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Milford Blog: The Hammer

 “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”  Abraham Maslow

fountain Have you ever watched a group of people who share a common language gather together?  I need you to erase the image that immediately formed in your mind. I’m not talking about English, Chinese, Spanish, French, Korean, or Patois.  I’m referring to the language of their profession or interests.  Social Media experts speak differently than doctors, teachers speak differently than marketers, farmers speak differently than fuel engineers, and hunters share a language that outsiders simply can’t relate to.  In fact, we can go a level deeper and say that each of these affinity groups sees the world through a lens that heightens and clouds various viewpoints.  Scientist and Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, named this narrow concept the law of the instrument - defined as the over-reliance of a given tool.  We believe that a liberal arts education can protect us from such a narrow view.


As the reality of the new school year sets in, it serves us well to reflect on the process Maclay employs as it fashions and molds tomorrow’s contributing citizens and dynamic leaders.  Central to our belief in our mission as a school and what we strive to do is deliver, “…a liberal arts education...with a balance of discipline and freedom.”  


We do not view liberal arts as a political philosophy, nor do we view it in its Medieval construct that dealt strictly with language, literature, philosophy, science, and mathematics.  Nor is it used only to produce graduates with general knowledge of all subjects.  Liberal Arts, as we see it, is a tool used to learn the languages of various disciplines in a way that allows us to understand fundamental truths and think at higher levels. We use this system of multi-cognitive, multi-lingual, multi-perspective education to build problem solvers who can critically think through issues and find solutions.


Probing deeply into history, and training our students to speak and think like historians provides them with the skill set to wade through the facts and perspectives to find the truth.  Concurrently, digging into the literature of the past helps to understand the mindsets, misgivings, and biases of the authors and populace. This helps us relate to what we see, read, feel, and respond to today. Through the study of art and how societies expressed themselves, their fears, triumphs, and beliefs, we can better understand how we can express ourselves and our beliefs to others in endless formats.  Learning how the languages of a mathematician and a scientist help make sense of how our world and universe work, we can leverage those to the betterment of ourselves and our fellow man, and appreciate the universality of these languages across the globe.


Add to these subjects:  technology, performing arts, sports, community service, cultural studies, honor code, etc.  Each of these areas carries with it its own language, its own perspective of understanding the world and how it can, if mastered, co-exist with the other languages to provide an uncommon piercing vision and understanding for our students and graduates.  


 My opinion about the world languages we teach is that each student should study the language to fluency, to a place where if a student found her/himself in a foreign land, he or she could function well with the language and understand the cultural norms.  Likewise, we should expect our students to not only skim the surface of our classes to simply gain a cursory understanding of the richness each discipline offers, but also to be able to carry those deeper understandings with them well into their futures.                


Our Lower school teachers have expertise in many disciplines and do the amazing work of speaking many languages each day while teaching countless softer skills our students need to be good citizens of the school and the world.  Greater specialization and deeper thinking happen in the Middle school, and in the Upper School, the students are pushed to think and reason deeply in each discipline.


Ultimately, all of these thought patterns and languages must coalesce in our students’ minds so they can out-think, out-reason, out-figure, and ultimately out-perform.  Each school has its own focus and methodology as it works toward fulfilling their portrait of a graduate.  We believe Maclay students are better suited for college and life when they are fluent in the ability to move around an issue and see it from multiple perspectives.  If you are a nail, it is fine if your only partner is a hammer.  However, our graduates’ future partners - families, communities, country, and world - deserve and need more.