Time Capsule

334It smelled older than 2000.

Major construction unearthed a two foot by two foot metal cube in a spot on campus that had long been rumored to contain a time capsule. No one knew when it had been put into the ground, but the rust and grit encrusting it suggested age.

We pulled it from the ground and a forklift brought it to the library, where we put it on display through the winter with hopes it might generate some discussion and prompt some of our alumni to remember days gone by. Then we found out that nobody remembered burying the thing.

So we asked everyone we could find. Some alumni remembered burying a time capsule in the mid 1970s. Others suggested the 80s. Someone thought early 90s. No one knew for sure.

At our annual faculty and staff reunion former teachers and past graduates looked at the box and made guesses. None could actually remember the metal cube going underground, but they all agreed that it looked old.

723The day we finally opened it up the school gathered with expectation and a crowbar. Our metals teacher and some intrepid students loosened the bolts and pried open the top. It took some work, but finally the top opened and inside…

…smelled horrible.

Inside we found newspapers, magazines, letters, and a reminder that if one is to put together a time capsule waterproofing is really important.

Looking through the contents that survived sixteen years in the ground, I thought about the differences between 2000 and today.

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After we opened it up a graduate brought in photos of students filling the time capsule in 2000

George Clooney looked younger.

Cassette tapes existed.

The students at San Dieguito at the turn of the millennium were still closer to their brethren of the 1980s than  students of today. Terms like “smart phones” and “instagram” weren’t part of their lives. Few knew of groups like al-Quaeda, the Department of Homeland Security, or Maroon 5. Charles Shultz was still writing Peanuts.

On San Dieguito’s campus students still listened to Blink-182, skated down the San Dieguito ten step, and learned physics from George Stimson. In addition to Mr. Stimson, fourteen other teachers here in 2017 were at SDA in the year 2000. Yet from boom boxes to break dancing, the world of 2000 feels farther away than seventeen years. Should it be strange then that the time capsule looked the part?

736Next month our current students will put their own time capsule into the earth not far from where the class of 2000 lowered theirs into the ground. What will the world look like years from now when students (perhaps not yet born) paw through the flotsam and jetsam of 2017? I assume George Clooney will still look good.

Time marches, here at San Dieguito with a bit of a skip in its step, and to try to freeze any moment in time is as foolish as it is tempting.

741The memories that our students are creating are real, just as were those of students from the year 2000, or the 1970s, or the 1950s, or the 1930s, and I’m sure that if a principal twenty years from now sets about chronicling San Dieguito for its hundredth anniversary the results will be moving and concrete remembrances of a school filled with creativity and caring.

A time capsule captures something different, merely facts and objects. That photograph we pulled from the rusty metal box isn’t as clear as the memories from any of the students in the picture. The world that emerged from that rusted metal box, mildewed as it was, is less vibrant that any story a graduate might tell.

As we reflect on San Dieguito’s eighty years as a school, I invite us all to gather not news clippings but people’s stories. I encourage anyone interested in the history of our school to find a graduate, a teacher or former teacher, and ask them what it was like when…

San Dieguito is more than a place; it is a collection of people, a collection of memories, and a collection of stories. These carry more weight than wet newsprint.

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Developing Empathy

Next month our San Dieguito Book Club will gather to talk about Michele Borba’s book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. The book is divided into three parts: Developing, Practicing, and Living Empathy, and over the next few weeks I’ll do a post on each section as a teaser for our discussion, an invitation for folks to read the book, or maybe just food for our school community’s collective thought.

Empathy is a value close to our hearts here at San Dieguito, where we pride ourselves on a campus environment where students can be themselves and can learn from each other. I have the privilege of MCing a school assembly with a student this Friday, and at the end of the assembly we’re going to do our best to sing that last tune from The Blues Brothers. It’s introduced by Dan Ackroyd’s character, and the adapted monologue we’ll use will go like this: “We’re so glad to see so many of you lovely people here today. We certainly hope you all enjoyed the show. And remember, people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there’re still some things that makes us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody. Everybody.” That’s when we launch into Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.

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I’m so thankful that San Dieguito strives to be that somebody to our students, staff, and families.

But how do we develop empathy? In Unselfie, Borba suggests that students can learn “emotional literacy” and that doing so matters much. “Before you can empathize,” she writes, “you have to be able to read someone else’s, or your own, emotions so you can tune in to their feelings.” How then, to do this important work?

Borba cites our “plugged in” culture as hampering our efforts to connect emotionally, as well as our differing gender expectations, but ultimately lands on the side of optimism, writing:

New science shows babies arrive hardwired to tune in to feelings. But parents must hold those simple, old-fashioned, back-and-forth chats with face to face-to-face connections to nurture their children’s capacity to care.”

Old fashioned conversation. Listening. Talking with those we care about.

Sounds like a book club.

Or good parenting, good teaching, and good friendship.

Borba goes on to lay out specific ideas for teaching empathy including playing with babies, caring for pets, tutoring children, and talking with older relatives. Her chapter about helping students “stop and tune in, look face to face, focus on feelings, and express the feelings” not only inspired me to think about how I parent, but also to think about how I interact with those around me.

But recognizing emotions in others, and even listening to their stories, isn’t the end of the story. In a culture in which Borba says “narcissism is an epidemic in the western world” and where “many schools are joining the ‘self-esteem bandwagon’” developing a “moral identity” that includes a work ethic, empathy, and altruism takes conscious effort.
This thoughtful and particular effort is a highlight of Borba’s second chapter, where she suggests that:

What we say about our children helps define who they are the type of people they believe themselves to be. Too much praise can make kids more self-centered, more competitive, and more prone to cut others down. Too little encouragement can erode self esteem. But the right words can help children see themselves as kids, considerate, caring people and want to act in a way that supports that image.”

Borba suggests strategies and specific ideas for how to find and use these “right words” and “age-by-age strategies” for helping students develop their own moral identities. Many of these ideas strike me as “those simple, old-fashioned, back-and-forth chats” that our world could use more of.

In addition, she gives educators much to think about with regard to challenging students, and gives administrators like me the important prompting to have discussions about the value of productive academic struggle in the process of learning, and the need to focus on learning, not just issuing high grades. In a world of supercharged college applications this can be easier said than done, but easy isn’t one of the promises of our work and doing the right thing sometimes takes more grit than taking the easier route.

cover-unselfie-by-michele-borba-500x750One route Borba suggests is vital for all students to take is “learning to walk in another’s shoes.” Much of the discussion in Unselfie around this issue focuses on parenting and how parents can help their kids see other points of view (even as they see their kids’ side of things), but her examples about a preschool teacher of firefighter’s students in San Diego and a German principal who worked with the sons and daughters of soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan resonated with me as paragons of adults showing empathy for their students and teaching those students how they could support each other and the adults in their own lives.

The former English teacher in me loved the final chapter in Borba’s first section on Developing Empathy: Reading to Cultivate Empathy. Long have I felt that to see another’s point of view one need only pick up a well written novel or piece of nonfiction that introduces another’s perspective. Seeing the world through the eyes of a character by Alice Walker or Amy Tan, or looking at a part of the country described by Jonathan Kozol or Torey Hayden can shake a student’s (or listening adult’s) world in a way that makes a lasting difference.

to-kill-a-mockingbirdBorba uses examples like Ramona the Pest and To Kill a Mockingbird to make her point that literature has the capacity to help build empathy, particularly in the hands of great teachers who are able to help students process their own emotions and the emotions of the characters in the stories they read.

Reading together and talking about what we read builds empathy, community, and connections.

If you’re game, I’d love to talk about a book we read together on February 6, 2017 at our San Dieguito Book Club, Unselfie by Michele Borba. See you at 6:00-8:00 in our library!

1958

As a snapshot in history, yearbooks are a great way to see what was happening on campus in any particular year. Over the next few months I’ll choose a yearbook from each decade of San Dieguito’s history and share a few of the highlights, photos, and memories, doing my imperfect best to remind our 21st century audience what life at San Dieguito was like in years gone by.

photo-3-2After years of Mustangs galloping across the cover of San Dieguito’s Hoofprint, the student editorial staff of 1958 made the bold and incongruous decision to put a bonsai tree on the cover of their yearbook.

Breaking from expectation is a part of San Dieguito, where independence of spirit is embedded in the school’s DNA, and in 1958 that looked decidedly Asian.

Sputnik had reached orbit by 1958, and the duck-tail hair cuts and horn-rimmed glasses that look out from the pages of the Hoofprint speak to a time when the cold war was raging and Elvis was on every hi-fi, well, before he shipped out to Germany.

1958 was a busy year at San Dieguito, with a homecoming bonfire, a host of school activities, and a western themed Sadie Hawkins Dance.

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Athletics were big at San Dieguito in the 1950s, and from track to field hockey, smiling students show that representing the school brings pride and camaraderie. These athletes from half a century ago look so similar to the students of 2016; their determination, commitment to their sports, and sense of fun are familiar to those of us who cheer on Mustang athletes today.

photo-3-1Clubs abounded at San Dieguito in the middle part of the century, as they do now, though the clubs themselves were different in 1958, more focused on professional life after high school, including Future Farmers, Future Nurses, and a Rifle Club. Seeing students in military uniforms toting firearms in front of the school feels out of time today, but this was an age where fears about communism had Mr. Davidson, the superintendent, reminding the world that “The class of 1958 goes out into the world with one of the greatest privileges of freedom-the right to make choices.”

photo-5-1Formal photos fill the Hoofprint, as was usual for the first few decades of the school’s history, but 1958’s yearbook includes a few more candid pictures that show the smiles and laughter that filled San Dieguito’s campus. Students show up in fanciful hats, clowning in the quad, and a convertible filled with balloons.

Even the faculty, so often pictured in rigid poses and starched collars, is allowed some levity in the 1958 yearbook, and it’s a treat to see these adults in more relaxed poses smiling, clowning, and even laughing aloud. Life at San Dieguito has always included teachers who care, and these are folks who helped to shape the students’ San Dieguito memories.

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But, as always, school is about the kids, and the kids in this mid-century San Dieguito with their poodle skirts and plaid shirts, their letter sweaters and lopsided grins, occupy the pages of the Hoofprint with an attitude of school pride that is bold and courageous and looks ready to try something new, maybe even planting a bonsai tree.

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“Mr. Main?”

The small group of students walked into the hangar that had been converted into a schoolhouse in the middle of the Arizona desert. They were hundreds of miles from their home in Encinitas, forcibly “relocated” with their families simply because their heritage was Japanese. Hundreds of miles behind them they’d left the new buildings of San Dieguito Union High School, not even a decade old, teachers who cared for them, and an school cooled by breezes fresh off the Pacific. Poston, Arizona enjoyed no such breezes.

They arrived for the first day of classes uncertain of so many things, and to their surprise one of the first faces they encountered knew them by name. They knew him too, Mr. Main.

photo 4 (4)San Dieguito’s isn’t a simple story of black and white, but a rich kaleidoscope of vibrant colors, the colors of reality. It’s messy, like life, and infinitely more interesting than it appears on first blush. San Dieguito’s story also extends beyond the stuccoed breezeways, sometimes into the Arizona desert.

In an earlier post I mentioned that Arthur Main, San Dieguito’s first principal, spent four years in his post before leaving after some controversy around his manner with the staff. He was seen as stern, at least with the adults on campus, and that manner led some to push back against him as the school’s leader. He exited, not completely of his own choosing, with the simple distinction of being San Dieguito’s first principal. It would have been easy to call that the end of his San Dieguito story, but it wouldn’t quite be true.

Mr. Main left San Dieguito in the spring of 1940 and by 1943 had taken a principalship at the Poston Internment Camp in Arizona. It was not an easy task to lead a school without adequate resources or facilities, in a fenced community of displaced families. Students came to him and his school with more stress than many of us can imagine, the reality of being prisoners of war in their own country added to the usual challenges of simply being teenagers.

Those young faces that arrived at Poston’s school had few comforts beyond the immediate strength of their families, but I like to think that the teenagers who were forced from San Dieguito in 1943 found some little relief in seeing their principal was their principal. In that moment of recognition, that instant of familiarity, I want to believe that for a few of the students a small measure familiarity split the pressure of their lives.

Looking back at the records of the camp, it’s easy to see how some of the students’ frustration boiled over in behavior that forced Mr. Main to respond.

In his first year at Poston, Main described an incident when a student he’d suspended from athletics “cussed daylight out of me” and “rushed the principal as if he was going to strike him.” Later “that evening,” Main wrote, “as I work till late in the evenings in my office, the boy came to me in my office and apologized to me. He said he was too excited and lost his head and was sorry. I accepted his apology and shook hands. I also reinstated him to the team.” I don’t know if that student ever attended San Dieguito, but I see in Arthur Main’s response to him a touch of the Mustang spirit I know. “Now the boy is all right; he is behaving well,” Main reported later. “He says ‘Hello’ to me whenever he sees me.”

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Mr. Main struggled at times in Poston, as did so many who found themselves in this parched corner of American history. Reading of his experiences, so familiar to a principal like me (graffiti in the bathroom, students in conflict with other students, stressed parents worried about their kids) fills me with empathy and reminds me of the profound lessons in kindness I am learning in my time at San Dieguito.

There’s a line in that old song “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” about the people we meet in our lives: “Some are bad, and some are good, and some have done the best they could.”

photo-1I never met Arthur Main, a man who was younger than I am when he was in the principal’s office at San Dieguito, the same office I sit in today. By all accounts, I see in him the third part of that song lyric; faced with challenges, he did the best he could.

What more could be asked of any of us?

And whether we call it fate or providence, or even just coincidence, I believe that in his position as principal in the middle of an internment camp in the middle of that Arizona desert, at least for a moment he brought ease to the troubled minds of San Dieguito students so far from home.

 

On Friday our San Dieguito Alumni Association will celebrate San Dieguito’s long history with the next installment of bricks around our bell tower. Among the bricks, sponsored by one of his students, will be a brick for Mr. Arthur Main.

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Croquet in the Rain

photoTowering oaks helped diffuse the rain, though the grass was soaked and our mallets stayed slick and wet. A run of record heat had ended the day before and this Saturday a storm blew into Forest Grove with enough moisture to remind those of us flying up from California what a typical spring day in Oregon was all about.

We’d met in Dave’s empty office, eight of us there to wish him well as he finished his final week as a philosophy professor at Pacific University, thirty one years of showing undergraduates as we had been the way around a logical fallacy and appreciation of Quine’s argument for the beauty of a desert landscape.

Dave taught us about Kant and Husserl, epistemology and Eco, Foucault and the finer points of semiotics. We’d smoked cigars, wrestled with Sartre (and each other), and listened to our fair share of the exotic sounds of Martin Denny.

Dave was the heart of the philosophy department we knew twenty five years ago, and as we gathered on a campus some of us hadn’t visited since the 1990s, it was with an emotional ripple that I thought to myself: we will never all be together here again.

Maybe mine were silly thoughts; I haven’t attended a reunion before, either high school or college. I’m untempted to ask what’s become of a classmate I knew when I was a teenager, and uninterested in explaining the sundry victories and defeats of my own life. But this wasn’t that.

This gathering was for Dave. It was our chance to say thank you before he hopped on a plane to Colorado and left our alma mater without an anchor for any of our tiny craft.

We arrived singly and in pairs. Some brought gifts, a record, a box of cigars. We passed around a handful of photos and copies of an underground newspaper we’d foisted on an unsuspecting public back during the first Bush administration. We told stories and remembered others we were too polite to speak aloud. Then, tucking our chins to our chests and assuring each other that it was not too wet to play, we slipped out into the rain and walked to a grassy spot behind Marsh Hall to set up the croquet pitch.

The reality that it had been a quarter of a century since we’d all been together evaporated before our socks soaked through with rainwater. Familiar banter filled the field, familiar personalities animated faces only somewhat altered by time and experience, and the biggest thrill of the afternoon came when one of us had the opportunity to send another’s ball flying with a satisfying THWACK!

Being philosophy majors, we of course discussed the appropriate word to describe that magnificent sound of mallet on ball. THWACK!

photo 3Onomatopoetic.

I work in education now and see the connections students at my school make every day through the offhand remark, shared experience, or common language that rises up in small circles. These seemingly insignificant moments, so important as they build the structure of memory, brick by brick, will collectively last a lifetime.

Being a part of that small group of philosophy majors shivering delightedly in the rain on Saturday reminded me that the strongest ties are developed through laughter and argument. We don’t know what our lives will become, but being put in a place to look backward this weekend, I know that the person I am was built not only by what I did, but by who I did those things with.

I wish for my own students memorable experiences with interesting people, which is not necessarily the same as pleasant experiences with polite people. I wish them laughter, and argument, kindness, strife, and the opportunity for the occasional satisfying THWACK!

And sometime in the mid 2040s, I hope the students I see forming shared memories today are able to enjoy their own equivalent of gathering beneath the oak trees of their alma mater and playing croquet in the rain.

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March Madness

The poet TS Eliot told us that “April is the cruelest month,” but truth be told he never got a spring break. Teachers everywhere know that it’s March that is the real culprit.

Our superintendent rightly calls this “the tired time,” as spring break is still too many days away to start a countdown and the busy nature of school is coming into its springtime own.

photo (3)March marks the start of a new slate of sports seasons, which on many campuses involve the greatest number of student athletes. The second term is well underway by March, its freshness gone, the end still the distant, somewhat hazy concept of June.

Weather hasn’t quite worked itself out; March rains still carry the chill of winter, not the warm promise of spring.

On campuses everywhere, particularly at middle schools, students start feeling the pull of spring, leading those adults around them to talk about “March Madness” without thinking of basketball.

Exhaustion finds these adults, and with it the propensity to short tempers and frayed patience. None of us want to be in a bad mood, but…

So we try to counteract it.

Notoriously creative, student leaders put on events meant to lift spirits and boost morale.

photo 2Here at San Dieguito that means student vs. staff kickball, window boxes going up on the plywood construction fence, and free pie on Pi Day. This is also the time of year ASB promotes the “Makeup Free and Manly Month of March,” an unexpected celebration of “natural beauty” with the tagline: “You’re Beautiful Just The Way You Are!”

Bearded, my true self looks like Old Luke from the latest Star Wars movie.

The kids added a dodgeball tournament and Spirit Week to March, and Homeroom Olympics (a proud tradition at our school) is ramping up. These are all nice reminders that there is fun to be had, even in the tired time.

Believing in our school and our collective spirit buoys us all. No activity or celebration can make March shorter, but collectively they can provide that shot of hope that helps us arrive a little happier and a little healthier to April, a not so cruel month, and with it spring break.

Crooked Arrow

photo 1 (3)Blue spined Hardy Boys books filled my childhood. I read every volume I could put my hands on, loving some, liking others, and not realizing until I became an adult just how formative a part of my reading life those books had really been.

When my daughter, a reader, got old enough, I gave her a couple of the yellow hardcover Nancy Drews, imagining a reaction not unlike my youthful own. She didn’t care for them a bit. Her taste was perhaps more sophisticated than mine had been, her reading world already populated by Harry Potter, Prue McKeel, and Sammy Keyes.

The experience may have been there to remind me of the truth that our kids are not young us; left to make their own decisions, they have tastes and opinions of their own. Here I should add: as they should.

Even when our kids do find that their interests overlap our own, I’ve found that the reality that inspired me decades ago looks different without the gauzy filter of fond memory. It happened for me last week when my seven year old son handed me a copy of The Sign of the Crooked Arrow at bedtime.

He has a few old Hardy Boys books, brought home from Grandma and Papa’s, that have languished on his bookshelf long enough that I’d figured they’d go the way of my daughter’s Nancy Drews.

photo 3 (7)Taking The Sign of the Crooked Arrow from him, I saw that he’d lined up his four Hardy Boys books and chosen the one with the picture he liked the most. How he could have ignored the lurid cover of The Twisted Claw I’ll never know, but (as I reminded myself again) this was his choice, and should be.

We started reading.

There was Frank. There Joe. There lumbered Chet, the Hardy’s overweight, kindhearted chum. Pages ticked by and I found myself relishing a world of shortwave radios and whirlybirds.

My son seemed into it, curious about these teenage sleuths, the string of daring daylight robberies, and the abandoned sedan at Slow Mo’s Garage.

Side by side, propped up on pillows, we traveled through a world somewhat like our own, a midcentury land of malts and dungarees, where, as the blurb on the back of the book explained, “Sons of a famous American detective, the Hardy boys help solve many thrilling cases after school hours and during vacations…”

Didactic, that.

And just as I had forgotten how much of a lesson in manners and morals the Hardy Boys provided, I realized as I read that no contemporary children’s’ book would make manufacturing cigarettes filled with “knockout gas” a major plot point, claim that a watch band could be identified as being worn “by an Indian” because it smelled like hominy, or include the passage:

From the top of the cliff a fleeing lamb came hurtling down toward them. It landed in a broken heap near the frightened ponies. Pye got off to examine the dead animal.
“There are no wild sheep here,” he remarked, looking up at Joe. “Men must have chased it. We’ve got to find them!”
With that he picked up the lamb and flung it over his saddle. “It’ll make a good meal later.”

Um… “Goodnight, son?”

With each page I saw that what I’d found fresh and exciting when I’d read it as a kid, was dated, or for the more generous, vintage.

photo 4 (3)The sporadic line drawings I had looked forward to seeing were simple; the chapter headings ridiculously predictive.

It was a nice reminder to me as an educator that while I can accept that I was influenced by x, y, and z, whatever those were for me, and that while I might be a part of one of my students’ x, y, or z, their influences shouldn’t be the same as mine.

This isn’t only because the world and its attitudes have changed, though they have of course, but also because the kids we raise as parents and the students we work with at schools are their own individuals. I may have rooted for “Good Old Chet” but my kids’ cast of literary characters is as different as they are from me.

photo 2 (6)As we embrace the individuals our kids choose to be, we help them grow into the adults they will become.

Free from expectations, we also allow ourselves the quiet delight that comes from those moments when the Venn Diagram of our own youth overlaps with their childhoods.

As he closed his eyes and listened to The Sign of the Crooked Arrow, my son whispered to me: “Dad, let me know when we get to a picture.”