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Dear Kent School Community,

I have a confession to make: when I was teaching United States History to Kent School students almost thirty years ago, I failed. I did not fully guide my students in understanding how political passion could give rise to violence or how demagoguery could exist in an enlightened society.

The case of Preston Brooks physically beating fellow Senator Charles Sumner over the issue of slavery on the Senate floor in 1856 was simply an artifact of a different time. Such a thing could not be possible today.

Similarly, in the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s perpetuation of the single, false narrative of widespread communism in the United States government and the fear-based power it gave him were things of the past that would never be tolerated today. We are too smart to be led in such a way.

Looking back on it now, I taught from the naïve assumption that the trajectory of human development naturally arcs toward progress and that history viewed from this perspective is a story of our continual evolution toward betterment.

I reflected on this yesterday as I watched, as many of you likely did, rioters breach security and vandalize the United States Capitol. In the coming days, weeks, months, and indeed years, historians, sociologists, and political scientists will analyze this moment in history. There is no doubt they will offer a variety of compelling explanations for why it occurred. For me, and I believe for the entire Kent School community, we need not wait for their analysis. The chief lesson is obvious: democracy is fragile and should never be taken for granted. It takes work to maintain.

I want to be clear: yes, democracy describes a system of government, but more importantly for us, it describes a way of living together. A way of living together that values inclusivity, diversity in all its forms, the free exchange of ideas, respect for all voices, and an openness to seeing and understanding another’s perspective. I mention these values and their underpinning in empathy because these are the foundations of Kent School. They are not unfamiliar to us; they are part of us.

Like the disheartening examples of persistent racial injustice this summer, yesterday’s assault on democracy should not discourage us. Rather, it should strengthen our commitment to the School’s values.

This Fall I challenged us to be the kind of community that could be an example for other communities to follow. I am excited, as I hope you are, about recommitting ourselves to doing this good work. It is clear the world could benefit from our example.

I cannot wait for your return on February 1.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your time away and that the earliest days of 2021 have been filled with joy, relaxation, and family.

Michael G. Hirschfeld

  • Head of School
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