Headmaster's Communications: Opening Letters 2016

P. DAVID O’HALLORAN, PH.D September 6, 2016 “‘Curiouser and Curiouser!’ Alice cried.”1 Dear Saint David’s School Community, Alice could not have been more prophetic. Wildly curious she found herself deep underground in a foreign world. Twisted, turned, stretched and shrunk, she nevertheless pursued her adventure with unbounded curiosity. This summer I was Alice. Curiosity resulted in my being ‘disgraced’ in California and lost in Allamuchy, all while being shrunk in New York. “One can remain alive …” the novelist Edith Wharton wrote, “if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things and happy in small ways.”2 Like Alice in her Wonderland, Saint David’s literally shrank this summer as the country around it twisted and turned in ways that made it seem altogether foreign. “Wicked problems,”3—those that lack a real solution, but must be addressed in ways that are somehow acceptable to people who probably won’t agree with their resolution—abounded. So much of what our school, city, and country face: building demolition in NYC, religious intolerance, and definitions of appropriate public speech—appears to fit the definition of a “wicked problem.” While in Los Angeles earlier this summer, I experienced Disgraced with one hundred other headmasters from across the country. A play by Ayad Akhtar, Disgraced attempts to unpack difficult sociopolitical and religious themes by placing an Indian Muslim apostate businessman at dinner, where his true convictions reveal the fractured and explosive relationships of the four others with him—his activist nephew, his own White Anglo-Saxon Protestant wife, a Jewish art dealer, and the dealer’s African-American wife. ‘Combustible’ has been used to describe the play and it certainly described the discussion that followed, in which we were forced to confront hidden prejudices, fears, and stereotypes deeply rooted in our culture. I found myself beginning to question why these problems exist. Then I heard and saw what defined so much of the rest of my summer. The current political season with its pageantry of personal insults, blatant untruths, and general lack of civility and respect has established a new nadir in our political discourse. And because so much of today’s media streams unedited and unfiltered twenty-four/seven, it has become ubiquitous. Our children are absorbing the coarseness, hardening the edges of our humanity to the point that they risk finding it ‘normal.’ The world we have known is twisting into something different. Schools like Saint David’s with strong faith-based and morally-focused missions, must be antidotes to the popular culture. We are obligated to cultivate minds that constantly question, probe, and critically examine the popular messages and practices of the day within historical and moral contexts. What’s popular isn’t always what’s right or best. At the heart of this ‘mind’ is an insatiable intellectual curiosity. Our schoolwide theme this year is “curiosity,” which can be found in the first paragraph of the school’s mission statement. SAINT DAVID’S SCHOOL 12 EAST 89TH STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10128-0678 TEL. 212-369-0058 WWW.SAINTDAVIDS.ORG