“Having space and time to develop and pursue a genuine passion” is one of the aspects of HVSS that gets a lot of airtime in our PR materials and Open Houses. Yet, it can be a little misleading - it may give the impression that every student at school is constantly engaged in a specific and well-defined activity with one-pointed concentration, painting masterworks, designing cantilevers, coding software, or reading Heraclitus. And if that’s the impression of what the school is, or is at least supposed to be, well then when you (student) do not have a specific and well-defined passion, you might feel like you’re missing the boat, there’s something wrong with you, you’re somehow inadequate, stunted, lazy, or whatever. “Do What You Love” is a big meme in our wider culture, too, implying that every person ought to have some kind of specific activity she loves to do and that she ought to be able to use it to turn a profit! There is huge social pressure to “follow your bliss” into some field in which you can distinguish yourself, which ultimately proves your worth and gives your life meaning (or whatever). But do we really believe this? And is it what HVSS is all about? Well, for starters, the whole phrase, “pursuing a passion” is sort of messed up, conflating journey and destination, isn’t it? A passion isn’t something we pursue - it’s how we pursue when we are engaged in our activity. What’s more, if we hone in on one particular activity and call it “my passion,” we run the risk of separating our passion from our life, and I’d hazard a guess that what most parents want is for their kids to passionately and lucidly engage all aspects of life. I would argue that to do that, it’s necessary to live deliberately - that is, to actively choose and create your own life, and that’s what we really mean at HVSS when we tout our students’ freedom to “pursue their passion.” Students here must choose whatever activity they engage at any particular moment.
A passion isn’t something we pursue - it’s how we pursue when we are engaged in our activity.
Some of our students may be drawn deeply into an activity, or a particular kind of work-play that excites them, engages their creativity, and allows them to be their best, and when that happens, great. Or some may be drawn into activity which is not distinct or classified by our culture as a legitimate life-calling. Maybe the best example is friendship, which, although valued in the rhetoric of our culture, and certainly in our hearts, is usually seen as a sort of side-project of life; it’s something to keep up with and enjoy in little snatches during leisure time (or whatever). But would any of us really deny that friendship can be a calling in its own right? Would anyone deny that being a friend involves dedication, subtle work, reflection, courage, the development of special skill? Perhaps I have no traditional passion - I do not throw myself into the design of flying buttresses or the films of Federico Fellini. But I’m a damn good friend, and really, what could be better than a genius of friendship? Even if a student may not be drawn into any particular activities, I would still argue that she “has a passion” in an important sense.
Let’s switch for a moment from “passion” to “vocation,” which is usually - again - thought of as a specific activity for which a person is somehow made. But maybe it would be more helpful to also think about vocation as how we do things, rather than what we do. So, when I say, “vocation,” I mean that each of us has a particular way about us, a kind of spirit. Thinking this way, we can confidently say that “everyone has a vocation,” and then we can begin find value in all our activity rather than relegate value to one specific activity, because what we are doing is of secondary importance to how we are doing it. Then, what we need in our education is the opportunity to exercise our spirit. All our activity now becomes luminous - an arena of passion - and we bring our vocation with us into any line of work or life we choose. Then too we are free to view attributes we would normally call “quirks” and describe as “strange” as expressing some meaningful clue to a person’s vocation, and to view children’s intense focus on things we deem “unworthy” as important if mysterious proving grounds.
...we can begin find value in all our activity rather than relegate value to one specific activity, because what we are doing is of secondary importance to how we are doing it.
Students at HVSS have no choice but to choose their own activity and how they go about it;they have no choice but to exercise and develop their passion, their vocation. Many of them wander and float around throughout the school day, having varied experiences, getting bored, finding inspiration, building relationships, getting distracted. Many interests, large and small, come and go in their lives. Our students are able to live them all fully. The freedom they have is the manifestation of the respect the school has for them. We believe in them; they all have a vocation - we know it - cantilevers or not. They all have a particular way of being in the world, and being called into it. This is not something we give to them or train them up for with some sophisticated agenda or another. It’s something we simply support and encourage. Passionately.