Brendan Largay, Head of School

BrendanLargay, Head of School

The Questions of Early Spring Are Blooming Again

At this time of year, two questions inevitably spring into my world: 

  • What are you reading right now?
  • Why Pre-K to Grade 8?

The first is a question that comes often from within the BDS community of parents and faculty. Folks who, in all likelihood, are starting to cobble together their summer reading lists. The second comes to me frequently from prospective parents considering Belmont Day for their children’s educational future. I relish both questions and as regular readers of the Scoop may guess, my answer to each starts with a question of my own: how much time do you have?

Lamentably, I’ve been reading a tad less of late so my answer there may lack some of the heft I am usually able to provide. Still, there are three books that are resonating with me most right now:

Of Boys and Men by Richard Reeves takes an unvarnished look at the experience of boys and men in education and in the labor force. It is unapologetic, at times indelicate, but crystal clear in its clarion call to attend to a sometimes silent crisis in the experience of raising boys and young men. It has also begun making the circles of educational leadership spaces as well as a recent podcast interview with Ezra Klein

The natural question one might ask is about how Reeves addresses the continued inequities experienced by women, even as he articulates the struggle of men, and he offers this: “We can hold two thoughts in our head at once. We can be passionate about women’s rights and compassionate towards vulnerable boys and men.” As someone who aims for every child to have a rewarding and promising experience at Belmont Day, for every child to strike the balance of learner and leader, Reeves’ book has certainly sparked curiosity about the experience of boys at Belmont Day.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is a fictional tale of two childhood friends who reconnect in Cambridge, Mass. in their college years to start up their own gaming company, Unfair Games. The novel unpacks the stories of these two protagonists as they come of age as young professionals, software and hardware designers, entrepreneurs, gamers, and friends. It also quotes one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches (notably from Macbeth which I just finished teaching to the seventh grade) in the title. As such, I like to believe that there may be a bit of allegory baked into the title and the story itself. The speech from the play is, as it happens, Macbeth’s reflection on his life and its purpose (or lack thereof). Worth wondering if such a reflection on the novel’s characters throughout their journey might be worth it as well.

How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil takes a data-informed and unapologetic look at the major global factors behind energy use, global health, and environmental and food source sustainability, and then does its best to offer some steps we might take to model a future where we can reduce our impact even as we come to understand the way our reliance on fossil fuels is baked into our reality far more than we suspect. Fair warning here: I can be a bit of a data wonk, and the parent who recommended this to me (thanks, Matt) knew that when he did so, and even he acknowledged the moments that require slogging through some heavy numbers and challenging info. If you have the appetite for it, though, I can assure you that it’s worth the effort. 

As I often do with non-fiction texts like Smil’s and Reeves’, I am inclined to determine what it means for our students at Belmont Day, which then leads me to consider that second question: why do you believe in the pre-kindergarten to eighth grade model of education? As it happens, these books provide a great jumping-off point for my answer.

Someone recently referred to me as a “reckless optimist.” Note: this was offered as a compliment and I took it (and continue to take it) as such. These books and their sometimes dire predictions for the future offer excellent examples of how that reckless optimism takes shape: because I believe, deep in my bones, that Belmont Day students are building the skills, the character, and the leadership capabilities to solve for the immensely challenging future outlined in those texts.

Pre-K-to-8 matters to me because we are helping to shape students’ character as we provide them with the necessary skills to be effective communicators, problem solvers, critical thinkers, and innovators. We are helping to provide them the windows and mirrors into experiences beyond themselves and to be explorers and discoverers of challenge and possibility. Indeed, they are not singularly equipped with the ability to solve a problem; they have the capacity to discover and analyze the problem in the first place. That’s born of careful and intentional instruction, of six core values that guide our every step, of a rigorous curriculum, and a true sense of belonging within a community that believes that each and every student in our school has this capability within them. So, too, do they have the ability to be the next great game designer, Shakespearean scholar, or data analyst.

I hope this provides some insight into the answers to the two most popular questions I get this time of year. I also hope it has reminded any of you Scoop readers out there that I love a good book recommendation. Summer is right around the corner and the floor is open for suggestions.

BrendanLargay, Head of School

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