I’ve long thought that children are adept at learning what adults teach and most adults aren’t teaching what they think they are. When adults are intentional about modelling specific behaviors, about identifying what they believe is valuable and then acting on it – to put in other terms, when adults choose to be the change they want to see in the world – the children around them learn those lessons well.
Judge Memorial in Salt Lake City is justifiably proud of itself. In terms of academics, it has a long and rich tradition of excellence that any school would envy. But perhaps its most distinctive feature – I say this as a Judge grad – is the way in which Judge taught so many lessons that weren’t on the curriculum.
One year, Judge had a dance at what is now the Joseph Smith Memorial building but then was the Hotel Utah (yeah, I’m forty, so deal with it). A group of students rented rooms upstairs thinking that the dance got out late, it was winter, roads might be bad, they should sleep there to be safe. Well, their parents were thinking that. The students, in the way students always do, managed to come into possession of a large quantify of alcohol and proceeded to have a raucous and somewhat unrestrained party. Judget was informed we were no longer welcome at the Hotel Utah.
Given the a variety of options, the administration chose perhaps the most interesting. They called an assembly of all the students, explained what had happened and then said, “Okay, you guys caused the problem. How are you going to fix it? Here’s a microphone, come up and speak your piece.”
I honestly don’t recall how many students spoke or exactly what was said (though one of my peer’s comments stands out – she used the time as an opportunity to point out that social cliques were part of the problem; the party at the hotel wasn’t all students, it wasn’t even a majority, it was one very specific clique whose behavior now painted all of us negatively). For the most part, the faculty and staff sat back and let the student body hash out the situation.
Palmer DePaulis (Salt Lake Mayor from 1985 to 1992) was affiliated with Judge. The Hotel Utah incident had the potential to reflect negatively on the city’s mayor. The administration though didn’t berate, didn’t belittle; they laid out the problem and trusted the students to arrive at a solution.
Judge’s leaders at the time spoke frequently about the Judge Community – that it wasn’t just students and faculty, it was parents and alums and prospective students. The Judge Community taught so much more than was in the classroom.
One key lesson was the ability to speak dispassionately about many things, including religion. The religion classes were intelligent, informed, teachers trusted the students to share our opinions, ideas, perspectives without being afraid of what we might say. With one exception (a lay teacher), the teachers taught the values not the dogma of faith; they imbued their lessons with the perspective that faith isn’t about the words you say but the deeds you do, that to profess to care for the poor but do nothing to care for the poor is a violation of one’s faith.
Judge’s leaders also taught an important lesson about respect. I still recall the day I realized that the teachers respected the students. It was a bit of a shock, coming from a public school in which the teachers daily evinced profound disrespect, even dislike, for most of the students, in which the parents regarded the teachers as enemies. The respect the teachers at Judge felt and demonstrated for the students extended to our parents and vice versa. Respect – and its sibling trust – were integral to the creation of community.
The lesson of community that they taught was a lesson about mutuality, about caring for one another, about trusting in one another without guarantees about outcomes. It wasn’t on the curriculum it was in the air. It was part of the lesson without ever being included on the list of things to be learned.
I realize that perhaps I was at Judge during a unique time, a period in which some mysterious alchemy occurred which maybe hasn’t occurred since then or which happened by accident. Maybe it was just the right combination of personalities and larger forces but I’m not convinced. Attitude and behavior teach the real lessons and it requires attention to detail to teach those lessons and the leaders at Judge taught those lessons – respect, trust, community. And teaching those lessons isn’t accidental or happenstance.
Here endeth the lesson.