On Diversity at Saint Ann’s

The greater the diversity of race, experience, temperament, talent, cultural background, and class within our student body, the more fertile the intellectual soil, the more far reaching the conversation, the more likely it is that assumptions will be challenged and that all of us will be drawn out of the comfort zones where learning is least likely to occur. The more we avoid a preponderance of one experience or background within the student body, the more likely we are to avoid perceived pressures among our students to conform to a perceived dominant culture or prevailing norms. Such pressure is antithetical to our culture and something we cannot abide.

We contain multitudes. Our pulse is the pulse of more than a thousand children and several hundred adults seeking to create, to learn, to perform, embarked on an intellectual journey whose purpose is the journey itself. We have from our inception as a school embraced the idea that the path that each student takes will be unique to that student, reflecting his or her capacities, inclinations, and budding talents. We expect that as teachers open the world to our students, and give them the language and symbols to comprehend it, each student will create something new with those languages and symbols, for each will bring to this encounter his or her own perceptions and experience, just as each teacher brings to the continuing dialogue with students a particular set of interests, passions, and perspectives. It is with this in mind that we proclaim in our Statement of Purposes and Objectives: “our curriculum is a realm of possibilities where we meet our students. It is a substantive and dynamic means to engage every child.”

It is in the interplay of these individual voices and diverging perspectives that the symposium of our community derives its energy. The bountiful results are amply demonstrated in the dancing lines of a student’s verse, the perspicacity of her literary analysis, the syncopated improvisation of a fledgling jazz musician, and in a student’s intrepid undertaking of thorny scientific research. Our philosophical commitment to the individual results in a student community that revels in each other’s talents, passions and accomplishments.

We strive to cast a wide net in recruiting teachers so that we can increase racial diversity in our school. Our goal is to create a faculty that incorporates multiple perspectives and to have teachers from heterogeneous backgrounds whose teaching is enriched and informed by their experiences and points of view. They will undoubtedly serve as models and aspirational figures to our students.

Teachers at Saint Ann’s enjoy extraordinary freedom. Chosen for their deep knowledge of and passion for their subject, they are expected to inspire passion in the students they teach. Stanley Bosworth, our founding headmaster, wrote that a great education conveys the pleasures inherent in “a rich and subtle questioning of the world,” but how teachers seek to do this is left almost entirely to their discretion. One group of third graders might be studying the Great Depression while the class next door explores ancient Egypt. One class of seventh graders reads Lord of the Flies, another The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Even in courses where the subject matter would seem to dictate curriculum (an American history class, for example), teachers’ latitude to make decisions is so great, and their approaches so varied, that students emerging from separate sections of the same class could easily seem to have taken different courses. It is our firm belief that great classes—like great love affairs—cannot be duplicated or prescribed.

At Saint Ann’s, therefore, it is reasonable to say that the faculty is the curriculum or at least that the curriculum cannot be separated from the faculty. Because of this, it is crucial that our faculty contain within it a multiplicity of experiences and interests. While we believe that it is wrong to assume that individual teachers are no more than the sum of their cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, so it is naive to claim that our upbringings do not influence us profoundly. In our mission statement we promise that “we offer our dreams to those who would share theirs with us.” If we are to fulfill this promise, we must have a wide variety of dreams to offer our students.