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T H E B R IDGE

from the headmaster

In 2000, Harvard Professor Robert Putnam published his seminal work, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Dr. Putnam’s premise is: we, as individuals, have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors and our democratic structure. Using the statistic that the number of bowlers in the late 90’s increased, yet the number of bowling leagues decreased - hence bowling alone - he set the stage for a compelling, data-driven analysis of the disconnection and social isolation of today’s society. He argues that changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, and women’s roles among other factors are the root causes of this loss of connection between individuals, or what he terms “social capital.” Much like Putnam’s observations about bowling, schools today often stand alone as the sole source of community for a child. There was a time when the responsibility of building and providing community – a crucial ingredient for a child to grow into a confident, productive adult - was shared evenly between three institutions – families, religious institutions and schools. In recent years, however, families have become so over-scheduled and focused on personal pursuits they have little time for communal activities such as family meals or outings, and fewer and fewer families find time to or have the inclination to attend religious services. It is increasingly incumbent on schools, then, to provide a strong sense of community and connection for individuals. Independent schools, in particular, are designed to flourish as a source of community for students, parents, faculty, and alumni. But they, too, are facing threats that increasingly erode their effectiveness. Fueled by economic uncertainty and fear about the future, the world-wide, discordant climate has created a competitive, unsettled, anxious environment exacerbating the frequency and intensity of conflict. While we do our best here at Severn to make sure the troubles plaguing the culture at large do not effect how we act and relate to each other, we are, alas, a community made up of people who everyday interact with and react to broader communities. A decade removed from Putnam’s best seller, are we still “Bowling Alone”? Some will argue that technological advancements like instant messaging and blogs and e-communities like Facebook and Linkdin counterbalance the loss of connectedness in society. But do we really build relationships

or simply exchange information online? Without face-to-face personal connection, are we really building “social capital,” or are we just fooling ourselves into believing we are? Without genuine relationships there is no foundation for community and, therefore, nothing from which to pull strength to achieve goals and endure hard times. I would argue while the online world allows us to reconnect and rekindle the embers of past community connections, I find it difficult to fathom that the online world fills the vast void of disconnect created by the way we live today or alleviates the anxiety associated with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Severn today is in some aspects very different from what it was twentyfive years ago, or fifty, and yet it is not different. It still is a constant interaction between young and old, between students and faculty, between student and student, adult and adult; an interaction between past and present; an interaction between community values and the values at large. These personal interactions are the connective tissue of a vast web of people; all who have had the unique, powerful experience of Severn School. It is this experience that is the foundation for the community from which we pull strength. Recently, I met with the reconstituted Executive Committee of our Alumni Association, and we discussed at length the use of technology to create connections between the School and its alums, between current students and alums, and between alums themselves. There is no doubt technology will help us reach out and reconnect, but as I think about the current generation of Severn students and the complex issues they will face in their lives, digital connections must be just a beginning. I ask you to reconnect with Severn in deeper, more meaningful ways. For Severn to remain a formative source of community for current and future generations, it will take more than electronic connections - particularly in a world where, over the past couple of decades, so many traditional sources of community have declined. Given what I know of the Severn community, I am confident it is up to the formative challenge of investing time and effort into strengthening Severn’s “social capital.” As always, let me know your thoughts. Send me an email, or better yet, come by the campus and reconnect. Go Admirals,

Doug Lagarde

“These personal interactions are the connective tissue of a vast web of people; all who have had the unique, powerful experience of Severn School. It is this experience that is the foundation for the community from which we pull strength.”

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winter bridge 2010  
winter bridge 2010