Learning is the Opposite of Hate
Message from the headmaster
As we move into these lively few weeks before the holidays, we are thinking about what our students need most and how we can make sure we’re providing it. You should know that especially at this time of year, our teachers are constantly considering and lifting up your students—cheering them on, giving them well-timed advice, holding them to their words, and always looking for ways to help them succeed.
Some students need guidance as they prepare to present their Capstone projects across campus this Friday. Some need chaperoning to attend the national Student Diversity Leadership Conference in St. Louis, MO. Some need extra hours to practice for the upcoming Theater or Dance showcases or the Winter Concert. Some need academic help to tackle exams and projects due at the end of the term. Still others need support from their advisors, teachers, and health counselors as they face all the emotions (anxiety, uncertainty, stress) that come with trying to accomplish difficult and worthy things.
One thing we can be sure of is that even as they’re working to succeed in their endeavors, our students are learning from what they see happening in the world. More accurately, they are learning from the accounts of current events they see and hear pouring in from sources both reliable and unreliable, all of which are eager for their attention.
As we spend part of their days with them, my hope is that we offer a stable space in which they can learn from us–not only from those relentless feeds—about the facts and forces that define our world. We hope they can begin to understand how to think critically and independently about those facts and forces–and how to keep thinking, questioning, and looking, as powerful habits of mind.
Looking is often not easy. As we watch the exchange of Israeli and Palestinian hostages during a cease-fire in the war in Gaza that we can only hope will continue, we want to reassure our Jewish and Muslim students and families that we want to be the community they need. While the war is far away geographically, the conflict finds expression all over the world as people make the grave mistake of seeing only one or another identity, and forgetting their common humanity. It recently found expression and made international news in Burlington, Vermont, when three college students of Palestinian descent were attacked while simply walking to dinner. The motivation for the attack is still unclear. But whether or not it involved hatred toward Arabic speaking people, the attack’s randomness and intensity point toward hate as a motivating factor. This incident has unnerved so many because Vermont takes pride in being a safe and open-minded place.
Hate has no place in our world, in our country, in our state, or in our community. But I am aware that it exists beyond our control, and that this means we must protect each other. We must do everything we can to understand each other’s situations, to (always) learn about each other and the different versions of the world we inhabit. That knowledge is what creates connection and respect among us. That connection and respect is the foundation of a peaceful and just society.
We have the opportunity here at the Academy to provide students with the antidote to hate, ignorance, and violence: education. A few weeks ago Glenn Ehrean, Social Studies faculty and Director of our Colwell Center for Global Understanding, gave a chapel talk to provide context and facts about the Israel-Hamas war. He emphasized that being informed about this or any conflict helps us to avoid the trap of simplistic thinking about those on either side. And while we must fight expressions of hate, we mustn’t confuse them with critical thinking and questioning about war.
This is what students and all of us need–to promote understanding as relentlessly as misunderstanding and division is promoted elsewhere. I hope that what we’re teaching students is to tell the difference, and to know better than to hate. Ms. Hanson reminded us many weeks ago of our duty to keep each other’s humanity in mind: each of us has music that we love, a favorite food, things that make us laugh, a favorite place to be. Each of us has a family and people, places and things we hold dear. Each of us is human.
As we prepare to celebrate our students’ and faculty’s accomplishments at the end of the term, I ask our community and our students particularly to be conscious of how we treat each other–to think more than ever about how to show respect, care and support to all–and never forget what connects us.
Dr. Sharon L. Howell