Notes on Building Metaphoric Canoes (A Letter to the Student Body)
Dear Stone Students,
Recently, I’ve spoken (poorly) at morning meeting about, well, canoe-building.
Like many of my ideas, this idea I have about canoes is only half-formed -- that it would be really thrilling if a group of students took it upon themselves to use our resources as a kind of platform to, well, build a canoe. I’ve never built a canoe, I don’t know a whole lot about canoe-building, and per the internet canoe-building is pretty difficult and time-consuming -- it’s the kind of project that demands some level of understanding of fluid dynamics but also of hand tools, it’s the kind of project that can be planned on some really amazing 3d software but still involves the guts of an ash tree, it’s the kind of project that connects “21st Century Design Thinking” to monasticism, it’s the kind of thing that just tugs at my heart.
Here I’ll add that, sitting at my kitchen table last night, it occurred to me that building even a bad canoe must be difficult work and also that building a great canoe might be impossible.
But man does canoe-building capture my imagination.
As with all great canoes, this canoe is a metaphor for something else: it’s a metaphor for the kind of complex work -- work which exists for its own sake, work which is an end unto itself -- about which we care most here at Stone. I’ve built a few canoes of my own -- a few have sunk (like the three novels I’ve written which will forever remain unpublished); I also occasionally endeavor to drive students across the country in a school van; I once endeavored to open a school with my closest friends. Each of those metaphoric canoes, including those terrible failed novels, changed my life forever.
You’ve almost certainly heard of this elsewhere, but Google has made a practice of allowing its employees to use 20% of their time to work on, well, anything at all. Any project that captures their imagination, any project that more clearly defines their interest in the world. Because of 20% time Google employees “tinkered” around and invented Gmail, and Google News, and Adsense, and hundreds of other “googly”-projects, and almost certainly thousands of other non-googly projects that made their lives better, richer, and more fulfilling.
More purposeful, more wondrous, more imaginative.
We’re settling into the school year, you’re beginning to find yourselves, you’re beginning to stretch your legs, you’re beginning to want to make and do. I hear whispers of Latin Festival projects, and a recording studio, and a play about Albert Cashier, and -- of course -- the outrigger. Projects that aren't-quite "class projects", projects that won't be graded, projects that define you and your passions and your place in the world -- and I want to hear more. I want to hear about a project you’ve dreamed of completing, I want to hear about this one thing you really want to build, this one place you want to go, the complex work you’d love to spend (a little less than) 20% of your free time working on.
I want to know what your canoe is.
And I want to help you make it.
So give it some thought, and then drop by my office, and let’s maybe drink a cup of coffee, and let’s definitely talk canoes.
With so much thanks for all that you bring to your school,
Head of School