A year-end message from Aaron Stern
This is my 16th State of the Academy year-end letter. Traditionally in these letters I give a recap of the year and a glimpse into where the Academy for the Love of Learning is heading in the coming year.
This year, in light of these challenging times, I thought it would be meaningful to step back even further to reflect upon the ultimate aims of the Academy —and why they matter.
Even the most positive among us can look around at today’s world and wonder whether we are on a steady course to greater degrees of freedom and human dignity or, indeed, something other. Are we evolving or devolving? Can we truly coexist, or not? Are we “slouching toward Bethlehem” as the poet William Butler Yeats wrote, or in the era of the Great Turning, as Joanna Macy calls it?
Of course, one can imagine that sometimes it’s a little of both – perhaps two steps forward and one step back. But, indeed, I wonder —was Martin Luther King Jr. accurate when drawing upon the words of Theodore Parker to tell us that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice’? It’s not always so clear.
What do we know about this, from deep within – our inner knowing? What is it to be a human being in these times? Can this inner knowing be a source of inner clarity that can sustain us and bring us together in these unsettling times? And, how do we strengthen the pathways and access to this knowing and remain connected to it and to each other such that it is in the foreground of our personal and collective experience?
This is precisely the work of the Academy: To foster the creation of such pathways, through learning —pathways both to that inner voice, and outwardly to one another in community. It’s what I call a ‘pedagogy of faith,’ not in a religious sense but rather, in the sense of a deep abiding faith in basic human goodness; a knowing that beneath the traumas – both felt and inflicted – we are essentially good, benevolent, peaceful, respectful and compassionate beings. Through learning, we can discover and encourage this in our selves and each other. We can know this and act from this knowing.
But we must practice. As Henry David Thoreau said: “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep… I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man [sic] to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor…”
At the Academy, we see learning as a conscious practice. We believe that our work is creating bridges—bridges to the innate inner goodness and from that inner goodness outward into the world, creating constructive and positive human relationships, forms and actions—actions that are needed now, maybe more than ever. If you value the kind of learning I am pointing to—learning that leads to kind-hearted, peaceful, vibrant communities, telling stories of wellbeing—please visit the Academy; come for a program, and explore our website to learn more about our work.
These are deeply challenging times. But I believe what the poet Auden said, of similar times:
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
Founder & President
Academy for the Love of Learning