Billy's Blog

Archives - September 2018

Wise words to follow, even if they're from a Spurs rival

September 27, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

“Be yourself. Be good, and try to be great-but always be yourself.”
- Ariel Johnson Lin, paraphrased by Stephen Curry

Ok, I am going out on a limb here with this week’s blog, and it’s not because the topic is particularly controversial. (At least, I hope it won’t be.) I know that I’m now a proud Spurs fan and join my fellow San Antonians in cheering for the Silver and Black, but I read a piece by Stephen Curry last week and I wanted to share it with you. That’s right- Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. We admire his skill in raining down threes and take some pride that his coach, Steve Kerr, is a former Spur, even though we want his team to lose.

Curry’s essay has nothing to do with basketball, so please follow the link and read it:

In this piece, Curry reflects on parenthood, and in particularly bringing up girls in a world where a pay gap still exists between men and women doing the same job. Curry begins by revelling in the fact that his daughter still looks up to her parents and wants to be like them. His words had me remembering when our children wanted to be like us before they began to individuate and figure out that there may be other things they wish to do and be. Like her dad, Curry’s daughter plays basketball and like her mom, she loves to cook. He knows that she will change as she grows older, but he’s going to enjoy this fleeting moment in time.

Nevertheless, Curry also realizes that in today’s world, no matter what his daughter does, she will make less than her male counterparts doing similar work. Curry declares this type of pay structure is not only wrong, but it’s also wrong-headed. As Curry says so eloquently, “You’re not world class, if you’re not actively about inclusion.” His words can also describe Keystone’s commitment to creating an inclusive community. When we don’t maximize the gifts of each personally individually, we lose out as a society collectively.

Curry goes on to describe the basketball camp he started this past summer for girls. The young women worked not only on their dribbling, passing, and shooting skills, but they also learned from successful women in sports and business. It was during one of these sessions that Ariel Johnson Lin, a VP at JP Morgan Chase and Co answered a girl’s query on how she operates in a male-dominated world by advising the girls to “Be yourself. Be good, and try to be great-but always be yourself.”

Later in the essay, Curry discusses the birth of his first son. He wrestles with how to bring up a boy in a world where he will have advantages merely by his gender, and how he can teach his son to leverage that power to help women achieve equality-not out of a sense of noblesse oblige or paternalism, but because that is what is right and what is good. He will encourage his son to not only learn about equality but actually do the heavy lifting to realize it for others. As with his daughters, he wants his son to “Be yourself. Be good and try to be great-but always be yourself.”

So, as we endeavor to teach our children Keystone’s core values of academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership, let’s make sure they learn to treat everyone equitably so we can all grow and develop together.


Spanning the Spectrum

September 21, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

There’s something wonderful about being in a PK-12 school, and a couple of days last week strongly reaffirmed this.  Over the course of a day, a week, a month, and a year, we have the opportunity to see children in every step of their pre-collegiate educational journey. No matter the division, the children and young adults come to Keystone with purpose and passion, and although this manifests itself differently depending on the age, their devotion to doing their best work and being their best selves is ever present.  It’s also a delight to see how Keystone’s commitment to academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership are borne out in developmentally appropriate ways for children from three years old to young adulthood.

Last Tuesday morning, as I made my way through the Little School, I observed youngsters fully engaged in a variety of learning activities. Some were creating a story with felt characters, others were learning how the number five can show itself in a variety of ways, some children were creating structures with blocks, and a few were constructing American flags in recognition of September 11th.  Whatever the task in front of them, they were absorbed in joyful learning guided by caring and compassionate teachers.

Later in the week, I had the good fortune to discuss a book with a particular 7th grader whose love for the novel was quickly apparent.  After I finished the young adult book The Hate You Give (THUG), by Angie Thomas, I returned it to English teacher Ms. Tyroff, who had so kindly lent it to me.  I had seen the previews for the movie version of the book about an African-American teenage girl who lives in an urban area, attends a private suburban school, and loses her friend to a police shooting. Our family’s connections to the St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri and the impact of the events there made me want to read this popular YA novel before the movie came out.  As Ms. Tyroff and I discussed the characters and the plot, a 7th grader enthusiastically asked me, “Oh, did you read that! I loved that book!” The three of us discussed THUG for a bit, and she then headed to her next class. Witnessing her joy for reading in general, and that book in particular, reminded me of the thrill of discovering a book that speaks to one’s adolescent self.  

After school that day as I made my through the children in aftercare in the cafeteria, a kindergartner ran up to me and yelled, “Mr. Handmaker, look what I made!” He proceeded to show me the finer points of his Lego mobile missile launcher and explained each part. Now, truth be told, I love Legos, and I have spent many an hour on the floor building structures or vehicles with our sons and their friends.  (I don’t love them quite so much when I step barefoot on a brick in the middle of the night.) We engaged in an animated conversation on his contraption, and eventually, the student, his friends, and I sat on the floor and dug through the tub of Legos to find the pieces that would make his missile launcher “even cooler!” Perhaps even more impressive than his new and improved military vehicle was the children’s joy, curiosity, and creativity.

At the other end of the spectrum that comprises the Keystone student body are the seniors who registered to vote last Friday.  There are few, if any, signs that give one more hope in these fractious times than watching young women and men sign up to vote for the first time. They are eager to play a role in the political process, and they are prepared to assume the responsibility of citizenship.  As they waited their turn, some of the students and I debated whether the U.S. should have a parliamentary system of voting rather than the one-party-take-all process we have now. It was a pleasure to hear their arguments, and the knowledge with which they supported their points.  At a time when cynicism runs rampant, their optimism both heartened and inspired me.

So, beyond the joy of spending time with children ranging in age from three years old to those who are less than a year away from graduating, why am I mentioning this?  Because part of Keystone’s magic is the way that our teachers and staff members meet children where they are and take them to the next step. They challenge and support them; consequently, youngsters grow up into admirable young women and men who are ready to take on whatever comes their way.

In addition, in a PK-12 school, younger students have the opportunity to learn from older students who can be their role models.  Children can see high school students excel in Science Fair, perform on stage, compete in athletics, and demonstrate good sportsmanship and citizenship.  As a result, they understand that ethical behaviour is not just something that adults say you need to do; rather it is a trait that they will work on and hone as they go through lower, middle and high school.  For the older students, the younger children provide a sense of perspective and remind them of where they were at one point in their lives. In some ways, having younger children around keeps everyone spry and energized.  

However, there are also personal reasons I wanted to share these experiences with you. It was not that long ago that my wife and I were dropping our children off at preschool, that our sons discovered the joy of reading and being read to in bed, and it seems like only yesterday that we spent hours on the floor building Lego towers.  Registering to vote and applying to colleges came faster than we ever imagined, and lo and behold, they’re gone and it’s just us at home now.

I will leave it to the physicists to explain how the passage of time shortens as our children, and we, get older, and what seemed at one point like something far off in the future is suddenly here.  As a brand new empty-nester, I urge you to soak up as much of this time with your children as you can, for like other pleasures in life, the time before they leave us is fleeting and short. As Harry Chapin sang,

Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?

From the Lower School to the Board, we're always working to improve

September 14, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
--Stephen Hawking

One morning last week, I had the pleasure of listening to several Lower School students advise parents on how to help their children navigate the world of Kindergarten through 4th grade. As one would expect, these exceptional bright and motivated children gave thoughtful tips for how to be a better student and things to avoid in order to be successful. As I heard their wise counsel, my thoughts ranged from Stephen Hawking to Psalm 8.2, “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength,” to Art Linkletter’s old show and book, “Kids say the darndest things.” Perhaps the most humorous comment was “aftercare is where your kids go when you don’t want to pick them up.”

However, I also considered their wise counsel as the Keystone Board of Trustees engaged in a day-long retreat this past Saturday, September 8th. Exceptionally dedicated and devoted trustees were joined by members of the Administrative Council to consider what we do well and where we could improve. In the spirit of continuous improvement that will characterize our Independent Schools of the Southwest (ISAS) self-study this year, we started by acknowledging that Keystone is an amazing school. There is an energy and dynamism in our student body and in our faculty/staff that produces something extraordinary. Having visited many schools over the past thirty years, I can tell you that what occurs at Keystone is exceptional and admirable and understandably inspires the passion that members of the community feel toward our school..

In the same way that our students and our teaching can always get better, so can Keystone, and we are continually looking for ways to improve. For example, we’re looking at substantive changes to our Keystone Summer Scholars program to make it even more invigorating. In addition, at a time when harassment is so prominent in the news, we integrated the latest thinking into our new policies, because it is the right thing to do. Similarly, although we had an extremely positive financial audit for the past year, we are still making changes to our fiscal policies to help Keystone not only be more efficient but also more effective. It was heartening to hear how well we’re doing in general and in comparison to other schools and non profit organizations; nevertheless, we can always do better. An example in the area of Development is our alteration of Keystone’s gift acceptance policies to be in closer accordance with what is considered best practice.

As we hope you’ve noticed, we are making changes in the way we tell the Keystone story. For 70 years, Keystone students, and subsequently alumni, have done amazing work and literally changed the world. While we don’t want to brag, we don’t want to hide our light under a bushel; we want to share the stories of our students and alumni. During our retreat, we discussed the school’s admissions philosophies, and how we’ve remained selective in an era of increasing competition and refused to compromise our standards. At the other end of our student spectrum, we also learned how well Keystone seniors perform in the college admissions process in the face or more and more students domestically and internationally applying for the same number of slots.

Over the course of seven decades, Keystone has challenged and supported children and adolescents in an inclusive community to perform at a high level. After all this time, it is woven into our DNA. While the challenges our school and students face may change over the years and we continually work to improve, we remain rooted in our core values of academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership. As we move forward toward our next 70 years and beyond, we can best honor our history by continuing to produce outstanding alumni who will make us all proud.

Internet brings the best and worst to us

September 06, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

I thought about this line by Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) in the original “Jurassic Park” movie as I toured an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art this past Sunday. The exhibition, “I Was Raised on the Internet,” encourages viewers through installations, videos, and more traditional visual art media to consider how our lives have changed over the past few decades as we’ve lived with the internet.

To say that that the internet has an omnipresent role in our world today would be stating the obvious. People seem to be always staring into their phones, retail establishments are falling by the wayside as more and more shopping is done online, and seemingly anything we wish is at our fingertips.

Much of my family’s trip to drop our younger son off at college last week was shaped by the easy access of the web. We made all of our reservations online and we bought him the necessities for his dorm room via Bed, Bath, and Beyond’s ever-so-helpful website. We used the Happy Cow app to find the best vegan restaurants in the Windy City, and we avoided the line at the Art Institute of Chicago by procuring our tickets with our phones. We used the handy CTA app to figure out which train to take to our other son’s apartment in Wrigleyville, and we caught an early morning Uber for the ride to Midway Airport. As we waited for a train in Chicago, I read a recommendation for a book on Bookbub (a site for ebooks), went to the San Antonio Public Library website, ordered the book via Libby; just like that, the book was on hold to arrive on my Kindle in the next week. To borrow from A Tale of Two Cities, we live in the best of times.

However, we cannot ignore the paradoxical nature of this moment in history. The same internet that catalyzes movements for civil rights and social justice in the United States or revolutions like the Arab Spring overseas also allows tyrannical governments to oppress their citizens. Some forms of social media offer people the opportunity to grieve with others who have experienced similar tragedies while other networking sites perpetuate falsehoods that have led to violence. At the risk of stretching the Dickens reference, while the internet can make the best of times possible, it also can bring on the worst of times.

Since DARPA begin researching the concept of an interweb in the 1960’s, we have lived with the promise and the threat of the internet. If, like me, you’re a fan of Black Mirror on Netflix, you have seen how television portrays this dual-edged sword. Some episodes have literally brought me to tears as they portray the positive power of technology to connect people in a variety of places and from different times; other shows have haunted me with their dystopian visions long after that particular installment ended.

As adults, we can remember, if vaguely, what life was like before the internet. There once was a time when we had to wait a week for the next episode of St. Elsewhere or Hill Street Blues, or if I really want to date myself The Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. If we wanted the newest Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Beatles, or Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young recording, we went to a record store and bought an album or an eight track tape because that was what available (as opposed to today’s twenty-something hipsters who have gone retro and believe that they discovered vinyl.) Remember travel agents and bank tellers, or when people in restaurants actually talked to each other?

Things are different for our children. Their entire lives have co-existed with the internet, and explaining their world without it is tantamount to the old David Foster Wallace story where one young fish says to the other “What’s water?” They literally don’t know of life before the web. We have given our children tools with great power, but they are still too young to have developed the wisdom necessary to use them responsibility. (Of course, the same could be said of many adults.)

The historian in me wonders if this was how our predecessors felt after Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, Samuel Morse’s telegraph, or Edison’s light bulb. Did the printed book spell the downfall of oral storytelling cultures? Certainly the telegram killed the Pony Express and light at night altered how we lived our days. Similarly, the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford gave us greater mobility than ever before, but did their creations also exacerbate the atomization of our society?

Spoiler alert! One of my favorite, albeit very sad, final movie scenes is from Barry Levinson’s Avalon (the conclusion of his Baltimore Trilogy including Diner and Tin Men.) The immediate family is having Thanksgiving dinner alone in their suburban living room eating on TV tables and mutely watching a show; their isolation stands in contrast to the boisterous, crowded and multi-generational family feasts that formed the foundation of the family earlier in the film.

As an optimist, I hope and believe that we will learn to live with our new forms of technology as other generations before us figured out how to balance the blessings and the curses. Long ago, Plato said we are social animals, and I think that holds true today. There are still some experiences that the best forms of technology cannot replicate. Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant in teaching our children how to unplug, enjoy the moment, and seek out the actual and tangible experiences that will shape them. We have to guide them in developing a positive social media brand that reflects their best selves rather than succumbing to the temptations of the mob. We should remind them again and again that once something is posted, it can be seen by everyone today, tomorrow, and years in the future. They can learn from peers and adults whose lives have been irrevocably ruined by irresponsible uses of technology that hoping for the traditional definition of privacy online may be a fool’s errand, and that yes, bad things can happen to them.

Over a hundred years ago, Mary Shelley warned us in Frankenstein of what can happen when our ethics fail to keep pace with our technology. If we want our children to have lives that are productive and happy, we are duty-bound as parents and educators to help them navigate a world so potentially rich and so possibly terrifying.

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