From my earliest days working at a similarly mission-driven school 25 years ago, I’ve been asked—relatively regularly, although the question can take different forms—just how we’re preparing children for the “real world.” There’s some sense that providing children with an environment where respect, kindness, curiosity, reflection, and support for one another is somehow doing them a disservice. It’s as though a six- or sixteen-year-old should be toughened up, should have to suffer while making their way to adulthood.
It’s best not to get me started on that, as I couldn’t disagree more.
A member of our Board, who’d arranged for a gift to propel the work of the new Institute for Social Good and Community Leadership, wrote the following in response to expressions of gratitude that a few other trustees and I had written:
…I see a cohort of graduates, enlightened change-makers, impacting “their world” in incalculable ways. I consider the poise and empathy of Wildwood students steeped in the Habit of Collaboration and open to perspectives that allow them to see what others cannot; I see passions and curiosity fed, nourished, and refined by the Habit of Evidence; and through the Habit of Connection; I see students reaching a clear view of systemic challenges and innovative solutions to address them. With guidance, mentorship, and a dose of convention, it is easy to imagine a formidable force for good: An army of effective, change-making leaders with the skills to produce results. Given the dedication of the School and its board to this idea, I am convinced of the Institute’s success and the attention it will garner which, in turn, I believe, will lead to the Outreach Center partnering with countless other schools and seeding this model around the globe, amplifying its impact.
As contentious as these times are, the real world is filled with good people helping others. That’s just true. The empathy and collaboration referenced above were at the center of students’, parents’, and my colleagues’ responses to the recent fires. Members of the school community quickly pivoted to focus on helping those who’d been most directly affected.
Yes, there is hatred and violence and discord. But there is also good. A lot of it. And I want our children and young adults to be prepared to enter into the fray as powerful forces for good, as proponents and practitioners of the best of human nature, not the worst.
In the darkest moments after the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I found hope—as we often can, even in those gut-wrenching moments when all might seem lost. Mark Hetfield, the leader of HIAS, was quoted as having responded to a question about why a Jewish group would provide support to Muslims with, “We decided to help, not because they are Jewish, but because we are Jewish.”
I gained three things from Mark Hetfield’s statement: First, comfort in the reminder that there is deep and abiding goodness all around us. Second, proof that Wildwood School graduates are entering into a world in which they’ll be in good company and where there is much good work for them to do. And third, knowledge of another organization whose mission I’m now proud to support through my own philanthropy.
Rarely a day goes by when I’m not called on to write or speak about the specifics of our academic program at Wildwood and how it prepares students to leave us armed with habits and skills that will serve them well over the course of lives that will be profoundly affected by new technologies, artificial intelligence, and national, global, and cross-cultural integration and conflict. I’m proud of that work and couldn’t believe more in the mission and pedagogy of Wildwood School.
But as we break for Thanksgiving, my thoughts are on the more foundational part of our mission, where our school culture lives. None of us can take for granted this other intentional work that we do, preparing the young people in our care for the real world that will welcome their kindness, understanding, and patience, their unique ability to incorporate the perspectives of others, be better for it, and serve and contribute.
~ Landis Green
Head of School