Ken Burns Greenwood School Gettysburg Address Premiers April 15, 2014

A whirlwind of activity surrounds The Greenwood School and the premier of Ken Burns’ latest PBS documentary, The Address tonight at 9PM EDT on PBS.

Regular readers know that Burns spent time on the Greenwood campus — just over a year ago — following the boys through their rite of passage that requires each boy to recite The Gettysburg Address from memory before he graduates. The twist, of course is, that the memorization process forces each Greenwood boy to fight, and work through, his own fears and learning differences. Each boy must look within himself, while supporting and encouraging his peers, as they all work toward memorization, recitation, understanding of The Address and its ideals.

Greenwood head Stewart Miller speaks with Fox News’ Clayton Morris about what’s behind this Greenwood rite of passage and what it means to the students.

“It is difficult to get up under bright lights and recite something from memory.  No hiding.  There’s a real risk…the boys encounter fear and find the inner strength to push through it,” explained Greenwood head Stewart Miller. Greenwood, since its founding, finds direct connections to the themes running through The Address– struggle, equality, hope, rebirth and freedom — fundamentally believing that its boys can, in some ways, free themselves from their learning differences through hard work, perseverance, heroic struggle, and learning to find their strengths, passions, talents.

Even though I’ve looked at Greenwood’s Gettysburg Address recitation experience before, it continues to interest me.  I find it traditional, fascinating, heartwarming- I’ll let you continue with adjectives- but, I haven’t been able to answer/put my finger on what I think is the fundamental piece of the tradition and its processes: What does each Greenwood boy learn or become as a result of the process? We know the process is transformative.  We know Greenwood alumni carry The Address and their lessons from memorizing and reciting The Address into adulthood.

But, still I search for exactly how the process changes each boy? Miller answers my question this way: “The boys become aware of their ability to push through fear- their own inner resilience; their own inner strength.  They learn ‘I can do this.’  By being present, recognizing how they feel…each boy surprises himself with his inner resources.” “It (memorizing and reciting the Gettysburg Address does not leave them,” Miller added.

I’ll be watching tonight.

  • Julian

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Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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