We live in a rapidly changing world. Bill Gates once said, "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist and best selling author, expressed it another way: "Technology is now accelerating at a pace the average human cannot keep up with.”That was in 2016.
It is no secret that the world is experiencing rapid change, and at a faster rate than at any other time in history. It makes me consider that a favorite aphorism of our founder, Mrs. M. Crist Fleming ("Times change, values don't."), is perhaps even more relevant today.
Mrs. Fleming believed in the beauty of human civilization; of art, decorum, personal deportment, manners, and respect. She treated the gardener and the caretaker with the same smile and respect she accorded a diplomat. She believed that opening doors for others, taking time to greet one another, and celebrating both achievement and effort was important.
There is a famous story about a time when her automobile broke down on the Italian autostrada. She discovered an emergency call box by the road with three buttons: one for fire, one for ambulance, and one for police. The buttons were labeled in Italian, of course, so not knowing which one to call, she pressed all three. When the police, ambulance, and firefighters all arrived and asked, "What seems to be the problem?" she coyly responded, "Well, if I knew that, I wouldn't have needed to call you." Within minutes, she had pulled her traveling beverage case from the back of the car and mixed Old Fashioneds (her favorite whiskey-based cocktail) for all the service men. It turned into a roadside party.
You may be asking, what does any of this have to do with opening a new school? Well, it is because we honor our founder, her vigor and humor,and the ideas and virtues she held dear. Her success in developing some of the world's best international schools was for many years driven by her own indomitable spirit and indefatigable charisma.
She knew that treating people well was not only the best way to get things done, but also the right way to conduct oneself in civil society. She also recognized that societal norms and expectations were fragile and changing--and not always for the better.
Our job as educators is to hold our students to not just the high expectations we have for them, but also to the expectations they should have for themselves and for others. We must expect and teach to these ideals. If students are allowed to be slovenly, narcissistic, ill mannered, crass bullies, those actions will become habits.
We must teach them to conduct themselves with valor, virtue, and respect for self and others; and to become good citizens. And of course, we must do all this with care. That was another of Mrs. Fleming's virtues: care for others.
The world has evolved since Mrs. Fleming opened the first TASIS campus in Switzerland. But it has also moved in retrograde; that is, many of the hazardous lessons mankind should have learned in past generations are being repeated. In many ways, the world is becoming less friendly and respectful, and more divided. Politicians and tyrants are spreading xenophobia and hate. The strong are abusing the weak.
But we can't despair. The next generations have an opportunity to change the world and make it a better place. Our planet will need their help. As educators, we have an obligation to prepare them for this role and to provide the foundation for young people to become informed, empathetic, courageous leaders with ethical foundations. Leaders who do good and know what good is. Science without ethics is a dangerous mix; leadership without values is even more so. Mrs. Fleming knew that, and it's why she said, "Times change, values don't."