• Thoughts from the Head

    This blog is meant to provide a place to begin conversations. What you will find here are my thoughts in reaction to articles, books, podcasts, and questions that I run into, and which I think are worth writing about. It is my hope that these pieces will spark meaningful thinking for you, and may open interesting conversations with your family and friends. And please get in touch with me directly if there are questions you'd like to ask, or if you want to engage more deeply with what you read here.

    The thoughts expressed here are mine, and are not meant to represent all of Soundview, its teachers, or the community. While I will say things here that most will agree with, any good conversation involves a degree of disagreement. If you find yourself in that position, let's at least agree to talk things through civilly and fruitfully!

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social-Emotional Learning

    Posted by Tom Curley on 12/3/2019

    I wrote most of this while attending the New York State Association of Independent Schools’ annual conference for heads of school at the beginning of November. This year’s theme was “Overcoming Immunity to Change Through Moral Courage,” and it was thought-provoking, difficult, and fascinating. We grappled with the most difficult aspects of what it takes to truly and genuinely inspect Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at private schools--perhaps the most white of our elite spaces. These conversations opened us up to our fears, our inadequacies, and the stark facts of American racism as it stands in our industry today.

    As a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, married, upper-class, highly-educated male, I am sometimes afraid to be a part of conversations about DEI. My privileged identifiers also mean that I must be part of these conversations. I need to make it clear that our school’s mission demands that we enter into conversations about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; we must do that as part of our curriculum and our daily life.

    One connection for me from the conference is that it is a privilege to be vulnerable. In my skin, my identity, and my job, I can be vulnerable in ways that many other people cannot, and with less risk. Privilege is power, and with power comes responsibility. To me, my incumbent responsibility is to use all of my vulnerability to open space for others to join me in that. I have to throw the doors wide open to my fear and confusion, my questioning and my sadness surrounding issues of DEI. If I can do this as a leader, then others can follow.

    This is no small task; there is courage required, and persistence. Perhaps most importantly, however, it takes awareness of oneself and others. These are key skills in the arsenal of Social and Emotional Learning that we seek to build at Soundview Prep. If you need to enter into a difficult conversation that rests, at its core, on the fact that we all have different perspectives, then you need to be able to listen to truly understand someone else. True empathy is true understanding, which is being aware of the whole picture of another person.

    We cannot get to that if we don’t have a sense of our own self and what we are bringing to the table, either. If I feel defensive about something the other person says, I have to recognize that, identify it, and understand why I feel that way. I have to be able to express my own feelings so that I can be understood when it is my turn. I have to know what is hard to hear for me, and what is easy. I have to be attuned to my own emotional and intellectual reactions. I have to be self-aware.

    As we work to recognize and value one another at Soundview Prep, we have to take all of this into account. It is our goal to collaborate with each other in creating an environment that helps us all learn to identify ourselves, to learn about others’ perspectives, and to do all of this with a working knowledge of how our own emotions can engage us more deeply in the world. It is through active respect and engagement in seeking others’ perspectives that we can come to truly appreciate the beauty of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

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  • On ruining childhood

    Posted by Tom Curley on 9/12/2019

    I was struck by the recent NYTimes essay, “We Have Ruined Childhood” because it is a more nuanced look at how childhood has changed, the forces behind it, and the effects those changes have had on young Americans today than most of what I read. Those of us involved in education have noticed many of these increases in anxiety over time, and the popular press loves to pin the blame on a single cause in reaction to one study or another. Screens are often to blame, but we should be paying attention, as Ms. Brooks does here, to combinations of factors. Society and children are complex!

    It certainly feels true to me as a parent that there are fewer opportunities for unstructured play for my children than I had myself. And study after study shows that children spend almost no time unobserved these days. Go back and re-read some of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona to see how free children were to roam their neighborhoods to really get a good picture of how much things have changed. 

    As parents, one of the major fears we share is whether or not our children will be properly prepared for life. In our current environment, we have taken that to mean that they should be taught things constantly, and should compete to be among the best at those things whenever possible. For those of us with hopes of sending our children to college, the competition is much fiercer, and begins much earlier, than ever before.

    Add to that the fact that we also want our children to be entrepreneurs, trailblazers, and original thinkers, but that we raise them in school systems that punish failure. Ask any entrepreneur about failure, and you will hear that their history is full of it. Ask any student about failure, and you will hear that it is not an option. That pressure works its way to teachers, as well, who can avoid giving deserved failing grades because the stigma is too much for children to bear, or that it simply won’t be accepted by parents or the school administration.

    And we haven’t even gotten to screens or the state of the world yet.

    This is why caring communities where students can explore their ideas, their self-identity, and their relationships without fear are so vital. All human beings need secure connections with others, but a hyper-competitive society that demands success at all times cannot provide that security. Helping adolescents find that safe space has never been more important.

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