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January Head of School Letter: Keeping Curiosity Alive

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I am constantly reminded at GUS of the insatiable curiosity with which we are all born. English poet William Wordsworth writes in his “Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”: “There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream/The earth and every common sight,/To me did seem/Apparell’d in celestial light,/The glory and freshness of a dream.” 

After more than 30 years of camp counseling and formal teaching, I am left in wonder myself at how naturally curious we are right from the start. At Glen Urquhart School, we work to feed and sustain that nascent joy and curiosity to frame authentic learning from kindergarten to eighth grade. We don’t want students to ever lose the wonder with which they entered the world.

Approaching the world with curiosity makes learning real and true. I saw that this fall and winter in classrooms and on field trips as students asked honest questions and made keen observations about numbers and letters, hermit crabs and house sparrows, journal entries and math challenges, solar energy and the Latin roots of words, Open Circle and Life Skills. Most recently, I listened in on gallery talks by GUS 8th graders as they described the artistic inspiration for and technical approaches to their White Shirt projects. Some were already dedicated artists; for others, the White Shirt project represented a first real foray into an immersive creative experience. No matter the students’ backgrounds, they found ways to make the project reveal something about who they are and how they view the world.

Learning pursued in these ways keeps curiosity alive.  And that may be the greatest gift we can give our students at Glen Urquhart School. We offer a challenging program, one that is thoughtfully and intentionally so. As much as I have witnessed excitement about learning at GUS, I honestly have never heard students really complain about the work. School here keeps curiosity alive while eschewing rigor simply for the sake of rigor. We keep school fun—which much of learning should be—even as we develop dedication to the process along with stamina and determination.

I taught at the secondary level for nearly two-thirds of my career, and I most appreciated the kids who still experienced real joy in learning, the ones who demonstrated curiosity. Students like that become more and more rare as kids work their way up the academic ladder. Some become “excellent sheep,” explored in disheartening detail in William Deresiewicz’s 2015 book of the same title. Some become just “sheep.”  William Wordsworth’s second stanza speaks to this: “It is not now as it hath been of yore;–/Turn wheresoe’er I may,/By night or day,/The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” But some maintain their childlike curiosity. We often hear from secondary school admission officers and teachers that GUS students ask different kinds of questions, questions that show a desire for deeper understanding. And that aligns perfectly with our mission to encourage students “to explore their intellects and develop their imaginations; pose questions as often as they devise solutions; speak individually, yet work collaboratively; discover the best within themselves; respect all people and value their differences; and act responsibly in our community and in the world.” As a school, it is our mission to keep curiosity alive.

Trust and go forward,

David Liebmann

Head of School