Have you seen the DirectTV ads that feature the two versions of Rob Lowe? I admit that the first few times that I saw them, I found the ads to be clever and somewhat amusing. After a few viewings, to my dismay, I realized that I was chuckling at something that was deeply antithetical to my being and my chosen vocation in Episcopal Schools. The ads feature a confident, good-looking, and comfortable-living Rob Lowe who enjoys his DirectTV experience and shares it with his many equally confident, good-looking, and comfortable-living friends. Depending on the ad, this version of Rob Lowe is juxtaposed with a “super-creepy,” “super-awkward,” or a “super-hairy” version of Rob Lowe who has been relegated to suffer the vagaries of life alone because of cable television.
The ads, indeed, capture your attention, as does their pernicious premise. Essentially, the ads prey on the fear that one’s existence can be marginalized by possessions or decisions that others define as inferior to their own. The ads depict winners and losers as defined by the experience of the “winners.”
Episcopal schools are grounded in the foundation that every student is a child of God, each bestowed with distinctive gifts and talents. To teach in such an environment requires that every educator embrace the responsibility to help all students discover their gifts and to celebrate and sustain them. In such a learning environment, students discover that they have been given gifts from a loving God and the opportunity to invest their talents for their own growth and the growth of others. Moreover, Episcopal schools recognize that every student has been given the gift of human reason by God. As such, it is the responsibility of caring teachers to celebrate and nurture this gift in a vigorous learning environment that challenges students intellectually. The idea that there are “winners” and “losers” based on a superficial sense of gifts and talents, such as possessions, confidence, and attractiveness, is antithetical to the learning cultures we seek to cultivate in Episcopal schools.
Still, Episcopal schools exist within a wider culture where value is often assigned to possessions and seen in the appearance of confidence and attractiveness. To build and nurture learning environments that celebrate students as distinctive children of God means that we must eschew these larger cultural currents and swim upstream. We must also endeavor to teach our students to do the same. This can be a daunting challenge, but it is embraced each and every day when we recognize God’s gifts reflected in the distinctiveness of every person, particularly our students. Embracing such a challenge means that we must be attentive to the various forces that seek to engulf us in the larger cultural current, including seemingly innocuous, humorous, and catchy advertisements.
William W. Taylor is President of St. George's Independent School, a co-educational PK- Grade 12 Episcopal school of 1,200 students located on three campuses in Collierville, Germantown, and Memphis, Tennessee.