Best-selling author and Oprah Book Club selectee Andre Debus III spoke before a packed audience in the Dodge Room as the second visiting author in the Writers’ Workshop Series last week. Reading from his powerfully told memoir, Townie: A Memoir, Debus recounted scenes from his childhood in unvarnished truth, sprinkling humorous asides throughout the reading. He also facilitated a conversation with his audience, fielding questions about the unique challenges of writing memoirs as well as extemporizing about the art and craft of writing in general.
Debus was variously self-revealing and studiously role-playing, and he delighted in the back and forth with the audience—exclaiming at one point, “Where do you get these kids? They’re brilliant!” after a succession of penetrating questions from our own Writers’ Workshop students. If purpose, passion, and integrity are the three words that resonate from our Mission Statement, then they hold equal sway as credo for aspiring writers.
Debus stated in one of his many eloquent turns of phrase, “writing is an act of deep mining,” and so dig away, Williston students, as you mine for the inner gold of personal expression, creativity, and voice.
Yong Zhao writes in his flat-world book, Catching Up or Leading the Way, that the test-centered educational system in China has a much longer history than most realize. This system has found itself under the microscope, however, as educational leaders in China seek to balance its rigidity with Western (and especially American) flexibility. Ironically, however, Zhao points out that just as the Chinese are exploring ways to include creativity and innovation in their curricula, the United States has been swept up by NCLB, budget cuts, and political maneuvering which has diminished the arts, electives, and creativity in our own educational system.
So it was no surprise when a delegation of parents and students from China visited Williston (with stops at sister institutions Deerfield and Hotchkiss) to see for themselves how and what our students learn in such enviable educational settings. Having attended a bell weather global education conference this past summer hosted by a group of educators from China—the assembled attendees represented a remarkable and disparate group of schools with deans of admission from such places as Yale, Princeton, NYU, and BU, and secondary heads from Eton and Winchester in the UK, and Westville Boys’ High School in South Africa—I was not surprised that Williston was asked to receive a group of visitors from China.
Needless to say, visiting parents and students were very impressed with all they saw: students participating in the arts, community service, athletics, Williston+ academic initiatives; indeed, the totality to the Williston experience. An outgrowth of these visits will surely be cross-cultural experiences that will benefit our students and faculty alike, and I hope that during my upcoming trip to China I will have the chance to reciprocate visits to one or two of the country’s flagship high schools.