I’ve been teaching off and on at Bread Loaf – a graduate program associated with Middlebury College that grants MA degrees, primarily to teachers—since 1990. To my mind, this is the best professional development program in the world for teachers, who spend four or five summers on “the mountain” reading, writing, talking, and learning together. I’ve seen lives and classrooms transformed here, and my own teaching and learning have been powerfully impacted by the experience. This summer I am team-teaching—with Dixie Goswami and John Elder (with visits from Oskar Eustis, Bill McKibben, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and others) a course called Writing and Acting for Change. I will write more about that class, which is off to a tremendous start, soon.
Two days ago, Bread Loaf opened with a reception for new and old students, a dinner, and opening “ceremonies,” where Director Emily Bartels and Middlebury President Laurie Patton spoke to the faculty and 263 students enrolled here this summer. Then several faculty members added brief remarks. Here’s what I had to say:
It’s more than fair to say that we’ve had a hard month in this country; indeed, a hard year, with no respite in sight. A massacre in Orlando based on hate of anything “different”; a dangerous buffoon running for President; a deadlocked, dysfunctional Congress beholden to lobbyists and special interests; more lives lost at the hands of police.
We are in need, at a time like this, of being together, of each other. As I drove up the mountain on a glorious Vermont night, I could almost feel the tensions begin to fade, if ever so slightly. And when I arrived, I realized that I feel as much at home here as anywhere I’ve ever been. I love this PLACE. And I love the IDEA of Bread Loaf—the idea that teachers and scholars reading, writing, talking, learning, and working together can do things that none of us could do alone.
As we all know, this place is very special: its natural beauty—the forests, lakes, streams, this mountain—provides a spiritual grounding, a place for contemplation, a place for reflection, a place for peace.
But the idea of Bread Loaf is equally special: a commitment to make the worlds of our classrooms and communities better, better places to live and learn and grow.
So while we are bound by emotional and intellectual ties to this magnificent place, we are also firmly tethered to our other places, our home communities, and to the effect we can and must have there. It’s the synergy between the two that, to me, makes Bread Loaf unique. The work we do here energizes and renews the work we do at home—and vice versa: the work to create spaces of tolerance and inclusivity, of love and understanding, of respect and openness, spaces where a million different flowers can bloom and be themselves. Together.