I’m no physicist, and my eyes glaze over at the very mention of general relativity and quantum mechanics. This said, I do have my own little working “theory of everything” (TOE). I say ‘working’ theory because I’m working on it. It remains a moving target. Every new day brings new perspective to my view of the world.
Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein would contend that every thing in the physical universe is connected to every other thing in the physical universe. I couldn’t and wouldn’t argue with that contention. My own theory of everything, however, pays more attention to the non-physical aspects of our world.
Everything in my theory-of-everything world is connected. These points of connection vary in degree, of course, and I must take care to retain my sanity with focus on those people and things and notions closest to me. All the while, a great number of questions repeatedly leap in front of me. What is closest to me? Why is this closer to me than that? Should it be? Do I need to make adjustments in what I allow close to me? How many things and people and notions do I need to consider to both acquire good understanding of my world and at the same time stay functional? Is it important to have a personal ‘theory’ of everything? If yes, why?
Many schools I’ve visited pay particular attention to the three human essences of mind, body, and spirit. This trinity assumes an important role in how we raise our children, be it from a religious or non-religious viewpoint. No matter which angle you take… I see the “fall of humankind” as the severing of these three ‘consubstantial’ essences one from each other and, of course, a concomitant loss of balance and equilibrium. The journey of mankind, nay, my own personal journey, is encapsulated in the imperfect and inconsistent effort to regain a place of balance, and to re-fuse a disjointed trinity of essences. Ambitious, but necessary just the same.
This is a simple aspirational model. The concept is not far-reaching, though impossible to reach. It gets even more interesting when I bring in life and world elements from outside of myself. The task is to balance and fuse together my own mind, body, and spirit, and to do so while taking the world outside of ‘me’ into account. My wife, my children, my extended family, my neighbours, fellow villagers… and so on, everyone has a place. Can I be in a place of equilibrium if my wife and children are not? What about my neighbours? What about people suffering on the other side of the world? Where do I draw the line of consideration? Can there be such a line?
If every community I connect to, if every network I touch, if every sphere in my experience is connected, all to each other, and all to me, how do I function? How do I fit? What is my purpose, my meaning? What is my small place in this very large world?
These and many more, are questions we must all ask of ourselves. They are also questions we should encourage in our children and our students. Failure in this is the ultimate failure.
Southridge School, in Surrey, British Columbia, adopted a tagline more than a decade ago: “We are all one.” That pretty much captures the central notion of what I’m describing. In terms more familiar to some, E pluribus unum. In our polarized world, as challenging as it may seem to even contemplate such a notion, E pluribus unum remains the aspiration of all humankind. Or does it? Is it real or is it just window dressing? Do I live the part? Is it all talk and no walk? Do I make any effort at all to operationalize this notion? Or am I too distracted and preoccupied by worldly matters to pay appropriate attention? Do the objects of my attention belong? Do I belong? If yes, to what?
In short, my current ruminations centre on the question: In my theory of everything, what are the key components, the driving factors, that most contribute to the creation of community and to a sense of belonging to that community, whatever it is? In the spirit of Hawking and Einstein, how do I build a model in aid of understanding the multitude of variables that most contribute to both individual student well-being and the well-being of the community at large? I cannot imagine one existing without the other.
Can these matters be measured? I believe they can.
John Gulla (Google him), Steve Piltch (Google him), and I have recently announced a major student survey project set to be launched in November of this year. We’ve named the project, Making a difference: Community and Belonging. We hope to include 100s of independent schools in this free survey, comprised of 42 questions. A little over two weeks after announcing the project, we already stand at 75 schools signed on, representing more than 30,000 students. Our hope is to make a difference by giving voice to students in very large numbers. Our hope is to learn much about students and their communities from the study of their feelings – feelings of safety, of belonging, of engagement, and of preparedness, both academic and non-academic. Feelings, indeed, can be measured.
I’ve asked many of these 42 questions in more than 100 student surveys over the past 25 years. Two of these measures are entirely new to me, however, introduced by one of our key steering group contributors. They are of the agree/disagree format (1=strongly disagree; 5=strongly agree). They are:
I feel that I gain meaningful positive value from being a member of the school community.
I feel that I make a meaningful positive contribution to the experience of others within the school community.
I very much look forward to studying student responses to these two measures, and more particularly, how these ratings correlate to the other 40 survey measures. It is my hope that this study will help to address some of the many questions I’ve posed, including why it is important to have a personal theory of everything.
This, for me, is very exciting stuff. Hopefully, I won’t stub my TOE.