50th Anniversary Seminar Series

The seminar series, a centerpiece of Key’s 50th Anniversary celebration, explored the idea of “community” through various lenses and reinforced the centrality of this idea to the entire Key School experience. Planning for the seminar series started well in advance of the 2008-2009 academic year with co-chairs Dan Schoos and Harry Ivrey ’71 gathering Middle and Upper School faculty members Wendy Braithwaite, Karen Graff, Babette Leshinsky, Bob McCarthy, Brian Michaels, Lisa Paddock, Carol Reed, Lee Schreitz ‘70, and Pilar Wyman to plan and shepherd the seminars. This creative and diligent planning committee established the theme and developed the seminars, designed to expand our understanding of community—from a small setting, such as a town or school, to the community of our nation, to the community humans make with nature.

The first of the three seminars was held in September to take advantage of the Upper School’s summer reading assignment, Gaviotas: A Village To Reinvent the World, by journalist Alan Weisman. Carved out of the harsh, dry savanna of eastern Colombia, the village of Gaviotas was started in the 1970s by an eclectic team of visionaries, scientists, artists, musicians, native Indians, and others who came together to apply practical ideas about sustainable development and technology to solve the numerous challenges they faced in building and maintaining their community. Much like Key’s Upper School, the social fabric of Gaviotas is woven not from long lists of regulations, but from a shared sense of common values and trust; as one Gaviotan reports, “Social rules here are unwritten, but everyone respects and observes them.” Connections like these helped to nurture seminar discussions among the Upper School students, faculty and parents as they explored how a community can sustain its values over time, and what common issues were faced by the founders of Gaviotas and the founders of Key School.

The next seminar focused on the idea of America as a community, and involved the entire Middle and Upper Schools in a memorable February day that combined art, music, dance, and discussion. The seminars used the iconic American images gathered by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ “Picturing America” project. Students in grades five through twelve were mixed together in seminar groups co-led by Upper School students and Middle and Upper School faculty members for discussions about images ranging from Winslow Homer’s “The Veteran in a New Field” to Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater” house, and from Gilbert Stuart’s Lansdowne portrait of George Washington to Martin Puryear’s installation, “Ladder for Booker T. Washington.” In the weeks prior to this seminar, the students had been introduced to the images and then voted for their top choices, so that they could be placed in a seminar that would match their interest. While half the group took part in the seminars, exploring questions such as how an artist reflects the values of our nation in the images or artifacts that he or she creates, the remaining half participated in contra dancing, led by members of the Annapolis Traditional Dance Society. The groups then switched activities. The morning’s events ended with a dessert provided by the 50th Anniversary event organizers. Feedback was unanimously positive, with Middle School science teacher and parent Keith Porterfield observing, “I was thrilled to hear from [my Middle School students] that they were comfortable enough to take the risk of sharing thoughts in their seminar groups.” Upper School teacher Jayne Karsten said, “It was truly a joy to witness so many kids of all ages having so much fun dancing.” That evening, the seminars were offered to parents and alumni, as well.

Timed to coincide with the Annapolis Book Festival, the third and final seminar investigated mankind’s relationship with nature. For as long as humans have inhabited the earth, we have struggled with our connection to the land around us. At times adversarial, at times collaborative, our relationship with nature has, in turn, a powerful influence in shaping our relationships with one another and how we build communities. Using excerpts from the Bible’s Book of Genesis (1.23-31), Emerson’s essay Nature, and “Thinking Like a Mountain” from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, Key’s Outdoor Education Director Brian Michaels led a seminar of interested Book Festival attendees to explore questions such as: “Is humanity a blight on nature?”; “Is our role to conquer or tame the natural world?”; “Should we strive to live in harmony with nature?”

The Seminar Series was a marvelous venue in which to honor Key School’s past and present, and sowed the seeds for future events of a similar nature. As Bob McCarthy, an Upper School humanities teacher and member of the seminar planning group, explained, “This event truly reflects the importance we place on interdisciplinary learning, integrating ideas and topics from a wide variety of genres and perspectives.” The seminar planning group’s co-leader, Dan Schoos, added, “Key’s roots extend to the seminar tradition central to the experiences of our founders from St. John’s College; how fitting that in our Anniversary year we featured the St. John’s style seminar as a focal point of our celebrations.” More seminars are in the planning stages for 2009-2010 and beyond, and perhaps in the 2058-2059 school year, Key will revisit some of the same memorable seminar topics and events of this past year as it celebrates Key’s 100th.

Written in The Key Review - 50th Anniversary Issue 2008-2009.

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