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Old School

Like most members of the Brearley community, I read a lot. Education, political, science and nature articles, research and opinion pieces, fiction, biographies and faculty and student work. I get excited when it rains on vacation, for it gives me an excuse to spend an entire day curled up with various texts. I still love the smell of a book and the feeling of holding it in my hand. I get my papers delivered and, although I am a new convert to listening to books online, there are certain texts that I reserve for reading. The amount of information that my brain processes each day is mind-numbing and increasingly body-numbing too. As I begin my eighth year as Head of the Brearley School, I think that the 24/7 access to information and drive to stay informed has become a detriment to my ability to think deeply.  

I realize this opinion may not be well received by some. But take a step back for a moment and consider the amount of useless information that we give our attention to and what we could be doing with that time, and I, for one, am left feeling that the way forward is likely different than the path that led me there.  

Perhaps my age has something to do with this. I remember cell phones that were bigger than my hand and not so smart and had really bad reception. I started working as a teacher before there was email, when the only communication between student and teacher or student and student was face to face. When parent communication was via phone and clarity and tone were corrected in real time. When my children had my full attention, with the exception of some mind wandering while watching them climb the stairs of the playground slide again and again.  

This summer I did my best to stay off social media and to be more social in person than I otherwise might. To check email a few times a day rather than a few times an hour. To ask my children to call me rather than text. To dedicate time to daydreaming. To walk a little more slowly and to listen to nature around me. To count the hours every day that I spent outdoors.  

As the academic year begins, I’m thinking about how I can continue this discipline. It’s a process for sure. I invite others to think about it too. For starters, Ms. Zimmermann and I suggest we take some community walks in special places around this big beautiful city. Not only is walking good exercise, but being surrounded by nature has beneficial effects on our emotional health and well-being. According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, “Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses.”  

The first excursion will be to explore the North Woods in Central Park on the morning of October 26. An invitation will follow. There’s no program, no requirement. We’ll just be walking. Old school. 

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