Reflecting on values and community at White Mountain

By: Tim Breen, Head of School

This morning, as we gathered together as a community for the first time after Thanksgiving, I shared some reflections on our values and community life. This reflection and reaffirmation was prompted by a notable rise in incivility in the discourse of our recent presidential election. As I noted in my remarks, we do not, as a school, take sides in partisan debates. However, we do not hesitate to stand up for our values.

The text of my remarks follows:

The recent presidential campaign marked a dramatic increase in public incivility – hurtful and threatening language and behavior from public figures and from some of their supporters.  In a time such as this, it is essential for individuals and institutions to reflect upon, and reaffirm their values.  These values are the sources of strength upon which we draw in difficult times, to ground us and to guide us.  At White Mountain we draw strength and guidance from our mission as a school of inquiry and engagement, our commitment to nurturing curiosity, courage and compassion, and our heritage as an Episcopal school.

As a school we do not take positions about particular political issues.  This would infringe upon the open dialogue that is essential to student learning and growth.  However, we do take positions about values and how we treat each other.  We do this for two reasons: first, because learning happens best in a values-driven, respectful community that promotes curiosity, courage, and compassion; and second because our Episcopal heritage calls on us to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” (Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, p.294)

The call to “respect the dignity of every human being” means honoring every person’s inherent worth, within our community and beyond.  Our actions and interactions must be based on this belief.  In our community no person is more important than any other.  We respect the dignity of every student, teacher, staff member and administrator equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, or any attributes of identity.  To reinforce this respect, we treat each other with kindness and avoid hurtful language and behavior.

The call to “strive for justice” means that we know the work of social justice is not done, and that progress is often tenuous.  Accordingly, we must especially support those who are currently being denied justice, those who have historically been denied justice, and those who fear that we will take a step backward with regard to justice recently won.

The call to “strive for peace” means that we oppose violent actions and violent language. We hold ourselves and others responsible for both the impact and intent of our words and deeds.  We do not tolerate language or actions that demean any individual.  And at this time we are keenly aware that there are those among us whose hope for justice and peace has been particularly shaken by recent public rhetoric and actions.  We must therefore especially support members of groups who were targets of this recent rhetoric – people of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, the disabled, women, and others.  Our compassion must extend to all in our community.

Our commitment to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” extends beyond the White Mountain community.  We must resist the erosion of our School’s values wherever this occurs.  And while our School will avoid taking sides in a partisan debate, we reserve the right to right to oppose and actively address language and actions inconsistent with our values whenever and wherever they occur.

We will also continue the fundamental commitment we have as a school: to engage fully in the search for truth.  We listen with open minds and open hearts to ideas, even controversial ideas, with the hope and expectation that we will learn and grow.  We believe that discourse about ideas must be vigorous, disciplined and respectful.

As an educational institution we expect all community members to model the curiosity to seek truth and beauty, beginning with questions rather than assumptions.  We expect us all to demonstrate the courage to speak our truths, stand up for our beliefs, and act from a place of love, not fear.  And we expect us all to demonstrate compassion, listening deeply to each other’s stories, supporting especially those who suffer injustice, and making room in our hearts for all.

At White Mountain, we will continue to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” and work to cultivate curiosity, courage and compassion.  If the broader culture retreats from these values, we will proudly be counter-cultural.  For we believe the world will be a better place, with more justice, peace, respect, and dignity, if we nurture an openhearted curiosity: a curiosity informed by compassion, and emboldened by courage.

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