2019 Reading Recommendations

Waking up on Christmas morning, I didn’t always appreciate seeing the small rectangular boxes under the tree. It was a clear indication that my parents had opted to give my sisters and me books rather than the drum set, Atari 2600, or dirt bike that we hoped would be awaiting us. As I grew older, I thanked my parents for giving us a portal to worlds of discovery, adventure, imagination, and wonder in the pages of those books.
My own children have grown accustomed to receiving books for birthdays and special occasions. Sometimes they react as I did, but more often they unwrap books with a look of excitement and anticipation for the adventures that await them.
Over the break, I will indulge myself by spending days reading in the California sun, relaxing with a great story, consuming new information, and learning new ways to approach my work at The Bush School.
Below are a few recommendations for you to consider over winter break or to usher in 2019.
Seattleness: A Cultural Atlas by Tera Hatfield, Jenny Kempson, and Natalie Ross
After four-and-a-half years in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve thrown away my umbrellas and purchased a Subaru, which can only mean one thing: Seattle is home. Seattleness is a look at sites around Seattle, familiar and peculiar, that will make you curious about the city and fall in love with it all over again.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 by Francesca Cavallo by Elena Favilli
In my travels over the break, I am bringing this lovely children’s book with me to read to my nieces and nephews. It is filled with over 100 bedtime stories about extraordinary women who made history, left a legacy, and/or changed our world. These learned, intrepid, and talented women sought out a path to greatness, often defying odds, and paved a path for those who would follow.
The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything by Bob Johansen
I had a chance to hear futurist Bob Johansen speak at a conference in October, and was impressed with his approach to decentralizing authority in organizations. Johansen understands that we live in a VUCA world—one filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—and that for organizations to thrive, leaders must embrace new ways to strategize, engage, and plan for this new reality. He encourages us to forecast likely futures, decentralize authority when possible, learn to lead even when you’re not physically present, and keep personal energy high and transmit it throughout your organization.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
I have been looking forward to reading this book since it was released in February. Westover’s memoir is the story of her journey as a young girl who was kept out of school, and, after leaving her survivalist family, went on to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. I am intrigued by how the lessons learned in her childhood drove her to embrace formal education, and how her upbringing impeded—and perhaps, contributed to—her success.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
A classic that is now being made into a major motion picture, Baldwin tells the love story of Tish and Fonny, whose love overcomes a wrongful imprisonment. It is the truest of love stories, filled with despair, anguish, passion, and triumph. I loved this book when I read it twenty-plus years ago, and I don’t know if I can stand to see it on the screen.
On the theme of books, please read about this year’s Book Fair which raised money for Bush’s need-based financial aid program and provided books for classrooms at Bush and Madrona Elementary.
I would love to hear about the books that are on your bookshelves, your bedside table, or tablet that you are excited to begin over the break or in the new year.
Hoping you have a safe and restful break.
Warm regards,
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School

Reflecting on the Experiences of People of Color in Independent Schools

This year will mark my eighteenth year attending the National Association of Independent School’s annual People of Color Conference (POCC). The conference is in Nashville, Tennessee, and the theme is Equitable Schools and Inclusive Communities: Harmony, Discord, and the Notes in Between. I am eager to learn, with the other 6,400 educators and students in attendance, how we can find common voices in times of discord. Joining me at the conference are Priyanthi Alahendra, Jay Franklin, Jabali Stewart, and Ray Wilson (Administrative Group); Anna Belknap and Cecily Metzger (Lower School); Michael Heald (Middle School); Maria Mathiesen, Kelsey Medrano, emily warren, and Jim Sargent (Upper School); and six Upper School students.
As I was preparing this week for the trip to POCC, I was reminded of a difficult time in my tenure at Bush. In February 2015—the winter of my first year as Head of School—an anonymous letter was sent to a Bush Trustee expressing disappointment with the Board that I was selected as the school’s ninth Head. The author felt that parents wouldn’t speak up “for fear of blowback in making it an issue of race rather than competence”, adding that the promotion of people of color in leadership positions to “make it appear progressive is working against the interests of the school”.
The letter was not only hurtful and factually inaccurate, but it sought to co-opt the school’s values by intimating that diversity and inclusion were new ideals, and not aligned with our mission. Upon sharing the letter with the Board, the Trustees unanimously denounced the sentiments expressed, and supported me and my family, thus avoiding what could have been a crisis in the middle of my first year. They understood that this voice was not representative of our community.
The letter is a powerful reminder of how people of color experience independent schools differently than their white peers. It was not the first mis-characterization, false assumption, or questioning of credentials I had experienced because of my race since beginning my career in education in 1992. It was also not my last. I recall thinking that if, as the leader of the school, I could be made to feel that I didn’t belong, I could only imagine how our students, parents/guardians, and faculty of color might feel.
We know that successful schools foster environments in which students of diverse backgrounds and talents learn from and with others who speak with different voices and have unique experiences. We can only prepare students to solve the big problems they will confront in the future if they collaborate with teachers and peers who will challenge them to think differently and act courageously. Our mission calls on us to do this work—to spark in students of diverse backgrounds and talents a passion for learning, accomplishment, and contribution to their communities.
I know that there is still critical work to do within independent schools generally, and at Bush specifically, to ensure that we become a truly inclusive community, one in which all of Bush’s students, whether white, Jewish, Latinx, gender non-conforming, Muslim, etc., can participate fully without others questioning their right to be here. Our founder believed in developing strong, educated women leaders at a time when society marginalized them and tried to silence their voices. Helen’s leadership created the opportunity for their voices to be heard. I am committed to supporting inclusivity at Bush so that we create smarter, kinder, and more thoughtful places in which every student is valued, seen, and heard. There is no place for misogyny, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, or bigotry at The Bush School. We must move beyond discordant threats to unite our voices in harmony.
Sincerely,
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School

Exercising the Right to Vote

If watching, reading, and listening to politicians, pundits, and pontificators over the past few years has taught us anything, it’s that the volume of opinions, angry tweets, and spurious Facebook posts have left many registered voters feeling overwhelmed and apathetic about politics. We spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing the impact of elections and precious little time actually voting. Since 1960, the percentage of the voting-age population that cast ballots in national elections has exceeded 60% only three times—in 1960, 1964, and 1968. Conversely, the percentage of eligible voters who have participated in midterm elections has failed to reach 40% ten times. (Source: United States Elections Project)
As parents, we talk with our children often about our values. In my family, we discuss how to ensure that our values our represented through the political candidates we select. Sadly by the time they turn 18, many of them have become too apathetic to act on their convictions. I am encouraged by the sense of agency and political mobilization that I’ve seen among students at Bush. In fact, a senior conducted a campus-wide effort to register all eligible students before the 2018 elections. Efforts like this demonstrate how our students embody important pillars of our educational foundations—ethical judgement and action, and local and global citizenship.

 

When my children were younger, we used to bring them with us to vote purely out of convenience. As they got older, we did it because we felt understood the importance of ritualizing the experience, and to make sure that they understood that democracy only works if you participate. (Candidly, dropping a ballot in a mailbox doesn’t have the same dramatic effect as closing the curtains behind you in a voting booth.) We’ve discussed that my parents’ ability to vote was determined primarily by virtue of geography; they spent their adolescent and young adult years in Los Angeles. Had they remained in Mississippi and Texas, they would have been subject state-sanctioned voter suppression efforts, intimidation tactics, or regionally enforced poll taxes. And, my children are incredulous—although they don’t use that word—when they learn the years in which women earned the right to vote in western democracies like the United States (1920), France (1945), Italy (1946), Belgium (1948) or Switzerland (1971).
Rather than debating each and every divisive issue, one way to create an sense of urgency is to remind our children of the responsibility that comes with living in a democracy—to remain informed, to participate, to be active and accountable, regardless of the issue. Ultimately, we decide how we’re governed. When we fail to exercise the right to vote, we embolden those pundits, politicians, and pontificators who may appeal to our most base, emotional fears, but ultimately are counting on our apathy.

 

Regards,
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School

Independent School Education Today

It is an exciting time to be a student. As we close out the second decade of the twentieth century, schools continue to focus on developing innovative ways to keep students engaged, curious, and passionate about learning. In the summer volume of Independent School, the National Association of Independent School’s quarterly magazine, the editors take on the subject, “What Independent School Education Looks Like Today”. Throughout the issue, they feature signature programs and state-of-the-art practices from independent schools around the country that are giving students choice and voice, building partnerships with public institutions, and re-imagining how students should be thinking about their learning and the future.
As educators learn more about the science of how our children learn, they are challenging the orthodoxy of school structures, building design, and even its very purpose. Whereas educators in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries sought to prepare students for the contemporary workforce, today’s teachers understand that our role is to develop the skills and habits in learners that produce agile, creative, and critical thinkers prepared to solve the big problems they will confront, even if they haven’t yet been identified. According to a recent report, an astounding 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 — when our current First Grade students graduate from Bush, and our current Twelfth Grade students turn thirty — haven’t been invented yet (Emerging Technologies’, 2017).
This is the charge of teachers at Bush — to prepare students for a future that is unknowable yet filled with possibilities. Many of you heard this directly from our teachers at this week’s Middle School Back-to-School and Upper School Curriculum nights. They spoke clearly and persuasively about their passion for developing curricula that encourages students to ask questions and to challenge assumptions. They shared their pedagogical practices that require your children to work collaboratively — a skill that develops empathy and the ability to listen, digest, synthesize, and process data from multiple sources and perspectives. They shaped conversations around student voice, agency, and choice, which make learning not only more engaging, but relevant for them.
I was encouraged to read that some of the programs featured in the magazine are part of our curriculum and practices as well. For example, the magazine highlights Putney School’s (VT) movement to re-consider assessments and define characteristics of a Putney student (pgs. 87-91); Catlin Gabel’s (OR) place-based learning module called the PLACE program—an inspiration for Bush’s Methow Campus (pgs. 110-111); and The Willow Community School’s (CA) effort to implement the RULER program within their school community (pgs. 81-85). These examples focus on areas The Bush School has championed for years—authentic assessment and engaged learning, education outside of the classroom and in partnership with the community, and recognizing emotions as an integral part of how students learn. I appreciate that we are not only responding to these positive trends in independent school education, but finding areas to lead.
At tonight’s Lower School Curriculum night — and throughout the remainder of the year — parents will have an opportunity to hear about how science, research, play, and passion influence our teachers’ work and your children’s learning. They may not know what big problems will lie ahead for them, but Bush graduates will be prepared to solve them.
It’s a great time to be a student, and a great day to be a Blazer!
Sincerely,
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School