The Rev. F. Washington Jarvis, who for 30 years was the headmaster of Roxbury Latin School, an independent school in Boston that was founded in 1645, has died, the school announced over the weekend.
I did not know Jarvis, but I know quite a few people who went through that school when he ran it, and parents who chose it for their boys, and they are uniformly impressive. Jarvis is the author of a book of collected speeches, With Love And Prayers: A Headmaster Speaks To The Next Generation. In the book and in other works, he makes the point that intelligence is not the same as wisdom, and that education is about character, meaning, virtue, even God, as much as about analysis. Here is Jarvis from a 2009 speech he gave in New Zealand:
We need to move from analysis to synthesis. We still cling to the world-view of the 18th Century Enlightenment. We still credulously labor under the faulty assumption that the highest form of mental activity is analysis. Despite the horrors of the past century – and the potential horrors that cloud our future – we cling to a naive trust in the infallibility of human reason. The 21st Century secularist goes on echoing the 18thth Century shibboleth that "Man has come of age" and can banish superstitions such as religion. But this 18th century world-view is no longer adequate for our time.
We increasingly realize that we do not discover truth principally by analysis or by deconstruction. My own specialty is art history, and last summer I went again to Chartres Cathedral in France. For many years I have lectured on its great stained-glass windows. But you cannot discover the essence of a Chartres window by analysis: by tearing it down into all the small pieces of glass that make it up. You find out the essence – the beauty, the truth – of a window by looking at the whole window. A Chartres window is far, far greater than the sum of its parts. And our response to the glass at Chartres is not merely rational. We respond with our whole being, not just our minds. We are moved emotionally and spiritually – in the same way we are moved by a great piece of music.
A Chartres window – like great music — calls us not to analysis but to surrender. Its beauty compels not just our minds but our whole being. Great art and music leave us in a state of ecstatic wonder. The experience of the Living God likewise compels awe and surrender.
Last Wednesday, when I arrived in Auckland from Los Angeles, I sat down at a bar and quietly asked if there was a New Zealand beer.
"There is," said one of the men, "and I am drinking it." He then handed me his empty bottle of Steinlager. I jet-laggedly fondled the bottle, and the man finally said, "Look mate, if you want to find out what our beer tastes like don't read the list of ingredients. For God's sake, man, Taste it." That, of course, is how you experience religion! You don't observe it and analyze it, you drink it in, you taste it!
... Boys don't want to be coddled; they want to be challenged....
It is not about the subject we teach; it's about us. Boys do not learn subjects. Boys learn teachers. They will forget most the stuff you teach them, but they won't forget you – your stories, and the values you convey by the way you live. I always tell new headmasters, "The most important thing you do is to bend down and pick up trash when you see it on your campus. If you don't, they won't. If you do, they just might." Boys notice every detail of our lives. Boys are dangerously observant spies.
Try conveying all that to students in a government run school. Not impossible, necessarily, but difficult. Not that it's easy at an independent school either, but at least, as Jarvis showed, it's possible.