Thinking back on my own education, I think of a handful of teachers and coaches who developed my sense of worthiness and strength, capacity and courage. These are the teachers and coaches who exhorted a strong influence on the person I have become.
My most influential teachers and coaches led by example. They were authentic in their enthusiasm for teaching; they were honest and trustworthy. More than anything, they demonstrated respect for the young people in their care without condescension or affectation.
Sixth grade wood shop was a pivotal experience for me. My wood shop teacher, while temperamental and a little unstable, taught my class to use power tools including a band saw, planer, drill press and more. By now, all my memories of his safety instructions have faded. What I remember is this: I was trusted. He allowed me to use outrageously dangerous equipment. He knew that my classmates and I were ready for such great responsibility even before we did. For years, the fruits of my labor, an ottoman foot stool with hand-made mortise and tenon joints anchored my parent’s living room as a memento of my coming-of-age. I am incalculably proud of that ottoman.
I believe that our children have greater capacity than we give them credit. But only when treated with respect, can our children develop their true potential. The typical day a young child’s life provides few opportunities to make choices or exercise independence. Their days follow a linear path designed by adults. It is our duty, as parents and teachers to ensure that our children are prepared to know how to live, and have the skills like confidence, grit, and curiosity to do so.
During my twenty-three years in education, my beliefs about children have not changed much. But my understanding of how to meet their needs has evolved a lot. Schools must be open to change, particularly as new opportunities challenge our long-standing assumptions. We must ask ourselves if traditional models still make sense.
While visiting the Jefferson Memorial yesterday, I was struck by a quote inscribed under its dome. Jefferson had written, “…institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”
As information technology has made vast amounts of information available at our children’s finger tips, the classroom paradigm has shifted. Education is about much more that teaching of facts. Now schools must be set up to nurture the personal qualities that prepare children for meaningful lives in a changing world. Personal qualities such as integrity, perseverance, grit and curiosity are more important than ever.
Are we willing to change our institutions to meet our children’s needs?
Evergreen recently became a member of the Black Student Fund (BSF). I am thrilled to be part of this organization that has helped so many DC area students and their families have access to quality education. Evergreen has a long history of leadership in diversity issues in independent schools. We have been recognized as the most racially and culturally diversity member of the Assiation of Independent Maryland Schools (AIMS)
As the BSF website says:
“Since 1964, the Black Student Fund has provided financial assistance and support services to Washington, DC metropolitan area African-American students, grades pre-kindergarten to 12, and their families. BSF-assisted students stay in school, graduate high school with distinction and enter college. 70% of these students are from one-parent households. Many are the first generation to progress to higher education.
Established to racially desegregate the independent schools of the National Capital area, the Fund serves as an advocate for all black children and strives to assure that black students and their families have equal access to every educational opportunity.”
Evergreen will be participating in the BSF Independent School Fair on Sunday September 8 from 2 pm to 5pm at the Washington Convention Center. I hope to see you there.
It has been a while since I posted to my blog, but not because I haven’t been writing. I just completed two courses at Montgomery College, and both required long term papers based on very specific content requirements. My creative energy was sapped.
But when I came across an article in the New York Times on the Carnegie Museum’s Playground Project on the history of playground design, I began to feel free enough to write again.
The article traces the roots of the Evergreen Garden and Playground concept to the Danish landscape architect in the 1930’s named Carl Theodor Sorensen. According to the Times, Sorensen, “advanced the radical notion that children were happiest when playing with junk.” Toward the end of World War II, he began designing playgrounds that encouraged children to build, dig and create with natural and man-made materials including bricks and building debris. He called these new spaces skrammellegeplads or “junk playgrounds.”
Whether writing, building, cooking, making music or any other creative pursuit, we all need a skrammellegeplad… a safe place to play and try things out.
Learning and playing are acts of freedom. It is great to be free.