On the eve of my first Thanksgiving in New York and as Dean of Children’s Programs, I find myself full—both of gratitude and of the gravity of our work. What I sensed as a candidate last year has been borne out in my real experiences and observations of our school; Bank Street is a special place. The learning is rich, the intellect is high, the commitment is vast, and the creativity abounds. Each day, I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by hordes of inspiring children, brilliant colleagues, and passionate parents. Like so many others at Bank Street, I am extremely THANKFUL.
In recent weeks, I have been making the rounds to numerous classrooms to read a Dr. Seuss story, and in turn share my story, about perspective taking. The book, “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are,” begins with an old man sitting on a prickly cactus in the middle of a scorching-hot desert telling a young boy how lucky he is. With great verve, the man goes on to detail the many other people whose lives and circumstances are far worse off than their own.
I use this book for many reasons:
- It promotes empathy.
- It allows me to share how, as a child, teenager, and young adult, I often felt unlucky as I sought to locate myself in a world where no one I knew embodied the future I aspired to hold—to marry a man and to raise a family.
- It provides context for supporting children to realize that what is doesn’t necessarily equate to what always will be. We are not stuck; we make progress.
- It is developmentally-appropriate across a span of ages.
The skill of perspective-taking is an essential one, one which we actively teach from the 3s through the 13/14s and which Lucy Sprague Mitchell presciently embedded in Bank Street’s Credo a hundred years ago. Among other things, Lucy called upon all of us to apply “Gentleness combined with justice in passing judgments on other human beings” and “Sensitivity, not only to the external formal rights of the ‘other fellow,’ but to him as another human being seeking a good life through his own standards.”
These are challenging times—at Bank Street and in our larger society. As educators and parents, we have a responsibility to ground our work with children in the knowledge of and appreciation for a multiplicity of perspectives. At the same time, we must stay true to our values and confront bias, bigotry, and bullying when we see them. In the months ahead, I am optimistic our community will unify around the things that we all desire and share—to raise our kids to be just, kind, thoughtful, and informed.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
Jed Lippard, Dean of Children’s Programs