Posts

March 31, 2019

by Christina Sbarra

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.
www.oakgroveschool.org

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.
www.skorpeskolen.dk

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.
www.greenschool.org/about/

You can access the full report from Harvard here.
Harvard’s class of 2023 acceptance rate reported in The Crimson.

You can view Christina Sbarra’s original post here.

Watch video of the speech below. 

Travelling has always been something that I really enjoy. Exploring different places, seeing different people, experiencing different cultures. You can really see how colorful this world is and how amazing our globe is. I have long yearned to visit India. In fact, the Senior India trip was one of the many factors that led me to choose to attend Oak Grove over other schools. So finally here I am, after almost four years at Oak Grove, reflecting on my India trip experience.

So, the India trip was indeed quite different from any other trip I have been on. Instead of simply touring around and visiting attractions, this trip was a very immersive experience. It shows India in a different perspective from regular tourism, a perspective that is based on human connection, the essence of being a person.

I had a great time talking to students at the three schools that we visited and enjoyed making new friends in a completely different and alien territory. However, the hospitality I experienced and witnessed triggered me to think, to reflect on myself, my country, and my own culture.

Despite my personal interest in India, as a student coming from China, India has a different, or I would say a distorted image pre-installed in my brain, and in most other Chinese’s brains as well. The way the Chinese perceive India is full of prejudices and biases. When I told my friends in China about my plan to go to India, they frequently questioned my decision. They think of India as an inferior country, a place they would never want to visit. And this impression has greatly influenced people’s view of Indian people as a whole. But I don’t believe in accepting what others think. This added my desire to go to India. I wanted to see India with my own eyes, to prove that they were wrong. Like Krishnamurti said, we must look most intimately and discover for ourselves; then it is our own, not somebody else’s, not something that we have been told.

A history teacher at Pathshala reminded me of the very origin of this problem with my culture. There was one day at lunch when he joined my table and started a conversation. As our conversation progressed, he brought up a fact that I have almost forgotten. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Chinese people stopped calling everyone else “barbarians.” That is less than 200 years ago. And I hate to admit (but sadly it is true) that even now, many people in China still see themselves as superior to other ethnicities. And they have many different and negative biases and prejudices towards different racial groups.

I couldn’t stop thinking and imagining how Indian students would be treated if they had a chance to visit a school in China for a week. Because as I said, I am well aware of how prejudiced Chinese people are. This little mind test always turns out with unfavorable results. And I cringe when I compare it to my experience at the schools.

So, on one bus ride out to Bangalore city, I had a chance to talk to Elsie, a faculty member at The Valley School. I asked her, “How do people in India view Chinese people? What kind of attitude do Indians have towards China?” Her answer was not surprising, but did make me feel bad. She said that Indian people have no hostility against the Chinese people. Though there is political conflict, it has no relevance to what the people think.

She was right. China and India have been neighbors forever. The two civilizations have coexisted for thousands of years. But neighbors don’t like each other all the time. Territorial conflicts have been a huge obstacle that has kept China and India from being better friends. Diplomatic relationships involving Pakistan and the US have simply added more flames to the already fiery relation.

But the two countries, India and China, took very different approaches on this matter. In China, isolationism never disappeared. In addition, the modern day Chinese government has put strict controls on the media, both social and journalistic. A highly censored social media and government-controlled news industry have led to a biased public opinion on many things. Chinese media purposely patronizes India and portrays India as an inferior country. India, on the contrary, according to Elsie, has a much more open media. Though there are conflicts on the government level, there is no propaganda against China, nor is the social media patronizing to China as an inferior power. People can really see a different reality through an open media.

This difference made me realize how important an uncensored media source is. A highly controlled and censored media would only cause misapprehension and manipulate people’s minds. With a worldwide trend of isolationists rising to power again, we must be aware of the possibility of the world moving towards closed and censored media. Even in America, there is a trend towards that. Net neutrality is a perfect indication of possible media censoring. And we need to be aware of it, to stand up to it, and to fight against it.

By the end of the trip, I came to the conclusion that things need to change back home in China. I realized that my perspective of my own country has changed, being outside of it. There are too many misconceptions in China. Krishnamurti once said that we are very defensive, and therefore we are aggressive, when we hold on to a particular belief, dogma, or when we worship our particular nationality. We need to be more receptive towards other cultures.

When we were at Pathshala, we had a few discussion sessions with the local students. In one part, they specifically addressed a few questions to me, about agriculture and rice production in China. In our conversation, I brought up the idea of a joint research force on rice production between China and India. Because, imagine the two countries with the world’s largest populations, making up one third of the world population, both having rice as their main dietary consumption, working together to increase the quality and quantity of rice production. It would be a blessing to our world. So when I brought up this Idea, I saw accord and eagerness in their eyes. That’s when I realized, it’s we Chinese that need to make a change, to open up our minds and to be more receptive to new possibilities.

I feel more than ever that it’s our responsibility, it’s our generation’s responsibility, to bring unity to the world, to become global citizens no matter how messed up our world is today. Sometimes it’s inevitable that we have a few setbacks along the way towards world integration. But it doesn’t matter, because the future is in our hands, and I have confidence that together, we can make the world a better place.

Join Oak Grove School Friday, May 18th, at 7:00pm for its semi-annual High School Showcase.

The event features musical performances by Oak Grove’s high school, as well as student art, paintings, photographs, film, and ceramics. Light snacks and refreshments will be served. Meet at the Art Studio.

Be a part of this celebration, open to Oak Grove families and friends, as well as those interested in the school.

Free and open to the community.

Friday, May 18th, 2018 – 7:00-9:00pm
Oak Grove High School Spring Showcase
220 West Lomita, Ojai – Pavilion and Art Center
Facebook Event

This event was canceled due to the Thomas Fire. The Winter Showcase will be merged into the Spring Showcase, later in 2018.

Join Oak Grove School Friday, December 8th, at 7:00pm for its semi-annual High School Showcase. The event features musical performances by Oak Grove’s high school, as well as student theater, paintings, photographs, installations, and ceramics.

Light snacks and refreshments will be served. Meet at the Student Center. Be a part of this celebration, open to Oak Grove families and friends, as well as those interested in the school.

Free and open to the community.

Friday, December 8th, 2017 – 7:00-9:00pm
Oak Grove High School Winter Showcase
220 West Lomita, Ojai – Student Center
Facebook Event