Who Am I? Why Am I Here?
Those of us of a certain age might remember watching the 1992 vice-presidential debate, in which Ross Perot’s running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, famously opened with the rhetorical question “Who am I? Why am I here?”. I was thinking of Stockdale’s quote this week when Randolph played host to staff and administrators from High Meadow School and from Manhattan Country School. It was great to meet with these two wonderful schools, to show them proudly around our campus, and to swap insights about the challenges and opportunities of running small, independent, progressive schools. It also allowed us to compare ourselves directly to these schools, and to focus a bit more sharply on the issue of our own identity as a school: Who are we at Randolph? Why are we here?
These questions are an open invitation to a conversation I hope to be having continually within our community. One thing that became clearer and clearer as we spoke to our counterparts from High Meadow and MCS is that the essential qualities of Randolph School do not easily lend themselves to quick encapsulation. There isn’t really a sound bite that can capture the fact that at Randolph School our students plant corn seeds in the garden, growing it until harvest when they collect the corn, dry it, mill it into cornmeal, and then make corn bread out of the corn meal… not to mention that the cornbread is only one of several dishes made from our own crops (and grown, harvested and cooked by our students) at the Harvest Feast every year. It’s a rich experience for them that defies a slick label.
There are some aspects of Randolph School that seem clear and easy to label, but often even these labels fail to really capture the essence of our school. We are a progressive school, for example, but even progressive champion Alfie Kohn realizes that this label is more of a catch-all than a definition (for an excellent article by Kohn on this subject, click HERE). No one would mistake Randolph School for a Montessori, Waldorf, or Free school, yet we all live under the “progressive” tent.
What is it, then, that makes Randolph itself? Who are we? Why are we here? Admiral Stockdale spent the rest of his life frustrated that he never really got a chance in that debate to supply a full answer to his own questions, having been verbally elbowed out instead by the more debate-savvy Al Gore and Dan Quayle. Looking back, however, I find myself surprisingly grateful of the fact that he bothered to raise such important questions at all.
At Randolph, we are blessed with a bit more time to explore the answers to these types of questions. It is a conversation that we have been having (and will continue to have) as a faculty, and I invite you all into that exchange of ideas. What do you think the essential qualities of Randolph are? What are the most important aspects of our mission and philosophy? I would love to hear your thoughts on these matters, and to develop a community-wide discussion about our identity as a school. Why not start now?
Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org