November 13, 2019

In one of his New York Times columns last April, David Brooks offered a new name for the times in which we live. Whereas others categorized the last decade or so as the “Age of Information” or the “Internet Age,” Brooks dubbed it an “Era Defined by Fear.” He traces the origin of this to the terrible events of September 11, 2001, the negative implications of the war on terrorism, as well as the growing number of mass shootings in our country.
It is self-evident that we live in a time of great uncertainty. As a result, it is also one of rising anxiety. I see this not only in our own students at Gill, but also at other schools in our area and around the state. Indeed, it would not be a stretch for me to suggest that it is a growing problem across our country.

The research regarding the adverse impact of heightened anxiety in young people (actually, all people) is clear; a high stress environment is not conducive to long-term success, and often it generates a host of health issues, the most serious of which is depression.

In church recently, the sermon was about fear, and the various things we do when we are afraid. Ultimately, they often don’t make us safer and rarely solve the problem. However, it is apparent to me that everyone is wrestling with this issue, not just those who may attend religious services.

Indeed, the notion that we are living in an age of fear, or at the very least a time of great uncertainty, struck a chord within me. In the past few weeks in my various conversations, a sense of general uneasiness seems to underly many of the concerns that were raised. Although most began with the latest events in the Middle East and the chaotic state of our government, all subsequently returned to the life of our school and the impact that these events have had on our students and the GSB community. Many of the conversations have been difficult, even contentious at times.

The mission of Gill St. Bernard’s is to prepare our students for college. It is also to prepare them for a meaningful life. We want our graduates to make a difference in the world and serve the greater good. We cannot make a positive impact if we withdraw, or refrain from difficult conversations about what is happening outside of Gladstone. It is vital that we respectfully engage with others, especially now. In fact, these interactions most often lead to a deeper understanding and a lessening of anxiety. After all, the world is our classroom.

Being a part of a community such as ours provides a safe harbor in a volatile world. Families offer each other support as situations require it. Through our school community, purpose and deeper meaning may be discovered; school is no longer merely a “job to be done.” After all, challenging issues can and should be discussed in the schoolhouse. If not here, where else may they occur?

As a parent, I am regularly reminded that the most important things I can do for my children are to share my values with them and provide for their education. The rest is up to them. The world is certainly a very uncertain place these days. Furthermore, there is much about which to be concerned. Yet, I have no desire to succumb to fear, lest it begin to drive all my decisions and give license to irrationality. Instead, I choose to find meaning, hope and, above all, possibility in my family and our school community. Brook’s antidote to the era of fear, is to “get stuff done” and stop engaging in “overwrought bellowing about the monster in the closet.” It is a simple and practical response, no different than remembering that the longest journey begins with a single step; I agree.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful, and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.