What You Cannot See
April 30, 2021
Seeing is believing. Blessed are those who believe without seeing. I came, I saw, I conquered. What did you see at the scene of the crime? This was captured on film. I will see you on Zoom…. An early graduate school professor of mine, the wonderful Jennifer Green-Lewis, taught a course on the impact of photography on literature during the Victorian period and how the language of the image pervaded—and arguably continues to pervade—society. She charted the path across which we as a human society have come to expect to see things in order to believe we know them (and she laid out a case for why visual proof is in fact illusory and hollow). Tiktok, Snapchat, Instagram, facial recognition software, the ubiquitous Zoom. We now inhabit in a world where we expect that in order to know, we need to see—we expect to be shown.
Ironically pre-Anglo-Saxon law required the repetition of words—being told—as evidence of truth. A witness was expected to “perform” the oath, which is to say recount the story of what happened. The overseeing judge listened for how accurately that story was repeated by the same witness to determine if it were in fact true. Accurate repetition equaled truth. Inaccurate repetition meant falsehood.
How, I ask myself, do we transfer knowledge of joy to each other? Because what I want to share with you is what you don’t get to see. Because you haven’t been able to be with us in the building this week. Sure, I can make a video of it for you. I can swear—perform my oath—and tell you repeatedly that the magic of Vermont Commons was everywhere. Likewise, you can listen to stories your child might share of what they did and learned.
The truth is, though, any representation pales in comparison with the experience of it. We know that when the students and teachers all get together in this school community, it simply is a place like no other. Kinks in the system this week? Yep. Always have been and always will be. But perfection’s not what we’re striving for.
Laughter. Inquisitiveness. Engagement. Energy. Excitement.
Being seen and known.
Treated with dignity and respect.
Everyone. Every class, break, lunch, or activity. Every single day.
That’s what we’re after.
Deep in my heart, I wish you could have seen it in action this week, but for those of us lucky enough to be part of it, to witness, it—that magic, our school’s magic—was something else. Vermont Commons School, it is great to be back!
Dr. Dexter P. Mahaffey, Head of School