Your Education: About You, Not About You

With Manny Ihomne after his chapel reflection
With Manny Ihonme after his chapel reflection

On Friday Manny Ohonme, CEO of Samaritan’s Feet, visited the Collierville Campus of St. George’s Independent School. The goal of Samaritan’s Feet is to provide shoes for ten million young people living in poverty around the world. You can learn more here:

This year our Friday chapel services are for grades 6 – 12. In the past the Upper School (9 – 12) and the Middle School (6 – 8) only came to gather as a full group rarely–convocations, holiday celebrations. As part of an effort to knit our community together more tightly, bringing us all together in chapel only makes sense. It is a weekly reminder for us that we are connected, that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that our shared space and experience at SGIS is valuable and powerful.

When he spoke to our group Friday, he celebrated our school’s diversity and our privilege to be a part of the SGIS community. He reminded us of just how rare it is in the world to have some of the things we may at times take for granted–friends, families, education, food, shelter, and…yes, shoes. He offered us the sort of perspective one garners when exposed to people who have vastly different life experiences than our own. I believe this exposure is imperative for every students’ growth. It is core to the SGIS approach, and it is a large part of the reason I chose this school for me and for my family.

After the service was over, I thought again of something I have often talked about and written about, that is, education is a gift. In fact, it is on the short list (right beside love of family and good health) of the greatest gifts we might ever receive. Our education is indeed ours–no one can take it away once we have it. It goes with us even if we lose everything else. It guides us and prepares us for what is ahead. So..it is ours. It is about us.

But it is also not about us. Most interestingly perhaps, our education exists only as we make meaning from it and as we are moved toward action in the world as a result of it. The questions I have for all of us who have had the privilege of an education such as the one at SGIS–

  • What will we make happen as a result of our education?
  • How can we use our education to impact the world around us?
  • How can we make our education not simply about us?
  • How can we continue to learn from people who have different backgrounds, different opinions?
  • How can what we already know lead us to want to learn more, understand more, impact more?

Finally!–A Name for my Blog

I revisited this one this morning after someone asked me about the genesis of the title of this blog–ROSS ALL OVER THE MAP. I find that I am still aligned with the thinking here though I must admit that as I reread it, it felt new all over again.

Ross All Over the Map

Last week I finally gave my blog a name–Ross All Over The Map. Since starting it almost two months ago I have simply called it Ross’ Blog in part because giving it a real name might obligate me to keep it up for the long term and in part because I could not think of a title I liked.  To be frank I am uncertain I will stick to this title; however, I picked it because my interests are indeed “all over the map,” and my family and I have a desire to continue to travel–quite literally to go “all over the map.”

My wife’s scholarship, writing, and teaching has taken us on some wonderful adventures “all over the map.”  We had a great chance to travel abroad to North Africa for several weeks during the summer of 2010, and it was amazing the extent to which my…

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Opening Convocation Reflection: Good Neighbors in the SGIS Ecosystem

With the 2016-2017 Prefects as well as John Leach, Rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles (Photograph by Suzie Cowan)
With the 2016-2017 Prefects, as well as John Leach, Rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles (Photograph by Suzie Cowan)

[I gave the following reflection during the St. George’s Independent School Opening Convocation today]

Good Morning! Good FIRST morning of the 2016-2017 school year.

Before sharing a couple of thoughts with you, I want to give a shout-out to the Class of 2017. I couldn’t more excited about the creativity and leadership of this group of seniors. I would also like to offer a round of applause to our prefects who have been hard at work preparing for the year ahead.

On Saturday evening, most of the Class of 2017 joined Mr. Gibson, Mr. Morris, Mr. Gorham, Ms. Hardy, and I at the St. George’s Bunkhouse in order to socialize, to eat Central BBQ, and to see our new space—it is awesome(!). Our time together was a chance to reconnect, or better for our purposes this morning, to remind them that they are interconnected as they prepare for the challenge and excitement of their final year at St. George’s as students.

I have long admired the 20th century thinker and novelist Aldous Huxley. For years I taught his novel Brave New World. In the novel Huxley imagines a society that has had human connectedness and kindness intentionally pulled from its fabric. As a result of prioritizing comfort and stability over everything else, the world we encounter in the novel is devoid of altruism and philanthropy. The notion of family is as alien to the characters in the novel as the absence of the notion of family would be to us. Additionally, many of the challenges we see in our world are absent, but to the reader’s increasing horror so are love, relationships, and caring. In the final work of his career, entitled Island, Huxley offered advice that to my ear seems perfectly timed for us. In the novel he implores: “Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and in the country around it. Rub it in.”

Order of Service from Opening Convocation at St. George's Independent School August 15, 2016
Order of Service from Opening Convocation at St. George’s Independent School August 15, 2016

With Huxley’s thought in mind, I spoke for a couple of minutes to the Seniors on Saturday evening. I talked to them about their role as leaders of the school, and I spoke about the idea that we are each part of the St. George’s ecosystem. As you likely learned or will soon learn in biology class an ecosystem is a complex set of relationships among the living resources and residents of a place or area. St. George’s human ecosystem includes three campuses; it includes faculty, staff; it includes infants who are less than a year old and members of the Class of 2017; it also includes alumni, trustees, and families.  Here is the key idea of my remarks this morning: our job, OUR job, is to make the St. George’s ecosystem as healthy as we possibly can. Indeed, a substantial part of the lives that I wish for each of you after your time at St. George’s is that you make all the ecosystems of which you are a member healthier and more sustainable. I am thinking of your colleges and universities and later, your cities and neighborhoods, for they are ecosystems as well.

I also took some time in my comments to our Seniors to expand our understanding of what it means to be a neighbor. It is easy to limit the definition of neighbor to the people who live next door or across the street from us. In fact, if someone says that someone else is their neighbor, we naturally assume that they live very close to each other. However, I would like us to think of our neighbors far more broadly to include not only our school, but our city, our county, our state, our nation, and our world. I would like for us to include people with whom we disagree under the umbrella of our idea of neighbor, and I would like for us to be among the people who strive to be good neighbors. At St. George’s we are going to name our school’s effort to be a good neighbor SG901, for as much as any school, if not more than any school, we are deeply connected—we are neighbors—to all of our area code.

In the letter I emailed you recently I made an ask for civility within the St. George’s community. For me playing a healthy part in our ecosystem, being a good neighbor, and committing to civility and to civil discourse are all intertwined—in fact, to my way of thinking they are essentially the same thing. Striving to make the parts of the world we touch healthier, kinder, more humane is the same thing as striving to be a good neighbor, and the same thing as striving for civility in our interactions with others.

This is not just my ask, however.  In the Gospel today—a reading from Matthew we call the Beatitudes—Christ identifies “Peacekeepers” as the Children of God. By telling us that the peacekeeper is blessed he is calling us to be Peacekeepers. That should be us; that must be us. Peacekeepers embody the characteristics of a good neighbor, and they make human ecosystems stronger.

Every part of an ecosystem impacts the way the system as a whole functions. What part will you play in St. George’s ecosystem this year?

It is an honor to have you all here. Let’s make it a great year! Amen.

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Making Places and Creating What is Next: A Cum Laude and NHS Induction Speech

Working on my comments for our opening chapel of the year at St. George’s Independent School tomorrow, this blog entry from a couple of years ago came back to mind…

Ross All Over the Map

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Good Evening!

It is a pleasure to welcome parents, friends, and most importantly, students to the Cum Laude and National Honor Society Induction Ceremony.  The students here this evening have distinguished themselves in many areas of school life from the classroom to the stage and from community service to the athletic field. They have earned this recognition. In myriad ways, Seniors, members of the class of 2015, you have done more than simply pass through Westminster. In real ways each class and each student within it, participates in making the school, creating the school.

Indeed we are not just passing through any of the places of our lives: our school, our city, our home, our work-place. No, we are not simply passing through places, we are all creating them. Underpinning our celebration of your achievements this evening is our belief in each of you that you will go into…

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