People often ask about how much Proctor students are tracking the local debates in world and national politics. I usually tell them that we have the unique position to be isolated and far enough away from the fuzzy, white noise of polarized debate about contemporaneous issues. It's not that our students do not track what is going on in the world -- the newly formed Current Events Club is an antidote to that -- but students at Proctor see themselves first and foremost as connectors rather than the spikey disruptors that tear at the fabric of most school and college communities.
In classes, you can often hear a lively debate that will lurch into contemporaneous political detritus. However, by and large, students make civil discourse their aim. They want people to feel not just like they belong anywhere on our 2500 acre campus but that they can also enter the stream of a conversation or even debate wherever they happen to be.
In a recent class, one student turned to another and said admiringly, "I really love how your mind works!" Perhaps we at Proctor have privileged civil discourse over corrosive debate. And what's so bad about bucking the norm?
As we begin to enter the hot button, single-issue voter period of the political season that is unfolding, perhaps that question and others will lead us back to what Proctor is truly world class at, which is process.
I would say that American Democracy runs on its ability to stand on not just democratic principles but it also thrives on democratic processes.
For instance, when you head to the Wise Center and watch students queue-up to play pool upstairs, an orderly process reveals itself about "who's got next?" The way that students encourage and include the casual observer as they wait their turn, and perhaps sing a country-western song or three, you would think that you were in the middle of one of New Hampshire's treasures, its annual Town Meetings. People by and large who like each other and have a good time ribbing each other, too.
Another lesson in democracy and the democratic process can be observed in the way Weekend Activities and Project Period sign-ups happen, get promoted, and eventually executed fairly and squarely by who is first or within the confines of first-come, first-served. Project Period in particular is one of the few privileges that happen by class (seniors, and then juniors, and then sophomores, and then freshmen). Students come to trust that a fair process will happen when they wait their turn and follow an orderly protocol.
Finally, the idea that each term students can have a shopping period for new afternoon activities each term is unique to any school in which I have worked. In a week or two, some students looking for a new activity or sport can try on four or five different ones, if they so choose. Students who have "done a thing since kindergarten" can switch up and do something different without anyone asking too many questions about it. They can be on the way to having a different experience, which might lead to a different path. One student I know has sampled a different sport for four years during spring term. Why? Because they can!
Proctor's unique brand of education teaches students how to choose and how to advocate. Choosing is hard because it requires discernment and knowledge of things you want to choose. Therefore, if you are headed into the ballot box when you are an adult, you must do your homework and have an opinion based on that prior work. On the other hand, knowing how to advocate for one's self and one's point of view definitely is an outgrowth of the very strong English and history departments.
When students leave Proctor, they have committed themselves to NOT living in a bubble, unless that is what they choose to do, which is hiding one’s self away from the rest of the world. What they really have committed themselves to is a lifestyle of choosing something and fully embracing an experiential educational model of democracy. The kind of democracy where you try something on rather than choose not to participate, or worse yet, not knowing or caring about a particular important subject that requires discernment. Being in a bubble is good when it makes us all better, eventually, in the end.
Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School
More than just the state of our Democracy-setting at Proctor, I have been reading and re-reading Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” perhaps because of my own short time left at Proctor. Maybe you will see something more in the form and the function of “One Art.” Read it HERE. To get one take on the poem’s meaning, listen to it and hear it explicated HERE.
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