As we approach the start of classes for the Fall Term, I am excited for another year’s journey of learning and growth at Trinity-Pawling. For educators, summers provide time for restoration, planning, and eagerness. Schools, especially boarding schools, can be haunting places during the summer. Our campuses are built for the noise and vigor that comes from the energy of young people, as well as those who have chosen professions that help them grow and learn on their journey of becoming.
On a personal note, I marked the end of the last school year with a significant impact on my life; I celebrated the Commencement of the Class of 2023 with my old hip and led the final faculty meeting of the year, ten days later, with a new one. Accordingly, my summer was largely defined by this new transition. On the upside, I was almost immediately pain-free after the surgery. On the downside, my usual active summer pursuits were significantly limited by my recovery, my doctor, and my physical therapist. On the whole, though, the value and the impact of the upside have made the downside seem insignificant in the larger picture.
One of the unexpected benefits of my surgical recovery has been a deeper awareness of my vulnerability. While coping with the pain of a failing joint over the past two years, this vulnerability was frustrating — it seemed like a weakness to me. During my recovery, the need for a walker to get out of bed underscored my vulnerability. Walking up stairs slowly in the midst of the hustle and bustle of New York City underscored my vulnerability. Having never had any surgical procedure before (other than some minor oral surgery as a 12-year-old), this type of vulnerability was new to me. Yet, I quickly embraced this vulnerability as a strength, rather than a weakness. Coping with the vulnerability was a part of getting stronger and a necessary part of the self-realization process of being able to return to a more fulfilling life. I’m happy to report a full recovery and I’m feeling better than ever.
In his book, Better Boys, Better Men, which was the faculty reading assignment this summer, Andrew Reiner argues for the need to allow boys and men to feel more confident accessing their full range of human emotions, including finding safe spaces to explore and understand their vulnerabilities in positive ways, without having this exploration be seen or experienced as a challenge to their perceptions of their masculinity. In other words, according to Reiner, boys and men need to discover that vulnerability is not a weakness and this discovery is the gateway to embracing their full range of human emotions and a different understanding of their masculinity.
The statistics about boys and men in today’s culture are not encouraging. Whether measured by academic achievement in high school, matriculation and graduation from college, employment longevity, and mental health, boys and men are not faring well as compared to girls and women. While there are many reasons for why this gap between boys/men and girls/women has been widening for the past forty years, there is no disagreement that it exists.
Having led a coeducational independent day school and now an all-boys independent boarding school, I have seen boys grapple with their own vulnerability during the challenging and formative years of adolescence. I have also seen that boys at Trinity-Pawling have a longer runway to pursue this exploration than boys in my former coed school, one that was also highly student-centered. There was always a point beyond which a boy dared not travel on this exploration in a coed school because of a fear of how this exploration might be perceived by others, both girls and other boys.
Our students and their families have chosen Trinity-Pawling School as a place where they will learn and grow on their journey toward becoming independent adults. Not insignificantly, they have decided that this journey will take place, in part, in an all-boys school. They have chosen a school filled with experts on how boys learn best — educators who possess a wealth of experience in helping boys gain a deeper understanding of themselves as learners and young men.
While there are many opportunities for boys to learn and grow at Trinity-Pawling, one of the most important areas of their growth will be in their own self-awareness. They will have many opportunities to explore and nurture their distinctive gifts and talents in a community that values respect and mutuality. They will also be faced with many situations where they will be vulnerable. Rather than seeing such opportunities as challenges, it is our objective at Trinity-Pawling to help them continue to discover that such opportunities are really ones of strength and growth and that this discovery is critical to their own awareness of themselves as young men.
Adolescence is a journey of becoming and part of this journey is learning how to find comfort from discomfort. It is a process where one can discover that challenges and times of vulnerability are not seen as situations to be avoided but embraced as opportunities for strength, learning, and self-awareness.
by William W. Taylor