My fall article referred to the concept of “human capital,” quoting Marvin Zonis: “Complexity will be the hallmark of our age. The demand everywhere will be for ever higher levels of human capital… The schools that produce it… will be the big winners of our age.”
While most of my waking—and many sleeping—moments are spent imagining how Deerfield can better develop student capital, I was recently treated to two weeks of watching it in action. Few would argue the efficacy of global travel for both developing and revealing human capital, and the thirty students—apparently the largest Global Studies trip in Deerfield’s history—who chose to spend their March break on a concert tour of Seoul and Hong Kong provided a fantastic demonstration. (Here I would be remiss if I did not thank the many parents whose generous faith and support made this trip possible, and so successful.)
Viewed through any lens, our students were great on this trip. Our mission was to “experience the life of artists,” and not surprisingly, students consistently rose to meet this high bar. Surprising, though, was the extent to which they created joy, fun, and deeper relationships with each un-programmed moment, clearly reveling in appreciation, affection, and gratitude for each other. Also surprising were the levels of genuine curiosity and engagement in such activities as conversation with the US Consul General, discussion with North Korean refugees, touring the DMZ, witnessing a private dance performance expressing the plight of “comfort women,” and taking classes in meditation, cooking, and drumming. To each, students readily brought their full attention, eager effort, thoughtful questions, and cultural sensitivity. The tour offered plenty of evidence that our students are emerging, effective global citizens.
Yet, even more impressive was their grace under pressure. They endured a grinding itinerary that featured nine performances in eleven days, almost daily three-hour rehearsals, meeting and collaborating with hundreds of new people, and constant travel that demanded early mornings and late nights. Despite growing fatigue and illness, rehearsals and performances went on as scheduled and (generally) without complaint. Students understood they were there to perform, and that doing so at less than one’s best occasionally came with the artist’s life.
One morning, we arrived at St. Paul’s Coed College—our second straight night of sleep fast/rise early—and people were dragging. Further, upon arriving, our concertmaster had difficulty breathing in the heavy, damp air. He gutted out an early morning performance of the Mendelssohn Quartet for the entire SPCC student body, and then he was off to the hospital. Making matters worse, a first-stand cellist suffered a relapse of digestive distress. Beyond the health concerns, these casualties posed a performance problem—we had another concert that afternoon, on which we were playing the fiendishly difficult Copland Appalachian Spring with our orchestra alone—now with just ten string players—missing two of our leaders. Finally, there was the matter of four violin solos in the Copland that only our concertmaster had ever played. If in February someone had told me we were going to be in this situation, I would have thought seriously about canceling the tour.
But no problem, as it turned out: our second-chair first violinist slid over, took over leadership of the orchestra, and learned the four solos—plus another very tricky one for a piece on which we were collaborating with SPCC—on the spot. The last thing she expected when she woke up that morning, or when she signed on for the tour months earlier, was that she would be called upon to take on new roles just a couple of hours before an important performance, but she gracefully accepted—and proved more than up to—the formidable challenges. In so doing, she enabled us to give our best performance to date of that beautiful piece. She transformed adversity into opportunity.
Afterwards, two of the St. Paul’s music directors came over to express their deep admiration for what she had done. They explained that, while they had a few violinists capable of learning the notes that quickly, none of them would have risked performing under those conditions; they would have been too anxious and scared of making a mistake. And that contrast was stark, especially as many of our performers had come from schools and programs like St. Paul’s.
Our tour repeatedly affirmed that Deerfield students are different, as they consistently exhibited dynamic personalities, and distinctly higher levels of collaboration, devotion to the team, resilience, personal responsibility, passion, and willingness to risk mistakes, even failure. The difference was evident in their interpretations and performances as well; other schools were well prepared and technically polished; Deerfield was in the present and human.
How did our students get this way? Did they self-select into Deerfield’s dynamic, diverse world? Were their adventurous spirits nurtured by our programs? Yes to both, I suspect; but either way, the exemplary student capital on display on tour suggests that Deerfield is indeed a “big winner.”
This is the third of several pieces I hope to contribute to the DPN in an effort to provoke discussion and ultimately achieve alignment between teachers, students, and parents. To best serve our students, we must evolve together as Deerfield’s curriculum evolves in this rapidly changing world. I look forward to your thoughts. –Peter Warsaw