Recently, I had a conversation with a gentleman who knew very little about our school. In seeking to understand more about our program, he asked me a series of questions. He was a very nice man, but rather than bring us closer together, each exchange seemed to make the connection even fuzzier- as if I was standing in front of a map at the precise spot where it says “You are here” and this person can not seem to find their way to the same spot. The service is bad. The connection was never good. We may meet at the same spot eventually, but certainly not today.
“Do they play in this fenced playground area?”
Me: “Yes, but also in the large field over there and in the woods over here.”
“They climb trees?”
Me: “Oh, yes!”
“What if they fall?
Me: “They do.”
“There are no whistles or bells? How do they know when it’s time to come in or move to the next thing?”
Me: “They tell each other. They know the schedule.”
“What if they just decide to stay outside and play football all day?”
Me: “That would be interesting if they made that choice.”
Of course, I followed up by explaining this would be an “unsafe choice” and violation of our school’s Honor Code. Our learners know this because they helped create the rules and attached consequences for abusing any of their freedoms. Aside from this, I state, “Learning is fun here. They want to come inside. They want to work.”
While I want to keep talking about the freedoms and responsibilities of our learners, and how children want to learn, I can tell this is just causing the connection to get fuzzier.
So, I give up on that and share the responsibilities of our team, the adults- to ensure a safe learning environment for the young people in our care.
Satisfied, this nice gentleman and I bring our conversation to a pleasant end, no closer to each other than when we began. I find that quiet resolve inside to accept this fact.
This man is doing the best he can with what he knows. In our conversation, he asks a series of “What if” questions that contain assumptions that children are incapable, fragile, irresponsible, manipulative, and disengaged. Of course, somewhere in our conversation he reveals to me how much he hated school. No surprise there. When he thinks about school, his imagination can go no further than his own experience. This saddens me. He is there.
And we- well, we are not there, thankfully.
We are here. In a place where children are capable, strong, responsible, compassionate, and filled with wonder. In a place where asking “What if…” is focused on all of the magical possibilities and untapped potential in each of us. In a place where children are free to spread their wings and fly.
I remember this, and just like that- my heart is filled with joy.