That school bell’s ringin’! Giddap! Whoa! Welcome back, everyone.
As I write this, the rest of the staff are scurrying around, collating files, scrubbin’ tiles, and wrastlin’ crocodiles, puttin in dat elbow grease, while I tap away on my keyboard, 33 tabs open in chrome, planning next summer. Just kidding - I’m working harder than anyone else, I’m sure you’ll agree. I happen to be drinking coffee, too, and for some reason today my coffee tastes like grilled cheese, and strangely enough, I love it. I’m just slurpin’ it down. Go figure.
I’d like to congratulate our students, and their parents, for making the bold decision to be a part of our school. Surely it would (at least appear to) be safer to sign up for the traditional program and march off down the corridors, backpack stuffed with the good stuff. My daughter is nearly five, and I feel the pull myself, so my congratulations are quite sincere; I know it isn’t always an easy choice, but I think it is a decision well made.
My final adventure of the summer was a trip to the Maine Primitive Skills School for a five day immersion program. I built and slept in a debris hut, wove cordage from plant fibers, made friction fire, and skinned and roasted a chipmunk (I didn’t eat it though, smelling it was way more than enough, I needed to shower and brush my teeth like six times immediately afterwards but you know: baby steps). You gotta get your kicks somehow right? I went for the skills, but I was startled by how emotional the experience became for me. The instructor emphasized that the most important aspect of survival - far and away - is attitude. In survival situations (particularly in real ones, not merely when you’re “playing survival” like we were), circumstances can deteriorate rapidly and it can be extraordinarily difficult to meet basic needs. It’s quite easy to panic, become angry, exceedingly anxious, impatient, depressed, and then, well, die - even when there are accessible pathways to survival. But if you can remember yourself and choose a positive mindset, your chances of survival (or at least a dignified death) increase dramatically.
We all know very well that attitude is important to outcomes, that it shapes the meaning of our experience, and that it’s possible to change it if we need to, but these truisms were illuminated and refreshed for me by the unnerving - if contrived - context of primitive skills training. I made it my practice to continually check my attitude and adjust as needed. The skills themselves are important, but they came more easily, and I could use them to greater effect, when I approached them with patience and gratitude. The lesson was an old one made new: there is always choice, whether we recognize it or not, and if we don’t, or if we don’t exercise it, the choice will be made for us by impersonal and often brutal forces.
When I think about what is most important to me for the education of my own children, it’s intimate knowledge of this principle of choice. An understanding of the possibilities it offers, and the ability to access them, is not only the basis of imagination (and therefore innovation), but also positive behavior (self-discipline), and - most importantly - it makes you secretly (“spiritually”) invincible, because you always get to choose how you respond, internally and externally, to circumstances. I’m not making a metaphysical claim about free will or anything like that - I barely care - I’m talking about plain psychological truth.
Given that’s what I want my kids to know about, I want their educators to use pedagogy which emphasizes the truth of choice with enthusiasm, clarity, and consistency. I want them to become familiar with the process of choice, and I want them to practice it, become strong and confident with it. I see it as the Master Skill which will ensure a Good life for them however fickle fortune (or the economy) may be.
Of course, choice is the raison d’etre of our school. We do choice like google does search. Our students have to grapple with the reality of choice the entire time they’re here. Our model fits the human condition like a glove, it fits our psychology like the Greek pantheon, it’s the local organic option - what the body really wants, what the genome craves. Even our digimodern lives are really just extended survival trips, and there will be hard times and close calls for all, guaranteed. As a parent, sometimes I suffer miserably reflecting on this hard, clean truth, but it always clarifies for me what I want my kids to know, and where I want them to go to school.
Welcome back all you brave, creative, thoughtful people, to our sweet, bold little school, where the kids are free to learn and struggle and practice being a human being and the printer is always out of toner and the coffee tastes like grilled cheese maybe because some kid used your mug to eat mac'n'cheese and you like it like that. Welcome back to this real place. Welcome back to choice.