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Best Possible Selves 1

Date Posted: 
Sunday, September 18, 2016


With "Best Possible Selves" recently announced as our school-wide theme for the year, we asked our 5th graders to tell us a bit about this important idea. Here are a few examples of what they had to say. Do their ideas make sense to you? In what ways does the theme have meaning or relevance in your life? Please return to this Blog page from time to time over the course of the year as we continue to explore this powerful metaphor.

Question 1: How do you know when you're being your best possible self?

I feel like I'm doing the right thing when I am my best possible self. I also feel like things are going in the right direction. I feel confident and passionate. I feel thoughtful too. In addition, I feel like I'm doing the right thing for the right reason.

When I'm being kind and respectful to others I feel like I'm being my possible self. Also, when I stand up for someone or do something nice for someone it makes me feel good because I'm being my best possible self. When someone does something mean to me I always try to do something nice despite their behavior. It's always better to take the higher path. Sometimes it's hard to be my best possible self, but most of the time I try to be despite the fact that nobody's perfect. It also makes me feel like a lot better of a person when I'm my best possible self.

Question 2: How do you know when other people are being their best possible selves?

You can recognize when others are being their best possible selves when they have empathy. In addition they could be thinking hard. On top of that the person could be solving a hard problem. Piggybacking on that, they could be trying out something new, stepping out of their comfort zone. That is what it resembles when I see someone be their best possible self.

I can recognize when others are being their best possible selves by looking at their body language, their expression, and overall how they act. If they are smiling or playing with friends or helping other people, I know they are being their best possible selves. I know when they're not their best possible selves when that person is pouting, being mean, or even just not paying attention to anything. It really all depends on the type of person. Some people may be their best self by just playing by themselves and others may have higher expectations for themselves, and doing different things.

Understanding and Empathy 42

Date Posted: 
Monday, August 22, 2016


Erika Christakis, author of ‘The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups," has just written a beautiful review in The Washington Post of a new book about parenting: Alison Gopnik, The Gardener and the Carpenter. Well, to be perfectly accurate, the whole point of the book she's reviewing is that "parenting" may be the wrong approach altogether and that people who are raising children should focus less on "parenting" and more simply on "being parents." "To be a parent," as Christakis suggests, "is to be in a loving and nurturing relationship with a young child, not unlike a gardener who tends the soil in which a variety of seedlings are given the ingredients to thrive." If you're raising a child and in any way wondering how to imagine your best possible role, both the book review and the book itself should be of keen interest.


Understanding and Empathy 41

Date Posted: 
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

One of the great pleasures of teaching or parenting in 2016 is that the breadth and quality of children's literature has blossomed so beautifully in recent years. Young children love to listen to and follow along with stories, and as they get older their literacy becomes an important foundation of their learning. "Children's books are amazingly flexible teaching tools," explains Byrd Pinkerton in an interview on Boston's own WBUR. "They help millions of kids learn to read and write, of course. But we can also use them to teach kids — and adults — ideas that might otherwise seem overwhelming. Want to teach philosophy? Use Harold and the Purple Crayon. Financial literacy? The Berenstain Bears. Even math is a little easier with help from Pete the Cat."

As the summer draws to a close and we scramble to catch up on our long list of unread books, we can take heart in the fact that some of the world's most profound truths may be revealed in the most accessible of picture books. Take Shrek, for example, a crowd-pleaser for children of all ages. Not only can he be viewed as "an ogre who relishes putrid stews but runs scared from adorable children," he is also a cipher for potentially deeper truths. Pinkerton calls attention to a Professor of Philosophy at Mt. Holyoke College, Tom Wartenberg, in whose class (Philosopy 280: Philosophy for Children) a parallel is drawn between the lessons of Shrek and the complexity of Immanuel Kant. Confession: when I struggled as an undergraduate with Kant's philosophy, I did not realize that some of these mysteries might be revealed through the simplicity and straightforwardness of children's literature. Either way it is inspiring to realize that powerful adults ideas may be formed through direct exposure to compelling, if not silly, literature.

Understanding and Empathy 40

Date Posted: 
Friday, July 29, 2016

I just came upon a fascinating article in Harper's Magazine by Tom Wolfe. This is a man whose works of fiction have been entertaining readers for nearly fifty years. Among my favorites: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. In my experience, few contemporary writers are able to weave together such lengthy and enjoyable stories. When I started reading The Origins of Speech, I didn't notice the name of the author, nor did it occur to me that the Tom Wolfe that I knew could possibly have been the author of such an intensely deep probe into language and linguistics. If you've ever heard of Noam Chomsky and wondered about his theory regarding the "deep structure" of language, you will want to luxuriate in the painstaking analysis of Tom Wolfe. For me, this is an enlightening step on the journey of understanding the power and scope of how and what we communicate to each other.