There was more behind the inception of Birchwood School of Hawken than the establishment of another elementary and middle school. Our aspiration was to create an educational institution that could mirror our values about achievement, character, and responsibility. We drew upon our Western heritage (rooted in early Greek philosophy), Judeo-Christian ethics, strands of a classical liberal education, and biographical histories. This informs our view of human nature and human development and shapes our vision for the education of children and how that vision is supported.
Our beliefs animate our educational decisions in curriculum and administration. Our school embraces a culturally diverse population, and we have found that many of our beliefs have corollaries among a wide range of cultures.
We hold that each child intrinsically possesses two potentialities: one to do what is good and one to do what is bad. Education cultivates the good and mitigates the bad. It plays a part in forming good habits and minimizing bad habits. We define “good” by using the ancient Greek notion of virtue, specifically the cardinal virtues. Bad behavior is in contrast to good. We contend the cultivation of virtue ought to commence at the “dawning of reason,” an age that can vary from three to seven years old, when children are most formative, and instruction and training have their most profound effect.
Early cultivation of virtue has a cumulative effect. The benefits of good habits, formed early, unfold year-after-year, accumulating to a child’s profit. On the contrary, bad habits and bad attitudes can also form early. Their effects also accumulate, not only to the detriment of the child but also as a barrier to developing good habits. We recognize that anyone, at any point in life, can commit themselves to establishing habits of virtue. However we also believe that delaying this effort creates additional challenges. Often bad habits have to be undone before good habits can be formed. The task is twice as hard.
We know our aspiration to shape children’s character is daunting. Parents need commitment and patience. They impose expectations and limitations necessary to create good habits and define children’s character. We know intuitively we need to double our efforts of love and support. High expectations require an environment of understanding and compassion. If we hope to push children to reach their highest potential, we need to provide them with extraordinary support. We hold that expectations, whether for academics or character, are not only challenging but also intimidating. Sometimes children will not succeed. They may grow weary and want to quit. An environment expecting high academic expectations and demanding discipline can foster psychological hesitation and fear because there is risk. This psychological insecurity must be met with love, kindness, support, and encouragement.
We understand that in order to maintain some of the highest academic standards in Ohio, and be a place to learn good habits, we must also provide a family-like atmosphere. Children and their parents will come to discover that their teachers not only expect superior performance, but also love them, care for them, and will do whatever is necessary to ensure their progress.
Charles and Helene Debelak,