The Community of TrustPosted: May 24, 2013
It is fairly early in the morning. My coffee is here with me and I have already been up a while. I find myself here at the key board, after such a long layoff from blog writing, with my brain on fire. My thoughts this morning center specifically around our school. There has been a lot to digest from this year.
Yesterday, a few of us gathered for an Upper School parent breakfast meeting, to discuss issues that may have arisen over the course of this year and how best to address them for the year to come. It was interesting to listen to what others were going through, what their child’s experience of the past year was and to express my own understanding about where Noah is in this whole process. After the fact, I began to ponder what his and our situation is, and felt a need to write the community as to what has crystalized in my understanding of Brooklyn Free School. Also, after Sunday’s very intense and emotional parent meeting, I felt it was important to state my growing sense of how this school has grown since the time we all sat down in a room 10 years ago, to conceive the idea of a democratic free school.
The one thing that stood out in my mind when thinking about my son, is that for the most part, he has always been in conditions where he is loved. As my third child, I was more relaxed with his arrival, and my wife and I have fortunately agreed most of the time as to how best to allow him to find his own way. This has always come with a huge amount of love. When Noah started at BFS 8 years ago, it was clear from the beginning that he was in a condition of love. He was in a place where he was appreciated for being who he was, and therefore, his growth has been guided by trust, patience and empathy.
This gave me to pondering my own upbringing. I know my parents loved me, but they did not have the facility or awareness to know the consequences of the conditions they put me in. Public school, right from the start was a place where I could not be myself. I was constantly told what to do and what NOT to do. “STOP RUNNING! SIT DOWN! SHUT UP!” As a human being, it is our instinctual need to seek love and friendship. As a child we begin immediately to look for friends who will like us and accept us. But in public school, you could not talk to your new friends in class because that would annoy a teacher or interfere with their preconceived agenda to jam facts down our throats. Many wrong facts I might add. It is amazing we developed friendships at all, but we did. But much of those were awkward scenarios of trying to fit in. A great deal of my life has been wasted trying to find people who loved me, for being me. Noah has never known this condition. If he was not accepted in one place, he just moved on and never looked back. We noticed this quality in him early on when he would interact in the playground. If a kid was mean or agressive, he just moved away from them and found someone else who wasn’t. And that has been his modus operandi ever since.
The parent meeting on Sunday left me with a lot to think about. There has been a pervasive feeling throughout this year, especially among the parents of the youngest children, that something was “not quite right.” I am not sure if this is true, but it is how people are perceiving a situation that is frustrating, and not changing rapidly enough to gain any consensus satisfaction. Well, here is my take: BFS has always been, and still is in a constant state of growth. It will likely always be in a state of growth. That is a good thing. Humans need to grow throughout life. It should not stop. As a man who is at the end of middle age and about to enter that “gray zone” before old age, I feel I am still in a state of growth. Maybe more so now than ever in my life. This school has been a part of that process for me. I have watched layers of distrust and impatience fall away from me like layers on an onion. As it is for me, so it is for the school, (As In Heaven, So on Earth.)
The school is a perfect example of what growth is. Most of us do not have the experience to understand properly what takes place in the school on a daily basis, unless you spend a little time there. We need to realize that our children are in a process of adaptation to the difficult idea of “freedom.” While it is happening in them, it is also happening in us, in the teachers, staff help, interns and just about anybody else who has the inclination to get involved with the grand BFS experiment. There are occurences on the student level, decided by the children, that are incredibly baffling to us.
One example: this year there was an incident involving the drawing of penises on the school walls. An all school meeting was called, but the culprit never stepped forward. There were more incidents and then action was taken by the WHOLE school. It was decided, that for a time, the WHOLE school would be punished by limiting access to the upper floors. Many parents were aghast at this decision, but it was decided on by the WHOLE school. If you have never attended a democratic meeting at BFS, I urge you to do so. When children are given a situation to decide on, and action is required, they can be way more punitive than any adult. I have seen this many times.
At the core of this, at least for me, is love. This is truly a community in the making and one that has love as its’ core value. It is constantly reforming itself, but it is always guided by the fact that the people involved with BFS love this community. And before we go into reaction because something is bothering us, we need to stop and think how rare a thing this is. “A Community.” We live in a world where neighbors hardly talk to one another. Everyone in this country is so busy trying to pursue an outmoded consumerist model for existence, they have withdrawn themselves into their own private psychological cave. We live in a world ruled by fear, mistrust, and growing anxiety, all of our own making. The collective anxiety is so great, it creates a terror that accompanies most people as they awaken from their beds on a daily basis. What BFS represents for our children on most days, is that they arise from slumber with the intense urge to go to school. It is certainly not the case with the majority of America’s children. Is not entusiasm considered an important trait to venture out into the world with? Think of the case for the youngest son or daughter in just about every fairy tale. Many conquer great obstacles with nothing more than entusiasm in their arsenal.
At BFS we have the opportunity to raise objection, but we should remember that this is not the case anywhere else. When we raise our objections, we should consider that it is against others who are merely trying their best to provide a condition of love, where our children can thrive while searching for who they are. There will be times where those involved will show a lack of understanding, or make a misstep, but in a community, that can be looked at in an open way that can be helpful to the individual or to the community as a whole.
We need to face our own impatience and mistrust of life so that they can fall away. This is our condition as parents. It is a difficult challenge, but one with many rewards if we choose to face our own lack which an experiment like BFS will undoubtedly reveal. Then one day we can hope to graduate, along with our children, with a better understanding on how to function in this crazy, uncertain world we live in.
This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. —Dwight D. Eisenhower