From the Head of School

Beyond Measure

By Patrick T. Gallagher, Head of School

“When a man goes back to look at the house of his childhood, it has always shrunk: there is no instance of such a house being as big as the picture in memory and imagination call for,” Mark Twain wrote to fellow writer William Dean Howells in 1887. 
Recently, I had occasion to visit some of the sites of my own childhood, including my own elementary school. I had not been back in decades. Whether it was the first glimpse of once-familiar buildings or a stroll through halls I had once walked daily, Twain was right: everything seemed much smaller than I had remembered.

Back then, the place felt so large and expansive because it was—for a time, at least—my world. But it was not the world.
Today, University School’s two sites in Shaker Heights and Hunting Valley are—also, for a time—our students’ worlds, as US teachers are piquing boys’ interests, deepening their understandings, and expanding their horizons. They are broadening boys’ sense of themselves and the world. Exploring history across centuries and continents; practicing informed, critical thinking and facilitating civil, constructive dialogue; honing skills, mastering habits, and aspiring to be “young men of character who lead and serve”—the School is alive with examples of the impactful and enduring lessons that graduates will carry with them long past commencement.
One of the most powerful teachers I ever had was Dr. Thomas Sobol. He retired from Teachers College, Columbia University’s graduate school of education, as the Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice in 2006, and passed away in 2015.
Dr. Sobol was quick to point out that school was his life. In his 2013 memoir, My Life in School, he wrote: “Except for three years in the U.S. Army, I have been either a student, a teacher, a school superintendent, a state education commissioner, or a college professor every day since 1936, when I first walked into my neighborhood kindergarten and let go of my mother’s hand.” 
When I had the privilege of learning from and with Dr. Sobol, he was closer to the end of his career than the beginning. A spinal cord disorder confined him to a wheelchair but it in no way limited him. He spoke almost at a whisper, but everyone listened to him. He commanded attention and respect like few others in my life.
In 2007, a year after his retirement, Dr. Sobol was awarded the University’s Medal for Distinguished Service and addressed an audience of graduates, families, and colleagues. “Becoming moral, in my view, is the opposite of restraint and detachment. It requires passionate engagement with other humans, stepping in,” he said, “to all of life's confusion and heartbreak and messiness, and losing one’s self in something larger than one's self."
After decades in every imaginable facet of education, Dr. Sobol suggested education may well be as simple as what we want for our children and grandchildren. Looking at his own granddaughter to stress the reality and the urgency of his point, he said that educators should work for each student
· to learn in an environment where she is safe and supported by the people around her;
· to have unique opportunities to develop her talents;
· to love as much as she can love, to be loved as much as she can be loved;
· to work as hard as she can work;
· to build bridges across generations.

I know Dr. Sobol had given me and so many other students these same gifts he hoped for the future, and I know the teachers of US give them to the boys and young men of our school each and every day. They ensure the experience is larger than any one of us. 
Were I to visit Dr. Sobol’s classroom today, I would not be surprised if, just like my elementary school, it is smaller than I remember. The course was Ethics and Education.  I took many other courses—in law, finance, marketing, cognitive science, and more—which would one day matter to my work as a school leader. No single course, however, meant more to that work than Dr. Sobol’s. It is no surprise that our readings, discussions, and Dr. Sobol himself, continue to loom large for me.
“Shrunk how?” Twain asked of a man’s experience of his childhood home. “Why, to its correct dimensions: the house hasn't altered; this is the first time it has been in focus.” Objectively speaking, this is irrefutable. Height, width, and depth were—and are—the same, ever and always. Nevertheless, I know that if I visit my boyhood school again in the future, I will again have to reconcile the place’s modesty with the meaning of all that happened there. The impact of some places is beyond measure.   

Shaker Heights Campus JUNIOR K – GRADE 8

20701 Brantley Road, Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122
Phone: (216) 321-8260

Hunting Valley Campus GRADES 9 – 12

2785 SOM Center Road, Hunting Valley, Ohio 44022
Phone: (216) 831-2200