[ Remarks delivered Wednesday, January 12, 2011, after a moment of silence)

On Saturday, our hometown Tucson was struck hard by an individual acting without conscience, without reason, and possibly without sanity.   This terrible strike hit us at our community’s most sensitive place: not only did it harm and kill many fine, fine people, it hit us in the heart of our body politic.

Since the ancient Athenians conceived of and built the polis, a democratic state composed of citizens governing themselves in the open air by way of free and spirited discourse and debate, this idea of the body politic has been our civilization’s ideal, our shining city on a hill.

Saturday morning, in front of a Tucson Safeway at which many of us shop regularly, an elected official and her staff came to talk in the open air with Tucson citizens, acting out our nation’s and our civilization’s ideals.   In a scene that ancient Athenians would have immediately recognized, a diverse set of Tucsonans came together to discuss their views, argue their opinions, and express their hopes for our nation– in other words, to talk politics.  Senior citizens came to discuss their social security, a federal judge to discuss the future of the judiciary in Arizona, and a young child who had recently been elected to her student council to meet her role model, preparing herself to join the body politic as an adult.

When this terrible attack came, it came at a moment when they were, all of them, together, acting out our nation’s highest political ideals: to discuss and debate ideas about our society respectfully—and this is why the strike, was so especially devastating even also to those of us who were not immediately present and did not necessarily know anyone hurt.

This was not only a group of people attacked– and let’s be clear, it was a very fine group of people attacked, truly wonderful people– it was also our ideal of the polis, the acting out and practice of true democracy—politicians, judges, and citizens, adults and children, gathered together in a public square, in an event called Congress on Your Corner– which was attacked.

Because of that, I think that we all have, as citizens and as people concerned and committed to that ideal, a special responsibility to respond with a renewed commitment to live and fulfill that ideal. (more…)


[Posted to the Blog, originally published in 2006 in my previous school’s (Saklan Valley School) monthly newsletter]

Small is Beautiful. The size of our environment has a great impact on the way we feel in that space—we all want to feel comfortable, to be recognized as a particular and distinct and even special person, and our children want that even more. One teacher often finds herself explaining the difference between teaching in a larger public school and a small independent school:

A small class enables a classroom teacher to have personal contact with each student every day.  A touch on the shoulder shows each student that their teacher believes in them, respects them, and is there to guide them on the path to academic and social success.

Just as there is a growing amount of research touting the value of small classes, and the value of K-8 schools (in contrast to K-5 and 6-8), so is there a fast growing movement to recognize and to promote the enormous benefits for students of attending a small school.

To quote Pat Bassett, the NAIS President: “The most compelling research in the education marketplace in general and by NAIS indicates that it is small schools (i.e., intimate places where all students are known) and great teachers that are the two factors that produce high achievement in students.”  In a similar vein, the Gates Foundation has made fostering and funding small schools a major priority for their investments in improving US education.

For me, the greatest significance of a small school is its ability to provide a genuine sense of connection among us all. There are no strangers here, and that sense of security is not just a “nice” feeling; it allows our brains to open widely and learn effectively.  Our frontal lobes can really open up—rather than being stuck in our limbic zone, where our anxieties generate a defensive fight or flight modality.  Allowing us to use all of our brain, the best parts of our brain, allows us to learn so much more. (more…)