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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Admissions as an act of kindness

Western philosophy has tended to be silent on the subject of kindness.

So, whilst Aristotle once famously defined this virtue as an act of helping someone in need without looking for anything in return, the West has tended to look down upon or simply ignore its importance in any discussion of the Good Life. The idea of kindness was simply too "soft" and stood in stark contrast to the rhetoric of duty, virtue and the responsibility of the rational mind.

Within the Buddhist tradition, however, there is a rich vocabulary around the idea of kindness. It speaks to us of the value of muducittata, the state of having a tender mind. Confucian education, likewise, encourages us to pursue the idea of intelligent kindness. Much more than simply being "nice" to people, it points to a virtue that can be mastered only through practice, cultivation and discipline.

A photograph of a homeless old bearded man in a metro holding a sign  with the words seeking human kindness
Let us consider the idea of institutional kindness.

In recent times, it has been interesting to see the language of kindness return to some corners of the political arena, perhaps because of the way it offers a powerful antidote to the narcissism of our geopolitical age.

Rather than take us deeper into philosophy or politics, however, let us perhaps simply consider the possibility that admissions, in its most noble form, is an expression of personal and institutional kindness.

Learning the art of institutional kindness, for me at least, is about together becoming a community that is generous, giving without necessarily wanting an application in return; a community that is inclusive, embracing those who are different or who hold different beliefs and values about what a school should be; a community that is radically open, listening first and speaking later; and, finally, a community that is attentive, making each visiting family feel at once connected and unique.

It was the French philosopher and social activist, Simone Weil, who once wrote that "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."

I believe that the schools that do admissions best are those that are generous in this way.

At the same time, I fear that this is an art that only a few of us have truly mastered.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash.



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