As we get set for the weekend, we are just about to see a beautiful fall sight: the harvest moon that is due to appear over the next day. This annual phase of the lunar cycle is a beautiful one and hopefully the skies will be clear enough to see it well. Our Chinese friends, and many of their Asian neighbours, anticipate this event each year with the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In China, people have celebrated the harvest during the autumn full moon since the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC). In ancient times, an important part of the celebration was moon worship with its accompanying blessings and benefits. The festival was a time to enjoy the successful reaping of rice and wheat with food offerings made in honour of the moon. Today, it is an occasion for outdoor reunions among friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and watch the moon, a symbol of harmony and unity.
Harmony and unity. These are vital concepts in any community – especially schools – and to “live them out”, a commitment to common purpose is essential. At its core, such common purpose relies on our shared belief in what is good for elementary-aged children and we must have clear alignment between home and school, if we are to make the most of our joint endeavour. At Matthews Hall, we aspire “to prepare children for a successful future” and the path to this success must entail more than just a quest for top marks and affirmation. As we begin the school year, we must pledge to help each student reach their highest good.
Highest good? What does that look like and what does that even mean? Summum bonum is a Latin expression meaning “the highest good”. It was introduced by the Roman philosopher Cicero to correspond to the idea of “the Good” in ancient Greek philosophy. There are many interpretations of what the highest good could mean in the rich field of philosophy, but in the context of our responsibility to our students, the highest good simply refers to supporting children in their search to become the best version of themselves – the person they are meant to be when trying their hardest and giving their best effort.
Our pursuit, and theirs, of this goal is the singular purpose of any school. In our work with your kids, we seek to polish off the edges, sharpen the senses, initiate the discovery, and master the foundational skills that will be necessary to thrive in high school. We also pursue this goal during the years when innocence, joy, and enthusiasm are at their peak. It takes boundaries, expectations, direct instruction, and a tolerance for mistakes. It is a process of accompaniment that requires firmness, fairness, and forgiveness. And foresight. It is not a milquetoast undertaking with clean straight lines and no mess.
As we implement our routines and reinforce our expectations for student behaviour and quality of work, we look to a few things that will be essential: trust, integrity, gratitude, avoidance of rash judgment, and the ability to see in whole, rather than in part. As children are greater than the sum of their parts, so it is true of families and schools. The job of helping human beings become the best versions of themselves is not easy work – undertaken, as it is, in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people.
In helping children seek their highest good (summum bonum), we encourage them to shoot for the moon; for as author Norman Vincent Peale hopes, even if they miss, they may just land “among the stars!”
As we watch for the harvest moon this weekend, let’s all search the skies and see if we can find where they might land, if we lift them up in all the right ways.
And if you have a Chinese friend, maybe you will even receive the gift of a moon cake to enjoy. I hear that they are very good!
Enjoy the weekend and Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!
Ric Anderson, Head of School