John Wales ’73 sent his annual gift recently and with it a wonderful letter in which he asked if there was much discussion these days about the “relevance” of this or that class. He was a day student at Stevenson and his father was an administrator at the Naval Postgraduate School. Relevance of academic curricula was a hot topic in the media in those days, and John often found himself engaged in conversations around the dining room table at home with professors and others from NPS. Not much seemed to have been resolved, he recalled, but for a young boy whose only hope was to survive General Harvey’s Algebra class at Stevenson (and who is now a Commercial Lender with a community bank in Virginia), learning how to solve for “x” has been an unexpected blessing, one of the most enduring and practical (relevant) lessons he received from his academic experiences.
Matt Hermsen ’00 sent me an email the other day to tell me he couldn’t attend a Stevenson meeting because he will be flying to Korea from Seattle that weekend to participate in the wedding of Stevenson friend J.J. Hwang ’00. “It is great,” he said, “how a school like Stevenson fosters relationships like the one J.J. and I have.” Jameson McFadden ’00 will be joining them from New York for the occasion.
Our Math Department Chairman, John Senuta told me once that “I don’t teach math; I teach people.” Interesting, then, that in an article entitled, “Dehumanized: When Math and Science Rule the School,” (Atlantic Monthly, 9/09) author Mark Slouka writes that “our primary function (in education) is (should be) to teach people, not tasks; to participate in the complex and infinitely worthwhile labor of forming citizens, men and women capable of furthering what’s best about us and forestalling what’s worst. It is only secondarily – one might say incidentally – about producing workers.”
“I’m joking, of course,” laments Slouka, because contrary to what it should be, “Education in America today is almost exclusively about the GDP (Gross Domestic Product).”
Not true, say I, at least not at Stevenson. Stevenson is about Matt and J.J., two boys who spent their formative years together here and crossed all the barriers to build a lasting friendship in what Slouka wants school to be: “a crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test (and) teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be.” And Stevenson is also about John Wales learning that the unknown variable “could be a concept, a piece of missing information, or the blank in a numeric equation;” and that “the application of General Harvey’s algebraic principles could help (him) find ‘x’ regardless of its nature.”
And it’s all relevant