The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
Fay Magazine: Fall-Winter 2020

Choosing the Right Path: Exploring Moral Courage

Students have been exploring this year’s schoolwide theme of moral courage through reflection, discussion, and reading.
Moral courage comes in many forms. It’s admitting that you made a mistake when you’re worried about the consequences, standing up for a friend when it would be easier to keep quiet, and expressing what you believe when you know it won’t be popular. In any year, moral courage would be a strong theme for the school year, but it is particularly apt for the current moment.
During the pandemic, members of the Fay community have been asked to sacrifice comfort, enjoyment, and cherished rituals to keep the community safe and make in-person learning possible. As Head of School Rob Gustavson noted in his Back to School Night remarks earlier this fall, declining a birthday party invitation, physical distancing from friends, and being the only player on the town soccer team to wear a mask requires moral courage, too. For many, the growing awareness and outrage over discrimination and inequity in American society have also been a call to action. Responding to all of these challenges has required an intentional focus on what we believe, the kind of citizens we want to be, and how we should engage with the wider world.
As teachers wove the theme of moral courage into classwork, discussions, and assignments this fall, students used this lens to consider their responsibilities in the Fay community and beyond.
In their first Morning Meeting of the year, Head of Primary School Katie Knuppel talked to students about courage and invited them to share the courageous choices that they have made. Second graders decorated badges of courage and wrote about a time that they demonstrated courage on one of the ribbons. The students also used the letters of their first names to write an acrostic poem about courage. Each letter expressed a different way to demonstrate courage, like trying something new when you are worried about failing. Helping children recognize examples of moral courage builds a necessary foundation. “The students don’t always see it at the moment, but they make brave decisions all the time,” says second grade teacher Katie Farrar. “Inviting someone to play with you on the playground because it’s the right thing to do is moral courage.”
Owning up to mistakes and advocating for yourself also demonstrate moral courage. First graders discuss making mistakes as a normal part of the learning process. “If you don’t dare to speak up for yourself, how can you then go out and advocate for others?” asks first grade teacher Kelly Porter. “You start to develop that skill by learning to give yourself that positive self-talk, advocating for yourself, and standing on your own two feet.”
By sixth grade, that positive self-talk can be articulated as a personal affirmation. In Jane McGinty’s art class, sixth graders created origami “integrity boxes.” Each student’s box featured a Julian Opie-style self-portrait on the top, with a speech bubble containing a statement that the student found inspiring or encouraging such as “Stand up for what you know is right,” “Be your best self,” or “Don’t give up on your dreams.” Jane encouraged each student to turn their integrity box into an evolving piece of art by writing a note and placing it in the box whenever they see an act of kindness that inspires them or something that outrages them.
Morally courageous acts can take all different forms. Seventh and eighth graders in Extended Topics in Algebra and Geometry created line design projects this fall, depicting examples of moral courage, and then wrote about their example and why it represents a morally courageous choice. The Line Design project challenges students to take an image and reproduce it entirely with linear equations; they create an equation for each line and shape within the image and then plug it into Desmos, an online graphing calculator that recreates it. Writing about his image, Carey Huang ’22 said, “Moral courage is doing the right thing when it is often easier to do the wrong thing,” connecting it to staying focused on schoolwork despite distractions.
In Community Connections, Fay’s student-led, faculty-advised workshop group that encourages awareness and respect for people’s differences within the community, students spent their first meeting in September discussing the theme of moral courage and how to be an upstander. They discussed the elements of being an upstander, including knowing how to interrupt, question, educate, echo, and engage constructively when they see something unkind or unjust. They watched a talk by sociologist Dr. Bertice Berry and discussed the idea of knowing your place in the world versus having the courage to create it, and they made a word cloud with the vocabulary and concepts that they discussed.
Literature is providing students with rich examples of different kinds of moral courage this fall. Inspired by the Project LIT Community book lists, Fay librarian Haimin Luo launched her annual Read for Pleasure program, encouraging Fay students to read books that connect to the theme of moral courage. Adapted from the Project LIT Community’s book lists, which promote the reading and teaching of culturally relevant books, Haimin’s list includes a range of books that resonate with themes of diversity, equity, anti-racism, and inclusion.
In roundtable discussions, sixth graders in Lara Gleason’s class recently explored the texts that they have been reading this fall through the lens of moral courage. Students discussed and sometimes disagreed about which characters demonstrated moral courage in books like We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey. Students took turns expressing opinions, respectfully offering conflicting perspectives, and making connections between the short stories and books they had read this fall. Some of the discussions highlighted the personal nature of moral courage, as students debated whether stealing constitutes a morally courageous act if you are doing it for someone else.
During Fay@Home, the three-week period between Thanksgiving and Winter Break when students were engaged in remote learning, Lower School students and eighth graders read Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. The reading was grounded in twice-weekly Lower School morning meetings where students discussed the book’s themes and their connection to moral courage. The story is about Kek, a young refugee boy from Sudan who is trying to make a new life for himself in Minnesota. “Kek has some tough decisions to make, some of which he’s not going to go back on because they are at the core of his beliefs,” says Head of Lower School Lainie Schuster. “Everything he does is about moving forward and making a new life grounded in what he knows is right.”
The seventh grade texts also provide rich examples of kids making morally courageous decisions under extraordinary circumstances. Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo is the fictionalized account of the real Iqbal Masih, a boy sold into slavery to a carpet factory in Pakistan whose courage inspires other child laborers to fight for freedom. Seventh grade English teacher Dan Roy notes that it’s an enormously powerful read for students because it puts kids at the forefront: “It shows kids making challenging decisions, taking risks, and refusing to give up in a situation where the odds are stacked against them.” Students wrote about Iqbal and also created an object inspired by the book. Projects ranged from Minecraft representations of Iqbal’s world to game boards where you have to play your way to freedom.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely encouraged seventh graders to think about racism and its connection to moral courage in Deb Smith’s English classes this fall. A composite of real-life events, the book tells the story of Rashad, a 16 year-old Black boy who is mistakenly accused of shoplifting and brutally beaten by the white arresting officer. A white classmate of Rashad’s, Quinn, witnesses the incident. Written from the perspective of Rashad and Quinn, the book addresses racism, police brutality, and white privilege. From the witnesses who struggle to tell the truth about what they saw, to Rashad’s friends and classmates who are pressured to take sides, and even his parents wrestling with complicated feelings about what has happened, every character has hard choices to make. In class, students discussed the moments in the book where characters make morally courageous choices and how those characters change as the story unfolds, allowing them to make the difficult choice to do the right thing. Throughout their reading, students analyzed specific parts of the book and wrote poems inspired by the many examples of poetic writing in the novel.
As the year continues, students and teachers will continue to participate in this important work, exploring what it means to be morally courageous in ways both large and small. As Rob stated in his remarks this fall, “It must be our top priority to guide the development of kind, thoughtful, ethical people who know what they believe, act with moral courage, and make a positive difference in the world.”

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