Oak Grove Blog
Back to School Night
opening remarks by
Willem Zwart, Head of School
Welcome to Back to School Night! Good to see so many of you here. Thank you for joining us. Welcome returning families and a special welcome to our new families.
Let us begin, as is the custom at Oak Grove, with a moment of silence. The intent behind our moment of silence is to pay attention to our surroundings, be aware of our inner world, and feel a sense of connection with all those around us.
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In the next few minutes I want to talk about two concepts that are central to our school and that are closely related: self-understanding and partnership.
Every year Oak Grove School and the KFA pick a theme. This year our theme is understanding ourselves. Self-understanding is not easy. The playwright Tennessee Williams really struggled with it. He cheerfully said, “There comes a time, when you look into the mirror, and you realize that what you see, is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.”
Of course, here at Oak Grove we are not afraid of mirrors. One of the most interesting mirrors we have in seeking self-understanding is the mirror of relationship.
Our school’s founder, J. Krishnamurti, put it this way: “Relationship is a mirror in which to see ourselves as we actually are. But most of us are incapable of looking at ourselves as we are in relationship because we immediately begin to condemn or justify what we see. We judge, we evaluate, we compare, we deny or accept, but we never observe actually what is, and for most people this seems to be the most difficult thing to do; yet this alone is the beginning of self-knowledge. If one is able to see oneself as one is in this extraordinary mirror of relationship which does not distort, if one can just look into this mirror with full attention and see actually what is, be aware of it without condemnation, without judgment, without evaluation - and one does this when there is earnest interest - then one will find that the mind is capable of freeing itself from all conditioning; and it is only then that the mind is free to discover that which lies beyond the field of thought.”
He wrote, “Our problem is in relationship, which is life, and religion is the understanding of that life, which brings about a state in which the mind is quiet. Such a mind is capable of receiving the real. Relationship is the process of understanding oneself, and to understand oneself from moment to moment in daily life is self-knowledge. Self- knowledge is not a religion, an ultimate end. There is no such thing as an ultimate end. There is such a thing for the man who wants to escape, but the understanding of relationship, in which there is ever-unfolding self-knowledge, is immeasurable.”
I would summarize the notion of self-understanding or self-knowledge in this way: Careful and nonjudgmental attention and observation give us insight into our conditioning, which leads to a sense of inward freedom and brings about order. This opens the door to sensitivity, compassion and love. With love—for people, nature, for our world—comes a feeling of great responsibility. That brings about goodness in action. Love also opens the door to the possibility of the sacred. This is the transformation Krishnamurti spoke about. It starts with all of us and through us impacts society and the world. In that sense what we are doing here is revolutionary.
This notion of personal and societal transformation is central to the mission of our school. It is the reason our school was founded 41 years ago. Oak Grove brought and continues to bring together teachers and staff, students and parents, through their shared interest in understanding their conditioning and finding a measure of freedom from it.
One thing that makes our school so unique is that we are all in this together—students, parents, teachers and staff. Oak Grove is not just a school for our children, it is a school for all of us. We are all learning together.
This is where partnership comes in. Good partnership needs a healthy dose of self- understanding. Good partnership needs the care, affection, love, attention, kindliness, compassion, awareness and sensitivity that come from seeing and understanding ourselves exactly as we are—the good, the bad and the ugly.
Krishnamurti said: “Awareness implies sensitivity: to be sensitive to nature, to the hills, rivers and the trees around one; to be aware of that poor man walking down the road; to be sensitive to his feelings, his reactions, to his appalling and degrading poverty; to be sensitive to the man who is sitting next to you, or to the nervousness of your friend or sister. This sensitivity has in it no choice; it is not critical. There is no judgmental evaluation. Learn to observe sensitively; learn what sensitivity implies; capture it rather than cultivate it. Don't ask how to capture it: grasp it. In the very perception you are sensitive. There is no resistance in sensitivity. Sensitivity is to the immediate and limitless.”
He continued: “If there is affection, a sense of tenderness, kindliness, generosity, then behavior is dictated by that affection. One of the most difficult things in life is behavior, that is, conduct: one’s manners, politeness, the way one talks, the way one feels, the way one thinks. If you discipline yourself by watching, listening, by being considerate, being very thoughtful, then out of that watchfulness, listening, consideration of others, out of that comes order. Where there is order, there is always freedom; you cannot separate them.”
Our goal here at Oak Grove is to help our children cultivate, and to give space to, this sensitivity, affection, and watchfulness, in addition to offering excellent academics and having high expectations for all our students. To best do this, to ensure that our children flourish, we need strong partnership between students, parents and teachers. There are bound to be some bumps on the road now and then, that is after all part of being in relationship. When that happens, it may be helpful to remember what the psychologist Carl Jung said: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
In the documentary Examined Life, the philosopher Cornel West says, “ ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ Plato writes in the Apology. How do you examine yourself? What happens when you interrogate yourself? What happens when you begin to call into question your tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions, and begin then to become a different kind of person?”
The author Ralph Ellison gives one answer to that question in Invisible Man: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” Krishnamurti would say that with that freedom come great love and responsibility. Perhaps even something beyond thought, something sacred. We need not take him, or anyone for that matter, at his word. We can find out for ourselves, together and individually, through the mirror of relationship and careful observation. This is the beauty and the promise of our school. This is the journey we embark on together here tonight, a journey that I hope and wish will be graced for all of us by awareness, insight, sensitivity, care and love.