Head of School Blog: Opening Remarks for FA's 45th Academic Year

When I was a student, I didn’t give much thought to the possibility that my teachers had lives beyond the confines of the time and space that overlapped with my life, as I suspect many of you don’t give much thought to who I am beyond my role as Head of School.  If you do, perhaps you imagine that I lead a refined life befitting of my position.  Saturday evenings curled up on the sofa with a Tolstoy novel, a cup of tea by my side, a Verdi opera barely audible in the background.  

It pains me to inform you that, in fact, I spend an inordinate amount of time watching reality television.  My current favorite is Alone, but in the distant past, I also enjoyed Iron Chef,  especially when the host revealed the secret ingredient.  “Today’s secret ingredient is… halibut!”  I was with Survivor from the beginning and was crestfallen when I learned that House Hunters is actually staged.  This morning, I‘d like to focus on the Discovery Channel’s  Dirty Jobs in which host Mike Rowe visits with folks who have, as you might expect, dirty jobs. With the utmost respect and not an ounce of condescension, he spends the day working alongside steamship boiler cleaners, disaster clean-up crew members, coal miners, smokehouse pit cleaners, sewage plant workers, and other hard-working folks whose job it is to clean up the messes that the rest of us make.  

The show got me thinking about the coming year at Falmouth Academy, the inevitable messes that we are about to make, and the lessons we will learn as we embrace responsibility for cleaning them up.  Consider the use of familiar expressions such as, “What a mess,” to describe a seemingly irresolvable or overwhelmingly complex problem (often of our own making,) or “That kid’s a mess,” to describe a person who just cannot get out of their own way, or even, “It’s going to get messy,” which at times forecasts a difficult interpersonal encounter or a particularly intense period of self-examination.  

Like life, school is a messy endeavor during which you will have plentiful cause to utter each of these phrases.  Do your best to not make a mess, but make no mistake, things are about to get messy- they always do.  And, whatever success you enjoy this year, whatever personal growth you experience, whatever meaningful relationships you are fortunate enough to enjoy, will be defined less by the steps you take to avoid making messes and more by the steps you take to clean them up.  This year, then, when the proverbial, “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it” moments arise, be that someone who cleans it up.

To illustrate, look no further than our national response to this gosh darn pandemic.  Now, I vowed to myself that I would not allow this topic to dominate the conversation here at school this year.  We will maintain a number of sensible precautions to ensure that as many of you are engaged in as much of our standard program for as many days as possible, but otherwise, I hope we can direct our full attention to just being kids in school.  This noted, I think most would agree that things on the pandemic response front have gotten quite messy.  One state does this, one state does that, six feet here, three feet there, vaccines required here but not there, one organization advises this, one that.  Make no mistake, in the Coronavirus pandemic, we have inherited quite a mess, one that seems perfectly designed to expose the flaws in our democracy, a marvelous system but inherently messy system of government... but had we been more proactive and systematic in our response from the beginning, would things have gotten this messy?   
And I am not sure you could find a better inventory of messes than the EPA superfunds website.  In Massachusetts alone, there are still 32 hazardous waste sites scheduled to be cleaned up! And this summer, the droughts and wildfires out west and the heavy rains and flooding closer to home would seem to suggest that we are already incurring some of the costs associated with the mess that’s been made of our natural environment.  I am therefore excited that members of the ninth grade will be devoting significant time this year studying global change-understanding change, adapting to change, and most importantly making change.  In other words, they will focus on how we can stop making a mess of our planet (and in particular our beloved Cape Cod) and start cleaning up the mess we have already made.  It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.  

On a more mundane level, consider school policies such as those that govern cell phone use or dress code.  Mr. Earley, with help from students, worked hard to write a policy that dictates exactly what it is and is not an “appropriate top.” Particularly challenging was defining the “dress t-shirt,” an explanation of which is followed by a long list of what a dress t-shirt or appropriate top is not. Exciting work and such good use of his graduate school education!  Not even Mr. Earley, however, can anticipate every item of clothing that will be worn here at school this year, so can we enforce the spirit of a policy and not always the letter of the law, a much messier proposition to be sure?  And can you join us in appreciating the spirit of a dress code, or will you be one to chip away at the standard and see what you can get away with?  The same goes for cell phones; it would be cleaner to simply ban them altogether, but instead, we embrace a messier cell phone etiquette that acknowledges them as part of your lives but expects you to be respectful- to “know where you are.”  Keep them in the lockers during class hours, don’t talk on the phone in public spaces, avoid texting and walking, etc.  Can we reside within this mess or do we need something cleaner?  Let’s see how it goes.

Perhaps there is a mess at Falmouth Academy that you think needs to be cleaned up… a club you want to start, a trip or activity you think we could offer, a rule or cultural norm you think needs to be reconsidered, anything you think is particularly messy or not working the way it should. Most of what we do here that seems like tradition to us newbies was at one time just someone’s good idea.   

You will probably never find yourself on an episode of Dirty Jobs coaching Mike Rowe on how you maintained your locker, or sorted your lunch waste into the correct bins, or by the single-use plastic bottles you did not purchase, or how you kept your phone in your locker, but you have plenty of dirty jobs ahead of you.  So this year let’s acknowledge the obvious: it’s going to get messy, let’s agree to clean it up, and let’s embrace the statement, “It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it.”

Head of School Matt Green shared these remarks today at All School Meeting, the first day of the 2021-22 School Year. The meeting ended with Student Council President Tasha Sudofsky '22 and Vice President Mia Galvam '22 ceremoniously clanging the gong to ring in the new academic year.
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