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Message From Michèle: Thoughts On This Inauguration Day

Friday, January 20, 2017

Manhattan Country School kids are super aware under any circumstances. One teacher described them as super saturated with the news today. There is palpable empathy for the targets of bias attacks, and renewed understanding of complex emotional, intellectual and activist responses in our homes, neighborhoods and across the world.

Yesterday, our Student Council members discussed whether MCS classes should watch the inauguration. The group was split 50/50. Curiosity and some compelling arguments were made about our responsibility to be informed. These were matched by indignance over the John Lewis Twitter war and a clear intent to go on record in support of leaders who define the long struggle of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the sixth grade and most of the seventh and eighth grade did watch the inauguration.

This Inauguration Day, MCS faculty is participating in a call to action by the Progressive Education Network of New York (PENNY) “to take positive action…to affirm our belief in the power and promise of progressive education.” Twitter and Instagram posts from our school and others shared today using the hashtag #PENNYaction provide examples of learners engaged in experiences that are grounded in progressive pedagogy and connected to the election and education for democracy.

MCS’ activist tradition is not to be suppressed. Students, faculty, parents, alumni and friends have already begun going to rallies and marches, writing emails, sending letters, posting on social media, calling representatives—in so many ways standing up for the values our school stands for. In that activism lies the well from which our collective optimism springs. The Parents’ Association and I will provide suggestions of ways we can share our experiences in the weeks, months and years to come. 

The significance of MCS’ 50th anniversary is weighing heavily today and at the same time inspiring conversations, activism and hope. Our 35th anniversary was held at Riverside Church, the same location at which we gathered this Monday to hear our eighth-graders launch the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March. Memories of that day in 2002 re-emerge when our ideals and some piece of reality are not in perfect alignment. Harry Belafonte was an honoree that year. He began his acceptance remarks with this accolade:

There are moments when places like Manhattan Country School wend their way into my thoughts. I feel some sense of comfort and relief that there is a place where young people are being instructed, guided and permitted to live in an environment where all that the human race and the human family should be about is being lived by example.

A few minutes later, he concluded with these words:

I know that the children of Manhattan Country School have a huge task before them. The question is, “Will they accept it and will they be able to live up to the measure of humanity that will command their attention when they become adults? Or not even waiting that long—maybe tomorrow. Because the one thing that is to serve us and to save us is the extent to which our young people see each other in ways that are very different from the preceding generations saw each other. It is in them that the hope lies eternal that we may come to the place where there is no more war, no more disease, no more pestilence, no more hate—all of it.

I am given a great sense of privilege and a great sense of satisfaction to know that Manhattan Country School exists, that its philosophy is what it is and is helping to turn out the kind of thinkers and the kind of young people who will lead us on the very complicated journey of making the world a happier and a nobler place in which to live in the future.

In times of change, it is reassuring to see the many ways in which our students are taking on the challenge of becoming change agents in our complex world.