Life on the Cutting Edge

Musings on the School’s 40th Anniversary1

Daniel Greenberg

 

Forty years ago, in February of 1968, the papers of incorporation of The Sudbury Valley School, Inc., were signed, and we came into being as an official institution.  That’s a very exciting memory, and this is an exciting year for me, for everybody who is a member of the Sudbury Valley community, and certainly for the four founders who are still here working together collegially on the staff.

The invitation we sent to this talk posed a series of questions.  It read, “Forty years of amazing students have passed through our campus, but parents still worry while their children are here, students still struggle with the difficulty of the school, and the public still hangs onto models of education that have fallen into disrepair.  Why?”

To me these questions have a special poignancy, because when I walk across the campus during the day, I always have same exciting experience.  I see energetic groups of intense, focused, active, happy kids playing outside, and then, after entering the building, I see the same kind of intensity, busyness and interrelating, so rarely found in any social group.

I don’t know of any other place where that level of intensity, focus, interesting conversation, excited activity and happiness in children occurs.  I’ve always felt that parents who come to the school during the day – say, for an interview, to see whether they’re interested in the school – and walk down from the parking lot, through the school, and up to the office, and don’t feel that this is the right place for their kids, probably shouldn’t send their kids here.  It’s just that striking.  It’s not something you see anywhere else.  We hear this over and over again.  We hear it from visitors.  We hear it from contractors.  We hear it from a host of strangers who say, “We’ve never seen children look adults straight in the eye, treating them as regular people, and show no fear.

You just have to ask yourself: why?  Why is it still so hard?  That is what I want to address here.

 

What we’re really talking about is the problem of change, and resistance to change.  We have a model of education that is clearly different from the traditional model, and certainly different from the model that virtually all adults grew up with.  Radically different.  I’d like to examine that from various perspectives.

There are three different kinds of change.  I think it’s important to distinguish between them.  The first kind, which is probably the rarest, is change that runs against the prevailing world view, the accepted notions of how the world works.  That’s what one means by “out-of-the-box thinking.”

One of the classic examples of this is the experience of Ignaz Semmelweis, the person who introduced asepsis into medicine – washing with disinfectant as a way of avoiding the spread of infection in hospitals and lowering the mortality rate.  He came upon his discovery pretty much by accident.  In the mid-nineteenth century, most women gave birth at home.  He was a physician working in a hospital where the death rate for women who ended up giving birth there was about 90%.  That’s why most women who had any possibility to do so avoided, at all cost, going to a hospital to have their child.  He found out pretty much serendipitously that carefully cleaning himself before he attended each patient reduced the death rate in the hospitals to something like 15%.  It was that dramatic, and it happened overnight.  Nevertheless, the idea that washing could reduce the death rate met no acceptance.  Nobody paid any attention to it.  In fact, his colleagues in the medical profession thought it was insane, and they forced him out of the hospital, because he was driving everybody crazy insisting that they wash their hands.

The point here is not that the doctors there were evil people, but that his proposed reform of hospital procedure bore no relationship to their world view of health, disease, and medicine, which had no place whatsoever for the concept of washing.  As far as they were concerned, that had nothing to do with the death rate.  This was long before the idea of germs or viruses found its way into medicine.  Washing sounded like mumbo-jumbo, voodoo magic.  It was as if somebody told you today that he can reduce the death rate by waving a feather over somebody’s head!  Somebody could carry out that experiment tomorrow and restore a hundred people to health, and still be laughed out of town.  Semmelweis finally got another job in Hungary, did the same exact thing again, had the same exact result, and was basically run out of that one as well. Eventually he committed suicide by giving himself a mortal infection.

Another excellent example occurred at the end of the 19th century with Max Planck and his revolutionary idea of the quantum.  Today, everybody has heard of the quantum; it is a word in common usage, and has come to mean any change in a measurable quantity that does not occur continuously and smoothly.  It was first introduced by Planck in the study of an obscure problem in physics, dealing with the nature of radiation inside a closed box.  That’s something esoteric, to say the least, and very few people were interested in it.  Those handful of physicists who were interested in it wrote theories about it to explain the radiation pattern that had been observed and measured.  The only problem was that they could never get their theories to agree with the measurements.  Max Planck figured out a way to get his formulas to agree with the observations by introducing this idea that energy is not smooth, is not continuous, but comes in little jumps.  It’s as if I told you that there’s no such thing as a smooth line in the world, or a smooth surface.2

Max Planck’s theory was way out of line.  Nobody had any idea what he was talking about. People thought he was crazy.  That’s what I mean by the kind of change that completely breaks with the prevailing world view.  Planck went through a miserable time until he finally was recognized, when other physicists found other domains to which to apply this concept in a useful manner.  Planck later said that if somebody comes up with a paradigm-changing concept, he has to wait until the entire existing generation has died out before it can be accepted.

There’s an interesting footnote to that story.  Later, when Planck had become a famous professor, in the mid-1920’s, a new generation of physicists came to him with new ideas that had to do with what was called “wave mechanics” – a theory that soon became the new standard.  And he thought they were cuckoo!  He wouldn’t give them the time of day.  When you have a whole picture of how the world operates and somebody comes up and says something that’s absolutely inconsistent with that picture, you end up considering it crazy.  Even Planck, who had lived through the same experience himself!

That’s one kind of change.  It’s easy to understand the resistance to it.  But it’s not what we’re talking about here with respect to education, as we’ll soon see.

 

There’s a second kind of change, one that doesn’t overturn a world view.  On the contrary, it actually sounds good – only it doesn’t work!  The kind of change that appears to be a really good idea but doesn’t pan out when put into practice.  There’s an amusing example of that in relatively recent history: the invention of the tank in modern warfare.  Today we look at tanks and consider them superb and essential instruments of warfare.  And indeed, when the tank was first conceived in the middle of the first World War, the people who invented it said: this is a major improvement.  It’s a moving fortress!  Here we are, stuck in the morass of World War I, mired in trench warfare between opposing infantry slaughtering each other by the hundreds of thousands. We can barely move even a hundred yards without killing tens of thousands of people.  Look at this great idea.  We’ll create a moving fortress that will just move across the battlefield and mow everybody down.

Wouldn’t you expect everybody to say: wow, that’s a good way to save lives and win a war!  But here’s the problem.  It’s nice to think about a moving armored vehicle, but how do you make one?  They had to try to figure out, first of all, what makes it go.  So you start with a 1912-model motor car – not exactly a promising beginning.  Then you attach big steel plates all around it to make it a fortress, which also makes it hard to move, because motor engines weren’t that powerful back then.  Then it tends to fall apart, because the arts of riveting and welding, needed to hold this thing together, weren’t that advanced.  Then they realized that if you try to drive it through a lot of mud, or across defensive trenches, it will be immobilized!  So they attached farm tractor tracks, which are basically a bunch of metal plates that are riveted together and wrapped around wheels.  Well, they had trouble enough welding the tank, how are they going to put together sturdy tracks?  The whole thing was a nightmare to produce.  They kept trying all sorts of things.  They had test grounds in the middle of England and the neighbors all complained for miles around because the noise these things made was terrible, clanking loudly all day and all night.  When they were subjected to field tests, most of them broke down.

They were finally manufactured in quantity, in order to get them into battle and win the war.  Several hundred were sent by the British to the front.  The generals took one look at this and said: this is the most ridiculous thing we ever saw.  It’s not going to work.  And, in fact, the first time they were put into battle, most of them obliged the generals by breaking down!

The point is not that the tank was a bad idea; even the people involved in military planning thought it might be a good idea.  But it didn’t really work.  It took a lot of faith and determination and endless trial and error, until finally they got something that worked and the people accepted this revolution in tactical warfare.

I think one of the funniest examples of this kind of change is related in the PBS series, Triumph of the Nerds, on the history of the personal computer.  The producer interviewed the head of Intel, Andy Grove, who pioneered the development of computer chips, and asked him: “When you people came up with your first chip, you basically had the personal computer.  Nevertheless, Intel never made personal computers.  Why didn’t you make them?”  The answer is wonderful.  Grove replied, “We knew this, so we sat around and brainstormed.  We asked ourselves, what would anybody use this for?  The only thing they could come up with was as a device for people to store recipes!  Since none of us could believe that our wives would use this thing to collect their recipes, we dropped it.”  That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.  This change, the chip-based PC, wasn’t out of the box; it didn’t defy the paradigm, but as far as the inventors were concerned, it didn’t work.

 

That too is not what we’re talking about, with regard to the school and education.  What we’re talking about is a third kind of change.  It’s the kind that in many ways is the most troubling.  It doesn’t defy deeply held beliefs about how the world works.  It doesn’t involve a proposed change that doesn’t work in practice.  Rather, it involves a loss of control.  It is a conflict between control and freedom that lies at the heart of our culture.  In fact, it is spelled out at the beginning of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, which is the starting point for all three of the major Western religions.

Genesis states that when God created human beings, He said: “Let us make man in our image after our likeness and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”3  In other words, God is saying, “Let’s create beings that are essentially God-like, that have dominion over everything.”  But then a little later, during the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the following text appears: “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  And now lest he put forth his hand and take also of the Tree of Life and eat and live forever’ – therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was made.”4  The first declaration attributed to God is: I want them to be God-like, all-powerful.  And the second is: oh my, he’s almost like us.  We’re about to lose control over him.  Let’s make sure we don’t!

The most important aspect of this conflict is fear.  People fear the unknown.  People fear what they can’t predict.  People fear outcomes that they’re not sure of.  This is something we hear all the time about the school: what are the outcomes?  What can we be guaranteed?  When you don’t know the outcome of something, what do you tend to do?  You tend to stick to the known.  You tend to stick to what you’ve been doing all along, because you think you know how that’s going to turn out, and that’s a comfort.  Whereas if you try something completely new – that’s terrifying!  The reaction to any kind of a jump into freedom is fear.

I want to give a few historical examples of what I’m talking about – the kinds of change where people are sticking to the beliefs that are prevalent in the culture but are encountering the tension between control and freedom.  One of the best and most interesting examples is the French Revolution.  The heart of it was expressed in the famous phrase – liberty, equality and brotherhood.  The equality of all human beings is the antithesis of the concept of a hierarchical autocracy where an elite rules everybody else.  The idea of human equality was not a strange new idea.  It was not introduced by the French revolutionaries.  The idea that all human beings are equal is, once again, at the heart of the three great monotheistic religions, which depict all human beings as descendants from one ancestor.  Every person is thus seen as the blood relative of every other member of the human race.  The notion of human equality thus eschews any notion that one person is entitled to rule over or control another.

It is striking to observe how long a society can maintain itself with this kind of conflict brewing within it.  Eighteenth century France was known as the most autocratic place on the continent.  That was the locus of absolute monarchy personified, as illustrated by the notorious declaration of Louis XIV: “L’etat, c’est moi,” (I am the state).  He was the final authority for all decisions and laws governing the country.  Yet, throughout the 18th century, the great French philosophers of the Enlightenment wrote tract after tract talking about liberty, about the need for a social contract, about government by mutual consent.  They wrote these books in France, and the king allowed them to be written.  Here was a society where that tension was present every day.  The books were out there, people were reading and discussing them.  People understood what was at issue, and the king nevertheless did nothing to stop the subversive literature.  This could only happen because the fundamental beliefs were steeped in the common religion, even while they were contrary to the way French society actually functioned.

The inevitable result of that kind of conflict between control and freedom is a buildup of tension that leads to a cataclysmic explosion.  It’s a question of time, but it has to happen.  No society can sustain that kind of tension forever.  When the explosion will happen, nobody knows, but we can be sure it will happen.  The French Revolution was just that kind of explosion.  And it was an explosion that terrified the rest of Europe and led to a very unsettled century and a half.

Another example occurred here in this country, with regard to the institution of slavery.  Every one of the Founding Fathers knew that a fundamental tension existed between slavery and the equality that was enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.  Everybody understood that holding a whole segment of the population in servitude was in conflict with the fundamental beliefs and theories of the society that was being established.  That tension built up in this country until it led to the explosive upheaval of the Civil War.

 

Which brings me to the questions with which I began.  At Sudbury Valley, in the realm of education, we’re dealing with a situation where the principles underlying the school are in harmony with the prevailing beliefs of the larger society.  Our struggles stem from the tension inherent in the conflict between control and freedom playing itself out in American society’s approach to education.  I want to illustrate some of these common prevailing beliefs, so as to put into sharp focus what I’m talking about.

Let’s begin with this: everybody now acknowledges that human knowledge has no bounds.  This is actually a relatively new idea.  It wasn’t that long ago, historically speaking, that the first encyclopedia was written, in the 18th century.  The point of the encyclopedia was to incorporate all of human knowledge into a collection of books.  It was a huge success in its time.  When I was growing up, the Encyclopedia Britannica was the gold standard, and we assumed that if there was anything worth knowing, it was in the Britannica.  If we wanted to look something up, we looked in the Britannica.

The concept of a “university” is also based on this idea.  All of the “universe of knowledge” was theoretically collected in a group of scholars, whose purpose it was to promulgate it to the next generation, and thus keep the culture alive.  In a “good” university, everything had to be covered; nothing was to be left out.  Nowadays, we all know that this is nonsense – that knowledge is exploding.  There are all kinds of new things being discovered and invented all the time, at an ever increasing pace.  The notion of an institution that can promulgate the entire culture is recognized to be obsolete.  That’s something everybody understands.

Let’s move on to another prevailing belief today.  Everybody – psychologists, child development experts, educators – agrees that children are naturally curious.  That view didn’t always prevail.  People used say that children’s minds at birth were like a blank slate – tabula rasa; that their brains were empty, and that our job was to fill them with whatever society wished to perpetuate.  Nobody believes that anymore.  We all know that children are naturally curious, that they’re going to explore their environment actively on their own.  Indeed, we understand now better than ever before that the most rapid pace of learning occurs between birth and the age of three or so.  When a child is born, it essentially has no skills.  By the age of three, then can do a zillion things.  They can walk, talk, make sense out of much of their world, interact socially – even manipulate other people!

In addition, it is common knowledge that the rate of change of our culture is accelerating, and that most of what we have today, or think we understand, will be obsolete tomorrow.  This is almost a mantra of our culture.  Obsolescence is built into our culture – not just into what is derided as “American materialism”, but also into the whole culture.  It’s hard to even conceive.  I don’t know how many of you feel like dinosaurs – if you don’t, you probably should.  The things that I was familiar with when I was growing up are mostly gone.  The world of today would have seemed alien to the world of my childhood.  We didn’t have talk shows.  Long distance direct dialing?  When I was growing up in Philadelphia, my father would phone his mother in Brooklyn, and he had to go through four operators to place that call.  I remember it vividly.  He dialed the Philadelphia operator, who would dial Trenton; Trenton would contact Manhattan, and the Manhattan operator would contact the final destination number.  That took a long time and of course was very expensive.  Today any child can pick up the phone and direct dial just about any place in the world.

When I bought a digital camera a few years ago, I wanted one on the cutting edge.  I paid a lot of money for four megapixels!  Today, twelve megapixels can be had for the same amount of money, or less.  This is all taking place so quickly!  How many kids today even know what a vinyl LP record is?  A needle going around grooves?  It won’t be long before they won’t know what a CD is.  Who walks around with a CD walkman any more?  Or a tape walkman?  They have Ipods that store 10,000 songs, or 100,000 songs!  Flash memory cards store gigabytes!

Gigabytes?  I was involved with a business with a lot of people from Sudbury Valley back in the ‘70’s.  It was a chain of natural food supermarkets, actually the first one in the country.  It was a very interesting venture.  (Also interesting was the experience of going into bankruptcy, as we did, being a decade ahead of the curve.)  We were the first outfit in that business to computerize ordering and inventory control.  All the programs had to be custom written for us, because there was nothing available off the shelf.  That concept didn’t even exist.  We had a Data General computer, the size of a commercial refrigerator, and it had five megabytes of memory, on huge removable discs that weighed about fifteen pounds each.  We were on the cutting edge at the time!  This was in the ‘70’s, barely one generation ago.

Another concept that has won widespread agreement in the world these days is that free societies are more productive, more creative, and more stable than controlled societies.  That’s something relatively new.  When America was created, it was the first country to operate as what we today call “a liberal democracy”.  Outside observers declared that it wouldn’t work; that a central governing authority with a clear hierarchy of authority knows what’s going on, while there is total chaos in a free society.  How would anyone figure out and decide how to do anything without a strong guiding hand?

We also know that traditional schools were designed to be Industrial Age schools that prepare people to work in an industrial economy.  What we often don’t realize is the extent to which the whole culture was “industrial”.  The whole point of an industrial model is to have precise control over production.  Factories are supposed to turn out everything the same, using templates and standardized procedures manned by masses of tightly organized workers.  Since the Industrial Revolution led to tremendous economic prosperity, people began to think that government too should be organized in a similar manner.

The 20th century was the heyday of nationwide experimentation with various forms of centrally planned societies on the industrial model.  What was it that stood out most in people’s minds when they talked about Italian fascism?  That Mussolini “made the trains run on time”.  If any of you have ever been in Italy, you’ll know to this day that’s an achievement.  In the same vein, National socialism in Germany appealed to people pride in being part of a nation that was marching together towards a glorious place in history.

The basic appeal of the Soviet model of communism was the planning it touted, that was going to make every citizen prosperous.  Central planners decided, for example, that they wanted to produce 10,000 automobiles in one year.  That meant this many of part A had to be manufactured, this many of part B, and so on.  This factory will make enough of A, that factory will make enough of B, and so forth.

It seems to make sense to plan centrally.  If you think about the way a free economy works, nothing appears to make sense.  An average automobile has at least 5,000 different parts in it, each one of which has to be manufactured separately.  Ask yourself how, in a free economy, where no overseeing body is coordinating how many of any particular part to produce – how is it possible ever to put an entire car together?  What if just one of those 5,000 parts turns out to be missing?  What if somebody forgot to make a factory for door handles?  Or just didn’t get around to it, or nobody thought it was profitable?  Yet, cars come off the assembly line by the millions!  It took the very painful experiences of the twentieth century for people to realize that free societies and free markets are actually far more effective than planned economies or controlled societies.  Lack of control trumps control.  Even the last large so-called “communist” country, China, felt a need to invent a special kind of “Chinese communism”, which basically amounts to a free market economy.

Perhaps the most scary challenge to the notion of control is cyberspace, and the Information Age in general.  That’s really terrifying.  Not just the fact that knowledge is exploding, but that access to it is almost completely open to everyone in the world.  That is a radical, transforming, new development.  When we were younger where did we go to get information if we couldn’t get it at home?  We went to libraries and got books.  What did we do when we wanted to look up a word?  We went to a thing called a “dictionary”.  We didn’t go to dictionary.com.  We went to a book, that we took off a shelf and paged through to look for something.  Today, if you ask any child in the school – the younger, the better – what a word they don’t know means, they’ll say: “I don’t know, but I’ll tell you in a minute.”  They run to their computers, go to dictionary.com, and they come back with the answer.

Scott Gray has been with us a long time.  Some of us remember how he struggled in 1993!  We hired him back then, before he joined the staff, to work in the basement a day or so a week.  This was before the basement was remodeled.  It was cold and damp and dank, and we put some heaters in there, and a telephone line, and had a 26 kps modem to connect to “bulletin boards”.  (Does anybody remember those?)  The aim was to put our name out there, to write about Sudbury Valley on them for public relations.  We have a drawer full of the correspondence that he participated in, printed out on a dot-matrix printer (another long-forgotten dinosaur).  That was only fourteen years ago!

When I was in Columbia University in the summer of 1961, they computerized the payroll department.  They put in a huge computer facility, about four times the size of the main building at Sudbury Valley, built specially for their giant computers (that undoubtedly had less capacity in the entire building than a handful of laptops have today).  They used punch-cards back then.  The first payroll came out and everybody got their checks.  When my check came through, it was made out to “Daniel Greenlery”.  So I called them up and said, “How am I going to cash this check?  It’s not my name.  My name is ‘Greenberg’, not ‘Greenlery’”.  They answered – and if I hadn’t heard it myself I wouldn’t have believed it – that it would be easier for me to change my name than for them to change the check!  The nice part about it was that the bank never looks at your checks anyway.

How difficult is the cyber revolution to comprehend?  It took place in a tiny span of time, and has precluded any possibility of controlling access to information.  Indeed, the cyber revolution is totally destructive of any form of control or management.  By now, this is becoming clear to everybody, and is no longer seriously contested.

 

So here we see that people in general agree on all these points, and yet we’re having so much trouble having them accept the school, even after forty years of highly successful operation.  Why?  This goes back to where we started: because it is terrifying.  The school terrifies adults in particular.  It shouldn’t terrify children, for whom all the considerations we have been discussing are commonplace.  But because adults are terrified, they transmit their terror to the kids.  Kids get their fears from the fears of the parents, but also from the worries of the close family – grandparents, uncles, whatever, people around them whom they love and admire and would like to please.  These people can’t usually hide their anxieties – often they don’t want to!  They also pick up fear from peers, from kids in other schools who want to think that what they are suffering is not for nought.  So kids have to be brave to withstand all of this, and meanwhile they also have to deal with the rather adult job of figuring out how to spend their time in a ways that are meaningful for them.  That is a tall order.  There is no harder school anywhere.  So occasionally it is just too much for a child, and they run away in fear.  They aren’t bad people; they just can’t overcome their fear.

I want to share with you a wonderful quote from a book entitled A Nation of Wimps, by Hara Marano, scheduled for publication in April 2008.  The author is the person who wrote the insightful article about Sudbury Valley that appeared in Psychology Today.  The passage relates directly to what I’m talking about:

 

No one has limned the generational digital divide better than those who established the electronic frontier.

“On the most rudimentary level,” John Perry Barlow, lyricist for the Grateful Dead and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote so presciently in 1994, “there is simply terror of feeling like an immigrant in a place where your children are natives – where you’re always going to be behind the 8-ball because they can develop the technology faster than you can learn it.  It’s what I call the learning curve of Sisyphus.  And the only people who are going to be comfortable with that are people who don’t mind confusion and ambiguity.  I look at confusing circumstances as an opportunity – but not everybody feels that way.  We’ve got a culture that’s based on the ability of people to control everything.

In this new order, Barlow later emphasized, “you are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants.”  It’s what the kids know, and we don’t, that is piling on the parental anxiety.  They’re the digital natives, born to the technology, and we’re the digital immigrants, the adults, who think text messaging is more of a stress than a cool and necessary way of keeping up with pals.  We learned the technology late enough so that it isn’t second nature, and we speak with varying degrees of an accent.5

 

There is another segment which is just as poignant:

 

Mark Prensky is a video game creator who insists we have yet to grapple with the full implications of the digital native-digital immigrant divide.  “Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach,” he writes.  “Today’s students – K through college – represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology.  They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age.  It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.  These differences go far further and deeper than most educators suspect or realize.”6

 

Let me end by asking: how do you deal with this situation?  What you need when you face something that terrifies you is courage.  Courage consists of admitting that you’re afraid, but going ahead and doing it anyway.  Only a fool faces danger without admitting they’re afraid.  A courageous person faces his fear, confronts it, and grapples with it.

All of us need courage.  Parents, children.  The founders of Sudbury Valley needed it.  It wasn’t easy for us.  We went through all these struggles too.  We were tested in a lot of ways.  Courage is something that this country was built on.  From the very beginning.  This is the first country settled by people who abandoned their roots and came to start a whole new life.  It is almost impossible to fathom the courage that it took those people, who sailed away from communities where their families had lived for hundreds, often thousands, of years – who left the villages, the tribes, the connections, the culture, the religion, everything that they were born into, to begin from scratch a new way of life.

So we live in a country that began with innumerable individual acts of bravery.  It is also the first country to engage in a successful revolution against a ruling colonial power.  Not just any colonial power, but the strongest colonial power in the world.  By hook or by crook – mostly by a little of each – they pulled it off.  What incredible courage that took!  We live in the first country to have the courage and foresight to devise a written document, the Constitution, that defined the limits of power of their government, and peacefully united thirteen proud, disparate, fiercely independent state into a coherent federal union.  That, too, is something almost inconceivable.  When you think of how Europe has been struggling now for over sixty years, since the end of the Second World War, to create some form of viable union, you realize how difficult an achievement this country’s Founding Fathers pulled off.  They knew they were doing something that’s never been done before in the history of the world.  It was an amazing act of courage.

This country had courage to see itself through the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and not abandon everything that had taken so long to build.  On every side, people were saying, “This is what a free society produces – this calamitous scene of national misery.  All because of the chaos of liberty.  It’s time for a planned society, for some new social model.”  That generation had the courage to withstand the temptation to abandon freedom and embrace control.  Courage is in our bones, as a nation.

We have to rediscover it in our midst, in this country.  We have to embrace the consequences of the common beliefs that we all share, and to support an educational institution that has been true to these beliefs for forty years, even as traditional schools have all but abandoned them.  But it takes an act of courage to say we’re ready to let go of control because we know that to do so is right.

We must find within us the courage to face the challenge of living on the cutting edge.

 

 

  1. An edited transcript of a talk delivered at the school on January 16, 2008.
  2. Of course, now we know that indeed there isn’t.  But it is still very difficult to swallow the idea that every solid object consists mostly of empty space.  This is the stuff of fantasy!
  3. Chapter 1, verse 26.
  4. Chapter 3, verses 22-23.
  5. Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps (Broadway Books: New York, 2008), p.220.
  6. Ibid., p. 221.

 

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