After reading William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep, The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, I was particularly struck by his chapter on the attitudes and training of students whose only goal in life is to attend an Ivy League school and just how different that is from the attitude of our students here at the Academy. While it is undeniable that our students aspire to attend the best universities, it isn’t the ultimate endgame for them. Perhaps it is because there is an inherent pride in individualism here – characterized by organic economic, social, ethnic, racial and religious differences – that we find ourselves surrounded by students who are independent-minded and who are comfortable with themselves and who they are becoming as young adults. All of this contributes to a constructive ethos that permeates everything we do at SIA and leads us to eschew pretension and status symbols for passion, independence, creativity and thoughtful inquiry.
While Mr. Deresiewicz laments a loss of true individuality and community in today’s education, we here at the Academy celebrate on a daily basis that which Mr. Deresiewicz desires for today’s student by promoting the values of raising children and adolescents through “the cultivation of a sense of membership in one’s community, the development for the capacity of democratic citizenship, and the pleasure and freedom of play, the part of childhood [and adolescence] where you actually get to be a child [or adolescent].”
Our SIA students distinguish themselves by finding natural pleasure in exploration and in the process of learning – not necessarily in the pursuit of perfectionism. Because of this, we have an enthusiastic group of young people who look forward to coming to school every day and who look to problem- solve creatively, find joy in all of their varied endeavors and see momentary failure as a wonderful learning opportunity. This could not happen without a nurturing faculty who believe first and foremost that a student’s health and happiness is central to their well-being and will lead them to future success in their lifetimes. It is here at the Academy that we hope to contribute to the development of the many virtues that will provide the necessary inspiration and requisite incentives for their life’s mission. While our students will and do attend the finest universities in the land, this is not the only factor that our students and faculty use to measure individual success. More important to those of us in this community is to have our students graduate from here with their authentic selves intact, without a trace of a “false-self” manufactured for the simple admittance to a college. We are about changing lives and not just getting into a good college.
Finally, while we encourage cutting edge thinking and technology, our students and faculty still adhere to traditional core values which proclaim that athletic participation helps to build character and teamwork, that the arts embody an ideal of culture and courage, that service to others is a privilege, and that leadership is not only an expectation but is also an accepted form of duty. And unlike the students in Deresiewicz’s book who do these things because they are “supposed to” in order to get into a great college, our young people embrace these principles of participation in all things because they actually believe them to be an essential part of their development as extraordinarily good human beings.
With an absence of cynicism and unhealthy competition in our community, things seem to be “just right” at the Academy.