I was once honored to join a colleague at Boston’s Roxbury Latin School to co-present at the Annual Conference of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition. We discussed the balance, and sometimes the tension, between tradition and innovation at our schools, in particular, and at boys’ schools, in general.
The setting seemed a fitting one for our topic. The conference that year was held in England. The City of London School hosted at its campus on the River Thames, with landmarks old (like St. Paul’s Cathedral) and new (like the Millennium Bridge) nearby. Evidence of both tradition and innovation was all around us.
At the end of the conference was a field trip for the educators who attended. We visited Eton College, a school for boys founded in 1440 on a stunning campus not far from Windsor Castle. Tradition and innovation would come up again and again, like when our guide explained that the school was slow to adopt the IT infrastructure most of our schools by then took for granted. Laws concerning the preservation of historic buildings had been barriers to installing wires, cables, servers, and more. Of course, in time, the advance of wireless technology helped bring the fifteenth-century school more fully into the twenty-first century without much damage.
In 2005, workers remodeling an office at Eton made a discovery. Behind wood paneling in place since 1701, according to historians, was a mural later dated to the early sixteenth century. The mural depicts a teacher in front of his students, and features a quotation from an ancient Roman educator, Quintilian: VIRTUS PRECEPTORIS EST INGENIORUM NOTARE DISCRIMINA – “The excellence of the teacher is to note the difference of talents of students.”
Many were surprised even more by the quotation than by the mural. “Centuries later,” said Eton Headmaster Tony Little, “we think of differentiation as something new!” The British newspaper The Times responded with similar surprise in an article titled “Nothing old school about Eton’s lost mural.”
One of my favorite things about working at US is the expertise of our faculty, and I found myself in the enviable place of US students as I discussed the mural recently with colleagues. Mr. Peter Millett, teacher of classics and English at US since 2011, gave me an impromptu lesson on the source, Quintilian. The Eton mural cuts off the full sentence, he told me, which (in his translation) adds that the excellent teacher also comes to “know where students’ natural disposition brings them.” He also translated the next sentence: “There is in this an unbelievable variety.”
I was glad for Mr. Millett’s explanation and expansion. The additional context illustrates so much of what the very best teachers – and very best schools – do at US, Roxbury Latin, Eton, or anywhere. To know where students are going, you first must know where they are. This tenet is foundational at US, “where each boy is known and loved.” From morning circle in the Lower School to family-style lunches with sponsors in the Upper School, teachers and students come to know one another closely and develop lifelong relationships.
“Incredible variety”, too, describes the paths boys and young men of US forge today, and features in this issue reflect our faculty’s multifaceted work with our students in pursuit of excellence. Starting with science, new and expanded opportunities provide students of all ages the chance for a deeper dive into a scientific or technological interest. The inaugural Boyce Award for Innovation encourages and recognizes students for independent projects created in the STEAMworks lab at the Shaker Campus, the new Blood & Guts Club allows curious and non-squeamish boys an up-close look at what’s under our skin, and forward-thinking Computer Science classes challenge our students to think in new ways as they head to their future.
From these deep dives into science to the shallower dives from a starting block or the twisting dives off a board, we celebrate the seventh state championship victory of our varsity Swimming and Diving Team. In a year unlike any other, they won in a way unlike any other.
In Latin or in English, in academics or athletics, in the first century or the twenty-first, what distinguishes students’ experiences in school is timeless. They are supported by adults who care about their disciplines but even more about their students. They are encouraged to reach their potential, often through challenge and even despite failure. They are met where they are and taken further than they ever thought they could go.
And oh, the places they’ll go! In these pages, too, we chronicle the signature field trip experiences that cap our students’ fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth-grade years. These trips had been suspended since 2020, but thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our teachers and the invaluable partnership with our families, they made their return in the spring of 2022. Tradition and innovation in the balance, these long-standing trips were reimagined and reinstated.
I had attempted to join up with the whaling trip. In an unfortunate sign of the times, travel woes had grounded me en route at Newark International Airport. Back in Cleveland days later, however, I was able to be at the Shaker Campus to greet the boys as the buses returned. Fifth graders had broken out into song – “Hail University!” – as the buses rounded the corner to enter the front circle. I was inspired by their example, heartened by the stories of their trips, and excited for all they will take with them one day as US alumni.
It was a timeless moment.