Program #0154 for Tuesday, October 11, 2011: Dr. Karen Bohlin

October 11, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor

Today’s guest(s): Dr. Karen Bohlin, Head of the Montrose School and author of the book “Building Character in Schools”

Today’s topics: Raising children of virtue

Summary of today’s show: Dr. Karen Bohlin talks with Scot and Fr. Chris about raising children of virtue, strong character, and great intellectual vigor, including the girls who attend the independent Catholic school she leads, Montrose School in Medfield, Mass.

1st segment: Scot asked Fr. Chris what he did on his 3-day weekend. He went to Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, to catch up with priest-friends in the area. Scot said he loves to visit DC, especially the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Fr. Chris said they went to Mass at the basilica and Bishop Loverde of Arlington, VA, happened to be leading a pilgrimage to the basilica on Sunday. He said he also visited the new Martin Luther King monument in DC. He found some of the quotes by MLK were indicative of the virtues they will be discussing today.

Scot said his family went to Maine for a soccer tournament and they went to Mass in a parish up there. There happened to be an elderly woman entering the Church at that Mass and so his kids could see the woman receive First Communion and Confirmation and they had many questions afterward.

Fr. Chris said it’s wonderful to welcome someone new to our faith community. He was speaking to someone today who’s running an RCIA program in a parish and so it’s a good time to ask a parish if you’re interested because now is the time that such programs begin.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Dr. Bohlin back to the show. She was on previously talking about the movie “There Be Dragons”. Scot asked about her background before coming to the Montrose School.

Karen said she started as an English teacher and drama coach at the Montrose School. She found herself involved in Boston Public Schools and teacher education. She received her doctorate at Boston University and worked at the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character, working with school departments around the country and even advising the White House.

Scot said ethics and character education were not a big component of higher education before the big financial scandals of the beginning of the century. BU’s Center was among the first to bring it into teacher education and curricula. They form teachers to prepare them for their moral responsibilities.

Karen said she also taught undergraduates at BU and was quite happy there, but was asked to consider the position of the Head of School at Montrose. She knew if she moved from a research institute to a school, she would be working directly with students and parents and alumnae. She would be able to work with families and educators over time to go more deeply into transforming young lives.

Scot said while both jobs are in education, they’re very different roles in research versus running a school. She has been able to see several generations of students come through the school.

They just celebrated their 30th anniversary at Montrose. It was founded by a group of parents and educators, including several Harvard Business School grads looking for a school for their daughters with good liberal arts education that didn’t compromise either the faith or the intellectual tradition of the Church. They wanted a strong mentoring program in character and leadership formation, especially for girls at the critical age of middle school years. They wanted to prepare girls to go to any size school or college and enter any professional field. They have many accomplished alumnae, including authors like Suzanne La Fleur, an author of young adult books.

Karen noted that in the seventies there was a lot of educational experimentation and so the founders wanted to restore the traditional core of excellent college preparation and a solid religious education program.

Scot said the school is in Medfield now. The school opened in Brookline in the old Cardinal Cushing College, then to Westwood, then to Natick and the old St. Patrick’s elementary school for 10 years. Just 5 years ago they moved to the old Bayer Pharmaceuticals building in Medfield. They have 190 students today.

Scot said there’s still a demand for single-sex education, particularly for girls. He asked how many parents choose Montrose because they want their daughters to be formed by strong women leaders in a good peer environment. Karen said it’s also that research shows that girl learn differently from boys. Particularly in middle schools, girls have a capacity to move at a faster pace, especially in math and science. Boys also learn better in a single-sex environment. It allows students to be unafraid to speak up in class and to be confident. Studies show that girls tend to be timid and stand behind boys in science classes, for example.

Fr. Chris said modeling virtue is important and asked how they form the staff. Karen said virtue is caught, more than taught. The faculty is committed to the forming the whole person. In professional development workshops, they spend a lot of time studying adolescent character development and asking themselves are they walking the talk. When she meets with graduating seniors, she asks them if they think the school is walking the talk, are they living up their mission and values.

Fr. Chris asked what some of the routines and rituals of the school are. Karen said there are many traditions that form the core of life at the school. They have a speakers series to bring in someone whose story inspires the girls. This year with the faculty they read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” of his experience in the Nazi concentration camps, and Mitch Albom’s “Tuesday’s with Morrie” to consider how one approaches the end of life. They are developing vision and a long-distance perspective, to overcome the day-to-day fears and worries and stresses. The Mass helps them disconnect from those daily stresses. There is a daily period called “Enrichment” and the girls are allowed to choose to attend Mass or go to a quiet reading room (no magazines, no homework). The time out allows them to re-focus on what matters most.

Karen said graduates always say they feel more shored up in their faith because of the environment in which they’re learning. They can articulate not just the reasons and philosophical underpinnings of the Church’s teachings, but they live it as well.

She said they teach college level philosophy to juniors and seniors and she hears from graduates how they use what they’ve learned in college and even in graduate school. Philosophy opens their minds especially since the faculties engage them using the Socratic method.

3rd segment: Scot asked what the faculty of Montrose School hope their graduates are going to be at age 18. Karen said they first consider that everyone is a work in progress. They’re not aiming for perfectionism. The goal is to learn how to pick themselves up and move forward. They have a document on their website called “the Portrait of a Graduate”:

  • Well-Cultivated Faith
  • Strength Of Character
  • Far-Reaching Vision

Scot said they are all appealing to him as a dad of a young girl. He asked what differentiates Montrose from other strong academic, Catholic schools for girls. Karen said they have a commitment to integrity and constantly knitting these three elements together through mentoring and a rapport between the faculty and the girls that last well past graduation. One of the alumn worked for a large architectural firm after college and was confronted with an ethical debate. She was able to re-direct the discussion at the meeting and a senior employee asked her where she graduated from college. She said it wasn’t college, but high school.

Scot said in talking with other parents, they ask where savings for future education be deployed: junior high and high school or college? Karen said she has been in both higher education and now grade schools. When she taught in college she could tell the difference between those students who had the foundation to adjust to college and those who were lost, not just academically but also in campus life. They need to know why it matters to have virtues, why the decisions they make with their time are important.

Fr. Chris wondered if the girls are evangelizing their parents as well. Karen said many parents have told her that they’ve begun to take their faith seriously because of the education their daughter was receiving. The faculty offer a faith enrichment program to the parents.

Scot said the school notes that education is the primary responsibility of the parents and the school is there to support. How do the parents get involved? Karen said the parents meet with faculty twice per year, to meet their adviser twice per year and to be in touch whenever they have questions or concerns. The school offers seminars and lectures to the parents on adolescence as well.

The upper school students have a character leadership discussion series with a series of virtues that are discussed:

Virtue: Topic:
Accountability: Big picture, Looking outside yourself
Modesty: Facebook, Between guys & girls
Perseverance: Goal Setting
Courage: Master of the universe, Do it now!
Leadership: Communicating & Listening Skills; Making Choices
Diligence: Leading to maturity, Helping others
Hope: Life Portrait Speaker Bernice Lerner
Hospitality: Interpersonal Skills, Persuasive speaking
Understanding: Stress management, Thinking of others
Reflection: Beginning again
Respect: Body image, Self-respect
Friendship: Avoiding destructive decisions
Patience: With self, With others
Perseverance: Purposeful action, planning
Generosity: With family (service deed)
Simplicity: Pop Culture
Humility: Using God-given talents for good of others
Justice: Obeying authority, Making decisions
Loyalty: Values systems in friendships

Karen said the students talk with their advisers about how they can grow in these virtues. They bring older students to talk to the middle school girls to discuss how to make them living. Karen said it’s important that they don’t look at them as behaviors, but as parts of our character.

Fr. Chris said the virtuous person responds to virtue with virtue. The person full of vice sees virtue as not living up to themselves. Chastity is seen as prudery for example.

Karen said they try to make it attractive, not hit them over the head. The teens don’t want to feel like they’re on a behavior modification program. they want to know that respect makes them a more attractive friend. When they see it lived, it comes more compelling. Virtue comes from a Greek word meaning strength. It’s a good disposition of mind, heart, and action. It’s an internal strength.

Measures of success are external accomplishments. They can be short-lived and may not satisfy. A person of virtue can be poor or wealthy, but they have dispositions that allow them to live in the happiest way possible.

Karen said it’s the little things that form the foundation of bigger change. Rudy Guiliani cleaned up New York first by fixing broken windows and then crime rates followed.

Scot noted that Karen co-authored a book called “Building Character in Schools”. We hear a lot of schools say they teach good values, while Montrose educates and forms for good virtues. Karen said values can be good or bad. Virtues are good. Psychologists tell us that we need good habits and dispositions. Virtues are more objective and part of who we are. Values are more external. People can resist values because whose values are they.

Scot asked how you make good character a priority in your home? Karen said you have to choose your battles and determine what matters most. The children also need to feel needed and vital. Stake a claim so that children can say that in their house they can say the three things that matter most.

Scot asked how people can find more about Montrose. The school will have an open house this Sunday, Oct 16, from 2-4pm and there will be another open house on Sunday, Nov 3, 7-9 pm.

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