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Why We Go: Seven Benefits of the Backcountry

What’s the point of spending a week in the woods? Put simply, it’s something worth doing, it makes us feel alive, and it taps into our inner humanity that is covered over by the grime of frontcountry comfort. But behind that sentence, a thousand thoughts may come to mind or, perhaps, one could be left more confused: after all, in what addled mind does waking from a dream of a cozy bed into a frigid night in a frozen sleeping bag, a thousand miles from nowhere, sound “worth doing”? Let’s…

Logic and the Reasonable Person

Logic is a mandatory course for all freshmen at The Heights, and not all of them are happy about it. They all begin with at least some idea of what logic is, and many of them are skeptical that they could possibly need a course on the subject, complete with a longish textbook. Don’t we all know the difference between the logical and the illogical without studying it? Don’t we know logic almost instinctively?  As it happens, I think the analogy between human reason and animal instinct is a pretty…

Taking Humor Seriously

The Heights and books go together. The works we require and suggest our boys to read range from antiquity to modernity, embrace fiction and nonfiction, and include history, biography, philosophy, and science. One genre, though, seems to be missing, especially in the upper school: humor. By this I mean books such as the works of P. G. Wodehouse, Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, or even a collection of columns by Dave Barry. I hesitate to put such books on the reading list because that would assuredly deter the…

Leaving Room for the Holy Spirit

Each year around this time, connoisseurs of the commencement speech enjoy a wealth of new material from prominent citizens all over the country. It’s evident from popular culture that I am not alone in my enthusiasm for the genre. I have long been aware, however, that commencement speeches are more popular among the generation that delivers them than they are among those who are commencing. I know this because in my twenties I used to say, without exaggeration, that I thought about the commencement address from my 1985 graduation from…

Taking Advantage of Summer (For the Non-Working Boy)

Like a siren, the sounds of summer are beckoning the boys to the lazy delights of vacation mingled with trips to the beach, the mountains, and for the lucky ones, expeditions across the sea. Dreams of sleeping in, no homework, and unlimited “free-time” dance in their heads, while parents begin to worry that soon enough there will be bored boys on-hand pinching younger sisters and instigating fights over the last fistful of Fruit Loops. But fear not! Below I share a highly idealized eight-step action plan that will hopefully assist…

Sawitasa

One of the really charming things about adolescents is their ability to be playful about serious things while still taking them seriously. I saw this in mid-October as I was trying to give my students some context for the dueling rebel and loyalist pamphlets we were reading from colonial Massachusetts. I was explaining that the Tea Act of 1773 had actually reduced the price of imported tea in the New England colonies, but the colonists hated the Act anyway; they saw it as a sort of “camel’s nose” maneuver by…

Can Complaining Be a Good Thing?

Complaining is bad. At least, that is the prevailing view. Complaining is often tossed into the same category as whining[1] and talking back. In other words, it’s insubordination of the highest order, and thus a surefire way to get in trouble from above—whether as a child or an adult. Instead of getting results in fervent pursuit of justice and truth, complaining tends to make the situation worse. The injustices build upon each other as stacks of stone over an ever-deepening grave. But what if we have it all wrong? What…

Why We Diagram Sentences

If asked, “Why do we teach the diagramming of sentences?” I suppose the simplest answer is to communicate well and to think properly.   We communicate well in writing when a sentence means what we want it to mean.  We fail in this if the words aren’t spelled correctly, are written illegibly, or are put together in such a way as to have more than one possible meaning.  The correction of the first two reasons are topics for another time.  The third reason – the proper construction of a sentence –…

Partnering with Parents: Some Implications of Parents as Primary Educators

Partnership is Necessary An effective partnership between the school and parents is essential for a school to fulfill its mission. Any school that attempts to pass on a complete education—to pass on the riches of a culture—without actively engaging parents is bound to fail. For starters, the best possible day school simply does not have enough time to adequately educate by itself. Students attend school for roughly seven hours per day for about half the calendar days of the year. It is not realistic to expect strong results if the…

Preparing for the Adventurous Life

The pale light that peeked through the dormant trees was quickly dissipating as we walked out the door into the bone-gnawing wet of late-February New Hampshire. The road was covered in graying slush from a week of snow and a day of rain. I clutched a ball of cooking string in my right-hand pocket as I told the man I had met a month before that I was penniless, collecting compost for chump change, but that I loved his daughter, so would he grant her hand in marriage? Two hours…