Head of School’s Notebook: Inquiry

Our senior inquiry presentations have begun. The first two were on Wednesday night. Ned Sigler ’21 talked about the manner in which we might one day enable human beings to travel to Mars, and why we must. He even quoted Elon Musk, who famously said, “I’d like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”

Ned’s main point, humor aside, is that we have to go to Mars, or some other planet, to ensure the survival of our species. Yuki Kobayashi ’21 followed Ned’s presentation with a study of cults and the need, however unusual, for human beings to cohere around an idea or a ritual, a person or a belief. It was a study of communities really, and she even poked fun at ours with some well-chosen lines from our handbook.

Our inquiry question that is supposed to guide these and the dozen or so other senior projects this year is, “What is education?” Ned and Yuki never mention that question in particular. Neither will any of their peers throughout the week.  But they still reveal their answer.

Inquiry projects are when our students educate themselves, when they find a concept or a possibility or an idea or a problem that intrigues them and then they dive into it for much of the year, seeking to render some form of answer to the dilemma they confront in their scholarship or in their daily life.

Bella Lucente ’21 kicked off things on Thursday with a study of plant-based diets and how they are a growing necessity if we are to do what Ned identified as his principal goal: save our species. Bella has over the years changed her own diet to reflect the very responsibility she sought science to fully understand.

That has to be what education is, doesn’t it? To pursue our own curiosity by using the skills we have learned and the experiences we have had? Bella, Ned, and Yuki taught themselves everything they shared in their presentations. They relied on other scholarship to do so, but they had to find that scholarship, assess it, and establish its relevance. They asked the questions, and as they pointed out, they continually refined their inquiry as they discovered the scale of their topics, their complexity, and their nuance.

It is a simple truth that the more we study the more we realize we don’t know. Surely our seniors can attest to that. But education is not necessarily about finding the answers. Maybe it’s just about looking for them.

That’s what our kids did so well this week and in all of those that preceded it. They showed what they found when they looked. I’m quite sure, too, that all of those underclassmen who listened to the presentations in the Theater and then fired off questions afterward had the same reaction I did. I bet they were impressed and inspired. I bet they wondered if they could deliver such a presentation someday and what it might be about. I hope they decided they can and will, because I plan to be there to see it when they present.

That’s education. Our seniors taught us that this week.