A Moment of Grace
What’s happening in school this week?
I’m writing today from a coffeeshop porch in town. The sound of the highway isn’t quite as soothing as the birdsong accompaniment I’m used to, but the view of the mountains is pretty spectacular; backlit, wispy clouds in pastel colors and streaks of dark and light that look suspiciously like rain, which we haven’t had in a while. I needed some space today, from the day-to-day realities of school and home, and also from my own thoughts.
There’s been a lot going on at school, with final projects in process and planning for next semester ramping up. There was a particular moment today, however, that I want to unpack, mostly to understand it better myself. I’m grateful to have an audience with whom I can have that kind of relationship, grateful to all of you who are reading for witnessing me as I bumble towards the realization of this vision that I have called into being.
I’ll start with some context. For one thing, the energy of these last few weeks has been very contained, very directed and very product oriented. I’ve been trying to give the kids a process that they can use to channel their creativity in more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding, directions. It’s been a big stretch for them, and almost everybody has displayed some kind of resistance or rebelliousness. At the same time, the end of winter and the coming of longer, sunnier days has brought that familiar feeling of wanting to shake off the bonds and move, dance, play, be free. This is just as true for me as it is for the kids. With this dynamic tension present, I’ve been feeling pulled in two directions, on the one hand wanting to push through and have a sense of completion and follow through with the challenging multi-part projects I’ve initiated, and on the other wanting to meet the kids in their deeply felt desire for freedom.
Until today, I think I had been erring on the side of pushing (and sometimes cajoling, admonishing, even pleading). This morning, however, something tipped the scales. I started out by opening up nature journaling time to include other options: work in your journal, or on your final project, or on the exciting math problem we started this morning. The kids dove on the opening hungrily. “Can I carve?”, “Can we eat snack?”, “Can I work on my toy boat?”. Having gone so far, I decided to let go just a little further and see what would happen. The seal was finally blown when Stone declared that he was taking his hand carved toy boat to the pond for a test run. I was immediately inundated with a chorus of pleas to be allowed to go watch (it strikes me now how telling it is that they even asked me, rather than just running off...). Fortunately, I had the grace to allow it, and the entire class took off for the pond.
I sat alone in the shed for a moment, wondering what I had just done, and what would come of it. Had I given up any hope of authority? Had I lost my influence on the class? What exactly was going on down there at the pond anyway? I wanted to go down there and check out the scene, but I was afraid they would take my presence as admonishment. I tried to walk over as nonchalantly as I could. When I arrived, they were all grouped together, sitting peacefully, watching Stone wind the rubber band on his small boat. The scene was idyllic, one in the tree, two by the water’s edge, a few more grouped on the small dock, all rapt, excited but at peace, focused with one mind on the miracle of the water, the beautiful day, and the small boat. Whatever my plan was worth, it couldn’t possibly compare to this sweet moment of harmony and aliveness.
And then, it got even better. As Stone experimented with his boat, small but potent scientific observations began to emerge from the crowd of kids. “look, it turns sideways. Why does it do that?” “Hey, I can see the moon reflected in the pond, behind the clouds!” “No, it’s the sun.” “Hey, I see it over here, but you see it over there. Woah, it moves when I move my head!”. From the physics of boats to the behavior of lightwaves to the physiology of frog and newt eggs, we spent an enraptured few minutes exploring the place together. Most notably of all, for me at least, it was the first time all day (and maybe in several days), where everyone was engaged, nobody was checked out, having side conversations, or hiding in their sweater. It was one of those rare moments of glorious unity, and it emerged entirely out of the kids interests and desires, and had nothing to do with my agenda.
When I sensed the moment beginning to wane, I decided it was time to pick up the staff of responsibility once more, to contain the energy we had just built rather than allowing it to devolve and be lost. I announced, calmly but firmly, that it was time to head back to the shed and that we would spend a few minutes journaling about the experience we had just had. In the initial flurry of resistance I worried that I had spoiled the good mood, but once we settled in with our journals I could see out of the corner of my eye that I had made the right call; those scientific observations, as well as much of the aesthetic pleasure of those few minutes by the pond, were pouring onto the kids journal pages, and the mood was so quiet and focused I almost hated to end it for story time.
This moment was a treasure for me, and one of the true blessings of being able to teach in the way that I do. What a gift, to have the support of parents, mentors, and community to allow these kids to lead the way into these unforeseen moments of grace, and to be able to follow them, sitting quietly by the side of the pond, as they live out their evanescent yet enduringly beautiful childhoods.
How can you support the school?
Let me peruse your library
I'm always on the lookout for inspiring and amazing pieces of writing, both for my own inspiration and enjoyment and to share with the kids. If you ever have a recommendation of something to read that touches on the subjects we are exploring, feel free to let me know, and if you're open to me coming to check out your selection for myself that would be wonderful as well.
Come tell us a story!
In this unit on adulthood, coming into our gifts and finding our unique path of service in the world, it would be wonderful to have some personal stories from villagers about their unique life path so far. If there is a story bubbling in you about where life has called you that you may not have suspected, please get in touch and we'll make a time for you to share it!
Donate money or leaps
Donations are always welcome, in any amount. Financial support is needed in order to ensure that the program remains affordable to all of our hardworking families here at Earthaven. Donating is easy and satisfying! Consider signing up as a patron with a monthly donation, as this predictable income is especially valuable in supporting the financial health of the school.
For our upcoming summer session, The Village School is in need of the following items. If you have any to donate they would be greatly appreciated. Please get in touch with me and I can come pick them up!
Farming and gardening tools of all kinds: Pruners, hoes, rakes, shovels, pruning saws, wheelbarrows, etc...
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What are we reading at school this week?
Loretta Little Looks Back by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Told in the voices of three generations of the fictional Little family, this recreation of African American oral history tells a story of resistance and cultural transmission in the face of sharecropping, Jim Crow, and the white conservative backlash during and after the Civil Rights Movement. Based on members of the authors own family, the Littles tell their story in a voice and style all their own, and convey not only the history, but also the lived experience and the creativity and generative "soul-force" that grew and blossomed through the generations in their family, both out of and despite that experience.
What's the teacher reading this week?
The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry
Where would I be without Wendell Berry? And how did it take me so long to find his work? In this long essay, Mr. Berry eloquently traces the connections between the degeneration of agriculture and human culture, with his characteristic blend of moral clarity and dense, multi-layered prose. As always, he argues compellingly for the importance of staying put, of living out a meaningful relationship with a particular piece of land. I dearly wish that Mr. Berry could come here, to sit on our porches and look out at our fields, and witness our fledgling, sometimes bumbling, but very often sincere and so far at least somewhat successful attempt to take this plea seriously, and put it into practice.