Head's Notebook: Gaining Perspective
In order to think critically and solve problems creatively, our students must learn to step outside of themselves and see things from different points of view.
I’m pleased that this issue of Fay Magazine includes our 2020 Strategic Plan, which was shared with all Fay constituents in early June. The Plan’s introduction states, “Looking to the future, we believe that the best way to equip students to lead productive, fulfilling lives is to provide them with essential foundational skills: to be critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, and articulate speakers; to be culturally competent and have a global perspective; and to demonstrate resilience, empathy, and integrity.” These 21st-century goals are consistent with the sort of educational philosophy Thomas Jefferson envisioned nearly two hundred years ago, happening in a place where “we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
Discernment requires effort. It’s much easier to remain entrenched and inflexible, secure in the laziness of simplistic and reactionary opinions. In order to adapt and respond to today’s rapid pace of change, our children must be willing to acknowledge complexity and work through the disequilibrium that is caused by cognitive dissonance. They must be comfortable being uncomfortable, open to new ideas, confident but not certain. As one of my teachers once put it, “Certainty is the death of thought.”
Our children will not be able to think critically and solve problems creatively unless they can to step outside of themselves and see things from different points of view. Uninformed opinions often stem from provinciality, and narrow-mindedness breeds arrogance. The skill of perspective taking is essential to developing informed positions of one’s own. Breadth of vision depends upon an earnest desire to understand the full context and a willingness to consider the validity of other viewpoints.
Cultivating respect for a variety of perspectives is a central component of cultural competency, and empathy is based on the understanding that everyone does not necessarily share the way we perceive, interpret, and define reality. We want our children to listen intently to others, with genuine interest and generosity of spirit. Although they won’t always end up revising their opinions or changing their minds, they should seek to learn something new from each interaction and encounter. And when they disagree, they should be able to do so in a civil and respectful manner, exhibiting both confidence and humility.
Integrity means knowing what we believe and why we believe it, and acting in a manner consistent with those beliefs – while also remaining open to the possibility that there might be more to learn. We hope our children will maintain ongoing intellectual curiosity, an interest in considering other points of view, and a willingness to grow and evolve as a result of the deeper understanding that comes from gaining perspective.