Chuck Baldecchi, Head of School, writes a monthly letter to Lexington School parents. Here is the body of his April letter where he gives a basic book report on a few good reads on a variety of topics. Enjoy!
Ahh, the eight-and-a-half hour drive to Maryland for spring break. What joy! People ask me from time to time what I am reading; what books I like; my favorite authors. Others inquire, “How do you find the time to read?”
Audible provides an elegant solution to many of these questions. I don’t want this to turn into an infomercial for Audible, but I will say this service allows me to read books efficiently. An eight-hour trip to Maryland and then back again goes by relatively quickly with a good book to listen to along the way. Workouts and walks seem to take less time as well. So with sixteen hours in the rearview mirror and a week break that allowed me the free time to enjoy some good books, I thought I might share some good reads with you.
Philosophy: I am a huge fan of David Brooks, a regular columnist for the New York Times who writes about philosophy, politics, history, current events, and a favorite topic of mine, happiness/wellbeing. In addition to his weekly column for NYT, David Brooks has written several books, his most recent being one of my top choices for this past year, The Road to Character. Brooks explores how we as humans want to be remembered when we leave this life. The business resume is his springboard. Brooks asks the reader to contemplate, “At your funeral, how do you want to be remembered?” Would it be by your work resume or a “character” resume? He then asks his readers to contemplate whether or not we are spending too much time developing our professional resumes and not enough time improving our character resumes.
This topic recently came into focus in a personal way when I attended the funeral of my brother–in-law following his untimely death. After losing a multi-year battle with colon cancer, Gawain Mainwaring’s life was celebrated with an incredibly moving service held at a brewery, of all places. We listened to music both played and sung while pictures of his life flashed over a screen and family and friends shared poignant words. Gawain was remembered time and again by people who were moved by his generous spirit and loving personality. The fact that he was regularly voted one of Asheville’s Best Builders seemed secondary. I know this sounds strange to some, but I love a good funeral. Ever since I lost my mother at 13, I have loved the cathartic feeling of a life well remembered. It can be a traditional service in a church or an untraditional one such as Gawain’s. What I know is I left his funeral wanting to make my own life one of friendship and love. Life is too short not to live every day as your last.
Education: Design Thinking has been a focus and an interest of mine this past year. It dovetails nicely into TLS’s desire to live out and teach its Mission Skills. Tom and David Kelly are two brothers who have written extensively on this topic. They are the creative founders behind the wildly successful design firm IDEO. Design thinking uses a series of steps (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test) made famous by Stanford University’s Design School. This technique and IDEO’s success are outlined in Tom and David Kelly’s book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. This book forces the readers to explore our “creativity” even if we believe passionately that we don’t have a creative atom in our body. I was so inspired by this book that I required our faculty to read it over the summer and at the beginning of the school year hired the education industry’s foremost professional development team, Leadership + Design, to work with our faculty on creativity. Creative Confidence is not written for teaching or education specifically. It is really a book about problem solving and finding creative, intuitive solutions to those problems. Our faculty embraced this book and its concepts; I feel confident you will as well. Who doesn’t want to find elegant solutions to sticky problems? More importantly, is there a more fun and effective way to learn than to be given a real problem and come up with a creative solution? Students love it!
Philosophy and Education Combined: On a less contemporary subject, if you happened to be lucky enough to have read my philosophy of education, you will recognize my final book selection after you guffaw and role your eyes. I can already see Una MacCarthy’s facial expression, and I know my sister Pam’s would mirror hers. The inside joke here is that when I applied for the TLS Headship, I was quite young for the position, and I wanted to make sure that the search committee knew I had the intellectual chops to be a head of school. In short, I was insecure about that part of my resume. I am an extravert, your typical out-going admission director, but not necessarily what you would describe as headmasterly. I was also an English teacher who loved literature and philosophy, but that wasn’t what you necessarily saw when you met me. The end result was that my educational philosophy sounded arrogant and erudite. I still get teased about it. Lucky for me, TLS saw past this and hired me anyway.
That being said, Plato’s Meno forms the basis of my educational philosophy and remains so today. This short essay written by Plato as he recorded a conversation between Socrates and Meno, summarizes learning and understanding as elegantly as anything I have ever read. In it the two explore the questions, “What is virtue and can it be taught?” While the piece is short, it is so rich you might want to read it several times. For me each reading reveals something new. This dialog personifies the “growth mindset” and emphasizes how important it is to keep asking questions in order to learn. Socrates truly is the first teacher and, I would argue, the greatest teacher of all time.
So for those of you who wonder what I’ve been reading, here are three books on my Audible app. I hope they don’t put you to sleep on that next long drive. In fact, I hope they inspire you to think, create, and ask.