Raising Ethical Children

For some years, I had the pleasure and privilege of serving on the Advisory Board of the Institute for Character Education at Boston University’s School of Education, which gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with a wide array of theories about children’s ethical development.

I would like to humbly submit my own taxonomy of ethical formation for educators that I think is at once simple and clear.

The key to ethical growth, I believe, is one’s relationship to the needs and rights of others.

Infants are, of course, adorable for their innocence, but they are not yet ethically realized beings. In fact, neonates are narcissists, perhaps even properly considered solipsists: They consider themselves a universe unto themselves; they even have difficulty experiencing anything or anyone around as other than extensions of themselves. Innocent and adorable, yes, but also supremely selfish. This, of course, is cute when age-appropriate in an infant but unseemly in an older child, let alone an adult.

The path from ethical infancy to adulthood, I would submit, is precisely the journey, sequentially, (1) from solipsism to recognizing the existence of others; (2) to recognizing that others can impinge upon one’s wants and desires, whether one wills or no; (3) to recognizing that others have moral claims that are independent of one’s own, followed by (4) to an eventual acceptance that the moral claims of one’s fellows are of equal weight to one’s own; and, finally, (5) to a state attained in some measure by every good parent but perhaps only fully realized in the few who achieve sainthood or display true heroism, the highest stage of ethical actualization, that of recognizing and acting upon a capacity in oneself to privilege the moral claims of others even over one’s own needs – i.e., to be self-sacrificial on behalf of others.

This journey can and must be taught. And schools play a critical contributory role in that endeavor.

At a minimum, every adult should live and operate on level 3; moreover, I believe every adult is capable of living on level 4, and society is well served, indeed, if our schools help all to achieve that. Level 5 may be unattainable for most people as a comprehensive modus operandi, but, as I suggest, all good parents and spouses must achieve the self-sacrificial ideal, in many circumstances, with regularity.

I propose that schools would do well to focus their character education programs specifically on getting every child to level 4 in preparation for adulthood as an ethical participant in the social fabric. Perhaps there could be no greater service for educators.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

A Panegyric to Our Prophets – Past, Present, and Future

“For instruments of navigation can be made without men as rowers, so that the largest ships, river and ocean, may be borne on, with the guidance of one man, with greater speed than if full of men. Also carriages can be made so that without an animal they may be moved with incalculable speed…. Also instruments for flying can be made so that a man may sit in the middle of the instrument, revolving some contrivance by which wings artificially constructed may beat the air, in the manner of a bird flying. Instruments can also be made for walking in the sea or rivers, down to the bottom, without bodily peril.”

Remarkably, this prophetic utterance “on wonderful artificial instruments” was enunciated by the Franciscan friar and Aristotelian (Scholastic) philosopher Roger Bacon in the 13th century.

Thank you to the visionaries and prophets who have always, in every generation, moved humanity forward.

I often wonder who will stand out, eight centuries hence, as the Roger Bacon of our age.

The privilege of being an educator is that we can see that potential, real and present, in each child we encounter every day.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

On the Importance of Humanities in Our Schools Today

The technology-driven disruption through which we are living certainly highlights the importance of educating every student into numeric and scientific literacy. What is less often recognized is that the disruption also underscores the crucial value of providing students with a rich grounding in the humanities. The humanities must retain a key role in our educational models, because it is precisely through the humanities that students are given the best tools for understanding the impacts and implications of technology, and equipped with the skills and insights to achieve success and become leaders in the world those technologies are reshaping with such rapidity.

Humanity has, broadly, lived through three technology-driven revolutions, and each has seen its greatest impact in the social, economic, political, and cultural spheres. Starting with the historical—rather than archeological—record, the first great tech revolution was the Neolithic, marked by the monumental innovation of settled agriculture. This made possible, for the first time, the rise of sufficient aggregations of people in one locus for cities to rise as well as sufficient productive surplus to allow for leisure classes to emerge. The results included unprecedented social hierarchies and political structures—including highly organized warfare and religio-political systems—from Mesopotamia and Egypt to the Indus River and China. Cities also fostered the first emergence of urbanity or civilization as we know it, including the invention of writing, ushering in the historical epoch itself—as compared to all of pre-history before a written record.

The next great tech revolution was the Industrial Revolution, which was perhaps most saliently the result of radical new tools for harnessing power, particularly via the steam engine. This tech revolution, too, played out most profoundly in non-technical realms. Just a short list of the social implications of the industrial era must include several political revolutions (the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the revolutions of 1848, and many others), the global hegemony of European colonialism, democratic movements, communism, global environmental threats, two world wars, and many others. The list could obviously be quite long, and still not be exhaustive.

Today, we are living through an extraordinary convergence of at least three simultaneous tech revolutions: nano, information, and genomic. These are mutually reinforcing and are unleashing forces, both within science and outside of it, of perhaps greater scale than either of the Neolithic or Industrial. We are witnessing a steady acceleration of technology introduction that changes the ways in which we relate to information, to work, to learning, and to each other in fundamental ways. Just reflecting on the impact smartphones have on almost everything we do, it is hard to fathom that the iPhone only turned ten years old last month. Consider another example: It took a decade and over a billion dollars to map the first human genome in 2000; today, that can be done for anyone at a cost below $1,000. Humans are coming to understand the underlying plasticity of—and our capacity for redesigning—life itself.

What is also important to note is the quickening of pace marked by each successive technology revolution. The Neolithic Revolution took millennia to unfold; the Industrial Revolution transpired over a mere 150 years. We, however, are living through the critical stage of the nano-info-genomic revolution in perhaps a 50-year timeframe. It is no wonder that people find this a disorienting and confusing time. So many received paradigms are shifting.

So why are history, literature, and other subjects in the humanities relevant to this age of unprecedented disruption?

Precisely because the impact of technological changes will be felt most powerfully on the human level—in the ethical, social, and cultural spheres that are the very subject of humanistic study. Today’s students need to understand prior human history in order to contextualize today’s historical moment. They need to have facility with the great ethical systems of philosophy and religion in order to bring tools to bear in weighing wholly new ethical questions. They also need the creativity, compassion, and leadership qualities that a humanist education inculcates, as much as any students ever have before.

The best schools of today and tomorrow will reimagine, but not eliminate, their students’ educational grounding in the humanities, even while further enhancing their offerings in science and math.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Rocky Hill School Students and Teachers Attend LearnLaunch/MIT Conference

Last week, five Rocky Hill School students and two faculty members attended the Across Boundaries edtech conference in Boston. The conference, jointly sponsored by LearnLaunch and MIT, included 1,100 participants from 13 countries and 30 states, and hundreds of exhibitors and presenters. Our student attendees watched students from 25 New England schools present remarkable programs, activities, and accomplishments in the field of edtech. I invited our five students to share their reflections of the conference and serve as my first guest bloggers. I think I made a wise choice!

Elsa Block ‘20

Elsa Block

I recently had the opportunity to attend a LearnLaunch innovation event in Boston to represent Rocky Hill School. I feel incredibly lucky to be one of five who were a part of this experience. Once in Boston, we headed to the Hynes Auditorium and walked down a hall full of tables and booths presenting new technology and ideas to better learning experiences in the 21st century. The room full of students was probably my favorite part of the trip, because I was able to learn about the advances not only entrepreneurs are making in the educational field, but what students have created themselves. From self-guided high school and college courses to controlled aquaponic plant growing systems, the room was filled with so many young innovators. I felt lucky to have been able to ask questions and receive valuable information about so many new, useful, and interesting ideas for students, teachers, and educators. Walking around we were showed virtual reality headsets for classrooms, math music videos, organizational websites, and presentation software that all could be used to positively change the way so many students with so many learning differences could be taught. I very much enjoyed this workshop and it helped spark many new ideas about future projects and technology for our school, as well as exciting me for what will be our very own LearnLaunch facility.

Charlotte Boss ‘22

Charlotte Boss

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend one of the most educational events I have taken part in. Some of my peers and I traveled to a LearnLaunch/MIT conference in Boston where we were inspired from ideas and innovations that create a better learning environment for children and adults. During the conference, we talked about how we could bring an idea such as the prosthetic hands, which was part of something the RHS Interact Club started. One of the most interesting projects I saw was about making videos that encourage children to learn math while making it fun. This really connected to what some of my classmates and I are currently doing in math class which is making videos similar to their idea. Another area included clear whiteboard paper in which you put on desks and tables for kids to write on. These were just two of the many ideas I feel as though sparked my imagination to improve the already amazing learning environment we have at Rocky Hill School. I am so glad I got to attend this amazing opportunity and be able to share the wonderful experience I had. I would like to thank Dr. Tracy, our Head of School, for making the trip to the conference possible and sparking my imagination to make a difference.

Ben Liebermensch ‘22

Ben Liebermensch

On Friday, February 3, I had the opportunity to attend the LearnLaunch conference with four fellow Rocky Hill School students as well as  Mr. Jedrey, Head of Middle School, and Mr. Laurent, 3rd and 4th grade teacher.

At LearnLaunch, 24 teams representing grades six through college presented different innovations from a variety of fields. Most of the innovations were in teaching and engineering. My favorite booth was from MIT, where they built a tread wall, called “Gravity.” The goal was to climb for as long as you could. The wall mixes gaming with rock climbing while incorporating learning, coordination and competition, all in an active environment. They plan to market the wall to arcades or gyms; I thought the idea was really cool. The LearnLaunch conference also inspired me to try and create my own innovation based on a concept that I had worked on with Rocky Hill School’s FIRST LEGO League team when I was in fifth grade.

I think the LearnLaunch conference was an excellent learning experience, and also provided inspiration with the variety of teaching methods that were presented.

Lily Kerachsky ‘22

Lily Kerachsky

On Friday, I got the amazing opportunity to attend the LearnLaunch/MIT conference in Boston. When we arrived we got to see 24 schools and their innovations and ideas to improve school life for the future. I immediately thought that we should be one of the schools represented there. But this wasn’t the only chance we could get. All of us who got the opportunity to go are already thinking of ideas for next year! Next, we saw adults with their business ideas that could impact the way we learn and live in many, many ways. We saw every idea from whiteboard stickers to electronic learning tables for pre-schoolers. We got to interact with all these business people, and truly get inspired. I found that it was a once in a life time experience to understand the process of entrepreneurship and how we as a school, can have our very own idea that we can take to this conference next year. Overall, I am extremely lucky to have been able to attend this conference, and this was only possible because of Dr. Tracy as our new amazing Head of School. I can’t wait to see where this goes over the next year, and how we as a school can make a difference.

Jacob Pogacar ‘19

Jacob Pogacar

Last Friday a group of fellow students and I, along with a couple of teachers, traveled to Boston in order to visit and sit in on the LearnLaunch conference. Upwards of two dozen student presenters gave speeches explaining their thoughts and ideas on how to improve the world of education. They spoke about many different topics such as producing informational math music videos and using virtual reality gear to simulate field trips. They all wanted the same thing: to change the education system for the better. Seeing all of the dedication and effort they put forward was very inspiring. Personally, I think it is our job as a private school to be a catalyst in the world of education and pioneer some of these ideas, for we are not chained to a set curriculum. Surely, next year Rocky Hill School will be able to secure a booth to present an idea of our own. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend the conference and look hopefully towards what is on our horizon.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Education Is Love

In The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote that, in the end, “love is the process of my gently leading you back to yourself.”

While Saint-Exupéry didn’t have schools in mind, per se, I have always embraced his comment as my educational motto.

Our mission as educators is not to force students into a pre-determined, Procrustean uniformity.

Each child is a unique contribution to the universe, a sui generis being who has never appeared before and never shall again.

Education, then, is the process of gently leading each child to realize her or his unique quintessence and of nurturing that to the fullest possible actualization.

Education is an act of love.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Exciting Announcement

I am delighted to share this exciting contribution to the cutting edge of education innovation announced this week by Rocky Hill School and LearnLaunch:

Rocky Hill School Provides New Level of Innovation for Students; Announces Partnership With LearnLaunch, Premier Edtech Organization and Start-up Accelerator

EAST GREENWICH, R.I.– Rocky Hill School, an independent preschool to grade 12 college- preparatory school in East Greenwich, RI, and LearnLaunch, a nationally-recognized organization in Boston dedicated to connecting, supporting, and investing in the education technology ecosystem, have forged a first-of-its-kind partnership.

“From its start, LearnLaunch has been at the cutting edge of driving edtech innovation, and our partnership with Rocky Hill School furthers that goal,” explained Liam Pisano, LearnLaunch Managing Director and Partner. “By bringing the companies that are developing the latest education innovations directly into a school, we are creating a collaborative platform where entrepreneurs, educators, and students can work together to develop and test edtech in a real- world environment.”

Rocky Hill School is designing an Innovation Center on its campus where selected education technology companies that are part of LearnLaunch’s co-working space/accelerator cohort will test and develop new educational technology with students and faculty. This is an entirely new paradigm that will be unique in the nation: entrepreneurs developing educational products while embedded within a preschool to grade 12 test bed. Both organizations are excited to bring this new and innovative approach to developing educational innovation to Rhode Island.

“This exciting partnership will afford students and faculty at Rocky Hill School the opportunity, unique in the nation, to collaborate in creating and refining the next generation of digital classroom tools,” said Dr. James Tracy, Head of School at Rocky Hill School. “Our students will have the opportunity to intern directly with the visionary entrepreneurs who are creating the very breakthrough technologies that will shape our educational future.”

Rocky Hill School students and faculty will collaborate with the LearnLaunch team, intern with start-up companies on-site, and help shape the next generation of classroom innovation. The Innovation Center will also house artists and teachers-in-residence, and offer student enrichment opportunities focused on innovation, design thinking, and entrepreneurism. The Center is targeted to open in September 2017.

Learn More

Rocky Hill School invites you to learn more about this path-breaking initiative
by visiting www.rockyhill.org/innovation or by visiting us at our Open House on Sunday, January 22nd from 1-3 PM.

About LearnLaunch

LearnLaunch is dedicated to connecting, supporting, and investing in the education technology ecosystem to drive innovation and transform learning. They offer a vibrant community, educational events, a collaborative co-working space, and a selective accelerator program to promote the growth of the edtech sector. LearnLaunch is based in Boston, a world education hub. Learn more about LearnLaunch Accelerator, Campus, and Institute at www.learnlaunch.com and follow LearnLaunch on Twitter at @learnlaunch.

About Rocky Hill School

Founded in 1934, Rocky Hill School is an independent, day school for preschool through grade 12. Located on 84 acres along Narragansett Bay, Rocky Hill School provides a college- preparatory foundation and diverse opportunities for students to explore and pursue their intellectual, athletic, and artistic passions. Dr. James Tracy is Rocky Hill’s 10th Head of School.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Of Big Kids, Newton, Playgrounds, and Sublimity

As I write this, I sit looking across the beautiful Rocky Hill School campus to the deep cerulean waters that lap our shore.

This week, I had the pleasure to participate in the dedication ceremony for our new preschool playground. I walked with the little ones and their teachers from the preschool to the new installation, where many of the parents, teachers, and staff who had made the playground possible were awaiting them.

Upon seeing the adults standing there, one of the cherubim excitedly asked Ms. Lisa, “Why are there so many big kids here?”

Adorable, of course! But also proverbial wisdom from the mouth of babes.

Her exclamation set me to ruminating on the comment famously made by Isaac Newton:

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Our preschooler articulated a sagacious truth: At our best, we are never more than “big kids.” I say “at our best,” because the challenge, as adults, is to retain a child’s curiosity, openness to discovery, passion for finding smoother pebbles, and profound experience of the mysteriously awe-inspiring ocean that lies ever undiscovered before us. Our waterfront campus thus becomes not merely a bucolic setting and an experiential classroom, though it is certainly both of those, but also a metaphor for discovery and mindfulness of the sublime.

I find that Rocky Hill School teachers have the rare attribute of modeling these very qualities every day as educators. Put another way, and as I have often said, RHS faculty retain the original passion that led them in the first instance to become teachers, richly fostering in their students the passion for discovery and celebratory learning that is at the core of all true education, little and big kids exploring together on the shores of the unbounded.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Robotics, Employment, and Education

There has been a welter of articles in recent months about the profound impact robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will have on employment in the coming years. I have been reading extensively in the research behind these reports, and I am convinced that the conclusions are well founded. This is not a “news cycle fad”; the nature of work is on the cusp of changing in astonishing ways.

One helpful way to think about technological obsolescence is to envision a set of four quadrants in which the top left is comprised of highly skilled functions that are routine; the bottom left, unskilled or semi-skilled routine jobs; bottom right, lower-skilled non-routine work; and upper right, highly-skilled non-routine work.

For the past two centuries, throughout the industrial revolution, jobs in the bottom left have been the most vulnerable to replacement by machines. In textile manufacturing, steel production, agriculture, and many other industries, technology ranging from the steam engine and the McCormick reaper to Amazon’s roboticized order-fulfillment centers have for centuries replaced lower-skilled jobs whose routine nature rendered them vulnerable to machinery that was well-suited to repetitive performance.

At the dawn of the computer and robotics revolutions, most people thought that the bottom right quadrant would be the next to fall: lower-skilled non-routine jobs. Yet it didn’t turn out that way. As it happens, automation is less concerned with the skill set required for a job so much as the routine repetitiveness of a job. Even highly skilled routine jobs are easier to automate than the lowest-skilled non-routine task. In other words, it is easier to build software that analyzes financial data—high-skilled, routine work—than to walk about in an unfamiliar environment—a low-skilled, non-routine task that even a two-year-old human can do.

For employees, this means that the most immediate jobs and careers under threat of being rendered obsolete in our era are all those based on routine tasks in the left-hand quadrants, skilled or otherwise. I suspect, for instance, that pharmacists, who, despite their high degree of training, perform an essentially repetitive task, will soon be replaced by robots that don’t require seven years of education in pharmaceutical colleges, don’t expect benefits, and make fewer mistakes filling prescriptions. To take another example, even many of the more routine news stories you read today (such as the daily stock market reports) are written by journalistic bots.

Importantly, though, we are seeing tremendous progress on the non-routine side of our quadrants, which will prove even more disruptive over the next quarter century. Robots are getting much better at human-like conversational interaction, at translating colloquially from one language to another, and at driving cars in ever-shifting traffic conditions, to take but a few examples from just the past week’s news stories. Astonishingly, too, software bots are increasingly writing legal contracts or generating medical diagnoses. (IBM’s Watson, the Jeopardy champion, is now being dedicated to cancer diagnostics; Watson has already absorbed the content of 750,000 medical journal articles on cancer to prepare for the task.)

A 2013 Oxford University study concluded that 47 percent of American jobs will be eliminated in the next 20 years. Think about that. Half of all jobs gone in two decades. Always, in the past, new jobs have been created by technological innovation at a rate that has roughly kept pace with the number of jobs eliminated, ensuring that workers (with retraining) could find replacement work. Yet it is hard to imagine new job creation keeping up with today’s scale and rapidity of worker displacement.

What does all this mean for education in 2017? I would argue that we can no longer assume that we are preparing students to work in knowledge economy jobs that historically have been immune to automation. Even doctors and lawyers will increasingly be replaced by bots programmed with ever-deeper AI. (And remember: As long as Moore’s Law pertains, the chips running bots will get twice as powerful every 18 months at the same time they become 30 percent less expensive to make each year, while humans, evolving at an infinitesimally smaller pace, show no discernible increase in their cranial capacity every 18 months.) The displacement of even the most highly educated “professionals” is but a short time horizon away.

What, then, will remain uniquely human domains in the world of work? This is what Greg Toppo (National Education & Demographics Writer at USA Today and author of The Game Believes in You) and I are in the process of co-authoring a book about. [Click here to read an earlier conversation with Greg]. Yet I would venture preliminarily here that creativity, entrepreneurship, goal-setting and large-scale strategic decision-making will almost certainly remain exclusively within human purview for the foreseeable future. Also, areas pertaining to nurturance, caring, and deep social values are unlikely to be replaced by machines. (People in hospice care will want to hold another person’s hand, not a robot’s.) Also, humans will remain the strategic goal setters. (After all, only people can decide the purposes toward which AI should be applied.)

This calls for a dramatic reconsideration of the “knowledge economy” careers for which our schools continue preparing students. Why educate students for jobs that won’t exist? Perhaps we should place far greater focus on teaching children to be innovative, entrepreneurial creators and strategic managers, as well as to be more nurturing and, well, more fully human.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Remarks on He Named Me Malala

Last week, I was honored to be asked to introduce a screening of the film about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai in order to raise funds for girls’ education globally. Below are my remarks:

I am honored to be invited to introduce this powerful and inspirational documentary, He Named Me Malala, and I wish, at the outset, to thank Koya Leadership Partners for sponsoring this screening in support of the Malala Fund. With their generous support, every dollar collected today will go directly to the Malala Fund, which works to amplify girls’ voices and support girls’ education worldwide.

Malala, the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a true heroine, remarkable for her passion to support women’s education coupled with extraordinary courage.

Malala has written: “I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ ”

Malala’s efforts to ensure that every girl receives an education still face daunting challenges.

  • Globally, only 69 percent of countries today have achieved gender parity of students in the primary grades. That means that 31 million girls of primary school age are not attending school. Five and a half million of these girls are in Nigeria alone, while Pakistan, Malala’s birthplace, has three million such girls out of school.
  • At the lower secondary level, the percentage of nations with gender parity among students declines to just 48 percent worldwide; 34 million girls of lower secondary school age are out of school.
  • Of girls aged 7 to 16 in Somalia, only 5 percent are attending school; in Niger the number is 22 percent; in Liberia, 23 percent; and in Pakistan, 38 percent.
  • Fully one-third of girls in less developed countries marry before they are 18 years old.
  • Of the 774 million adults who are illiterate in the world, two-thirds are female.

Yet the benefits of educating girls are striking and clear: Each year of secondary education increases the lifetime earnings of women by 25 percent; educated women marry later, start having children later, have lower birth rates, and ensure improved nutrition and survival rates for their children.

We should not be too smug about our own “progressiveness” on these issues, either, as women’s education has undergone a long and tortuous journey in the United States—and it is still a work in progress. Let us recall that American women did not receive the right to vote until 1920.

The first woman to receive a medical degree in America was Elizabeth Blackwell, who received her M.D. from Geneva College, New York, in 1849; the first American woman to be awarded a Ph.D. was Helen Magill, a Quaker born in Providence, who earned a doctorate in Greek from Boston University in 1877. And, of course, these were exceptional cases. Very few women received higher education until quite recently.

The first graduating class of Yale University to include women was the class of 1971. U.S. colleges did not aggregately achieve gender parity among their students until 1980.

There is certainly progress being made. Women comprised 55 percent of this year’s entering class of college students nationwide.

But there remains much work to be done. Those young women entering college today can only expect to earn, on average, just 81 percent of what men are paid for identical jobs in our country when they graduate and enter the workforce.

Central to Malala’s message for all of us is to become an agent of constructive change. Your presence and support tonight are tangible contributions to righting these historical wrongs, in every nation, across the planet.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.