From the Director: The Daily Tension

by Vince Durnan, director

As we at school try to strike the right balance between current events and our educational purpose, please make time for kitchen table conversations and active expressions of civic engagement.
We're conscious of news breaking all around as each new school day begins. The question of when to change plans, of how much to divert from regular, familiar routines is particularly top of mind for me and for colleagues at USN.
Maybe first on the list is the question of our place in the national conversation about community safety and gun policy. I'm actually typing this message from the National Association of Independent Schools conference in Atlanta, where that topic is gobbling up conversation time in every meeting I attend — with no consensus opinion other than the importance of supporting young people motivated in this moment. USN students have been asking about the right approach to next week's walkout, or about attending the Washington, D.C. rally during Spring Break, and we're listening closely in Middle and High Schools. I've been impressed by their thoughtfulness.
Meanwhile, the Contemporary Civics class I'm lucky enough to convene has more to talk about than we ever imagined two months ago, even though we knew we'd be busy with transit and housing and healthcare and finance questions of lasting importance for our city. There's such value in their developing a knowledge base about fundamental policy questions for a metropolitan area, and yet it feels wrong to miss the chance to work from one headline to the next in the trying times for Nashville.
And just this Tuesday, while Minnijean Brown-Trickey returned to campus for what we think is the 16th year to share recollections as a member of the Little Rock Nine, with fifth graders who read "Warriors Don't Cry," another guest arrived. Heather Warren '77, University of Virginia professor and Rhodes Scholar, offered a lunch and learn about what really happened last summer in Charlotteville — and on pretty short notice. But how could we say no? Listening to Heather provided an eerie echo of what Minnijean recalled, a reminder to know our history and see its relevance.
Friday, March 9, we'll celebrate the beautiful variety of cultural backgrounds represented by USN families,  as we gather for the annual International Fair to break bread in many of its iterations. With the debates about trade wars and nuclear security and Olympic diplomacy, highlighting the benefit of people learning from difference strikes me as a  particularly important message to reinforce. Making time to gather in that way is actually a pretty topical thing to do in this geopolitical climate.
There's an old saying about not letting school get in the way of your education. Maybe it's better to think about the way education, more broadly defined, is at the core of the best kind of school experience, amidst classes and credits and curricula. We are, most certainly, a kind of sanctuary for children (and for many adults), called on to strike the right balance between current events and permanent purpose. But we can't live in isolation. Please join us in the effort by making time for kitchen table conversations and for active expressions of civic engagement, as you strive to keep the news cycle in perspective. Let's set that example for the young people in our care in anxious times.
That's enough for now,
    • Director Vince Durnan at Music Night on Edgehill 2018.

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