We continue to live in an era of rapid cultural evolution.  Reasonable people navigate these turbulent waters with humility, curiosity, and openness, yet even reasonable people can feel the passionate, loud, and often uncompromising voices of extreme perspectives – extreme advocacy for rapid evolution and extreme recalcitrance at the very concept of change.  At schools, we cannot share the self-indulgent luxury of extreme advocacy or extreme recalcitrance.  We must practice, model, and promote critical thinking, kindness, and sensitivity while engaging the day’s most contentious issues.Our obligation is to our students.  Our missions are clear – “to prepare students for college and life in mind, body, and spirit.”  Our communities embrace the idea that the most effective way to accomplish this mission is in the context of an intimate, caring community in which we both maintain high standards in all areas of school life while ensuring that every student feels known and loved.

It is in this context that I intend here to wonder about two particular issues that the nation contends with and which, therefore, must become matters that we consider in our own small communities.  The first of these could be framed as a basic civil rights issue, but even the framing of the issue in such a way is not without controversy.  It is relatively easy to argue on a personal level that we should treat everyone with respect and kindness, but how does an institution create policy in the rapidly morphing area of sexual and gender identity.  Very carefully and thoughtfully, I would argue.

The second of these two issues involves tangentially, but I believe essentially, a national worry over the fragility of adolescents and young adults.  The Big Uneasy article in the New Yorker and also David Brooks in his New York Times opinion pieces join a host of other voices worrying about this issue.  My son identifies it as one of his chief concerns in his position as the Chaplain at William and Mary College.  What is the cause of this fragility?  Could it be that our young people have lost purpose and meaning in their lives?  Does this loss have a correlation to a vacuum in their spiritual lives?  Are our schools doing a good job or any job at all of filling this vacuum?  In a secular humanist world, are we equipped to help young people find transcendent meaning and purpose?

Oddly enough, these two issues might be related, but even suggesting that possibility is controversial.  Could it be that we have placed identity advocacy and grievance or victim politics as the central organizing principle of our lives, and that ultimately this principle does not fill the vacuum that has been created by the absence of transcendent purpose and spirituality?  Is it fair to observe that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s magnificent and courageous advocacy for equal rights for African Americans would have been unthinkable and probably impossible absent his much larger concern, which was his deep faith in Jesus Christ, a faith now sneered at as a quaint superstitious practice of the unsophisticated by much of the nation’s secular humanist intelligentsia?

The point is not that Christianity per se must be embraced but that without it in MLK Jr’s case or without it (Hinduism) in Gandhi’s case, the identity movements they led would have been empty shells and would have connected to nothing.  Where is that deep faith and spirituality to be found in today’s movement leaders and advocates, and why are today’s youth so adrift and fragile?  Does it behoove us to consider seriously the relationship between the two, and what influence might that consideration have upon our policies and practices as schools?


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