An eye-opening quest to India


By Debbie Phipps, Head of Upper School

When I told friends I would spend spring break in India, one guaranteed that it would be “eye-opening”—an adjective that understates the impact of the two weeks that English teacher Meg Fifer and I spent traveling across Rajasthan. For some time, the idea of bringing students to a far-away land (ten hours different in time) has taken up valuable space in my brain. So when Meg and I boarded the plane, with vague notions of a potential service trip combined with cultural sight seeing with students in some year in the future, we weren’t at all prepared for the impact of India. (See Meg’s video travelogue here.)

It’s easier to capture moments than any general impressions. Some of what we imagined was true. The streets in cities are unbelievably crowded. At any moment, motorbikes, cows, tuk tuks (small golf-cart like taxis that weave in and out), cars, rickshaws—and in some cases, carts pulled by camels—followed patterns that we could not detect, yet we saw no traffic accidents. Indians eager to have photographs with US visitors asked us to stand with them; children practiced hesitant English phrases—“I’m fine, thank you”—as soon as they saw us. The sounds are loud and unending, and the colors so bright and varied that at times it felt unreal. An elderly man wearing the traditional white pajamas and turban might pass a woman with a fuchsia sari trimmed with gold thread, a young man in western gear, a schoolgirl wearing a tie and high socks, and children in tunics and sandals. Add to this an array of Indian dishes that I never learned to recognize but uniformly loved, and you can imagine how well I slept at night.

We visited mosques and temples of Sikhs, Jains, Hindus, and Muslims, and a desert village populated by Bishnois. The village included a family compound with four generations living in closely spaced huts. This sect does not kill living things, so they burn cow dung for fuel, are completely vegetarian, and dedicate their lives to living in harmony with nature. Some of their 29 principles (bish means twenty, noi means nine) resonated with Quaker tenets. At a Sikh temple in Delhi—still wearing the sign of a blessing from the Hindu temple nearby—we sat with other worshipers listening to the chanting of the priest and experiencing—despite the relatively loud music—the same sense of peace of Meeting for Worship. We then viewed the back area of the temple where volunteers shaped chapati—bread rounds—to serve to anyone who wanted a meal; these would be shared with a lentil dal and hot chai.

We were struck repeatedly by the spirituality of the country and strove to understand the role religion has played in India’s complicated history. At a Jain temple, we passed a group of monkeys as we wound our way to the large marble structure on a rural hillside, each column carved completely and individually. Visitors were asked not to talk, and by that time, we removed our shoes automatically before entering any place of worship.

Viewing the architectural treasures of the Moghul dynasties was equally and literally eye-opening. Though Meg and I have seen countless images of the Taj Mahal, witnessing it for the first time—coming through the red granite gate and viewing, from a distance separated by water—the white marble glowing in the afternoon sun proved unforgettable. We returned the next morning for sunrise, this time able to take in the details that we missed on our first overwhelmed tour. The ways in which the designers used perspective to make the excerpts from religious texts—created through mosaic—appear the same size and the optical illusion created by having the four corner pillars lean slightly reminded us of the importance of studying math and art history. A visit to a series of rocks used for astronomical predications in Jaipur made us wish we remembered more physics.

I think I can still name my shahs in order, but I know I recall that Emperor Akbar’s palace at Fatehpur Sikri had separate bedrooms for the three wives, each of a different religion, a move towards consolidating the Moghul empire by including three religions in his family. One bedroom was decorated with elaborate carving, a second with early examples of fresco painting, and the third (the favorite wife) was decorated with a stunning mosaic. We met a maharajah walking his dog while sitting by a lake in Mewar, took a boat on Lake Pichola to tour the summer palace at Udaipur, studied miniatures in the blue city of Jodhpur—where artists are supported in an apprentice-like structure to ensure that the ancient arts continue—, and toured forts and monuments and tombs everywhere. Some of the most memorable moments, however, were unexpected: children running out to wave “ta-ta” as we passed, a wildly painted camel cart passed along the road, cows stopping traffic on the busiest city streets, and everywhere, people wanting to welcome us to their country. When our flight was cancelled on the way home and we had to reroute through Amsterdam—requiring a sleepless night and some airport time with the wrong currencies—it still seemed eminently worth it to share this amazing adventure.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to travel: 47 US states, several countries and continents, often with an opportunity to study as I go. Still, India would be the most life-changing place I’ve visited—at least in terms of broadening my worldview, challenging my attention span, urging me to overcome preconception, and requiring that I engage actively, all day and every day. It left me wanting to be more helpful to people needing directions in cities, to smile more at strangers, to take more time to reflect (in silence or not), and especially, to make sure children have a chance to share what they know. I hope too that I’m more appreciative of the opportunities I have each day—that’s hard to measure—and that someday, I can share this experience with students.


Happy Birthday, Mr Shakespeare!

Today marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. Learn more here.

Moses Brown’s library is celebrating by offering the below available selections of related titles for a variety of ages. Enjoy!

From the Middle and Upper School

TWITL_shakespeareIN SEARCH OF SHAKESPEARE (PBS video) Michael Wood travels to England in search of the true story behind the life of playwright and poet William Shakespeare, an intensely private person.

SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEANUP (Ron Koertge) When a fourteen-year-old baseball player catches mononucleosis, he discovers that keeping a journal and experimenting with poetry not only helps fill the time, it also helps him deal with life, love, and loss.

SHAKESPEARE’S WORLD AND WORK (Ed. John F. Andrews) Presents alphabetized, cross-referenced, illustrated entries on Shakespeare’s life and texts, and Renaissance England. Includes time lines, sidebars, definitions in page margins, and other features designed especially for younger readers.

BLUE AVENGER CRACKS THE CODE (Norma Howe) In his new identity as Blue Avenger, sixteen-year-old David visits Venice, Italy, and continues to pursue various crusades, including trying to solve the mystery of who really wrote Shakespeare’s works.

SHAKESPEARE’S POEMS AND SONNETS (Ed. Harold Bloom) This volume brings together study guides to sonnets 19, 53, 55, 87, 94, 116, 129 and “The Phoenix and Turtle”, “The Rape of Lucrece”, and “Venus and Adonis”.

EXPOSURE (Mal Peet) Paul Faustino, South America’s best soccer journalist, reports on the series of events that hurl Otello from the heights of being a beloved and successful soccer star, happily married to the pop singer Desdemona, into a downward spiral, in this novel loosely based on Shakespeare’s play, Othello.

THE JULIET CLUB (Suzanne Harper) When high school junior Kate wins an essay contest that sends her to Verona, Italy, to studyShakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” over the summer, she meets both American and Italian students and learns not just about Shakespeare, but also about star-crossed lovers–and herself.

SOMETHING ROTTEN (Alan Gratz) In a contemporary story based on Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Horatio Wilkes seeks to solve the murder of his friend Hamilton Prince’s father in Denmark, Tennessee.

From the Lower School:
THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER (Gary Blackwood) A young orphan boy is ordered by his master to infiltrate Shakespeare’s acting troupe in order to steal the script of “Hamlet,” but he discovers instead the meaning of friendship and loyalty.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND THE GLOBE (Aliki) Tells the story of the well-known playwright, William Shakespeare, and of the famous Globe Theatre in which many of his works were performed.

THE BARD OF AVON (Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema) A brief biography of the world’s most famous playwright, using only historically correct information.

TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE (Tina Packer) A collection of prose retelling of ten familiar Shakespeare plays, each illustrated by a well-known artist or artists.

SHAKESPEARE’S SECRET (Elise Broach) Named after a character in a Shakespeare play, misfit sixth-grader Hero becomes interested in exploring this unusual connection because of a valuable diamond supposedly hidden in her new house, an intriguing neighbor, and the unexpected attention of the most popular boy in school. (find in the MS/US collection)

THE WEDNESDAY WARS (Gary D. Schmidt) During the 1967 school year, on Wednesday afternoons when all his classmates go to either Catechism or Hebrew school, seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood stays in Mrs. Baker’s classroom where they read the plays of William Shakespeare and Holling learns much of value about the world he lives in. (find in the MS/US collection)

KING OF SHADOWS (Susan Cooper) While in London as part of an all-boy acting company preparing to perform in a replica of the famous Globe Theatre, Nat Field suddenly finds himself transported back to 1599 and performing in the original theater under the tutelage of Shakespeare himself. (find in the MS/US collection)

Find these and more (including LOTS of videos of Shakespeare’s plays-made-into-movies!) at

Great reads to help celebrate Earth Week

This week and next, the Walter Jones Library at Moses Brown will be celebrating Earth Day! Some of the featured books will include…

The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker) Julia and her family awake one morning to a world suddenly changed when the rotation of the earth suddenly slows down and gravity is affected. The length of days and nights grows longer, and the environment is turned into chaos. Trying to adjust to these changes in this utterly altered world, Julia attempts to navigate through the personal disasters of everyday life and the loss of dreams, plans, and loved ones.

All Over Creation (Ruth Ozeki) Single mother Yumi Fuller returns home after a twenty-five-year absence to care for her ailing parents and walks into the middle of a clash between her parents’ neighbors who are experimenting with growing genetically altered potatoes, and an environmentalist group, the Seeds of Resistance, who believe the elderly Fullers hold the key to propagating plant life on Earth.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (Elizabeth Kolbert) Presents an examination of the build-up of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere and the effects on climate change and global warming.

Climate Change (Shelley Tanaka) Examines the issue of global warming and explains how global warming is occurring and its potential impact on life on Earth. It also considers the difficulties of confronting the issue and taking action.

Earth Care: World Folktales to Talk About (Margaret Read MacDonald) This is a collection of traditional tales and proverbs from over twenty countries of ethnic groups, touching upon both human and ecological themes such as environmental protection, the care of other creatures, and the connection of all things in nature.

An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming (Al Gore) Explains the phenomenon of global warming and its effects showing how the Earth could change as the climate crisis continues.

Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save the Earth’s Climate. (Stephen Schneider) Describes the history of the world’s reaction to global warming. It discusses the scientific discoveries, negotiations, delays, and suggested solutions.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (Mary Roach) Examines the science of traveling and living in outer space without air, gravity, fresh foods, privacy, and other features of life on Earth. Discusses the findings of space agencies’ research using space simulations.

Earth (Jeffrey Zuehkle) An introduction to the planet Earth that provides information on its location in the solar system, size, orbit, temperature, atmosphere, surface, and moon, and discusses how astronomers study space.

The Earth Book (Todd Parr) Introduces young readers to the importance of conservation and provides ideas to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle, such as planting trees, using both sides of a piece of paper, and recycling. Includes a poster with ten tips to live green.

Our Big Home: An Earth Poem (Linda Glaser, art by Elisa Kleven) Describes the water, air, soil, sky, sun, and more shared by all living creatures on Earth.

Earth Always Endures: Native American Poems (Neil Phillip)Selection of sixty Native American chants, prayers, and songs representative of traditions from tribes across the country, accompanied by duotone photographs taken by nineteenth century photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis.

A Child’s Introduction to the Environment: The Air, the Earth and the Sea Around Us: Plus Experiments, Projects, and Activities You Can Do to Help Our Planet! (Michael Driscoll and Dennis Driscoll) Provides an entertaining and instructive tour of the Earth’s varied environments, along with activities and materials to encourage young environmentalists.

Good Earth Art: Environmental Art for Kids (MaryAnn F. Kohl and Cindy Gainer)Offers a variety of art projects that develop an awareness of the environment using materials collected from nature or saved from the trash-bin.

Find these books and more in the library catalog and in the digital library!

History teacher Jon Gold explores China


This gallery contains 8 photos.

I had the great pleasure of spending the first week of spring break in China with Education First, an educational travel company with an array of programs designed to provide global experiences for students and teachers. The purpose of my … Continue reading

Good neighbors: the MB/Hope Exchange

“I want to thank everyone who makes this program happen. It’s a huge amount of work and coordination, but I can assure you that you’re changing the life of at least one student. You did with me.” – Emilia Pena-Disla, Hope High ’02, Moses Brown Middle/Upper School Spanish teacher

Emilia-and-her-sister400For many years, neighboring schools Moses Brown and Hope High School have convened an exchange program: students from one school spend a day with peer hosts at the other, and return the favor on another day. Students have the chance to connect and gain an understanding of both differences and commonalities between students and schools. In March, 32 MB students took part, including 11 seniors and 12 juniors.

Emilia Pena-Disla, a Moses Brown upper and middle school Spanish teacher, has a unique perspective on the Hope Exchange. “I took part in the Hope Exchange in 2002, as a senior at Hope High School,” Emilia says. “This year my sister Lessett, a sophomore at Hope, was able to participate. She really enjoyed her day here at MB. She was so excited when she got home. She spent the entire afternoon telling our mom how different MB is from Hope, comparing the academics, social life and teacher-student relationships of both institutions.”

“Seeing her experience what I did 12 years ago, I felt like I was reliving the experience all over again,” Emilia continues. “In 2002, the year I did the Hope Exchange, Hope was ranked the worst school in the Providence district. Visiting Moses Brown gave me hope that my own outcome – professionally and personally – didn’t have to be linked to Hope High School’s reputation at the time. I worked hard to finish my senior year and made it my goal to pursue a different path than most of my class.”

2014's Hope Exchange participants.

2014’s Hope Exchange participants.