Founder Tom Simpson Speaks to the Future of Key

An excerpt from the History of Key School Panel

Moderator Charlie Flanagan: Tom, when you look ahead fifty years, what particular element of your original vision do you hope will still be part of the school you started?

Tom Simpson: Well, once a founder, always a founder, and looking ahead, I’ve got some ideas…some thoughts I’d like to share.

I met with a representative group of the Upper School and had a wonderful conversation on the question of “then” and “now,” and I came out of it totally convinced that their vision of the School was very close to the vision we had at the outset, and that the right formulation of that is: “then is now.” That is, the spirit of the School at the outset is the very spirit of the School that I was seeing—not just attested to in words, but with students jumping up around the table to say, “Yes, that’s it! This is just where we are. It’s a school we love, we love learning, we want to be here, to do this.” And, I thought, well, with a platform like this, it’s serious business to think what the next fifty years might entail.

It seems to me, one of the ways the world has changed out from underneath us since those first days is the Internet. It’s a very important component of the liberal education of young people in the modern world. Everybody is confronted by its challenges in that it is creating a kind of global community that nobody knows quite what to do with. It’s full of possibilities, full of hazards for learning because it distracts as soon as it gets its tentacles into us. It seems to me that a real challenge for The Key School, moving up from this point, is to lead the way in utilizing the Internet as a serious learning instrument, which it certainly can be, and to avoid all the distractions and craziness and the fragmentation that comes with the sound bites. I think that this is a very serious task because the world isn’t confronting it very successfully and Key School has an opportunity to do it.

Another thing that the modern world is confronted with is large, global, interactive systems. We weren’t thinking about the environment in any way except nature studies, I think, in the old days. Now we know that the atmosphere, the earth, the seas are interconnected in ways that nobody can fully analyze but which are extremely important to learn to handle. I think that’s a challenge to teachers and to learners in this coming period. And this School is marvelously well prepared to address that. Bay Studies is something we really hadn’t thought of in those terms at all. We knew it was great to have the Bay. That it would be wonderful to utilize it, but we hadn’t thought much about how. The Key School, with its proven competence in dealing with the Bay, is in a marvelous position to act as a leader in teaching students to think more about these highly connected systems in which politics, economics, sociology, biology, physics, chemistry are all inter-woven. This interconnectedness can’t be simply analyzed; it also needs to be understood and mastered.

So, I would set those two goals as very special challenges to Key School for the next fifty years. I leave it to others to come together to figure out if it worked or not.

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

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