The following is a letter to the school community from Mr. Craig Johnson, Head of School, the American School of Bombay (ASB).
“This morning, whilst standing at the front of our elementary school, watching our students arrive, an 8-year-old Australian boy walked up to me and said, “Mr. Johnson, yesterday your President hung up the phone on my Prime Minister.” To be completely honest, I didn’t know what to say—I was speechless. But, the kid saved me. He didn’t wait for a response. Without missing a beat, he asked, “Is the playground still open?” To which I said, “Yes.” And just like that he was gone. The boy was referring to the already infamous phone-call between President Trump and Prime Minister Turnbull.
As the Head of the American School of Bombay, I go to great lengths to avoid being officially political. Obviously, I have a great many personal thoughts and opinions on the state of the world; but it is not my job, at ASB, to take sides on politics. It is my job to ensure that ASB’s students get the best education possible, that our Mission—to Dream, Learn, and Serve—stays alive, and to help preserve and enhance a culture of inquiry, openness, respect, courage, integrity, and inclusion.
Speaking of openness and inclusion: It is often not our state-of-the art science labs and performing spaces, nor the sophistication with which we integrate technology into the learning process, nor the mastery of pedagogy that our teachers display, nor the highly effective collaboration with which our students engage in a deeply relevant curriculum that people notice when they first come to ASB. It is always the profound internationalism of our students and faculty that people notice. It is our unity-with-diversity (a community of 52 nations existing and flourishing in harmony) that has a visceral and long-lasting impact on someone seeing ASB for the first time.
ASB turns 35 years old this year. We were born in 1981 through an agreement between the US State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools and India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Part of the Mission Statement of the Office of Overseas Schools states, “Our efforts are to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” ASB was born for this critical purpose and this purpose remains (and shall perpetually remain) a fundamental objective of our existence.
As parents and educators there are things within our control and things we cannot control. What we cannot control is the media-infested world in which our children live. Every minute of every day our children are bombarded with headlines and stories, with facts and alternative-facts, with opinions and counter-opinions, with nonsense and hate as well as beauty and knowledge. It’s non-stop and overwhelming. This anarchy of news and ‘noise of things’ is not going away; it is only going to get worse. So, we need to address it. There is so much ‘out there’ that needs to be explained and understood by us and our children—and often, depending on the age of our children, censored. That’s where schools have a fundamental role. Great schools, like ASB, need to step-up and (in close partnership with parents) help guide young people through the chaos and help navigate our communities into the light.
Malcolm Gladwell once wrote, “The key to good decision-making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the later.” Well said, Mr. Gladwell. ASB agrees. And we are committed to the pursuit of a deep and authentic “understanding” of the world around us, so that we can make the best decisions.
Something we all need to “understand” today is this: ASB is not an extension of any single nation or politic. We are a completely autonomous entity that speaks for itself and is held accountable only to ourselves. As our two 2nd graders sang on Saturday at our Festival of Nations: We Are the World! ASB is American and we are Syrian. We are Zoroastrian and we are Muslim. We love our Aussies and our Canadians and we could not exist without our Indians. And that’s the truth; a truth we MUST never doubt and always protect.
Our Internationalism is intentional and powerful. Our DNA is multicultural. The global-ness of our school culture (physical and otherwise) has made us who we are. And every one of us needs to understand, believe, support, and champion the non-judgmental and embracing nature of our character. That is ASB!”