Trust-A Message to New Parents at BFS

Last night I answered an email, requesting “words of wisdom’ for a Brooklyn Free School (BFS), New Parents Brunch this weekend. As the request was for a brief sentence, this is what I sent:

“The key for me in this process is TRUST. It takes time and unlearning on our part to trust the child to find his own way,…with a little help.”

I thought, as my mind is rested this morning, and my thinking just a little bit clearer, I could elaborate on the idea of TRUST and how it is important in the education process.

To be honest, when I first signed on to be part of this growing movement, the idea of trust did not occur to me. Our first inclinations were that we did not want our son subjected to the rigid and short sighted tracking approach of public school. The prison barred windows, armed guards at the door and the battle wearied teachers were not for us.

To go back a ways, I was first introduced to the idea of Free Schools, by my first year writing and communications teacher at School of Visual Arts [SVA], Silas Rhodes. Silas was our elder statesmen at the school as well as its founder and president of SVA. He was one of those older gentlemen you meet in life who you can actually develop an affection and admiration for. Our first reading assignment in the class was the book Summerhill by A.S. Neill, whom I have quoted on this blog previously.

The book had a particular effect on me as it was a picture of a school directed by the students. I had never heard of such a thing and so I was curious. SVA was not a democratic free school, but it must have had some appeal to Silas to have us aware of this educational approach. The school was an exciting place to be after 13 years of public education where art was considered a minor distraction. It was a daunting task for teachers in this art school to undo the damage that had been done to us young artists by public education (the majority of us were just out of city high schools). Just to have us think or conceptualize was a huge mountain to climb because in truth, we had never been allowed or empowered to think or have a voice. We had no say in what we learned or how we learned. And one book, one charismatic teacher or one semester was not going to reeducate us. But at least my quest had been ignited.

Fast forward about 25 years, Sheryll and I are in the Woodstock area for vacation. Noah was very small, about 2 inches (LOL) and we are at a yard sale, looking at someone else’ crap. The mother there, in conversation told us of a new Sudbury school coming to Woodstock. From that moment on, we only envisioned Noah going to that type of school. No way was he going to be burdened with what we had gone through. We started fantasizing on how we could move upstate so our son could attend such a school. Nothing seemed to fit our current lifestyles, so the move never got made. It was our good fortune, that an article by Alan Berger appeared in the Park Slope Food Coop Gazette. He wrote a letter to the membership about his interest in starting a school, based on the Summerhill ideal …right here in Brooklyn!

We began to attend meetings in various people’s homes. Many came to those first meetings. First and foremost, parents. But also educators who were worn out by their experiences as teachers. I would relate, again and again my experiences in grade school (see Back in PS 46-mid sixties-July 09). Others had varying degrees of dealing with the regimented approach to learning from their own unique experience. But we never discussed trust.

So as we started, it became apparent that not only was my son going to school, but we as parents were entering a learning process of our own. Because as free thinking as any one of us thinks we may be, there are many pretensions still locked away in the corner of our brains. One of the many questions that come up is our immediate panic in relation to reading. It is popular in our culture to believe that early reading is a sign of an intelligent child. The result of this is that parents inadvertently place tremendous pressure on the child to perform, way before they are ready to. And in effect, are suppressing the child’s  interest to benefit one’s own need to feel good about having brilliant children. We are automatically entered into “keeping up with Jones’ mentality.  There is the usual fear about how they are going to get into college if they are not put through the usual rigor of testing and grading. The daunting impressions of the school being wild and chaotic. All of these and many other preconceived fears, that are present in us, in time, need to be let go of. And last of all, for me, the fact that entering and working for the benefit of this community, means that everything is not about me or about MY child, but that we are part of a bigger picture. And that there are long term goals to be made, and that my heart needs to be opened to them.

At the head of the above list of apprehensions, the word trust lies as the guiding master to help the unlearning process in us as parents. Suddenly the old authoritarian approaches to discipline and educating have to give way to an authoritative approach. We are watchers more than directors. But we must give up our role as directors, in order for a more intelligent force to appear in us, in our children, and yes, even the teachers. We are now all together in a process of learning.

We have all heard all our lives that ‘patience is a virtue.’  Virtues are something we are not born with, but must be learned. And trust is the product of patience. I have begun to see how allowing my son to find his way, have his interests rise naturally, observe that he learns as much from his interactions with his friends as he does with anyone else, and to be there when he needs me, with as open a heart as I can bring to the moment. Then maybe Love can be the by product of Trust. And that is the best that I can offer today for new parents.

Welcome to the process.

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One Comment on “Trust-A Message to New Parents at BFS”

  1. Diane Zeines says:

    In 1973, when I was at Queens College, I switched my major from American Literature to High School English Teacher. Before you can start doing your student teaching, you have to take a semester of educational theory, where you study different types of styles of education. I have literally forgotten all but one of those educational styles and the style that left the biggest impression on me was the Summerhill School in England. I distinctly remember in my readings that there was a boy at Summerhill who did not start reading until he was 12 years old. He just didn’t have the desire before that age. Well, fast forward 36 years and I found myself just a teensy weensy bit anxious about my nephew being almost 9 years old and still not reading. I felt a little uneasy about the whole thing because it was MY nephew, not someone else’s nephew, in a far away land, LOL. On the other hand, I know that Noah has started to read, he did it at his own pace, on his own schedule, when his brain was ready to put it all together for himself. And that’s probably what will happen with all his learning. I know many people who went through the public school system who don’t remember a damn thing about anything they learned. Not a noun, a verb, a historical date, why we celebrate July 4th, who’s running for office, how to multiply, etc. — in other words, they know NADA. And they have no curiousity about learning anything new unless someone is paying them to learn it. So my hope for all the free school students out there is that they appreciate and cherish their ability to be curious about the world. It’s not something everyone naturally has nor has it ever been instilled in most people who have plodded their way through the United States school system.


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