Andover Head of School Barbara Landis Chase discusses education.
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GUEST: Barbara Landis Chase
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind.
And I admit that it’s a little late in the game – and I’m more than a little long in the tooth – for us to be getting back now to such fundamentals as our nation’s schools.
But the fact is that recently The Open Mind has been dealing more and more with the matter of educating our young. And with good reason. Put simply: nothing could be more important!
Earlier guests, of course, had mostly been from large universities — like James Conant and Derek Bok of Harvard … John Brademas, Jay Oliva and John Sexton of NYU … William McGill and Michael Sovern of Columbia, my own alma mater … and Richard McCormick of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey — where I first began to teach back in 1948.
But smaller, independent colleges play an important role in American education as well and Daniel Weiss, President of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, one of our nation’s best independent colleges was here most recently.
And, now it’s time to look at our secondary schools, starting today with the independent sector mostly because at the moment I know it best…for Alexander Heffner is Andover ’08, blessed as he’s been with four bountiful years at this quite extraordinary school.
And as a doting grandfather I’ve come to know and admire so much about Phillips Academy – Andover, about its innovative curriculum and truly creative, dedicated faculty that I’ve invited here today Barbara Landis Chase, its wonderfully insightful Head of School…a forceful leader not only at Andover, but in the whole independent school community.
Now, when she came to lead Andover in 1994, my guest spoke most feelingly about young people — as she noted — being “daily bombarded by messages about the importance of acquisitiveness over service, expediency over integrity, instant gratification over hard work, and surface beauty over deeper, more abiding qualities”.
And I would first ask Barbara Landis Chase today if her message then … that therefore our schools “must teach goodness as well as knowledge”… does hold as true today? You think it does?
CHASE: I think it absolutely does. If anything, it’s more important now than it was 14 years ago.
HEFFNER: Why do you say that?
CHASE: Because I believe that education has always been about not only teaching knowledge, but teaching goodness. And I believe that our world today is complicated, it’s challenged, and particularly for teenagers, it can be a downright dangerous place.
So for a school to be able to deal with issues of how you become a good person in life as well as how you learn as much as you can about mathematics and science, that’s terribly important. And the way we teach that at Andover is by having students with us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We care about their minds, we also care about their hearts and their moral development as well as their intellectual development.
HEFFNER: I know it works well, but as a host I have to say … “How does it work?”
CHASE: (Laugh) It’s very complicated and multi-layered, but I guess I would say that the whole child … and in this case, the whole teenager, is something that we think about all the time. We think about when we’re looking for young people. Across this country … we have students now from 46 states and 31 countries around the world. About 10% of our students are international.
What we try to find are students who have the most to get from Andover, the most to gain, and also the most to give. Because fundamentally, what the school believes is that we want to send our graduates out to make a difference in the world. And so we have to care about the whole person. We have to think about how they’re developing as citizens of our school, so that they can be citizens of the world when they leave.
And how that works … I still haven’t answered your question … how that works is by having adults at the school … the adults who deal with these young people every day, who love being … who love their subjects as teachers, they’re passionate and quite well versed in their subjects. They also love being with young people … again 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And that takes a rare individual. They live with these students, they teach them in the classroom, they coach them on the playing field and in gymnasiums. So there’s a, an attention to the whole child.
Not only are you getting, are you working as hard as you can in the class. But are you being a supportive neighbor to the students who live next to you? Are you being respectful to the adults who are there to care for you? Not only the faculty, but the staff who feed you and care for you and keep you safe and keep you healthy. And those are things we talk about all the time.
HEFFNER: I wonder whether someone watching us could say, “That’s too much to ask”.
CHASE: Ah, perhaps …but we’ve been doing this for 230 years this April. It’s a school that started in the depths of the American Revolution. It started because the founders believed that, that care for the common good, that, that individual liberty was all well and good, and they believed in that very deeply, but they also cared about attention to the common good. And that’s why they created the institution. The motto Non Sibi or “Not For One’s Self” is on our seal. It lies at the heart of what we believe we need to teach. That was true then, it’s true now. We do it very differently.
We have … you have to keep changing things as the world around you changes in order to be true to your mission. But even though we’re doing it very differently, we’re still attentive to that same, that same principle … that we want our students to think about how to live a good life. That certainly they’re going to be leaders, but they should understand that to be good leaders, they also need to be good servants of society.
HEFFNER: It’s interesting, years ago, when Mario Cuomo was Governor of New York State and he came here … we talked … because he had given a speech somewhere and talked about value and our schools …
HEFFNER: … values, teaching them in our schools. And we talked about it here at this table and I raised the question about whose values? Now I was talking about public schools …
HEFFNER: … because he was talking about public schools. Is it a different picture, or does question have to come up with Andover as well?
CHASE: It certainly comes up because the world in which we live is very diverse and I think that relativity …who’s to say what’s right … is certainly a question that’s been raised by many people.
I believe that one of the things that is wonderful about an independent school is that people … we can say what we stand for … people know that, and if they choose to come there as young people or if their parents choose to send them there … they embrace those values. And so we don’t have to be shy about believing in hard work … which we do … as part of the old Puritan work ethic that helped to found the school.
So our students work very hard. We believe in honesty. We believe in service. We believe in compassion. We believe in respect … showing respect for the … again for the young people who are around them. And that’s sometimes difficult because if you take truth telling … honesty, which we believe in …and you take compassion … and you put those two things … and we talk about this with the students … you put those two things in a balance … sometimes you’re going to be in a situation where telling the truth may seem to be offensive to someone else.
And so you’re always treading that, that path that allows you to embrace both of those values. So I think it is complicated, but I think that if you have a core set of values, virtues … if you will … that lie at the heart of who you are and what you do, it allows you to bring them out on the table, literally and talk about them.
And talk about how everything from housing to the discipline system, to grading, to college admissions, to the place of athletics, all of those things, are reflections of the values, or the virtues that an institution holds dear.
HEFFNER: Is this a function of size?
CHASE: No, I don’t think so.
HEFFNER: I don’t mean the overall size of Phillips, Andover itself …
HEFFNER: … but of classes.
CHASE: Ah, perhaps it is, although there’s, there’s certainly, when you go to Asia and you see schools there … the classes have many more students per teacher and yet they’re doing, as we’ve traveled in China, as we have recently, to our partner institutions there … they’re doing a splendid job with their students.
So, it’s, it’s certainly about the ability of the adults in the community, whether it’s a school, or, or any kind of a community … a family for that matter … to know young people and to hold them … to believe in them deeply as human beings, to hold them accountable, to know that they’re going to fail, and when they fail to help them to get up and try again, because we learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes.
So, I wouldn’t say size so much as individual attention and having some set of adults know who that … who that young person is and what, what they’re struggling with, what they care about, what their aspirations are.
HEFFNER: That’s a theme of yours, isn’t it … learning from our failures.
CHASE: It is. It is because I think that nothing that is worthwhile was ever achieved by someone who succeeds, succeeds, succeeds, and never is tested by failure. I deeply believe that. And so, with our students what we try to do is to set a very high standard and, and give them actually growing independence as they go from 9th grade to 12th grade, so that they’re really ready to go out to the world and college.
But we know that from time to time they’re going to fail. And so we try to work with them to teach them again that they’re going to get stronger from those setbacks. That they can use that to build themselves into, into stronger, more whole people.
HEFFNER: I, I ask that question because I think of the public high school I went to … with 12,000 students …
CHASE: Oh my gosh.
HEFFNER: Now …
HEFFNER: … this is … you know a thousand years ago. We had three sessions, you know, you’d start at 8:00 a.m. or you’d start at 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. or you’d start at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon.
There must be some bounty in the fact that you have a comparatively small student body. You’re located in a heavenly place … does the word “elite” come up very often in discussing Phillips Academy, Andover?
CHASE: Yes. Yes. It’s used all the time. And, ah …
CHASE: Often. Elitist is a different word from “elite”.
CHASE: And, ah, certainly if finding young people of talent and great promise is being elite, then that’s, that’s true that we are. But we are not elitist. And I … the difference … the distinction I’m making is that we believe that talent and promise comes from everywhere. That it comes from students who are economically disadvantaged. It comes from students who are middle-class. It comes from students whose families are relatively wealthy.
All of these students … and, and, by the way, students of different religions and ethnicities. And if … there’s a very wonderful sense of community when you bring all of these … and I, I think it’s rare … it’s very rare … so is that elite … perhaps it is. But to be able to bring students from, again, around the country and, and the world together and have them learn from one another. And know that they’re all extremely promising and very talented and they’re also really good and nice young people. Which you know, as a grandfather of one of them.
HEFFNER: I, I do know that.
CHASE: So, I think that, that’s the blessing that we have. It’s a tremendous blessing. And, and we’ve … and we … we’re blessed by the resources of that campus and the endowment which has been left to us by generations and generations of generous alumni.
And so what we try to do is to open ourselves to the world, and use and share those blessings. And we do this by searching for students. By having over 40% of our students receive scholarships and financial aid. We also do it by having programs on the campus, not during the school year that bring students from the inner city and from reservations, Indian reservations in the West, for three summers to Andover to work on math and science, for example. We’ve been doing that for 30 years.
We, we want to share and make those resources as widely available as we possibly can. And that’s one of the things, I believe, that distinguishes Andover and makes it great, is that it really has that sense of being open. And not in a paternalistic way.
HEFFNER: I wondered about that.
HEFFNER: But why do you say that?
CHASE: Because I think that we believe that the community itself is so diverse that it, it’s … it, it can’t really be noblesse oblige … it can’t have the sense of noblesse oblige because we’re so diverse, socio-economically and in every other way.
And, and also I think because we believe that in whatever we do … whatever programs … whether it’s community service, which we have a tremendously robust program of community service for the students who are with us, while they’re students, to go out and, and work in the surrounding communities and actually around the world.
And then the institutional programs of service. That, that in those programs … it’s, yes, it’s partly about doing good. It’s also about learning from all the people we touch and whose lives touch us in that process. And that’s a very different sense … it seems to me anyway … than noblesse oblige.
HEFFNER: Well, as an erstwhile historian, I want to believe, and I’m certain that it’s true that your own training, as a historian, plays a role in this incredible success at Andover.
CHASE: Well, I’m … I … in many ways I’m an erstwhile historian as well, because I don’t get, unfortunately to … when I read I read history all the time. And I do teach at Andover … still … some. And I enjoy that very much. For the most part I work with independent scholars who are … we have students who we make time and we find faculty mentors for them, so that they can pursue an interest … a passion, this is particularly usually in their senior years. And I’ve been mentoring those kinds of students for several years.
And so I learn from that. I’ve learned about who these young people are and their backgrounds because often … the, the student … one of the students I worked with this year was looking at the history of her own family, coming out of the Civil War and through Reconstruction. And she, she’s a part of a middle class Black family in Atlanta. And so to learn about …for her to be interested in actually going back and finding her great-great-great grandfather in the 1880 census as a farm laborer … in Lowland South Carolina was very moving. And, in fact, she just presented last week and she had her parents and her grandparents, whom she interviewed for the project … come and it was, it was … it was extremely moving for me and, and, and also very educational. Because I learned … my period is actually antebellum, prior to the Civil War so I had to learn a lot about Reconstruction to help her do her research. And it was … so yes, I believe that this country is a great country.
My history in college was actually European history, that’s what I loved. But in graduate school I came to love US history. And I really believe that this country, for all its flaws … and it has many … is a great country and has the potential to become even greater.
The fact that Andover started at the same time … virtually the same time this nation did … is, for me … as a historian, it’s such a privilege to be there. Paul Revere designed the seal of the school. George Washington visited his great nephews … Hoover sent his great nephews there and visited the school. So, I believe that the words “Non Sibi” on our seal … again, struck by Paul Revere, which mean “Not For Self” and “Youth from every quarter”, words that appear in the Constitution … have … have had the elasticity to allow the institution … and, and they’re the right ideas … service and, and outreach to bring students from all over the place to an institution to learn.
And then the thought that goodness and knowledge … again words in the Constitution, are, are equally important … that those ideas have had a remarkable elasticity, so that today … even though we … if, if the Founders came back, they would be startled to, to see who we are and what we are.
But they … I do believe that when they sat down and listened to what we’re doing … they would … they would … they would approve.
And I, I think of the words in the Declaration of Independence … “All men are created equal.” Those words do not mean today what they did when they were written and thank goodness. As a woman, in particular … I’m grateful. (Laughter)
CHASE: So I, so I … I think … yes … my history helps me, I think to appreciate how privileged I am to be at this place. With such a great place. With such a great history and a great present. And a presence and a wonderful future.
HEFFNER: And you certainly have paid your respects to the traditions …
HEFFNER: … at your school.
CHASE: Yes. Yes. We do. And I think that, that, that … the place of ritual and tradition in contemporary life is one that is, is not honored sufficiently.
And I think especially for young people, the anchor of ritual and tradition is something that they really like to hang on to in a world that’s so rapidly changing. It’s something that gives them great comfort and makes them realize that they’re part of something that’s much bigger than themselves.
HEFFNER: Phillips Academy, Andover is the … am I correct the oldest independent boarding school in America?
CHASE: Yeah, the oldest incorporated, continually operating … that’s right. That’s right.
HEFFNER: Now, I, I know that you can and do act as an important model for other independent schools. Tougher question, though … what is it that can be drawn from your experience by the public schools in this country?
CHASE: Well, we work with, actually… and I’m glad you asked that question, because I believe that one of the great things about American education is its diversity. The fact that there are private, parochial independent schools. That there are … that there’s a great system of common schools, of public schools in this country. I believe, I’m a product of public school myself. Didn’t attend private … a private institution until I went to college.
So, I believe that all of these systems can learn from one another. I think that hasn’t happened very much and it’s something that I really believe we should do more of. We have programs on our campus … a program called the “Andover Bread Loaf Program.” Which brings teachers from, again, all over the world … New Orleans, Lawrence, MA, which is a city just to our North … and helps them to teach writing. Has them meet with master writing teachers and writers to learn how to teach writing, as, as well as they possibly can.
We have a program called The Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers, which has been operating for almost 20 years, that brings young people … rising seniors in college, from underrepresented groups to try to increase the diversity of teachers at the high school and university level. And so we’re, again, in partnership … thinking about public education … in, in those programs. And then we have … we just have school to school partnerships with schools in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which is, again, just the next city and was one of the most economically deprived cities in Massachusetts. And we have lots of programming there.
And, again, a program called “Pals”, which, which brings students from one of the elementary schools there to our campus in the summer and then follows the students with tutors who are, who are Phillips Academy students and Andover High School students.
So, again, we have a lot of programming that really does reach out and work with public school … public schools and public school teachers, individually.
HEFFNER: But the essence of this oldest independent school, with all the qualifications that you mentioned …
HEFFNER: … can it really relate to the problems of the larger community?
CHASE: Ah …
HEFFNER: I mean given what you talk about of the relationship … in a boarding school … of the faculty to the students.
HEFFNER: Of the proximity of one to the other.
CHASE: Yeah. Well, I think that in the sense that we are teaching young people who are going to be leaders that their devotion to their communities … that they have an obligation to give back to their communities.
And the fact that the institution itself does that beyond … even beyond the nine month program for our 1,100 students … I think that that does have an impact. I think that that does have an impact.
We’ve had, in the past … we’ve had conferences from time to time. We participate in professional organizations. I feel that we should get out teachers out more because they are so excellent, they’re such great teachers …
HEFFNER: They certainly are.
CHASE: But they’re very busy. They’re, they’re … as I said, they’re not only teaching in the classroom, they’re coaching, they’re taking care of students in the dormitory, they often have families of their own, which is wonderfully enriching for the students in their dormitories. But that’s more than a full time job. So, I’d love to see them out in the educational community, public and independent school, private school community, more sharing their expertise. But it’s, it’s very hard to make that happen.
I also wanted to point out that the students who come to us, 50% of them come from public schools in the United States. So we have a very close relationship with a number of those schools and, and we believe in those kids who come to us from those school to, to Phillips Academy.
HEFFNER: What I’ve been so much impressed with is the quality of the comments that the teachers … and the time that has been taken by the teachers when I read Alexander’s reports …
HEFFNER: When I’m allowed to peak in on them.
HEFFNER: It’s quite extraordinary.
CHASE: Well, as I said, near the outset, I think that this notion of the adults in a young person’s life truly knowing and caring about them. And that doesn’t mean making it easy for them or making excuses for them, or allowing them to make excuses for themselves. It means deeply caring about them and their development.
And when young people know that and they get honest feedback on the work that they’ve done and how, how they’re doing as community members … that that’s the most powerful learning experience you can have. Whether it’s in a public school or a private school or a family or a church, or a … any kind of community organization.
HEFFNER: In the minute that we have … minute and a half that we have left. I know Alexander has talked about his fellow students from other parts of the world.
HEFFNER: That’s an important part of your teaching/
learning experience. Isn’t it?
CHASE: Yes it is. About 10% of our students come from around the world from 30-some different countries. And we do have, which is fairly unusual, financial aid for those international students as well as for our own students. So they’re part of the 41% of our students who are receiving scholarships. That number will go up as we move to a need-blind policy for next year.
So, yes, I think that that when you bring someone … I hear students talking about sitting on the steps of, of our major classroom building, Samuel Phillips Hall … with … and they grew up in Andover, and they’re talking to somebody who grew up in the People’s Republic of China. It’s quite extraordinary and they learn so much from one another.
HEFFNER: Of course, need-blind was a subject that I thought certainly we’d get into. We haven’t. You’ll have to come back …
CHASE: I’d love to do that, Mr. Heffner.
HEFFNER: … and we’ll do it another time.
CHASE: Thank you so much.
HEFFNER: I’m just so pleased that you did come here today to talk about this important institution of the independent school … particularly this independent school.
CHASE: I’m grateful for the opportunity. Thank you so much.
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. And for transcripts of today’s program, please send $4.00 in check or money order to The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.
Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”
N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.