A Community of Friends - United in Purpose, Ready for a Great Year

 

“Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity…”

At long last, the school year is upon us! Having spent the last week of the summer with the faculty, I’m delighted to say that we are all ready and eager for this year to begin.

Each new school year, we as a faculty dedicate ourselves to thinking deeply about a particular dimension of our work. It serves as a kind of theme for the year as it alerts us to things that take form in the classroom, and throughout our school. In the past, we have explored the nature of Beauty, the relationship between faith and reason, and other elements that are central to Classical Catholic education. This year, we reflected as a faculty upon the role of friendship in a learning community.

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I settled on the topic in part because one of the best things I read this summer was The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy. The two men, authors whom I admire greatly and whose writing I have enjoyed immensely, were friends since adolescence; their correspondence was more than enough to “fill a book.” Their letters impressed me with how very different these men were, and how very much they loved one another. Of course, their friendship centered around not those differences but what they shared—their interests, their experiences, and their vocation.

Foote and Percy reminded me of what C.S. Lewis observes about friends in his wonderful little book, The Four Loves:

“Friendship arises … when two or more companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share…”

Lewis’s reflections bring to mind what happens in our classrooms. Together, our students embark on an adventure of exploration. They are introduced to the most fascinating discoveries in the history of mankind as their studies takes them across the globe and through time. Together they will make those discoveries their own and unearth new insights into timeless truths. Like other adventurers, they will encourage one another, challenge one another, and learn from one another. Together, our students will grow in both heart and mind. The wonder of elementary education is that though the territory is well worn, it is experienced anew by each student, and for each class the encounter is as if it happened for the first time.

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Truly, if they are to accomplish our ambitious goals, each of our classrooms must become more than a collection of isolated learners but rather a community of friends; together they will apply themselves to the great and noble tasks that will transform them.

In an age of podcasts and YouTube clips it is easy to think of learning as a solitary kind of activity. And surely there are a lot of things that we just have to figure out on our own. The link between friendship and learning isn’t always necessary, but it does seem to be normal. Aristotle tells us that “man is a social animal” and by nature we are inclined to pursue our goals together with others. This seems to be especially true when it comes to certain things, the kinds of things that come to define us and shape our sense of self. There’s a curious, perhaps even ironic dynamic at play because while learning is always something deeply personal, it is best done in relationship with others. By pursuing understanding of these essential questions together, we encourage one another to persevere through challenges, to see failures and mistakes as valuable lessons learned, and to celebrate meaningful accomplishments.

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Of course, as Thomas Hibbs, the new president of the University of Dallas, eloquently observed recently, friendships are increasingly uncommon. I think the average classroom has something to do with that. Rather than presenting students with a shared adventure as a learning community, too often the norm is for students to experience school as yet another socially isolated and isolating activity. Over the span of a school year, and school years, students develop deep and settled habits of isolation. So much so that classes in interpersonal relationships and life skills are added to curricula to compensate for depriving students of meaningful exchanges with their peers as a normal part of their schoolwork. Not so here at OLMC School, by design, where every classroom is a laboratory of virtue, and where students learn polite habits of discourse. My prayer, and my hope, is that by recovering the tradition of learning as a shared experience, our students will not only learn more effectively but grow together as friends—and will be prepared for meaningful and rewarding friendship for their whole lives.

Like everything that we do here at OLMC School, it is a lofty goal. But lofty goals are the ones worth pursuing.

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It is true that we cannot give what we do not have. Spending time with our teachers in orientation exercises, seminar discussions, and at a cookout as the summer wound down, I was encouraged. We are blessed with a faculty who are united in purpose and committed to this work as a ministry of love and service. Standing shoulder to shoulder as friends, they will together provide their students with an encounter with goodness, truth, and beauty in a way that will ennoble them.

Fortunately, we as a faculty aren’t ourselves alone in the pursuit of this lofty goal. When our parents organized both a Happy Hour welcoming reception for families new to the school and a picnic playdate, these genial gatherings powerfully impressed upon me that the work of the school extends into the lives of families in beautiful ways. Not only are our parents indispensable in helping students to develop the habits and love of learning, they are themselves models of inspiration.

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As members of our community grow together in friendship, you provide your children the examples they need and will follow. Parents truly are the primary teachers of their children, and here at OLMC School, we have a beautiful picture of the kind of partnership that provides students with the support that will encourage them to grow in their love for learning, their neighbors, and for God. In this life, it should result in our being better prepared to love and serve one another. Ultimately, may it result in all of our voices together joining the chorus of praise to the One who took on flesh and blood that we might share in his eternal friendship.

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It is going to be a great year, dear friends. Thank you for being a part of our school. As always, please let me know what’s on your mind—I count on hearing from you.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.

In devotion,

Douglas Minson