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Favorite Museum….The Bardo–Tunis, Tunisia

March 18, 2015
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J Ross Peters:

Just now seeing the breaking news that the Bardo Museum has been part of a terrorist attack. So much has changed in Tunisia since our visit in 2010. Today we will send prayers for the victims, for this incredible museum, and for Tunisia.

Originally posted on Ross All Over The Map:

for The Travel Belles…

The Bardo in Tunis is my favorite museum not only for its vast collection of Roman Mosaics, but because my daughter and I had a great time there together on a very hot July day in 2010.  The first to arrive there in the morning, we had the place to ourselves for the first hour.  Because of a significant renovation underway, we were not able to see the entire collection, but what was there was more than enough to engage us without overwhelming us.  Some museums are so enormous—i.e., The British Museum and The Uffizi—that I can leave feeling a bit washed out…sensory overload.

The timing of our visit also is a factor in making it my favorite.  During the same trip to North Africa, we had the opportunity to see The Cairo Museum.  Given the subsequent Jasmine Spring in Egypt and…

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Good Storytelling: John Maeda’s Visit to Atlanta

February 24, 2015

J Ross Peters:

As I head to Boston tomorrow for the NAIS Annual Conference, I am looking forward to hearing John Maeda again. I am re-posting this three year old blog entry as his book, REDESIGNING LEADERSHIP: DESIGN, TECHNOLOGY, BUSINESS, LIFE remains relevant in my thinking about school leadership. Maeda will be speaking at the Opening Session of the conference.

Originally posted on Ross All Over The Map:

Monday night I had the pleasure of hearing John Maeda, President of The Rhode Island School of Design, speak at the High Museum in Atlanta. A partnership between the High, The Westminster Schools, and Lovett School made his visit possible. Having just finished his excellent short book, Redesigning Leadership: Design, Technology, Business, Life, I was excited to have the chance to hear him speak.

Maeda has the kind of extraordinary intellect that is able to render complexity understandable without ever speaking pejoratively. During his talk, I thought of something he said in the book: “Although data can make a compelling case for something, data rarely create the emotions needed to spur people into action.” Maeda goes on to write about not only the need for storytelling but indeed the primacy of storytelling over statistics. He argues that artists are uniquely suited for this task as they…

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JanTerm Debrief #3–Smart Logistics and Keeping the Temperature Low

February 23, 2015

IMG_1280In three weeks…

  • 370 separate buses traveled off campus as part of JanTerm and traveled more than 17,000 miles.
  • Westminster students visited Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, California, and Guatemala.
  • Westminster students enjoyed 790 cupcakes, 690 snow cones, and 500 ice cream sandwiches.

Logistics. Success in any complex step forward in a school requires a thoughtful and flexible approach to logistics. The primacy of making the trains run on time is not simply a cliche–it is requisite to garner the support necessary to move forward.

Our first experience with JanTerm was not an end unto itself. It was always part of something larger. As the final part of a two-year rollout of a new daily schedule and school calendar, the JanTerm represents the single biggest curricular step forward in the Upper School since its founding–45 new challenging and varied electives, offered over the first three weeks of January for the entire 820 student Upper School at The Westminster Schools. The new schedule, in addition to adding a JanTerm, includes a later start, longer classes that meet less often, and more time for teachers to work in teams. The schedule falls from the school’s Strategic Plan, and it is a creation of a group we called the Time Task Force, an outstanding group of six faculty members. Over the course of a Spring, Summer and Fall, the Time Task Force did deep research, listened carefully to all the school’s constituents–faculty, students, and parents–and then crafted a remarkable proposal, which both aligned beautifully with the school’s vision and challenged us deeply.

The challenges of changes this significant were and are vast. One of those challenge areas, and the area most relevant here, is visible only when something goes awry–logistics. We were extraordinarily fortunate to have an amazing team who both planned for and then executed management of all logistics during JanTerm.

Key characteristics:

  • An early start on planning.
  • A team sized appropriately to the task ahead.
  • A team that has a good sense of humor, an investment in the success of the project, confidence to handle issues autonomously or to process challenges together.
  • Division of labor, but not so a rigid division that the team cannot process confounding issues efficiently and well.
  • Inventing new organizational systems when necessary rather than trying to stick regular school year systems as square pegs in round holes.
  • A customer service approach that strives to take logistical pressure off of teachers who are in the midst of intensely demanding teaching tasks by greeting everyone warmly, keeping the temperature low when something goes wrong, and solving as many problems as possible before the teacher has to spot them.

Though we never formally named them as such, there was a team of folks that addressed the logistical challenges, large and small. That group had good partnerships with the school’s Business Office, as well as with the other key divisions of the school, including the Office of Institutional Advancement and the Communications Office. Our JanTerm logistics team was made up in alphabetical order:

Gwen Andrews (Director of Administrative Computing), Rick Byrd (Director of Studies), Beth Downes (Assistant to the Upper School Head), Jim Justice (Associate Head of Upper School), Erin Morrison (Upper School Assistant), and Laura-Hill Patton (Registrar).

I learned a lesson from our experience with logistical planning and execution: a kind, smart, and generous logistics team dramatically raises the ceiling of possibility in a moment of school change implementation.

JanTerm Debrief #2–The Course Catalogue and Reimagining the Campus

February 20, 2015

[I am including the course catalogue here of JanTerm Courses from this January at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. Even a cursory read through the course descriptions reveals the interdisciplinary focus of much of our JanTerm work. Other themes become apparent as well, including pushing out the boundaries of what has traditionally defined our campus. With this lens, the campus becomes not simply a single place, an address, but the community in which we live and the world beyond.]


AP Chemistry

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: No. For Grade 10

The AP examination administered in May represents the culmination of college-level work in chemistry. After completing introductory topics in chemistry, JanTerm provides the additional time necessary to connect and relate knowledge across various scales, concepts, and representations in and across domains. Students continue to develop critical thinking and reasoning skills. Along with laboratory investigations, field trips will help relate the chemistry concepts to the world around us. Required of and open only to students currently enrolled in AP Chemistry.


Appalachia: History, Music, Culture

Overnight travel: January 11-14, 2015 Evening obligations: No. For grades 11 and 12

Satisfies the History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016

“Appalachia” tends to conjure up images in people’s minds: of poverty, of natural beauty, of economic deprivation, and of music. This interdisciplinary course seeks to introduce students to this famous area of the Southeast. The emphasis of the course will be on culture: history, music, literature, and more specifically, how those have been exaggerated and stereotyped in American culture.

The course will include a 4-day, 3-night trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, and the surrounding areas. We will visit Dollywood, the Museum of Appalachia, and engage in an interdisciplinary project involving the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We anticipate that this project will include a hike in Cades Cove.


Behind the Scenes: Theater, Film, and Television in Atlanta

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: Yes. For grades 9, 10, 11, 12

This course is designed to broadly introduce students to many facets of stage and screen work in Atlanta, GA. Have you ever wanted to visit a film set and watch a movie being made? Do you want to hear the voices of NPR live in a radio studio? From feature films at Pinewood Studios to the Alliance Theater, students will learn about the work that is onstage and on- camera here in our own hometown.

Students will study job descriptions for the people who work “behind the scenes” and then visit the workplace to watch them in action. By end of this course, students will be able to describe the people and process involved in the creation of a movie, a television show, a radio program, and a theater production from start to finish. In addition to work that happens “behind the scenes,” students will have one short segment of public speaking and media training, where they will learn how to present themselves while speaking on camera.

Students will go on-location in Atlanta to meet working professionals who are currently practicing the arts of Theatre, Film, Television, and Broadcast Journalism. As an added bonus, many of the professionals that we meet will be Westminster alumni and friends of the school.


Biomechanics and Sports Medicine

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: No. For grades 10 and 11

This course is designed to include the basic concepts of athletic training as a profession, human anatomy, mechanism of injury, and administration of athletic training. Students will demonstrate a basic mastery of how athletic injuries occur, how they are treated, and how they can be prevented. Project-based learning about various athletic injuries will take place. The Westminster training room will become our laboratory. Guest speakers will include professionals such as doctors, physical therapists, trainers, chiropractors and nutritionists. Students will travel to clinics and hostpitals such as Emory and Georgia Tech. Service learning will take place as student trainers volunteer in the Westminster sports community.



Overnight Travel: No Evening Obligations: No. For grades 11 and 12

This course is designed to give students a comprehensive introduction to the scientific concepts and laboratory techniques used in Biotechnology. The course will incorporate hands-on labs, conceptual background in biotechnological methods, and reviewing books and films in terms of content accuracy. Subject material covered will include: nucleic acid and protein isolations, vectors, cloning, hybridizations, Polymerase Chain Reaction, ELISA, sequencing,, and sequence analysis. The course will include a number of local off-campus field trips.


Cross-Cultural Immersion in Atlanta

For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12
Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: No

What is your culture? What cultures thrive in Atlanta? Would you like to get to know these cultures and learn about various languages, customs, foods, people, art, and values? This course will integrate French, Chinese, and Hispanic (Latino) communities of Atlanta, which will allow for comparisons and contrast of the aforementioned cultures and their needs. Students will be exposed to French, Hispanic (Latino), and Chinese cultures for a week at a time. During the “Chinese Week” students will explore Chinese language, cultural events, and community; during the “Spanish Week” students will explore language, music, movies, and community; during the “French Week” students will explore language, artm and community. Students will visit various sites and community agencies in the city of Atlanta and will host/attend numerous speaking events. This course will culminate in a cross-cultural project in which students’ experiences and reflections will be made public to the Westminster community via a website. In the project, students will include the following: videos, photos, interviews, and journals exposing the rich cultural diversity of the city of Atlanta.


Ecology and Culture of the Georgia Coast

Overnight Travel: January 11-17, 2015 Evening obligations: No. For grades 9 and 10

Through classwork, coastal fieldwork, and lab studies, students learn about the estuarine, beach, and maritime forest ecosystems that comprise the Georgia coast. The essential focus is learning the foundations of biodiversity, how it is related to ecosystem health, and mathematically calculating the biodiversity of several coastal ecosystems. The additional study of the crabbing industry and its history will elucidate some of the ways humans have impacted the functioning of the coastal ecosystem. Students will complete a final project connecting anthropogenic actions with changes in coastal biodiversity using a format of their choice. Please note: Students enrolled in this class will travel for 7 days to the Georgia coast where we will stay overnight at the UGA dorm facilities on Skidaway Island. Daily fieldwork will be conducted outside in natural marsh habitats (i.e., muddy) and on boats, regardless of weather conditions. Average temperatures are approximately 45 degrees and rain is common.


Electronic Fashion: e-textiles & Wearable Computers

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: Optional. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

Electronic fashion is the union of technology and wearables – computers that are part of your clothes! In this class you will learn everything you need to know to create your own electronic interactive garment. You will learn how to sew circuitry into cloth, how to utilize special sensors that can detect motion, temperature, light and touch, and how to program for the Lilypad Arduino – a flat computer designed for integrating into clothing. At times, throughout the course, we will be teaming up with the fashion course, “The Devil wears Lulu,” to explore and discuss fashion design. Field trips will include a shopping excursion, the High Museum of Art, and possible visits to art performance venues. At course’s end, you will have a functional electronic garment that you can take home.


Entrepreneurship: An Introduction

Overnight travel: No
Evening Obligations: No. For grades 11 and 12

Are you an entrepreneur?

This course is designed for advanced high school students who are interested in starting, plan to start, or who have already started their own business. Students who hold leadership or management positions in the school environment or within a business, who are part of an existing family-business, or who want to know what it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur will find real-world applications and solutions to the everyday challenges of owning and running a business.

In this course, students learn the essential attributes of an entrepreneur and the stages one goes through in taking the seed of an idea and growing it into a successful business. Of course it takes more than a good business plan and money to succeed—entrepreneurs must understand that all too often, the strengths that helped them succeed as a start-up become liabilities to overcome in order to take their business to the next level. This course provides practical insights on how to be successful at all levels, with an emphasis on the beginning or startup stages.


Finding Yoknopatawpha: Faulkner’s World

Overnight travel: January 22-25, 2015 Evening obligations: No. For grades 11 and 12

In writing about the American South, William Faulkner created stories that grapple with the history of the region while also experimenting with how to tell a story. We will travel to his fictional county—Yoknapatawpha—by reading his works, principally his collection of short stories, Go Down, Moses, and conclude the course with a visit to Faulkner’s ancestral home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi. In addition to the trip to Mississippi, the class will travel each week in and around the city of Atlanta, visiting people and places that inform stories about the South. Likewise, students will have ample opportunity to interact with one another and the literature as they develop and articulate an understanding of their own regional identities.


From Zumba to Hip Hop: Contemporary Forms of Community-Generated Expression in Atlanta

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: Yes. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

This course will allow students to identify and understand modes of expression that do not originate from institutions of power. Students will be exposed to various forms of expression as well as the context from which they were created. They will explore oral poetry traditions such as spoken word, rap, and speakers’ corner; dance traditions such as flamenco, zumba, hip-hop, and tango; and music traditions such as African drumming, jazz, R&B, and Latin music genres (el son cubano, salsa, mambo, rumba, Cha-cha-chá.) The course will include guest speakers and instructors, such as spoken word and rap artists; visits to Java Monkey’s poetry slam, a flamenco studio, a hip-hop dance studio, an African drumming class, and zumba class; and attending a conference about popular music and Latinos in the US.

The final project for this class is a dynamic portfolio on a specific form of community-generated expression. The portfolio will include research, writing, a creative product, and an interactive application of the form of expression of the student’s choice. For instance, a student interested in spoken word poetry might research and write about the origin and evolution of spoken word (perhaps through interviews, reading, viewing, and visiting spoken word venues), writing and revising several spoken word pieces, performing poems around the campus, and writing reflectively about their poetry. We are looking forward to an energized and creative JanTerm experience!


Giving Voice to Atlanta: Stories and Histories in Atlanta

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: No
Satisfies History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016

In Giving Voice to Atlanta, students will explore “oral history” and the ways in which first-hand accounts deepen our understanding of history and the world in which we live. While building relationships with their subjects, gathering background information, and practicing the art of interviewing, students will come to understand the power and complexity of oral history or storytelling. Students will read oral histories of American slaves, World War II survivors, refugees living in America, and American workers during the 1970s. We will also visit local universities and The Atlanta History Center to talk with historians and professionals working to preserve the legacy and historical value of the oral tradition. As a final project, students will create their own oral history.


Going 3D in Architecture and Design

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: No. For grades 10, 11, and 12

One of the most influential recent technological game changers is the 3D printer. The 3D printer and associated software have tremendous potential for the design and the manufacturing worlds. Students in this course will build their own 3D printers and learn how they can be used as powerful design tools, particularly in the field of architecture. Students will learn how architects design 3D spaces that are pleasing and effective, and will use their own 3D printers to develop models of prototype buildings.

Students will–

  1. 1)  Learn about the field of CAD (computer-assisted design) systems and in particular will learn how to use OPENSCAD software for creating solid 3D CAD models;
  2. 2)  Build (in teams) Rostock “Delta” style 3D printers that will allow them to print models;
  3. 3)  Learn some of the fundamentals of architectural design and study the work of severalcontemporary architects;
  4. 4)  Design and, using the 3-D printers, print the component pieces of a 3D model of abuilding;
  5. 5)  As a service component, donate some of the constructed 3D printers to schools that donot currently have the budgets for this transformational technology.

The course will feature lab time at school, guest presentations from professional architects and designers, and field trips to some of Atlanta’s most exciting new spaces, including The Hatch (Chick-Fil-A’s Innovation Center), Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons at Ga. Tech, and the offices of Perkins+Will Architects.


Guatemala: Colonialism, Postcolonialism, Service-Learning

Overnight travel: January 7-17, 2015
Evening obligations: No
Satisfies History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016
*A minimum of 2 years of Spanish study since 7th grade (current ’14-15 school year counts toward total)
*Biweekly meetings (45 minutes) on campus during October/November
*Fundraising efforts from October until December in order to raise money for cost of building materials, and then continued efforts during the spring in conjunction with the July ’15 Guatemala group.

The Guatemala Global Education program offers Westminster Sophomores and Juniors an experiential learning opportunity that includes discovering the ties between the United States and Guatemala, working as a team to raise funds, building a new home, and connecting with the people of Guatemala. Preparatory class work will focus on pre-Columbian, colonial, and postcolonial history, and 20th century US policy in Central America. It will also cover Guatemalan demographics, including geography, languages, religion, government, and economics. Using the materials purchased from the fundraising, Westminster students will work with Guatemala families and our partner organization From Houses to Homes to build houses, making them strong, safe, culturally appropriate, and affordable to maintain. The homes are part of a wider attempt to connect the families with educational, healthcare, and housing opportunities. Recognizing that housing is not enough on its own, FH2H carefully selects the families it works with in order to ensure each family will have access to healthcare for the entire family, elementary education for the children, and parenting and marriage assistance for the adults. Upon our return to Atlanta, students will write reflective essays on their experience in order to connect the dots from the learning experience.


If You Build It: Designing Stadiums for Communities

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: No
Satisfies History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016

“And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirt sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magical waters. People will come, Ray.”
-Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

Since the days of the Roman Coliseum, stadiums have captured our imagination, serving as near mythic gathering spaces, wherein communities believe their dreams can come true. With two new stadiums currently planned or under construction in Atlanta, students in this course will examine our drive to construct such coliseums and evaluate the idea that they support economic progress and community development. Guiding questions will be: To what extent do new stadiums impact a city’s economy? To what extent do they serve and build community? Who benefits? Who pays? And how do we design them in such a way that ensures they provide “the greatest good for the greatest number?” Broadly, students will engage a range of stakeholders, review published literature and their own research, and learn about the hopes and fears of neighborhood residents in the communities near these future stadium sites. Ultimately, students will define a specific challenge related to these builds and design and present a potential solution to a range of community leaders.


Introduction to Engineering Design

Overnight Travel: No
Evening Obligations: Yes. For grades 9, 10, 11, 12

How would you design a machine to sort recyclables, separating aluminum, plastic, and glass? Create a solar-powered water purifier that maximizes efficiency while reducing cost? This course explores problems that use engineering and design creatively and productively to make the world a better place. Using the design cycle, students will gain the technical know-how to build functioning prototypes and present inventions to engineering experts. Some students may choose to engage in engineering and design competitions such as FIRST Robotics and Science Olympiad with projects developed during this course. Topics in the course include mechanical design, control systems, and modes & methods of power.


“It’s the End of the World As We Know It!”: Apocalyptic Thought in Contemporary Film, Television, Music, and Literature

Overnight Travel: No Evening obligations: No. for grades 11 and 12

The apocalypse is here!!! There is an intense preoccupation in Western culture with the idea that the world might just come to an end someday. Indeed, much of the basis for this interest is a book that incites both curiosity and confusion, the book of Revelation, one of the most engaging and disputed books in the Bible. In this course, we will define apocalypse and discuss how the word has been misused; read and analyze the book of Revelation (also known as The Apocalypse), as well as other apocalyptic works; explore how Revelation has been used throughout history to predict the end of the world; and investigate how the idea of the apocalypse has been reimagined in contemporary film, television, music, and literature in both secular and religious ways. The course will include field trips to the sets of “The Walking Dead,” as well as to the Centers for Disease Control (for those concerned how to survive a zombie apocalypse). To culminate the course, students will have the opportunity to create their own “apocalypse.”


“Let My People Go!”: The Bible and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States

Overnight travel: January 15-17, 2015
Evening obligations: No
Satisfies the History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016. For grades 10, 11, and 12

This course will offer a unique perspective on the Civil Rights Movement and its relationship to the Sacred Scriptures in the Bible. Ms. Fleming and Father Bailey will facilitate lectures and group discussions related to this course. A trip to Birmingham and Selma in January will reinforce the powerful relationship of the interpretation of faith, salvation, liberation, providence and even martyrdom to the deep meaning of the Movement. The main goal is to help our students establish an intelligible context for how Salvation History had a foundational basis to the language that the Movement conveyed to the world. Guest speakers, video media, and field trips will help to supplement the powerful learning experience that will occur in this course.


Music and the Movies

Overnight Travel: January 15–19, 2015 Evening obligations: No. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

This course explores the role of music in film, television, and video games, surveying music from the silent film era through the present, with an emphasis on feature-length films from Hollywood. Significant time will be spent studying the elements of music and how composers have manipulated musical materials to form artistically effective soundtracks. The course will also examine film music and sound from several other perspectives: technology and history, aesthetics and culture, and economics and business.

The middle section of this course will be spent in Los Angeles, California with direct contact with composers, studios, and other elements of the Film/TV/Video Game industry.


Of Quarks and Quasars: Counterintuitive Concepts In Post-Nineteenth Century Physics—Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

Overnight travel: No. For grades 10, 11, and 12

Most of us carry a convenient device that fully depends upon Einstein’s Relativity in order to operate. All of us routinely use any number of devices and systems that fully incorporate Quantum Physics in their design. Despite these ubiquitous real-life applications of post- Newtonian physics, many people are completely unaware of how deeply their lives are intertwined with modern, post-nineteenth century physics.

This course aims to change that, introducing interested students into the mysterious, challenging, profound concepts found in Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Mathematics will be kept to the level of first year algebra. Intellectual concepts in these areas have been likened to Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole, and we will meet them head on. Students will use lab equipment that is beyond that encountered in the usual physics classes. A Geiger counter, a homemade cloud chamber, and various optical measuring instruments will allow students to begin to investigate the universe beyond the Newtonian world that is mainly studied in ninth grade, and studied again, in more detail, in AP Physics.

This course will include an investigation of professional labs at the Georgia Tech Department of Physics. Each group of students will become conversant in the operation of a physics lab at Tech, from ultra-fast optics to relativistic astrophysics. They will immerse themselves in the work of a specific lab, learning what physical properties are being measured, how they are

being measured, and the motivations and possible consequences of the research. Then we will drive down to Tech to meet with researchers who will show us the equipment in action. While each group will be more specialized in one particular lab, the entire group will hear presentations on each other’s work, thereby attaining some introductory understanding of several labs engaged in real relativistic and quantum mechanical research.


Painting with a Purpose: The History and Practice of Painting

Overnight Travel: No Evening obligations: No. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

This is a hands on experiential course in which students will study the history and practices of painting while applying them to their own artwork. Students will develop their portfolio and engage with the art community by visiting museums, galleries, and artists’ studios. Interaction with this community will help students define a purpose for their art in the form of social, political, or environmental concepts.


Plagues: The Science, History, and Mathematics of Disease

Overnight travel: January 14-17, 2015 Evening obligations: No. For grades 11 and 12

Satisfies History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016

This course will be an interdisciplinary survey of how plagues are spread along with an examination of social responses to major epidemic diseases in world history. One of the questions we want to consider is the cultural and scientific construction of health and illness. We will examine specific diseases (examples may include leprosy, bubonic plague, smallpox, typhoid fever, 1918 influenza, yellow fever, AIDS, and newly emerging infections) from the medieval to the modern era, with emphasis on newly emerging diseases and in the contemporary world. The dynamics of disease progress (epidemics) will be modeled using computer software, providing opportunities to explore possible intervention strategies in preventing or stopping an outbreak. The course will include a 4-day, 3-night trip to Savannah, the site of a major yellow fever epidemic in the 19th century. The course will culminate in an interdisciplinary project on a disease.


Religious Diversity and Sacred Spaces in Atlanta

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: No. For grades 9, 10

This three-week course is a dynamic and interactive exploration of “the self” and spiritual communities. How do we as individuals arrive at our understandings around faith (belief/non- belief), religious rituals and expression? How can physical spaces help shape and support this journey? How are different expressions of faith and freedom negotiated in a multi-cultural society? On the Westminster campus? How do others in Atlanta and around the world experience and express their religious beliefs? How are conflicts resolved or ignored? Why does it all matter?

Students will experience: sharing personal stories; small group work and interactive exercises; films, music and site visits including: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir; Al-Farooq Masjid of Atlanta; Cathedral of Christ the King; a Buddhist Temple; and The Temple (Synagogue). Afternoons will include stops at area restaurants to experience cultural cuisine affiliated with particular religious traditions and cultural celebrations. We will use world religion texts and incorporate guest speakers and Skype sessions with academics and activists involved in interfaith studies and youth around the country. Students will learn about a range of religious communities in the Atlanta area and explore their own personal belief systems and ways in which they intersect with those of others.

Ending Project: Reflection Narrative



Street Art Statements: The How-To’s of Printmaking for Purpose, Politics, and Scientific Awareness

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: No. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

Students will use printmaking as an artistic medium to raise awareness for scientific issues of global, political or ethical importance. Students will learn the how to’s of several forms of printmaking including: silk screen, carborundum, woodblock, monoprinting, copper
etching. Students will spend several days at a professional print lab learning the process of silk screening. Students will create several works of art surrounding a single scientific theme of their choice that they will explore further through research. Examples include: endangered species, emerging infectious diseases, global warming, genetic engineering and others.


Sacred Music, Sacred Texts

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: No. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

The guiding principles of this course will address such questions as: Why does music exist in worship? Specifically – why do we sing in worship? How has singing — both congregational and choral — evolved through the centuries and across denominations? How and when did we evolve from monophony (one voice) to polyphony (many voices)? Are the terms “contemporary” and “traditional” really accurate when speaking about worship? We will examine these ideas and others from the foundations of Christian worship and its antecedents, specifically Judaism, but also including non-Christian forms of sacred music. This course will focus on experiential-learning, incorporating field trips to concerts and places of worship, offering a variety of liturgical experiences. While there will be several, short objective quizzes, the primary assessment of student learning will be a final project — paper and presentation, which incorporates an understanding of historical background and evolving context and content.


Science & Medicine: The Impact of Race, Culture & Economics

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: No. For grades 11 and 12

This is a multi-disciplinary course that examines some of the more recent major scientific discoveries in the context of the racial, political, economic, and religious climate of the
time. The story of Henrietta Lacks will provide the foundation and architecture for the course. Specific topics include: genetics, the human genome project, mitosis (cell reproduction), stem cell research, racism, class, and medical/scientific ethics. Students may engage in bench science as part of this course, but there will be no dissections. This class will include field trips. Examples of some trips include: Tuskegee, AL which is the site of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study; The Human Bodies exhibit in Atlanta; Milledgeville, GA which is the site of one of the first mental health hospitals in GA; a local university to review the process of human subjects research. Students will keep a blog over the course of our studies in which they include reflections, current events, and responses to readings.


Serving to Learn, Learning to Serve

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: No. For grades 9 and 10

In this course students will begin to form relationships by engaging in service projects around the city. As students are introduced to the concept of volunteerism, they will specifically be working in partnership with two fifth grade classes at the Atlanta Public School’s Scott Elementary. In addition to learning about the Scott Elementary neighborhood, students will be working closely with the school’s STEAM Curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Westminster students will produce and demonstrate projects in collaboration with Scott students, and will be available once each week to serve as Homework Assistants. Various civic leaders will speak to the class on the importance of understanding “community,” an orientation will be held to certify students as volunteers through Hands on Atlanta, and students will engage in a number of service projects both on and off campus. Many of these will come from input by the students of their interests and recommendations. Through journaling, collaborative research projects, and class presentations, students will be evaluated on what they have learned about building relationships and understanding themselves in relation to their community. The hope is that students will find ways to continue their relationships throughout the year, engaging in other service-learning programs and volunteer projects.


Shakespeare: Context and Substance

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: Yes. For grades 11 and 12

Satisfies History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016

This course will look at four of Shakespeare’s history plays (Henry IV: Part I, Henry I: Part II, Henry V, and RICHARD III.) The course will analyze Shakespeare’s take on the issues surrounding these Kings’ reigns, and analyze the historical truth of the times. These Kings brought England out of the Middle Ages and into the more modern world. The course will utilize the resources in Atlanta and the surrounding region.


Shakespeare and Music

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: No. For grades 9, 10, 11, 12

Shakespeare’s plays have not only inspired audiences and readers over the years, they have enchanted and inspired some of the greatest composers in history.

In considering this creative relationship, we will experience and immerse ourselves in both the brilliance of the bard but also the power of composers such as Verdi and Mendelssohn, Britten and Bernstein, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and a host of others.

During the course, we will focus on Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream paired Verdi’s Macbeth and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

We will dive into textual analysis and swim through performing and creative responses. Additionally, we will interact with Shakespearean actors from Atlanta’s thriving theater community.

When working with the operas, we will study classic performances, historical recordings, and consider the craft of orchestration.

And at all times, we will consider where these two art forms meet. Is “your” Lady Macbeth an oboe or a cello? Is “your” Puck a teenager or an old lady? What happens when Macbeth meets the Mafia? Come to Shakespeare and Music and find out! Come to Shakespeare and Music—make your words sing!


Songwriting and Music Production

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: Yes. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

A course that will help beginners and experienced songwriters alike move from thinking about composing and producing their music to actually creating tracks and finished recordings of songs. Beginning songwriters will learn Garageband and basic recording and tracking techniques. More experienced songwriters will continue to use the recording software they currently use to refine the quality of their recordings and improve their recording skills. All students will produce one finished solo project and one collaborative project in the course of the term, but each day will focus on a mix of independent work and collaboration among all the students.

Day-to-day work will focus on composing, recording, tracking, mixing, and engineering their own music as well as some experience scoring music for a scene from a video or writing a jingle for a product as a way to understand other “real world” applications for both songwriting and production.

Students will travel off campus to visit recording studios and songwriting events like open mics and roundtables at least once each week. In addition, local songwriters will come to workshop ideas and offer suggestions on writing, recording- and performing.

Lack of expertise should not deter any student from signing up. Students will be great resources for one another as well as for the instructors. No one will know how to do everything, so we will all need to discover new and better ways to explore our passion.


Technical Aspects of Computers: Technical Certification & Service Experience

Overnight travel: TBD Evening obligations: No. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

This course will provide students with the knowledge and skills to become Apple Certified Macintosh Technicians (ACMT) able to perform warranty and non-warranty repairs on Apple desktop and portable products. Students will be required to complete self-paced online training materials, participate in demonstrations and utilize diagnostic tools in hands-on lab exercises. Service opportunities include partnering with local Apple Authorized Repair facilities and laptop schools to practice skills and demonstrate troubleshooting knowledge. The course

will culminate with the opportunity to take the ACMT examinations for official
certification. Students that successfully pass their examinations will be eligible for other experiences throughout the year such as the opportunity to serve at Westminster’s Knowledge Bars, working with Westminster’s IT Services (Tech Department) for behind-the-scenes projects, or helping to expand the program into the lower grades.


The Battle of Atlanta and the Civil War

Overnight travel: January 8-9, 2015 and January 20-21, 2015 Other evening obligations: No
Satisfies History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016

Ever made a Civil War tent? Didn’t think so. Come experience the most defining chapter in Atlanta’s history in this JanTerm course. We’ll explore the daily life of the soldiers and citizens as well as the grand strategy that made it all happen. What did the soldiers eat? How did they spend their time in between battles? What weapons and tactics did they use, and were some more effective than others? What are the facts behind some of the legends of the Battle of Atlanta and the Civil War, e.g. Sherman, Lee, Grant, Jackson, etc.? How did the war affect life beyond the battlefield, positively and negatively? We will travel to many of the sites in Atlanta and in the surrounding area to deepen our understanding of the legacy of the War beyond notions of heroes and villains. Some of those sites are places all around us. We will enrich them with the meanings that you might never have known they have. We will attempt to re-create as many of the things that they carried as possible: from tents, to food, to shoes. From this course, you will have an enhanced understanding of how the Civil War has affected the history of warfare tactics, weaponry development, civilian life during wars, and, most of all, Atlanta’s current shape and character.


The Business of Sports

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: No. For grades 11 and 12

This course will explore the organizational business structure of sports programs at the professional and collegiate levels. We will examine the various operational departments within these organizations to include: general operations, business operations, facility operations, finance, merchandising, special events, security, ticket sales, marketing, public relations, information technology, scouting, equipment, etc. Students will have the opportunity to visit some professional organizations such as the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons along with college athletic programs Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, and the University of Georgia.

Guest lectures will further enhance the experience. The class will engage in creating their own final project of a specific area of interest within the organizational business structure of sports programs.


The Chemistry and Culture of Food

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: No. For grades 10, 11, and 12

Cooking…situates us in the world in a very special place, facing the natural world on one side and the social world on the other. The cook stands squarely between nature and culture, conducting a process of translation and negotiation. – from Cooked by Michael Pollan

This course will examine food through a variety of lenses. The primary method of inquiry will engage the chemical composition and processes involved in cooking many of our food staples such as bread, cheese, chocolate, and many others. Additionally, this course will integrate hands-on cooking techniques, a brief study of the agricultural and economic infrastructure that sustains the food industry, and descriptive food writing focused on the historical, cultural, and personal importance of food in our daily lives. Through the expertise of local culinary leaders, field trips to restaurants and kitchens, a development of focused and evocative writing, as well as laboratory-based experiments, students will immerse themselves in food culture. As we move towards a final gathering at the “family table,” the course will culminate in a cooking demonstration and final piece of food writing that incorporates the chemistry, history, cultural and personal significance of a culinary dish of each student’s choosing.


The Devil Wears Lulu: The Craft and Business of Fashion

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: No. For grades 9, 10, 11, and 12

Did you know that fringe on clothing was originally to repel rainwater? That skirts are making a comeback for men? Clothing has evolved over hundreds of years as both a form of protection and a form of self-expression. While the fashion industry is a relatively new concept, it is a multi-billion dollar industry globally, a powerful economic force. From haute couture to budget brands, from economically sustainable to technologically savvy products, we will examine the history, the psychology, the art, the craft and the business of the fashion world. The focus will be primarily on American fashion, and there will be several guest speakers from different areas in the fashion industry. The class will visit a few local places of business and each student will

be expected to create a product (research paper, business plan, portfolio of designs, etc.) as his or her final assessment. Come join us on our journey into fashion!


The History and Physics of Flight

Overnight travel: January 7-10, 2015 Evening obligations: Yes. For grades 9 and 10

This course will offer students an overview of the history of flight, focusing on the cultural, social, and military impacts that this exciting field has had in American history. Also integrated into this class is the science of flight, where students will explore the physics behind flight through interactive and hands on experiments. Students will have the opportunity to build model rockets and airplanes, fly these models, and conduct experiments examining drag, lift, and thrust. Off campus experience will include a visit to a university flight laboratory. Students will also take an introductory pilots training course with actual flight time with an instructor. In addition, the course will include a two-day trip to Charleston, SC to visit the Boeing facility.


The Icon of God: The New Testament & Sacred Art

Overnight travel: No
Evening obligations: Optional
Satisfies Bible requirement for Class of 2015 and open only to students taking PL/Band/Chorus/Orchestra AND fourth year of math, science, language (all three)

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul calls Jesus the eikōn of God (1:15). This Greek word and its English derivative “icon” mean, simply, “image,” but in the stricter sense an exact image or likeness. Via Christian iconography and the Christian scriptures, students will delve into the branch of theology known as Christology which, ultimately, hopes to answer the question Jesus poses to his own followers: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29, par.). The answers to this question are as manifold in both their scope and their implication as can possibly be imagined. Students will examine the literary portraits of Jesus that each of the Gospel writers presented in their texts, the portrait presented by the Apostle Paul and his contemporaries in their writings, and in the visual portraits of Jesus from the iconographic tradition. Through this dual approach students will gain unique and qualitatively significant to the scriptures and traditions of Christianity, from their seminal moments in the Early Church until our own time and context.


The Mathematics of Fantasy Sports

Overnight travel: No Evening obligations: No. For grades 10, 11, and 12

In this course, students will explore sports data and design a mathematical model that will enable them to maximize the number of points that their fantasy sports team can earn. The course will begin with a history of fantasy sports and an opportunity to play Strato-Matic, the original sports game that relied heavily on statistics. Students will then begin developing a model for a sport with limited data, such as golf or hockey, and then extend their model to sports with much more data, such as basketball, football, and baseball. The model will also be compared to professional sports and how they may select and manage their teams including payroll, injury replacement, free agency, etc.


Wilderness, Photography, and American Culture

Overnight travel: January 12-15, 2015
Satisfies the History requirement for Class of 2015 & Class of 2016 No previous experience with photography is necessary.

This course examines the changing understandings of and approaches to wilderness in America and the ways in which photography has reflected and helped to shape those understandings and approaches. We will consider the words of wilderness writers (John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, and others) as well as the works of wilderness photographers (Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Eliot Porter, and others) within different historical contexts, from the late nineteenth century to today. We will look at the role of government and private citizens in managing wilderness, as in the creation of the national parks system and the Sierra Club, and we will explore past and present controversies in the ongoing struggle to define what “conservation” should mean, often pitting market interests against ethical and spiritual values. Students will have daily reading assignments and will routinely reflect on course topics, and develop their own ideas, in writing and in picture taking. Students will collaborate on a final project (likely an exhibit or booklet) combining their photographs and written commentary.

This course includes an overnight trip (three to four days) to a location along the Appalachian Trail in the second week of classes, as well as periodic day trips near Atlanta, for photography, hiking, and reflection.

Westminster’s JanTerm–Debriefing the First Year

February 18, 2015

Last Word

I wrote the piece above back in the early Fall for the Fall/Winter Westminster Magazine for The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. (Just click on it for a full sized rendering). Now that our first JanTerm is over, it is a good time to share what has been a stunning success. The overall satisfaction with JanTerm among students, parents and faculty was beyond our most optimistic predictions.

Student satisfaction:

Student survey Parent Satisfaction:

Parent SatisfactionFaculty satisfaction with Janterm was above 85%

Over the coming days and weeks, I will share more about from this landmark moment in our school’s history. Topic will likely include: the interdisciplinary focus, the process that got us here, courses that included issues of social justice, community partnerships, service learning through JanTerm, logistics planning and execution, and financial modeling.

A Signing Day Talk–The Stubbornly Counter-Cultural Athletic Program

February 4, 2015

Signing day

[I gave the comments that follow as part of the Signing Day Ceremony at The Westminster Schools in Atltanta, GA on February 4, 2015]

Let me add my welcome to the 2015 Signing Day Ceremony and my congratulations to each of our signees today. I am honored to have the opportunity to share this moment with you.

At Westminster, just as we lean into the value of academics and the value of the arts, we also lean into the value of athletics, the value of teams, and the value of competition as the ground upon which character is built. According to this way of thinking, we learn many things from sports. On the field, court, track, pool of competition we learn to be shoulder to shoulder with those different than ourselves; we learn to see that a good team allows us to be part of something greater than ourselves alone; we learn success and failure; we learn about sacrifice and commitment. We learn calm under pressure, and importantly we learn enough about humility to demonstrate grace in both victory and in defeat.

To read our national sports headlines, however, points to other lessons … ones that can make the ones I just mentioned seem trite, anachronistic, or misguided. Whether it is deflategate, or evidence of a blind eye turned to domestic violence, or some collegiate programs that have lost their moral and ethical compasses in an atmosphere of booster dollars and demands for short cuts to success, our national sports story is not always an inspiring one, and at times it is simply a very sad story of wasted human potential and squandered opportunity.

Against this national backdrop, our voicing of Westminster’s priorities regarding character must seem quaint, anachronistic, perhaps even naïve to much of the world…that is, if the world notices us at all. I know, as I hope you know, that our priorities are anything but quaint, anachronistic or naïve. They are instead vital and inseparable from our mission as a school.

All this brings into focus for me the significance of our gathering today, for today, signees, we celebrate you, yes, of course, but we also celebrate something more, and it is this…

We are intractably counter-cultural in our approach to athletics. While it would be the height of arrogance to think that we are alone—we can each summon example after example of individuals and schools that share our point of view and put it to the test in competition—we are rare, and today we mark a rite of passage for each of you that includes taking the best of this rarity of your athletic experience at Westminster with you to the colleges, the universities, and the teams on which you will leave your mark.

At Westminster we like winning, and led by many of you, we have had our share, if not far more than our share, of winning during your tenure here. We are proud of the fact that Westminster is consistently in the conversation of the best High School athletic programs in the country. But more, much more importantly, we graduate students who are positioned to contribute far more than an impressive stat line. It is our request and our expectation that you, each of you, will help make and help lead the teams on which you participate meet the highest standard of sportsmanship and competitive spirit rather than sink toward a diminished cultural common denominator.

So today is a perfect moment to express our appreciation for all that you have done as athletes, Westminster athletes, and it is a moment for each of you to express deep gratitude to all those who have helped bring you to this point—parents, coaches, teammates. It is, however, also a moment to look ahead and set your personal compasses for the challenges ahead. My two cents: hold on tightly to the important things, for so much is about to change in your lives that it will be easy to lose track of what is truly valuable. The valuable things I am thinking of include: commitment, fair play, sacrifice, humility, and grace. I, just like so many gathered her this afternoon, am confident that you each have ample strengths to rise to whatever occasion the future holds. And on this big day, I am excited for each of you, and I am excited for the schools fortunate enough to be able to have you wear their name and colors.

Thank you.

The Tenebrism of the Soul Sifted to the Surface in Four Ballads

January 13, 2015

[In the fall of 2013 I led two parts of a five Sunday Sunday School sequence at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta. The theme of the talks was “Twilight: Our Complicated Relationship with Darkness.” The talks were a precursor to a visit from Barbara Brown Taylor who was about to have her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark hit the streets. Her talk at All Saints was the annual Woodall Lecture for 2013.  Jere Wells, Assistant Head of The Westminster Schools, handled the other three of the talks. We prepared the talks without advance reading of the book. 

I have decided to publish my notes for the talk as I just revisited them for a talk I gave to one of our JanTerm courses (Appalachia: History, Music, and Culture) at Westminster. More information regarding Westminster’s JanTerm can be found HERE. I have edited out some specific bullet points regarding the murder ballads we listened to, but I believe the overall gist of the talk is intact. I have included links to the ballads, and I have copied the lyrics to “Pretty Polly” end of the entry.

The previous Sunday I had spoken about Caravaggio who had his own very complicated relationship with darkness. I may pull together those notes at a later date.] 

Greil Marcus called it, “The Old Weird America” and it is weird. A world where in the space of fifteen seconds of music and lyric we can move from the promise of marital union to the tragedy and brutality of premeditated murder. We move from the promise of comedy to the reality of crime. And the crime is close, relational, not anonymous—a young man fools a Pretty Polly, his betrothed, into following him into the woods where he kills her—his is a warped seduction where the seduced gives not simply her body, but her life, and strangely she doesn’t put up much of a fight. This is a crime that can only find shallow burial and a murderer that has only a short time on the run. His motive is announced but elusively vague as cause for the action that take place. It lives somehow beyond our intellect and into the space beyond it or perhaps better, it lives further inside of us than our intellect can go.

In the version of “Pretty Polly” we just listened to and watched, we see another phenomenon, that is, such music is not private music, shared secretly, but rather it is remarkably popular and public music—an NC-17 subject matter rendered in a G-rated setting. Joyously rendered, warmly received by an audience apparently oblivious to or in celebration of the darkness it portrays. Maybe the path of the song is so familiar to us somehow we don’t consciously make ourselves aware of its darkness. With all this in mind, I thought the topic of murder ballads, particularly juxtaposed with the religious music which lives in counter-intuitive partnership with it represented an apt topic for the series of talks entitled, “Twilight: Our Complicated Relationship with the Darkness “ of which this is the fifth and the last.

Last week we discussed the life and work of Caravaggio, the Italian painter of the late 16th and earl 17th centuries. In that class we thought about light and dark through the lens of one remarkable figure, whose life of stark contrasts between the sacred and the profane provided rich ground for discussion in the area Barbara Brown Taylor will speak of during her upcoming return to All Saints during which she will focus on her upcoming book: Learning to Walk in the Dark.

Today, however, our lens is different, and I believe more uncomfortable, because when we investigate Caravaggio we are looking at a figure who lived hundreds of years ago and led a life in extremis. He was violent, and on the run—as I said last week should Caravaggio have lived in our time, he most likely would have been painting from prison, a high security prison. Without too much difficulty, we can separate ourselves from his particular brand of humanness. He is an outlier, an outsider.

Today’s topic allows us no such distance or comfort, for this music is part of us, and in fact, while we can attempt to confine these songs to the past, such an attempt is flawed as the elements of these songs continue to recirculate culturally. “Nirvana,” the Seattle-based band from the early nineteen nineties provides an example in their rendition of “In the Pines,” a song dating back at least to the mid-1800s. Other interpreters of the song include Leadbelly, Bill Monroe, and Doc Watson. No traditional musicians worth their salt would fail to have it in their repertoire. This particular song somehow manages to have a beheading be its second most haunting image. The most haunting image of the song to me is a verse that Kurt Cobain left out: “the longest train I ever saw went down that Georgia line./I asked my captain for the time of day/He said he threw his watch away.” The image in the refrain completes a horrifying image of hell: “in the Pines, in the pines where the sun never shines and we shiver when the cold wind blows.” Note that here the sun never shines and watches are useless. What fascinates me most about this is that the “dark night of the soul” it relates is shared through popular music untraceable to its original author. This dark night of the soul is presented in the bright light. So for me it represents a turning out of some of what is deepest inside of us. To operate with the language we used regarding Caravaggio, we are confronted with our own personal chiaroscuro, our own soul’s tenebrism, and we are faced with it in the bright light of a public space like the Ryman Auditorium or a summer camp square dance. And notably we cheer and applaud when it is rendered well.

This morning I have picked four murder ballads: “Pretty Polly”, “Banks of the Ohio”, “Tom Dooley”, and “Omie Wise.” They share some characteristics that not all murder ballads share, and the versions of them I include lack components other versions have. Clearly they are not fully representative of the full range of murder ballads, but they will, I hope, serve our purpose well this morning.

Like Grim’s Tales or Jack Tales, these songs keep key components out of our view. For instance, why kill her in the first place? What is it that leads the young man, no matter the specific reason for his anger, to take the step that not only condemns her to death but also condemns him eternally?

We get little to no insight into the feelings of the participants. In stark contrast to the songs of modern singer/songwriters, we get almost no personal insight. There is no existential angst on the sleeve of the perpetrator, unless it is to be found in the tone of the particular person singing the song. And interestingly, we also lack a narrational voice that expresses any sort of clear moral commentary. The songs operate in a skeletal framework of meaning—leaving wide canvas space for us to imprint meaning, intent, tone. Without a burden of actual truth or of reportage, the songs become a different sort of news, a kind of truth that transcends time and place and moves further inside of us behind the intellect, indeed beyond our personal experience, to something more elemental.

Jere Wells in the first three parts of this set of five Sundays preparing for Barbara Brown Taylor’s visit, made a couple of references to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In essence these ballads take us to a similar place and sift to the surface a similar question—what becomes of us or who do we become when we leave town and head into the woods or down by the river? What happens to us when the parameters of civilized society are absent? And most often we find that the scariest part is not what we find external to us in these spaces but rather what we find inside of us. What is in Kurtz in Heart of Darkness is the same thing that we find in Mr. Hyde or that we find in the perpetrators in these four ballads.

I am particularly interested in a component of several of the ballads, most notably in “Pretty Polly.” You’ll note that in this song the singer, and perhaps thus the audience is essentially cast in each role in the course of the ballad. We inhabit the perpetrator, a knowing narrator, and the victim. In a very narrow space we find ourselves in each role—the innocent, the guilty, and the observer. What we make of this has direct bearing, I believe, on the essence of this series of talks: “Twilight: Our Complicated Relationship with Darkness.” Indeed it is not only complicated but it is impossibly complicated because the relationship exists beyond our grasp in a space that confounds and stymies analysis at every turn.

Perhaps this is where faith comes in as it is even more elemental to that inner-space than is darkness. I mentioned earlier the idea of our soul’s tenebrism. Tenebrism is a particularly strident form of chiaroscuro or contrast between light and dark. I believe we can find in this music evidence of something far within us that only sometimes finds its way to the surface of our lives. I am not thinking simply of the darkness of the perpetrator, but also of the light that contrasts and contains him.

There is a song called “Drifting Too Far From the Shore” that I have always liked. I liked it long before I ever put an ounce of energy into reflecting on it. The sound of it was enough for me. In some ways it is the Sunday morning music on the shore after a Saturday night at sea. To end this morning I would like to share it with this thought: I believe we are both the ones drifting from the shore and the others calling them back to the shore. Our soul’s tenebrism leads us to sea and stands on the shore to call us back–it seeks the woods of “Pretty Polly” and regrets its straying in the pines. The high contrast between the two defines sea and shore, and it defines us—and in this old, beautiful, and weird music you can tap your foot to it.


“Pretty Polly”

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, would you take me unkind

Polly, Pretty Polly, would you take me unkind

Let me set beside you and tell you my mind


Well my mind is to marry and never to part

My mind is to marry and never to part

The first time I saw you it wounded my heart


Oh Polly Pretty Polly come go along with me

Polly Pretty Polly come go along with me

Before we get married some pleasures to see


Oh he led her over mountains and valleys so deep

He led her over hills and valleys so deep

Pretty Polly mistrusted and then began to weep


Oh Willie, Little Willie, I’m afraid of your ways

Willie, Little Willie, I’m afraid of your ways

The way you’ve been rambling you’ll lead me astray


Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right

Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right

I dug on your grave the biggest part of last night


Oh she knelt down before him a pleading for her life

She knelt down before him a pleading for her life

Let me be a single girl if I can’t be your wife


Oh Polly, Pretty Polly that never can be

Polly, Pretty Polly that never can be

Your past reputation’s been trouble to me


He opened up her bosom, as white as any snow.

He opened up her bosom, as white as any snow.

He stabbed her through the heart,

and the blood did overflow.


Oh he went down to the jailhouse and what did he say

He went down to the jailhouse and what did he say

I’ve killed Pretty Polly and trying to get away.


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