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Year of Progress

My family and I were fortunate to attend the 60th Newport Jazz Festival at the beginning of August. We went to hear Dee Dee Bridgewater perform the songs made classic by Billie Holiday in honor of Ms. Holiday’s inaugural performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954. In addition, we went to hear the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, who performed legendary pieces played at the festival over the course of the last sixty years. I am not sure what I was expecting, but what I heard was profoundly moving and enlightening.

 

Ms. Bridgewater first addressed the crowd in character as Billie Holiday. (Dee Dee Bridgewater played Billie Holiday Off-Broadway in Lady Day.) This brought tremendous applause. As it died down, she was very quick to say, that while she could sing the tunes as Billie did, it would not be a fitting tribute. She would sing in her own style and with her own interpretation. By doing this, she was honoring Ms. Holiday and the jazz community, for the success of the art rests not in imitation but in that most difficult thing: to make original what was so well done before. Ms. Bridgewater did just that.

 

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis came on next. The theme for the evening was to play pieces that legendary artists had made famous at the festival over the last sixty years. The orchestra was outstanding. In particular, the pianist, Dan Nimmer, was stunning on Horace Silver’s Senor Blues. A Brubeck piece was equally astounding. Everything they played was very, very good, and, as it was with Ms. Bridgewater, it was not imitation; it was original and fresh.

 

The entire evening was built on a foundation established sixty years ago by artists and visionaries who saw each festival as another opportunity to grow, promote, and honor the art of jazz. It became clear to me that the festival has been such a success because it has had a strong foundation upon which to build and against which to measure progress.

 

On the walk back to the hotel, I could not get out of my mind the crispness of the music and the energy of both young and old at the concert. This was truly a multi-generational event; entire families were in attendance, not unlike a school community event. It takes a special experience to bring several generations together.

 

For the young, I believe, it was the newness of the experience. Did they know who Horace Silver or David Brubeck was? The music may have been decades old, but the performance afforded them a new experience. For older generations, it was the invigorating reinterpretation that proved that what is old can be new again.

 

The quality of the music underscores that we do not have to be content with the status quo; time will hold our place forever if we allow it, but it is in human nature to make progress, to ask unending questions, and to challenge ourselves anew at all times. In doing so, we need not record over the past with revolutionary fervor, but perhaps, add to it with evolutionary zeal.

 

The key to growth and progress done correctly rests in the subtlety of progressive change, based on a thoughtful plan. We need to set the bar high. A focus on our goals, a call to action, considered decisions on which steps to pursue, all lead to making meaningful and valuable progress. And, to measure progress a solid base, must first exist.

 

A strong foundation is something we have in abundance at Mooreland Hill School. Now in our 85th year, Mooreland is established, but the key to our progress remains in our interpretation of what makes us a successful school for young students. While the 2014 version of the school may not be the same as the 1930 one, it is fresh and vital and, yes, new. We cannot rest on our previous laurels because we owe it to our students to help them appreciate that their world is ever new and evolving. It is a vibrant world with endless possibilities and opportunities available to them.

Michael Dooman

Headmaster

 

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Headmaster’s Blog

 

Orientation Day Comments on the Year of Awareness

 

At our yearly Orientation Day Luncheon, I had the opportunity to address the upcoming Year of Awareness. I began with a personal anecdote about my family’s visit to Plymouth Plantation several years ago on a particularly warm August day.

Visitors to Plymouth can imagine life in the 1620’s in the settlement quite easily, simply by walking into the fort past the meetinghouse and onto the main street. Add to the experience the insights of period actors and one’s understanding of those difficult times comes into focus much more clearly than by reading about it. How can the written word be more powerful than hearing Governor William Bradford talk about the short growing season in that first harsh winter and the loss of so many loved ones?

That day, several men were hard at work fashioning a beam out of a log to rebuild a cabin destroyed by fire. They were using period tools. I remember thinking how a chain saw would have made short work of what they were doing. Nonetheless, they were making noble progress.

On our walk back to the parking lot, we came upon a Native American campsite along a tributary on the park grounds. In this location, museum staff, Native Americans, were employing 17th century technology in the fashioning of a dugout canoe.

Two men, clearly in charge of the process, were idly chatting with family members. Occasionally, one would go over to the campfire to get a piece of smoldering wood coal to place on the log. The coal was used to char the wood making it easy to chisel out the interior of the canoe. Then, the man would sit and banter quietly and amiably with his companions again. There was no urgency at all to what they were doing.

As I stopped to watch the process, the slow, deliberate pace of the work made me curious and, honestly, a bit anxious. Another visitor was affected in the same way and asked the men if this was really the way it was done? There was an underlying assumption to our question: surely the work progressed much more quickly than what we were observing.

Without missing a beat and with much annoyance, one of them made us aware of certain period-appropriate realities. Within the context of the 17th century, resources, while abundant, required much time, energy, and many individuals to gather and prepare for the community. Moving too quickly in the heat to produce a canoe meant expending calories that then needed to be replaced, thus depleting the resources reserved for the entire community. The use of charcoal was a means to an end in this complex formula: the fire would do the work for the men without unnecessarily taxing precious resources.

In our haste to complete tasks, we are never at peace with ourselves long enough to examine our surroundings, to take note of our resources, to watch and learn through observation, and most importantly to understand the inter-connectedness of our community. To do so, we must learn to live in the moment, even as we plan for the future.

We can learn to grow and move ahead not at the expense of others, but in conjunction with others and the community as a whole. We are definitely stronger as a whole than the sum of our separate parts. Developing an awareness of who we are as individuals, as a class, as a school, as a broader community can only enhance our ability to see various pathways to success and achievement. As I learned on my visit to the riverside in Plymouth, we do not live in a vacuum; we are dependent on, as well as depended upon, by others, and we all can be instrumental in moving our community forward.

During this year, it is my hope that our students will learn to look within to recognize their strengths and to understand what they can give of themselves to those around them. Likewise, our students can learn that our guidance and access to resources can help them to grow beyond their own estimations. In all of this, I hope that they become filled with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and are never at a loss for a question to further their understanding.

As always, I look forward to your comments.

Michael Dooman

Headmaster

 

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Letter from the Headmaster

Dear MHS Parents:

Teaching at an independent school requires a certain belief in the
importance of community and personal investiture in the teaching and
learning process. The faculty here works hard to foster and encourage both.
Equally, all of you have come to Mooreland Hill School because of similar
beliefs and also work hard to support the mission of the school.

While Mooreland is not the first, nor the only school in which parents thank
teachers for their dedication and effort on behalf of their children, the
manner and genuine quality of your expression of thanks was and is very much
appreciated. From the tokens of gratitude to the sentiments expressed on the
accompanying notes to the four-course luncheon on Wednesday, we consider
ourselves lucky to have such a supportive parent group.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to do make Teacher
Appreciation Week so meaningful for all of us.

Mike Dooman
Headmaster

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Headmaster’s Blog

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February 8, 2013:  From the desk of the Headmaster…

Scire Valere

Knowledge (Understanding) is Strength

I have a saw, an “old saw” for that matter. It’s on the verge of getting rusty and a little bit duller each time it’s put to use. I know this because when I pull it out, people who have seen me wield it begin to groan sometimes quietly and at other times audibly. My “old saw” is of the semantic variety, and it is localized in Kensington, specifically at Mooreland Hill School.

Growing up in the Mooreland community, I was used to hearing the school’s Latin motto frequently. I must admit, I never thought much about it as I studied the language. I could translate it. I could explain it. I’m not sure I ever thought about it the way that I finally did years later when by chance I considered the words from a fresh point of view.

Mooreland Hill’s motto: Scire Valere. Students of Latin would know that this motto is constructed using two infinitives in the present tense, active voice. In between, as was customary in Roman times, was the implied use of the verb to be. Literally translated for the English speaker, “To know is to be strong.”

The infinitives, in this case, are substitutes for the nominative (subjective) case of the gerund form derived from verbs. The Latin language, for whatever reason, does not have a nominative form for the gerund. Perhaps, Roman linguists believed that the infinitive form was plenty to memorize for young American Latin students centuries in the future. In English (as in Latin), the gerund is a verbal noun expressed with the suffix “–ing”. Thus, a better translation of the motto might be “Knowing is being strong,” leading then to the final translation into good English: “Knowledge is Strength.”

Scire Valere: Knowledge is Strength. This translation seems reasonable if we leave it as is, but this is where I begin to lose sleep. My problem with the translation is not with the linguistic version of the phrase, but the implication of the word to know. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the verb to know this way:

1. To perceive directly; grasp in the mind with clarity or certainty.

2. To regard as true beyond doubt: I know she won’t fail.

3. To have a practical understanding of, as through experience; be skilled in: knows how to cook.

4. To have fixed in the mind: knows her Latin verbs.1

It appears then that knowing means having all human discoveries at your fingertips, at the tip of your tongue, available for instant recall when it is needed, like an encyclopedic brain. Does “knowledge” or “to know” mean “to be familiar with” then? This is a decidedly utilitarian view, but can it imply anything more profound, more noble? Over the course of many sleepless nights, I have come to the conclusion that it can and should. I would add to the possible meanings of the word to understand, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines in several ways. For our purposes, the first definition ought to serve:  To become aware of the nature and significance of; know or comprehend: She understands the difficulty involved.2

I believe that the key to living in harmony with the motto and hence the school’s mission rests in the dual implication of the word to know. I grant that knowledge of important information and useful skills is highly valuable for the success of our students.  I would add that knowledge as understanding of our natural world and the human condition is equally, if not more, important. The two notions together make for an unbeatable combination. Imagine a person who is not only skilled at the use of tools, but also has the knowledge to employ them in a useful way with an understanding of the grand design of his or her work.

Since I am a Classicist at heart, I have to circle back to our motto. I realized that one of the reasons I embarked upon this semantic exercise was the limitation of the English language in its lack of exactitude. How many arguments and misunderstandings could be averted if the English vocabulary had definitive meanings? The Romans, with very few exceptions, did not suffer in the same way. Each word had one, possibly two, at most three, implications. In Latin, the verb Scire means to know, to realize, understand, have skill in, to know how to. Our original founders must have understood this. They chose their Latin word deliberately and wisely.

 Scire Valere

Knowledge (Understanding) is Strength

 

 

 

1http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=know&submit.x=9&submit.y=35

2 http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=understand&submit.x=14&submit.y=30

 

Headmaster’s Blog

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last Monday, our middle school students heard a variety of presentations celebrating the life and achievements of Dr. King. At morning meeting, I presented a brief biography capped with a brief background talk on Dr. King’s “Mountain Top” speech in April of 1968 in Memphis on the night before his assassination. Students were able to see and hear a portion of this speech, as well.

Later in the day, Tim Blauvelt, a middle school science and math teacher, spoke to our older students about his experiences during the early 1960s in Mississippi. A young Wesleyan student at the time, Mr. Blauvelt heard Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr. speak about the Civil Rights Movement. Inspired to action, Mr. Blauvelt trained with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) before traveling to Mississippi to work on voter registration in the South. Mr. Blauvelt spoke about what he experienced and witnessed in his first-hand account of those turbulent years in the segregated south. In 1967, he was drafted and served a tour of duty in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.

In his presentation, Mr. Blauvelt spoke about acting from the courage of one’s convictions and the need for all of us to do the right thing. He also spoke candidly and effectively about facing one’s fears as he recounted some of his experiences including hearing of the news of the disappearance and subsequent deaths of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Two of the men were his personal friends.

Later in the day, Mr. Blauvelt spoke to the fourth to sixth grade students in a modified presentation about his experiences. He was able to provide background information about the era for our younger students many of whom have read The Watsons Go To Birmingham and other fictional works about life in the south in the mid 20th Century.

Our students learned much from this experiences on Monday, the 21st. In particular, the fourth and fifth graders recorded their understanding of the times poignantly and eloquently in poems they wrote in class and delivered at Monday’s morning meeting. An eighth grade student remarked that Mr. Blauvelt’s presentation was all the more important because it was based on his first-hand experiences.

On Tuesday morning, Deirdre Roberts extended the discussion to include not only Civil Rights, but also Human Rights. She spoke of her experiences in Pakistan, Ecuador, and Cambodia and how access to basic needs and the guarantee of human rights was still a major concern for people of all ages in those countries.

The experiences of Tim Blauvelt and Deirdre Roberts help our students understand the world in a very different way.

Michael Dooman, ‘78
Headmaster