On the Keeping of Others

Keeping Each Other

This past summer I did some blog-keeping.  Having written 830+ posts from 2009 to 2020, I culled out 300+ and organized the remaining 500+ in 12 categories. While placing the posts in their proper categories, it became abundantly clear which topic had been covered more than any other: Brother’s Keeper (now called Each Other’s Keeper or EOK, for short). It wasn’t close. In fact, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I came across one of my posts that was actually a compilation of seven prior posts I had done over the years on BK.  (See below)  Suffice it to say that no other Hyde word or concept has received such treatment.

Brother’s Keeper Reprise – 7 Parts

I suppose this should not be surprising. Hyde students have been debating (sometimes arguing… loudly!) EOK’s merits and shortcomings ever since it attached itself to the Hyde timeline over a half-century ago in a 1970 event known in Hyde lore as “The Bust.” Although generations of Hyde students have laid claim to being the first to speak out against EOK, to veteran faculty the annual scenario plays out like the film Ground Hog Day.

Q: OK, so if resistance to EOK is as old as Hyde itself, what’s new these days? A: Resistance from… parents.  In fact, an anxious parent whose child had been spending a good deal of time in the Dean’s Office recently asked, “Isn’t it enough to follow the rules?” Sensing that our one-word answer — “No” — would not suffice, I Zoomed a Power Point presentation on the topic during our recent 100% on-line Fall Family Weekend.  Here are 10 highlights:

1. Life is Hard – Hyde students typically encounter two stumbling blocks when it comes to getting with the program.  The first is a sense of denial over the acceptance of the simple fact that Life is Hard. (Add the widely varying rates of teenaged frontal lobe development and the drama can really kick into overdrive.)  No one captured this better than U. S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ comment to a whining granddaughter:

“Your problem, my dear, is that you do not accept that life is difficult.  If you would simply accept that it is difficult, it would be so much easier for you.”

Substitute the word “Hyde” for “life” in the Brandeis quote and you’ve got it. Hyde is hard. And nothing makes it harder than waiting around hoping for it to get easier.

2. The Other Stumbling Block: Each Other’s Keeper (EOK):  “We help others achieve their best.” Never has such a simple, innocent statement been so controversial. (And if you’re wondering, yes, the two stumbling blocks tend to magnify each other.)

3. EOK is Hyde’s cultural par. As is true with golfers, we may not always play at that level, but that’s the goal.

4. If you’re reading this, you probably went to school where “Cops & Robbers” (C&R) reigned. While there may have been a time in America when it worked, that time is gone.  As I said to the parents: “Cops & Robbers is the ‘horse & buggy’ of school culture and student discipline.”

5. C&R might be an effective method in the fight against gum chewing, tardiness, dress code violations (Remember dress codes?), and smokin’ in the boys’ room, but it’s no match for: cyber-bullying, cutting (not to mention other forms of self harm), binge-and-purging, FOMO, etc.  If we’ve learned anything about how to address these decidedly insidious problems, it’s that some things should not be private. It is both fantasy and folly to believe that kids can sort them out student-to-student.

6. And did I mention that “this is not your grandfather’s marijuana?” Edibles, dabs, juuls, vapes, combined with potencies 10+ times more powerful than the baggies of stalks & stems circulating around c. 1980 school parking lots have made for a whole new ball game, one that laughs in the face of C&R.

7. Although characterized as a harsh concept, EOK demands a foundation of profound forgiveness. Many years ago, after presenting on BK at a conference, the head of a prestigious New England boarding school approached me. Intrigued, he inquired, “What would it take for my school to adopt BK?” I replied, “Are you prepared to abandon your expulsion policy?”  He answered, “No.”  I responded, “You couldn’t.”  EOK is a wholistic ethic. It’s not like adding a new set of speakers to your stereo.

8. The Problems You Don’t Have – Recent headlines and newscasts have blared stories of heart-wrenching incidents of sexual abuse — both student-on-student and adult-on-student — that have occurred, sometimes in repeating patterns, at some of America’s most prestigious boarding schools.  For me, the most troubling aspect of these incidents is the sheer number of people on these respective campuses who were aware of these behaviors while they were occurring. In some cases, they were even conducted under the auspices of annual traditions known to the students but kept secret from the adults. A heathy and vibrant EOK culture makes it very hard for such behaviors to survive. Stepping on a timeless quote, Stephen Covey wrote, “Light is the greatest disinfectant in nature and also in organizations.” I’ll step on Covey’s stepped-on quote by piggy-backing with: “… and schools.”

9. Lest anyone accuse me of claiming a moral high ground with #8, Hyde is not immune to unacceptable or abhorrent behaviors.  We’ve had our share of both.  However, when our EOK culture approaches par, we have seen that it is very hard for such behaviors to take root and multiply.  Furthermore, responding to such threats with C&R is tantamount to bringing a pea shooter to armed combat.

10. During the Q&A part of a “Return of the Recent Alums” forum, a Hyde student pointedly asked the alums, “OK. No BS… Do you really do Brother’s Keeper in college?”  An alum replied, “Definitely.”  The others nodded in agreement.  The questioner (a newer student who was anything but a fan of BK) and the “answerer” (an alum who, having once been a Hyde student, could empathize and identify with the questioner’s attitudes about BK) were two ships passing in the night.  The student, still in the early stages of understanding, meant, When you see kids breaking rules, do you turn them in? The alum, thinking on a deeper level (and having been knocked on his tail a time or two since graduating from Hyde), observed that college becomes both easier and productive once you establish a network consisting of a productive peer group that will both support and challenge you.  And that, my friends, is the point.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld