This column is about the photograph above. So I’ll twiddle my thumbs for a moment while you look at it. It appears in the entrance hall of Diamond Middle School in Lexington, Mass., where my children attend some weekend classes.
The bulletin board is, in many ways, unremarkable. You might see something like this in any middle school across the US or beyond. Yet hidden in its seemingly unoffensive positivism is something altogether more radical.
For the students of Diamond Middle School, this bulletin board is more than just wall space. On the wall next to it are attached handwritten testimonials of how someone in the school exemplified these qualities. One girl “was mindful of several other people and let them speak before her,” one student wrote. Another girl “helped translate and comfort one of the exchange students from China who was upset/homesick while visiting our school,” a different student wrote. A boy “sat with me at lunch when I was sad and alone,” a third student wrote.
To a random parent walking the halls of Diamond Middle School, the message is clear: These are our superheroes. These are the people who make our community special.
And then you wonder: Is this a lesson just for middle-schoolers? Is there a place where demonstrating these qualities no longer makes sense? Are there people who do not deserve to be treated this way? In other words, is this practical for the “real world”?
Much of the news of today would persuade us to answer “no” to that last question. At a recent Monitor event, a professor at a liberal arts college here in New England told me, essentially, that what we might call the “Diamond Middle School” approach was naive to the point of moral dereliction. He was a liberal. But I’ve heard conservatives say the same thing. The times seemingly demand strong stands and hard lines.
Yet, to me, what sets the Monitor apart is that it seeks to ground its strong stands on those values and ideals, and not for person, party, or policy. It stands for the notion that the values we are all taught in middle school are not bromides simply to get us to stop fidgeting at our desks, but the glue of any society and the fuel of any progress. Bullying and bad behavior happen at all stages of life, and the way to defeat them never changes.
The Founders of the United States recognized that theirs was a nation built on ideals, and they crafted a constitution specifically to protect them. Only then could the incomparable power of “we the people” be realized.
Their lesson remains. Without common ideals, there is no basis for that “we.” And the expression of those ideals is not the province of any political party. The ideals are the “we” that defines us much more deeply, expressed in honesty, humility, kindness, responsibility, bravery – to name a few.
The first shots of a revolution were fired from Lexington’s Battle Green in 1775. Today, perhaps, they are being fired from a middle school bulletin board just down the street.