by Milo McGehee ’17
What is cloning? What constitutes someone or something as human; is it our biology, or something vastly different? What defines the line between ethics and morality, and how does one apply those concepts to contemporary problems? Does human life have value beyond what one gives it, and if so, how do we judge that value? Is it immoral to use human life as a means to an end? To what extent should a patient leave his or her treatment in the hands of a professional? These questions and more were brought up during a film studies class this past Thursday by guest speaker Micah Hester, a medical ethicist from UAMS (photo above). The lively discussion was based on the class’s recent reading of Never Let Me Go, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro that was also adapted into a 2010 film directed by Mark Romanek.
Hester’s duty as a medical ethicist is to help individual patients and families solve ethical problems that arise throughout one’s treatment. This complicated job is rooted in the study and application of philosophy, and in this case, ideas stemming from philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A common conundrum of a medical ethicist is that of organ transplantation, which is a major theme in Ishiguro’s novel; Never Let Me Go uses a not so huge stretch of the imagination to establish a world in which possibly unethical means are used in order to justify an end.
The purpose of this discussion was not purely to allow further reflection of the class’s studies, but to open each student’s eyes to a whole new realm of medicine and philosophy that was previously unknown. As our generation takes a great leap into the future of our species, we take the biggest leap in history. The dawn of this transition, although wonderful and astonishing, leaves many questions to be answered, by students, teachers, and medical ethicists alike.
by Fletcher Carr, Head of the Upper School
As I drove home from school on Friday afternoon, the news reader on a local FM station announced that there had been a shooting in Paris. My first thought was that there had been an incident in Paris, Arkansas. Then I heard the additional details about the French president, the soccer match, restaurant shootings, and an ongoing hostage situation at a concert venue. That evening, in the autumn air of Bald Knob, more news began to trickle–and then flood—in; body counts rose, details clarified, and as always following any atrocity, a set of too-familiar emotions cycled through me: shock, fear, anger, sadness, revulsion, frustration.
Over the weekend, as I watched and read commentary that simultaneously untangled and re-tangled the events, I thought back to the same early responses to September 11 and recalled how many of the initial declarations had been grounded in faulty information and understandable hysteria. I also reflected on the students I had sat with in my writing class on 9/11 and about our conversations as the events unfolded. The conversations were not deep, but they were meaningful in that they were happening. More than anything, we talked about the terror behind terrorism and what the perpetrators were trying to achieve. And most importantly, we talked about how we thought it might impact our feelings and our lives.
And as the conversation evolved over the days following our nation’s own tragedy 14 years ago, the dialogue seemed to boil down to the question of response. After hearing the stories and seeing the results of this attack, students wrestled with how they should respond. Some wanted to respond with violence against violence; others looked at what they saw as the futility of violence in response to violence. And now, almost a decade and a half later, we are facing just that same question.
Grant Lichtman, a dynamic and forward-looking American educator and author of the blog, The Future of K-12 Education, posed this question beautifully in a post on Saturday, writing, “In the aftermath of Paris, people of good will are wrestling with perhaps the existential question of our time: can we fight our way to peace, or does the solution lie in following those greatest teachers of our time—Gandhi and King—who argued that we can never “drive out darkness with darkness in kind, but only with light”?”
As we struggle with this newest iteration of geopolitical and ideological violence, I know that I don’t have a ready answer. But I hope that the offer of conversation, among families or within the classes and daily routines of the Episcopal Collegiate Upper School, can begin to help students place this horrific event in context and begin to shape their own responses to the questions, at all levels, raised by this event.
And even if the conversation is halting and unsettled, which it likely will be, the recognition that we all currently share the same anger, fears, and uncertainty can mean everything as the young people in our community work to process and make a semblance of sense of the senseless.
Note: Common Sense Media, a media watchdog agency dedicated to children (toddlers to teens) published the following guide over the weekend to help parents talk with their children about news stories such as this one: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/explaining-the-news-to-our-kids
By Vivian Blair, Upper School Creative Writing
Writing is a craft, and to get better at writing, students must write frequently. It’s a process, and each student needs to do the work required to get better. Parents often ask teachers if they can help their children with writing without overstepping appropriate boundaries, and the answer is “yes, of course!” Parents can use these four tips to help as writing partners.
Tip 1: Help writers rehearse their structure. Ask planning questions about sequencing and correlations, such as “Where is your thesis statement?” or “What is your plan for organizing this essay?” It’s okay to write down what the student says, but resist the urge to “clean it up” or use “better” or “bigger” words. It has to sound like the student, not like a parent.
Tip 2: Help writers elaborate. Ask “What do you mean here?” or “Can you explain this more?” Students tend to say more than they write, so when they explain, the reader is more able to follow their line of thinking. Again, transcription is acceptable, but resist the urge to give them words. Use the student’s words.
Tip 3: Work with the examples, rubrics, and checklists given to the student. Most teachers provide students with examples and rubrics for writing assignments. Remind your student to check his/her essay against those examples and rubrics.
Tip 4: Unless research is specifically required, remind students to avoid the Internet! The work needs to reflect the student’s thinking—not the parent’s thinking or the thinking of someone else.
Writing is hard because writing requires thinking. Teachers know the students will struggle with these concepts. The goal is to improve the student’s writing, and the good news is that it is in the struggle that they learn and improve!
By Cole Lester, Head of the Early Childhood School
Kindergarten is an escalating, interdisciplinary learning process in which children imagine what they want to do, create a project based on their ideas (using blocks, finger paint, or other materials), play with their creations, share their ideas and creations with others, and reflect on their experiences—all of which leads them to imagine new ideas and new projects.
As kindergarten teachers consider learning expectations (“the what”) and plan for their students (“the how”), they infuse each day with developmentally-appropriate practices. They use a wide variety of teaching strategies, such as asking questions, fostering dialogue, offering choices, linking the new to the familiar, and using rich vocabulary. They individualize student learning, providing the least amount of support that each child needs to achieve a learning goal. They use a variety of teaching styles, thinking carefully about which learning context or format is best for helping children achieve a desired outcome. They incorporate countless assessment strategies in an effort to get to know each child and his or her current and changing abilities, needs, interests, and unique learning styles.
There is something undeniably compelling about this cognitive description- the learning world it describes is so arranged and linear, such a clear case of inputs here leading to outputs there. However, educators know that success does not depend primarily on cognitive skills, the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ and achievement tests.
If we want children to truly learn, to process and internalize information, we have to let them play. Through play-based learning and creativity, young children learn non-cognitive skills such as conflict resolution, problem solving, higher-level thinking, character- persistence, self-control, curiosity, and self- confidence.
That is why, embedded in our curriculum, you will see these equally (arguably more) important learning expectations for kindergarteners:
Globally, kindergarten is undergoing a dramatic change. In some kindergartens today, children are spending more and more time filling out worksheets, drilling flash cards, focusing on rote memorization, and having their learning assessed in a standardized manner. In short, kindergarten is becoming more like the rest of school.
If you walk down the kindergarten hallways at Episcopal Collegiate School, you would agree that the opposite needs to happen: We should make the rest of school (and life) more like kindergarten. Let them play.
Clueing Into Social Media
by Katherine Robinson, Technology Integration Specialist, and Mary Brook-Townsend, Middle School Librarian
Typically, Middle School is a time of tremendous growth for our students. Changing schedules, teachers, expectations, and social circles are all common to this stage of life. Of equal importance is how social media plays a key role in our student’s communication with one another. Making sure they are respectful and responsible in their use of social media, as well as understand the positive and negative consequences of social media, plays a major role in our advisory program.
During the first quarter, each grade level participated in focused lessons and discussions centered on the acronym THINK. This acronym provides simple questions students can ask themselves before they post to social media, send a text message, or email. Additionally, the questions were used to jump start important conversations about oversharing, cyberbullying, and inappropriate content.
Our 6th grade class centered their lessons on the negative consequences of sharing inappropriate content online. Students discussed the idea that the Internet never forgets and the importance of being mindful of how their digital footprint impacts their reputation. Their second lesson focused on the roles students play in cyberbullying situations. Students were asked to read and discuss cyberbullying situations, identify the bully and the victim, and brainstorm ways in which the bystanders could have been upstanders and involved a trusted adult.
The 7th grade class focused their discussion on the idea that oversharing can have negative consequences on their social lives and reputations. Their conversation centered on the Common Sense Media video, Oversharing: Think Before You Post and how our state law enforcement agencies are currently responding to cyberbullying.
Eighth graders began their discussion by looking at the study, Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives. This study highlighted that one in five teens feel that social media made them more confident and that 52% of teens believed that social media had improved their friendships. Using this research, they discussed how poor decisions when posting online and the consequences surrounding those decisions could shift that perspective.
Episcopal Collegiate Counselors Tricia Davis and Anna TerAvest recently introduced students to Carol Dweck’s research on fixed vs. growth mindset. Her research found that the way children are praised sends a distinct message and creates a strong mindset about abilities. When children are praised for accomplishments, they tend to stick to easier problems and shy away from challenges. This is a fixed mindset. They begin to believe that the talents and intelligence they are born with is all that they will have. When children are praised for effort and hard work, they begin to seek out more challenging material and realize they can grow their talents and intelligence. This type of thinking is called a growth mindset.
We asked our students to examine where they have fixed mindsets when they say things like:
I don’t need to study; I always do well on math tests.
I can’t draw.
I’m not a writer.
We asked them to change the way they look at this self-talk and instead use wording like:
Studying can help prime the brain for future growth. I need to let my teacher know that I am ready and willing for more of a challenge.
I’m still learning to draw. The more time I spend drawing and learning from others, the better I will be.
My writing is not polished and smooth, yet, but I keep writing and rewriting.
Parents can help their children immensely by paying close attention to the wording they use when praising children. The words and actions we use towards them shape how they think about themselves. The following lists give some examples of how to praise your child to create a growth mindset.
Fixed Mindset Language to Avoid
You are really athletic!
You are so smart!
Your drawing is wonderful; you are my little artist.
You are so fast! You will be the next Usain Bolt.
You always get good grades; that makes me happy.
Growth Mindset Language to Use
You really work hard and pay attention when you are on the field.
You work hard in school, and it shows!
I can see you have been practicing your drawing; what a great improvement.
Keep running, and you will see great results.
When you put forth effort, it really shows in your grades. You should be so proud of yourself. We are proud of your effort.
So, the next time you are ready to praise your child, stop to think about how to use that opportunity to praise his or her effort instead of accomplishments. Also, please help them rephrase their “I can’t” to “I’m not there, yet.”
In August, Episcopal Collegiate ninth graders journeyed on an Upper School pre-orientation trip to one of the most beautiful landscapes in America – the Grand Teton Mountains. The students spent four nights and three days at the Teton Science School in Jackson, Wyoming. Students documented their adventure, which included hiking, journaling, water-quality testing, and wildlife observation, on their blog: http://www.tetonscience.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2015-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2016-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=40 For a closer look, we asked Episcopal Collegiate School Freshman Boyd Bethel (shown below journaling on the trip) to tell us more. Thanks, Boyd! Read on . . .
Going on the trip to the Grand Tetons was really a fun and engaging experience for my classmates and me. After lengthy airport layovers and a light dinner, the tired (and hungry) crew of students finally arrived in Jackson, Wyoming to be bused over to the Teton Science Schools.
As we scrambled to get in as much iPhone time as possible before our devices were confiscated, bright screens lit up and heart-breaking goodbyes were said to social media.
Without our phones to distract us, we listened for our dorm and room assignments. The girls received rooms with showers, while the boys settled for a clear downgrade: community showers. After we had settled in before bedtime the first night, we finally collapsed, exhausted from the day.
Morning came early, and Coach Marsh and Coach Friedel didn’t hesitate to force the guys out of bed, which I wasn’t crazy about. When breakfast ended, we broke into our designated animal groups: Pronghorn, Otters, Wolverines, and Moose. We then went on hikes and began our journey to learn more about science. Before the hike, however, we were told that if we had to “chase any bears or coyotes,” we were allowed to do so. Initially confused, I wondered what this meant, only to be shocked when I heard it was simply a euphemism for using the restroom. Anyway, with this strange, useless bit of knowledge, I continued on the hike with my fellow Pronghorns, enjoying the Rocky Mountains and learning science.
This was only the beginning, as we would continue this process of waking up way too early, visiting and hiking through scenic parks like Yellowstone, and playing pick-up basketball during free time (with courtside commentary from Madison Marsh and Madison Dixon).
The Tetons were a great place for my class to bond, especially with the science school’s emphasis on leadership. This has really helped to instill confidence in every one of us incoming ninth graders to be the best person possible, both in and out of class. It has also helped encourage class cohesiveness as we begin our Upper School journey.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed every aspect of this trip (save the stomach cramps from eating Panda Express; thanks, Martin) and appreciated the opportunity to learn and make lasting friendships. I can already tell it’s going to be a great year with this group. Go Wildcats!