n Episode 23 “Education as a Vehicle for Social Change,” Founding Mothers Podcast host Emily Race and Head of School Jodi Grass discuss the freedom that Oak Grove’s teachers have to implement activities that foster personal and social growth, outdoor and travel experiences to prepare youth and parents for the transition to adulthood, how students can support their mental health, and the value of questioning one’s thoughts to develop compassion.
Observing a pair of California Scrub Jays through binoculars with students and parents in the quiet early hour before school begins…
Witnessing the Pavilion transform into the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia of 1905…
Discovering the studio of Leonardo Da Vinci surrounded by student-crafted renditions of Mona Lisa and Self Portrait in the medium of candy (yes, candy!)…
Learning the process of sketching out a mural from concept to fruition, which is inspired by a group of high school students’ open-hearted immigration ideals…
All this happened this past week, and all were initiated and/or implemented by our parents. As Krishnamurti said the day before the school opened for the first time, “It would be right that the parents as well as the teachers and the students work together as a family unit.”
We ask parents to communicate directly with the teachers and staff, to attend parent education meetings, to actively read school and classroom updates, and to volunteer for projects and activities already established within the school. When parents move beyond this base-level of engagement and are energized by an idea for which the school can provide scaffolding for its implementation, we are able to provide something that might not otherwise be possible. When parents and staff can partner to bring form to a new idea, we are able to broaden our resources and capacity as a school, as a community, and as a family unit. Being a small school with a skeletal staff and a modest tuition, we might be limited by internal resources. But limited we are not! We have parents with an incredible wealth of knowledge, talents, and energies who choose to share those with our community. We rely on our parents to complete the circle so we can, together, operate a school “where one learns about the totality, the wholeness of life.”
March 31, 2019
Self-Discovery: Making Space for What Really Counts
The recent college admissions scandal, dubbed Varsity Blues, hit the news just a few days before the release of Turning the Tide II, the second installment of a report on the college admissions process from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project. As if part of a well-choreographed but tragic dance, a large portion of the report, entitled Ethical Parenting in the College Admissions Process, unabashedly calls out parents for “failing to prepare young people to be caring, ethical community members and citizens.” According to students surveyed for the report, most parents place far more emphasis on their children getting into good colleges than on them being good people. “In an effort to give their kids everything, these parents often end up robbing them of what counts.”
The report goes on to provide recommendations for parents guiding their teens through the college admissions process. Their first recommendation, ‘Keep the focus on your teen,’ centers around supporting the teen’s authenticity. In order to be authentic, teens first need to know themselves. In fact, identity formation is a primary facet of adolescence. But when in the frantic years of clamoring to accumulate outstanding grades, AP credits, athletic awards, participation in clubs and leadership credentials, do these teens have time to get to know themselves?
Parents are not the only culprits here. At risk of stating the obvious, Harvard itself is a major culprit. In fact, Harvard is ironically leading the pack on both sides of this dilemma: as arguably the most elite university of them all (with a record low 4.5% acceptance rate this year) and also as head of a movement to re-write college admissions criteria. Kudos to them for at least trying to be part of the solution.
All of the adults stewarding children through childhood play a role in this crisis and have the opportunity to be part of “turning the tide.” In my mind, the best way for both parents and educators to support young people in the essential process of self-discovery and increasing independence is to get out of the way, to back-off, humbly taking our well-thought out agendas and our best intentions with us. Schools can build in time in the regular schedule for pursuit of personal interests, for social interaction, and for quiet reflection. Parents can seek out and support these schools, eschewing questions about test scores, rankings, and college acceptances in favor of deep consideration of the culture of the school, the quality of the relationships, and the opportunities for self-discovery. Together parents and teachers can build supportive communities committed to creating the space teens need to come to know themselves.
There are many elementary and high schools that intentionally provide opportunities for self-discovery. Here are just a few inspiring examples from my own personal research this past year.
Oak Grove School in Ojai, California incorporates both time and space for a variety of contemplative practices into the regular weekly schedule and into the campus. These include meditation, council circles, quiet time communing with nature, and the 7th grade rocking chair circle pictured above.
Skorpeskolen Private School in Helsingor, Denmark offers Personal Time to students in the early grades and Talent Time to students in the upper grades. These weekly periods provide opportunities to follow a curiosity, to pursue a personal passion, and to develop the capacity for sustained, deep focus on a self-directed project for an extended amount of time. Open in Google Chrome for a translation of the website.
The Green School in Bali, Indonesia identifies sustainability as one its primary values. They believe that the practice of sustainability starts at the individual level. For that reason, teachers are free to set aside all academic demands whenever an individual child needs extra social-emotional support.
You can view Christina Sbarra’s original post here.
One of my most memorable experiences growing up in India was that my twin sister and I would travel to Chennai during the warm days and cool nights in December. It was something we waited for eagerly, as we would get to stay at the beautiful 250-acre land of the Theosophical Society in Adyar wherein my family would attend the international convention that happens every year. Each year the convention has a theme where theosophists and avid learners of various disciplines would converge to hear lectures and have wonderful discussions. For us as children, we would be in this wonderful environment of learning but mostly focused on play and I had no idea that it was subconsciously having a great impact on my inner child. A theme from the convention has stayed with me over the years, “where YOU are, love is not” and I didn’t understand the impact it would have on me in my adult life.
When we came to Oak Grove to explore the school and community, Surya (my son, 11 at that time) and I were resistant as we did not want to leave our lovely home, community, friends in the Bay Area. My husband convinced us to explore the school and then to decide if we wanted to uproot our lives from the known and jump headlong into the unknown. We met with Andy, who embodies many wonderful things of the Oak Grove teacher culture and were very taken in by the honesty and simplicity of this Krishnamurti school. I remember sitting with Surya by the Pavilion and asking him about his thoughts/ feelings going through his mind. After voicing some of the positives and fears of moving to a new school, he said, “My heart says to stay in the Bay Area (because of my friends) but my gut says to come to this school”! I was stunned at the depth of his observation in himself and that he was able to articulate it so succinctly. I told my husband about this and we both knew at that time that this would be the right choice for him/us and applied to the school. Suffice to say, when Surya got accepted, we moved our lives, left all that was familiar and safe to us, and moved to Ojai.
They say (I don’t know who) that nothing good in life comes easy. We went through our struggles of moving, change of jobs, finding a home in Ojai, saying goodbyes to friends and I can say a year later that it has been completely worth it. Surya was welcomed, embraced by the class, teachers and school alike, and made connections with kids that I know will last a lifetime. The growth of the mind, the ease of the heart and the happiness of learning in a relaxed environment is reflected on Surya on most days after school. One day, in the middle of the year, he said, “I did not realize I was so stressed at Independent (his previous school) until I realized I wasn’t feeling the stress anymore.” When asked how he would describe the stress, he said that he felt the class energy was less about strict rules and more focused on learning and creativity. Every child goes through their own struggles (education, social relationship dynamics and peer pressure) in school irrespective of the greatness of the school but to hear that he was not stressed, my husband and I thought this was absolutely worth all the sacrifices we made as a family.
I realized after I moved to Ojai that the convention theme of many years ago, “where YOU are, love is not” would circle back as a theme of being more present and aware of one’s own self in the world of relationships. And that we as a family would get an opportunity to be in an environment to explore that self and be able to reflect and grow.
Oak Grove embraced us, reminded me that there are schools in this world that breed a culture of integrity, kindness, honesty, authenticity and most of all genuine empathy towards fellow human beings. My family and I are grateful for this wonderful experience of the Oak Grove school/community and look forward to the exciting years ahead in Surya’s experiences at the school.
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