This past week we conducted our second quarter Honors Chapel for our middle school. In many ways these chapels are always positive and consoling occasions. But I also find in myself a bit of tension about each such event, especially as I ponder the remarks I would like to make for the occasion. The tension derives from a number of sources. Does honoring students with grade point averages of a certain level contribute to excessive focus on grades vs. learning? Does this honors chapel ritual contribute to students’ regarding their sense of identity and worth as measured by what they do rather than what they value? Does this occasion contribute in some small way to the increasing obsession with resume-building that seems to be imposed on our students at an ever younger age? I don’t want to overstate the level of tension, but I do believe strongly that there is benefit in pondering that tension. It impels my colleagues and me to consider regularly how best to recognize, affirm, challenge, motivate—and yes, honor—our students. (At this week’s chapel our middle school head did a masterful job of transcending that tension by including every student in his words of encouragement.)
We do not want our students to get ahead of themselves and to start thinking that they need to have everything figured out and are able to reach every measurable benchmark when they are so young. We lament that our children are being forced to grow up too fast in our contemporary culture, but we sometimes contribute to that acceleration in our school culture. I have reminded parents on more than one occasion that no one ought to peak at the age of 14 (or 18 in the case of high school seniors). How sad that would be! I owe my deceased mom thanks for that nugget of insight and wisdom. Quite a few years ago I was appointed principal of my high school alma mater, a Jesuit school in St. Louis, a matter of months after completion of my training. When my mom heard the news of my appointment, she posed this question to me: “Don’t you think you’re peaking too early?” That query stung a bit at the time, but in retrospect she was absolutely correct. I was getting ahead of myself- for a number of reasons I shall not belabor in this reflection.
Even at this stage of my life, I consider myself a work in progress. How much truer is that reality for the young people in our charge?
Until next time…
Leo P. Dressel is Head of School at All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, Phoenix, Arizona and a past member of the NAES Governing Board.