others; some children will have intellectual epiphanies; and some will face failures and overcome them. Despite these differences, let us agree that all students are entitled to the best education, and that means being taught by great teachers.

The children of London were evacuated regardless of who they were. We, the evacuees, were truly a perse group in the best sense of persity: rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, orphaned and not. In America, in contrast, the word “persity” is often exclusively linked to race. Sad as it is, concepts of persity in America are fraught with its tumultuous history—understandable, and race is unquestionably part of persity. But it is not the only criteria.

When you protect your children, you protect all of them. I hope York Prep, as much as it is able to, reflects all of that persity. We still have not yet had the son of a female Maine island lighthouse keeper as a student. I live in hope!

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org 

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