Towards Excellence and Happiness

This week I revisited two Op-Eds from the New York Times that I read well over a year ago.  The first is by David Brooks and the other by Frank Bruni. They are both worth our time because each presents a challenge to educators, parents, leaders and students.  

The Bruni piece, “Best, Brightest — and Saddest” tells the story of a group of teen suicides in the town of Palo Alto, California. According to Bruni, one of the many factors that contributed to the suicides is the fact that the students live in the shadow of Stanford University and feel tremendous pressure from their families, schools and themselves, to excel in everything.  That pressure led a student quoted in the article to state, “We are not teenagers. We are lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition, hatred, and discourages teamwork and genuine learning.”

Brooks used his bi-weekly Op-Ed to discuss the “Moral Bucket List” and his thoughts on how those with inner peace and who “radiate inner light” learn to live with such depth of character and generosity of spirit.  He then creates a list to light a path to such happiness, though he is clear that he does not find such fulfillment with his own life.  Brooks divides virtues in to those that build a good resume and those you hope are said about you at your funeral.  Though it is obvious that the “eulogy virtues”, as he calls them, are more important, he believes that our society, and our educational system, place higher value on the “resume virtues.” The reality that our competitive society often leads us to value the wrong things leads to a lack of fulfillment for most.  

The work of Brooks and Bruni come together in an important way for all parents and educators that provides us a reminder about the importance of our work at EAB.  The pressure to build the “resume virtues” that Brooks discusses leads to the stress and sense of failure that Bruni points to as a cause for the sadness and despair in Palo Alto and other prosperous communities in the United States.  

There has been a tremendous effort in recent years to increase the rigor of the academic program at EAB and build on EAB’s history and tradition to further develop a culture of excellence amongst our teachers, leadership, and, most importantly, our students.  How, then, do we avoid creating a culture where external rewards –  the “resume virtues” – become more important than the internal values that will lead to the ultimate success of happiness, inner-peace and fulfillment?  How do we strive for excellence while still allowing our students to grow and develop in a balanced, healthy way?  

Obviously we don’t have all the answers, but looking to the EAB Learner Profile is a good place to start and the four indicators – Collaborative, Contributing, Engaged and Principled –  must carry great importance if we are to help our students maintain focus on the important characteristics – the “eulogy virtues” – that lead to a healthy, happy, successful life.  Furthermore, the main commitments in the EAB Upper School Honor Code – to live by the guiding principles of responsibility and respect, treat all people with compassion, and in all cases act with honor and integrity – help to build the sense of community and care for others that rejects the competitive, nasty nature of many high-performing environments.  

As parents, educators and students we all have a responsibility to uphold the values of The American School of Brasília so we together continue to build a healthy, balanced school.  

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