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Response 2

Read by Christopher Reynolds


After reading JC’s speech, and thinking about what part of school had the most impact on me, I come away with three thoughts

I want my students to learn to listen to other people and themselves.

I want my students to carry important words inside them.

I want my students to appreciate their time on the planet and to put their gratitude into action.

1)  I want my students to learn how to listen.  Really listen.   Neil Postman’s exercise (Teaching as a Subversive Activity, chapter 10) requires each subsequent speaker to reproduce in his own words what the previous speaker said (to the satisfaction of the previous speaker) before a reaction can take place.  Morning Meditation was part of that process, since it was impolite to shout back at the presenter my reaction.

I teach at “second chance schools” -- my students get a second chance to get into college or to complete their high school education -- no their high schooling” ...  I agree with Twain who said that “I never left schooling get in the way of my education.”   Meditation is part of my education.  

As you can see, I did not follow the strictest part of Mr. Rhodes’ exercise (since I have not divorced myself from my experience at Aiglon and I did not go through temporary emotional amnesia).  I did not divorce my self from the JC speech.   However, I feel I’ve identified the most critical part of the result won by the meditation period.   Even if a school does not have a meditation period, it is possible to get the same result...  it’s just easier to put the group through the same process at once.   It is astounding to hear the ringing in the room when two hundred people sit quietly, many of them thinking about what has been said.   It is like church without the music.  “And now for a minute of silence while we think about the soldiers in Iraq....” or “.. the earthquake victims in Bam, Iran...”   

I don’t have to impose the structure of meditation to get my students to have the same experience of  lateral  thinking (when Mr. Stunt suggested that we give presents on our birthday) and appreciation for history (Stunt’s talk about Stanley Milgram) and keen observation (Ms. Senn’s description of A Dangerous Weapon) and listening to something that I thought I might agree with (Mr. Senn’s God is Dead) and listening to something that I’m sure I won’t want to hear about (Mr. McWilliam’s "Death”) ...  all of these topics can be touched on in another way, perhaps by putting these thoughts onto mp3 files and given to students for their mp3 players, or perhaps by making powerpoint slide shows and posting them on youtube, or even sitting one on one with students and recalling the principal points:   “... when I was your age, I heard something that made me sit up and think deeply...”

The  common element of these diverse topics is “listening to another person so well, I can reproduce the essence of their thought.”   I used to take notes during meditation so that I could recall what was transmitted.  It kept me focussed.   Keep the hands busy and the ADHD mind can focus its thoughts.   Since I could not instantly reply to the speaker, I came to learn to take my time and wait... wait for the right opportunity to respond, even weeks later.   This skill benefited me and I found it easy to follow the Japanese model of listening to everyone in the room before offering an additional point.   It takes great skill and patience and fortitude to keep one’s mouth shut.... especially when one is bursting to participate and “make his mark” o the world.   Sometimes the most effective speaker is the last one.   “Why didn’t you speak up earlier?  You had the key that we were all seeking!”  Ah, but would I have said those exact words if I had led the discussion?   So Morning Meditation taught me to listening deeply.

2)  I want my students to carry important words inside them.  I know from my experience that I might hear a pithy quote and tell myself, “I’ve got to remember that.  Those words make sense.”  I might read the quote.  I might see it on a T shirt.  Somehow, somewhat randomly, the information arrived in my brain.  Meditations were a way for me (and remain a way for me, when I see and hear meditations on Youtube by “old guard” staff) to catch some new information.  Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying that quotations are important in her life.   Winston Churchill is said to have written that quotations are important for the undereducated person, since pondering words can lead to bettering the person.  

I can get those words into my students in a variety of ways.  Many of my students will not accept or feel uncomfortable with the procedure of Morning Meditation, but I am walking in the footsteps of JC and my other teachers when I recite pithy quotes, like “Whatsoever things are true” and the contrast that RFWatts used:  Manners Make the Man (compared to Arbeit Macht Frei).

3)  I want my students to appreciate their time on the planet and to put their gratitude into action.

Why spend ten minutes sitting?  The day needs to start.... well, it’s easy to move on with the day, but it’s quite calming to sit and plan what will happen in the next ten hours and then... just to contemplate our surroundings.  No bullets overhead, no sewage in the street, no earthquakes, floods or avalanches, food  in my belly and more food in the kitchen, nice restaurants down the street, functioning telephone and Internet, friends that I can call to complain about life (a joy shared is doubled, a sorrow shared is halved), good health... I have a lot to be thankful for.   I might not always sit calmly when I go through this list.  The list of “thanks” might appear while the morning news introduces the latest events.  Whatever happened yesterday to someone else is worse than whatever difficulty I’m encountering today.  I’m thankful for the gift of perspective, which leads to that important awareness that I’m lucky to be here, in this moment.   It’s tough to replicate the soma-like effect of gratitude.  From what I recall of Brave New World, soma was the drug that the inhabitants took to remove the memory of stresses of the day... and feeling grateful has the additional aspect of motivating me to participate in the community.   Gratitude leads to a shuffling of priorities, usually toward making something better for the group, leading to a better life for the people who are dear to me.

Again, gratitude begets more opportunities to be grateful, and that awareness came during Morning Meditation.

It was not the structure or procedure of Morning Meditation that I respect:  it was the effort to go beyond academics and “the transfer for culture” to the next generation.  I respect JC’s awareness of the teenager’s limited capacity to absorb new information that he’s initially not interested in.   Morning Meditation was one way to sneak up on the teenager and surprise him.   

Does this composition reflect the feelings of (a) the young person you were when you were sent away to a Swiss boarding school,
(b) the feelings of the older, more mature person you have now become.   REPLY:  This essay reflects the thoughts of the older person.  The teenager was happy to go skiing every day.

Steve Conger
applicant to the John Corlette Society.

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I thought I knew well what Aiglon taught but I was surprised to read the full contents of one of J.C’s recently released Graduation addresses.  I truly wish I had heard all those ideas when I first came to Aiglon.  I think it would have made a difference to know whyAiglon was the way it was, rather than face a set of rules and a code of conduct that was seemingly imposed on us as students. Most of the time, I thought those rules were meant for the teachers rather than for the benefit of the students.  I have come to very much appreciate this philosophy as an adult who can completely comprehend the holistic approach J.C. had so thoroughly thought out.

Times have changed, but just about every concept J.C. deliberated is as valid today as it was back when he founded the school. Perhaps more so in the complicated and material world we live in. My qualms are not with his vision but rather in how it was conveyed to the student body and for this I would suggest some modifications.

I enjoyed the calming effect of the morning’s meditations.  I thought some of the ideas expressed were extraordinary; some quite memorable and controversial. (Timothy Stunt’s meditation regarding giving birthday gifts to all of our friends instead of the other way around comes to mind!) Of course, the subject of the meditation could often be lost depending on the eloquence or tone of the speaker… However, from there we were sent off to our classes and plunged into academics and exercise and we often forgot about Meditation as our busy lives engulfed us.  Perhaps Meditation was sometimes used as a means to convey the school’s values. For that, I would propose the school teach these same values in the small classroom setting, in a short participatory class later in the day. This would probably require the Meditation speaker to submit in writing his or her elected or chosen meditation. It would be up to the individual teachers to come up with the subject to be emphasized. Perhaps once a day, isn’t feasible, but once a week would be.

When I teach larger classes I break my students into smaller groups to work out problems or come up with, for example, grammatically correct sentences. I make sure everyone has a chance to be with someone who is better at a task and someone who is struggling. I try not to be too obvious about it and I switch the mixes. I circle the room, making myself available for questions or help and then have each group come up with their ideas or solutions. Students gain confidence in small groups and it makes them feel great when they can participate and solve problems together. Students also learn to constantly reach for higher goals, something Aiglon has always done well with on the physical side but I'm not sure how effective it has been in other ways in the short term.

I wonder about what effect having older students mentoring younger students for a term would have on the student body. The older or higher ranking student would become invested in the progress of the younger/ lower ranking student and the younger/ lower ranking student could have someone to talk to or express difficulties to. The older/ higher ranking student would have faculty members to consult without reporting on the younger student’s progress. I know there were faculty members I admired more than others. I once had the courage to go and see Group Captain with one of my problems and I will never forget the effect it had on me to be respectfully heard by someone I admired tremendously already and even more afterwards.

This brings me to another one of the core values of Aiglon that remained with me thanks to David Rhodes:  it was crucial to learn to get along with all different nationalities, creeds, personalities, mental abilities, apparent wealth and status.  These values were taught at home but I struggled with them.

David’s proposed exercise is another way to get students to learn about Aiglon values. A non-graded but corrected essay could be written about what current students value the most at Aiglon each year in their English classes.

One by- product of an Aiglon education is that no matter what else we may have gotten out of our expeditions we all developed a lifelong reverence for Nature and its awesome beauty. I would propose a yearly contest for students in which they could share the creative products of their experiences whether in essay, photographic or artistic format visible to all in a display in the Meditation Hall.

My whole proposal is to get Aiglon students to actively invest in their education while they are there, not just when they mature to the age when they understand long-term consequences, so they may appreciate the immediate worth of their education and still continue to reap its benefits throughout their lives.

All the best,

Elaine De Martin-Webster



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