Principal Dan Frank on our Media Program workshop
Here’s what Parker principal Dan Frank wrote to the Parker faculty after attending our Media Program workshop with Bill Idol, part of Reunion 2011:
Dear Faculty Colleagues:
Here is a great story.
A story about something that happened at the Parker Alumni Reunion this weekend.
I would have preferred to tell you in person but we don’t have an opportunity to get together as a whole faculty for a few weeks. So I will tell it to you now.
The story is about us even though it is a story about other people.
It is a story about a group of women and men now in their late 50’s who shared a moment this weekend reconnecting with each other around a moment in their lives when they were 14 year-old Parker high school freshmen.
But they were not only reconnecting with each other.
They were connecting with a man who was their teacher 44 years ago for a period of about 7 months when they were 9th graders in 1967-1968.
Roughly 35 of the 58 members of the Class of 1971 gathered in the Harris Center on Saturday morning to talk with their teacher, Bill Idol, about the powerful and lasting impact his class had on their lives. And his.
Bill had planned to be there in person. But at the last minute he was unable to come. Yet that did not deter him or his former students. The class met anyway. And they all, teacher and students, talked together for two and a half hours, a half hour longer than they had planned. Bill met with his former students via Skype from his home miles and hours far away. His once 14-year-old students talked with him as he sat in his home in New Zealand.
Bill remembered each of their names. And their nick names. And facts about their siblings and parents. And he remembered in detail aspects of the creative assignments and projects his students did 44 years ago.
He taught an interdisciplinary course with other teachers called, “Media.”
The adult alumni came to the conversation in order to share with each other and with their teacher the lasting impact that the Media class had on their adult lives. The creativity they tasted and developed. The confidence they acquired. The critical thinking skills that have helped them in their lives and varied careers.
The alumni talked about what they remembered and characterized as Bill’s “out of the box” approach to teaching, class assignments, and collaborative innovations they all experienced in this particular course. Yet what emerged from the conversation was something more profound.
Beyond the content of the course – learning how to communicate using two or more media – what stayed with the alumni over the course of their lives was the passion of the teacher, the teacher’s own ability and willingness to risk making his own errors and mistakes; that they remembered him speaking directly and with encouragement to his students so that they, too, would feel free to risk error and mistake in order to be creative and thoughtful, and feel alive and connected to their own emerging sense of identity and self.
And it was profound – indeed an honor– to witness this conversation. The power of remembering. The power of being remembered. Specifically. In detail. An attuned reencountering with their pasts as a memorable moment in their presents.
7 months. 44 years ago. A bunch of 14 year olds and their teacher. A group of 35 or more mature adults talking with their one-time and perhaps still mentor. Over Skype. From Parker to New Zealand. They talked about the Marshall McLuhan ideas that informed their studies at the dawn of their high school experience. On that Saturday morning, the medium was indeed the message.
As educators, we know that the students are always watching. Even when they may not seem like they are. Even when they themselves may not be fully aware of what they are noticing. So let us not forget or under-appreciate that with them, we join in making memories that touch their lives. And our own.
What will our students remember about their experiences with us when they talk with their former classmates, nearly a lifetime later, at their reunions, 44 years from now? And what will be the meaning for us of our remembrances of our experiences of learning with them?
The beginnings of those stories are being written now. By them. And by us.
Daniel B. Frank, Ph.D.
Francis W. Parker School