Headmaster’s Notebook | Love and MLK

Many of us on the Mesa have been talking about an editorial that David Brooks wrote last week in the New York Times.  “Students Learn from People they Love” it’s called. Hardly a revelation, especially if you are a boarding school teacher or student or parent, but it’s a potential lightning bolt to mass market understanding.

“A key job of a school,” Brooks writes, “is to give students new things to love.”  He refers not simply to the life of the mind and the possibilities of scholarship but of the people—students and faculty—a young person comes to know and admire and emulate through the journey.   

Brooks concludes his piece with a question, “How would you design a school if you wanted to put relationship quality at the core?”  We could certainly help him there. Mr. Cate did that very thing over a century ago, and we have been refining the model ever since.

But it is the next question that may be more relevant, especially given that I write on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  “Come to think of it,” Brooks muses, “how would you design a Congress?”

We have long stressed that our job on this Mesa—at the most fundamental level—is to build with our students a paradigmatic community experience, a vision of what it means to share in a collective endeavor that transcends us all.  And we trust that very education will enable each alumna and alumnus to replicate the Cate paradigm in the vocations they pursue and the communities of the world they inhabit. That is the most tangible and powerful expression of Servons: the life of the mind engaged to inform and enrich the life of the community or the community of man.

Surely Dr. King was advocating the very same thing through quite similar means.  His life of service was predicated on one beautiful assumption—that human beings are innately good, that we are capable of learning and growing and that ultimately we long for connection and community.  His campaign of nonviolent resistance was a manifestation not simply of Dr. King’s dignity but of the dignity he accorded his fellow man, even those consumed with fear and hate. He was and is a teacher, and his courage and capacity for love are conspicuous in his every expression and interaction.

Long before David Brooks wondered about the power of a government or a school organized around relationships, Dr. King was espousing that very thing, not simply as a means to govern our society but to inform the structures and laws and leadership that support the best that we might collectively become.  His paradigm he articulated throughout his life and most emphatically on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that remarkable day in 1963.

Ours at Cate finds expression in other ways, sometimes in language but more often in interactions, commitments, contributions, and companionship.  We have become a microcosm of the world ourselves, even from our perch above it, and in the maelstrom that is the present day, we have the opportunity to see what happens when we allow something other than love to take the center and dominate our discourse.  And so we press on, living up as best we can to the lessons we have learned from our peers and teachers, knowing as Dr. King taught that we cannot ever concede or accept less than we owe ourselves and each other.

Only through such love and commitment will our schools, our governments, our dreams or Dr. King’s Dream be truly and fully enabled.