Radiating an Inner Light

Candles for NewtownColumnists Frank Bruni and David Brooks recently wrote two different but related pieces that speak directly to our sacred duty as educators and, more specifically, as educators in Episcopal schools.

In “Best, Brightest and Saddest,” Frank Bruni describes a recent spate of teenage suicides in Palo Alto, California — specifically, teenagers throwing themselves in front of trains. It’s serious enough that there are “track minders” who monitor certain intersections. Bruni goes on to describe the high-stakes, high-achievement culture of Palo Alto and the toll it’s taking on many young people who, by any measure, have enormous privilege. He comments on the rising rates of teenage depression and suicide in general.

For many of us in schools, this is not news. But to have it described so vividly brings home yet again the question:  how well are we doing, really, in raising up young people?

In “The Moral Bucket List,” David Brooks offers an alternative and more hopeful, perspective. Every once in a while, he notes, he meets someone who “radiates an inner light.” He goes on to distinguish between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” He suggests that our current obsession with “resume virtues” robs young people, and all of us, of the chance to live truly meaningful and purpose-filled lives.

He reflects, “I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.” He goes on to describe some of  the “eulogy virtues” that emerge from life experiences that break down our sense of individual control and importance and, instead, instill humility, interdependence, and a connection to something larger than ourselves.

Together, Bruni and Brooks identify a tension that dogs schools and educators as well as families and students. As educational communities, how do we raise up “eulogy values” in a culture (and expectation) of high-stakes achievement? How do we help parents to “want the best for their child, not for their child to be the best?” And how do we help students cultivate an “inner light?”

“What are the principal qualities that distinguish Episcopal schools?” states, in part: “Above all, Episcopal schools exist not merely to educate, but to demonstrate and proclaim the unique worth and beauty of all human beings as creations of a loving, empowering God.” They are “built on the sure foundation of a Christian love that guides and challenges all who attend our schools to build lives of genuine meaning, purpose and service in the world they will inherit.”

It’s a good place to start.