The best thing about working “in education” is, undoubtedly, the summer. Oh wait, I mean the kids - the best thing is the kids. Wellllll, no - sorry! - it’s the summer, as much as I do love the kids (at least when I’m not responsible for the choices they make, the lessons they learn, the things they say, and the thoughts they think!) For me, having this uninterrupted time to immerse myself in interests and friends old and new, deepen my connection to my home, neighborhood, and region, travel, keep hours regular or irregular, and be with family, is a treasure I guard most jealously; it is a great, fatty, nourishing privilege. For me, just as it is for many children, summer is the Land of Space and Time Enough, which really is the only land fit for human habitation. Each year, I have the space and time to connect with what’s really happening in my inner life; I can let the changes which constantly brew there wash over me. I can, like the flora, exult in a state of robust health and growth. Having significant time in which to direct my own activity makes me feel very, very rich indeed, and in possession of myself, or, to put it slightly differently, free.
Everyone deserves the degree of balance which working in education can afford, but unfortunately few careers offer it (even though there is ample evidence to suggest the world is rich enough to offer it to everyone). However, those in the partner-career to education - namely, children - may also easily integrate this gift into their lives. It is hard to ignore the deluge of data, and the subsequent media coverage, showing the extensive benefits for kids of having mostly “free” summers unfettered by adult-initiated and regulated activity: kids deepen friendships and develop emotional intelligence, work creatively with their imagination, broaden and deepen their knowledge base, learn new skills, stay physically fit, and bolster their executive functions. They are afforded the opportunity to grow at their own pace and focus intuitively on the tasks they ought to. Free from harassment, they are able to absorb and integrate the changes in their internal lives. And, oh yeah, they seem to enjoy it. A lot.
They are afforded the opportunity to grow at their own pace and focus intuitively on the tasks they ought to. Free from harassment, they are able to absorb and integrate the changes in their internal lives.
The heavy-scheduling and “helicopter-parenting” of Americans has provoked this counter-trend of “throw-back” summers. And surely it’s a good thing, but - to what do kids return when summer is over? An outdated model of education firmly based on instruction and authority which does not recognize their sovereignty and intelligence? For most of them, well, yes.
Of course, our students do not return to any such thing. Here, we can think of summer as a time to “go out in the field,” a time for independent study, if you will, and the school year is a time to “come back in,” a time to be immersed in equitable community and collective activity. We secure for our students the continued responsibility and freedom of a “free” summer. The rule remains basically the same: each kid directs their own activity, unmolested by any adult’s agenda. The difference is that here everyone has to be cognizant of directing their activity within a community of 80 or so other free people, and doing that well requires a lot of reflection and care. The resources are also different. In returning here from the summer, our students exchange mobility for those 80 people, along with all the riches of their minds and spirits. Many of our students exchange the impressionism of following whims for the realism of collaborative projects. And they exchange their status as a subject in a home for status as a legislator, judge, and executive in a democratic community (during the school day). One resource which remains constant for our students from summer to school year is constant access to the outdoors; that, also, is not withdrawn here. Personally, that fact alone might be enough to convince me to enroll my children at a school.
So, I’m really grateful that the “free” summer trend is growing, and I appreciate it as an integral part of a “Sudbury” childhood. It is my hope that families will continue to embrace it, and also ask themselves more and more earnestly, “but to what will they return when the summer is over? What would a school which builds on this look like?” Enjoy the rest of your summer. Store up that D. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone real soon.