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I was lying in the shade on the Main House lawn looking up at the sky. The weather was warm, not hot. I could see the gentle breeze move through the trees. Nearby, other staff and faculty members were spread out around the lawn, gazebo, and pathways. Some were seated on rocks, others lay on benches, or sat upright facing the mountains. Together, but alone, we were engaged in “radical downtime,” something many of our teachers practice with our students throughout the school day.

This was during our weekly faculty meeting, and the amount of time was far too short. Radical downtime is not mindfulness or meditation. The idea is to be without external stimuli – books, electronics, paper, instrument, conversation – to be with oneself without a purpose. Daydreaming, thinking, not thinking, allowing the mind to wander, closing the eyes, napping is fine if that is what is needed.

I remember reading once that for a person who gets the appropriate amount of sleep, it should take 15-20 minutes to naturally fall asleep after closing one’s eyes. The mind will cycle through the day’s interactions, projects, forgotten to-dos, but once the mind slows down, sleep will prevail. I wonder how many people allow that amount of time to drift off. My own habit is to read until I realize I am dreaming with my eyes closed and the book has fallen out of my hand. That’s when I turn off the lights and fall asleep within seconds.

Research around radical downtime suggests that people who practice this activity have improved memory, increased creativity, decreased stress, and experience fewer sleep disturbances. When we stop and do “nothing,” especially in this hyper-technological world full of distractions, we increase the possibility of becoming more aware of our emotions, noticing body sensations and what they may mean to us. For children, having time to process what is happening inside themselves and learning how to be content with themselves without external provocation is an essential aspect of our purpose as a school.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree – not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself – and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fisherman’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed.”

— J. Krishnamurti, “Think on These Things”

The spaciousness to ask both practical and perennial questions is an essential part of the Oak Grove educational program. Through academic inquiry (Socratic, scientific, normative, conceptual, etc.), dialogue, Council, as well as reflective practices, students and teachers explore questions about the world outside and within. The student newspaper, The Oak Grove Times, is a place students may give form to such inquiry — a public forum, the published word. Students choose an area of focus and are supported to develop questions, a clear direction, and to establish a detailed research plan (focus groups, data, etc.). The adults engaged in this process serve as mentors, sounding boards, and advisors. Often the relationship among the subject of an article, the student, and the advisors becomes a transformational opportunity to look at their conditioning, biases, and assumptions.

In the fall of 2017, Sanaya Danhanukar, then a junior at Oak Grove, authored an article titled “Who is God?” In it, she writes:

What created this galaxy that we exist in? We have all heard about the Big Bang Theory, but what caused the Big Bang? This remains a mystery to us all. What would happen if one fell into a black hole? There are some things that even science cannot give us explanations for, without leaving behind questionable doubt. The argument is that this mystery makes it clear that there is a God who is responsible for the creation of life and our world, as we see it today. In times of difficulty and despair, God has answered prayers. While atheists may argue that there is nothing to prove the existence of God, a counter-argument made by believers is that while there may not be concrete evidence to prove the existence of God, there is also no evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist. These arguments are a valid justification for why these people hold the belief that they do.”

In December of 2018, Cassius Calzini, an Oak Grove student for the past nine years, published a piece about the school’s grounds and questioned the need for recent changes to the campus:

Meditative walks in the oak grove and playing in the lost meadow are experiences that have enhanced my time at Oak Grove School. Now, being a ninth grader, I am looking at my school, and I’m noticing a change: I am feeling a great pressure from society for schools to prepare their students for the outside world in a way that doesn’t allow individuality and personal growth. At Oak Grove School we focus on the individual, not just academically, but as a whole. In return, people graduate from our school as truly amazing human beings, carrying on the impact of what Oak Grove has taught them throughout their lives. I worry that the pressure to conform to society could cause us to lose the unique opportunities provided by our school that allow children to explore themselves, and the freedom to inquire and ask questions.”

In the most recent edition, May 2019, sophomore Nayeli Tirado questioned our biases around immigration, while senior Lewis Lu shared his own cultural conditioning bias as a Chinese citizen against seeing Tibet as a sovereign nation, and student Earl Marvin explored the depths of ethnocentrism with his poem titled “Fascism.”

To delve deeply into a question can confront our beliefs and leave us feeling unsettled under any circumstance, but to then publish that process requires a significant level of vulnerability. This is the power of the published word.

 

View all of the archived newspapers here.

In 1982, the United Nations declared the third Tuesday in September as International Peace Day. Since 2001, it has been celebrated on the 21st of the month. This year’s Universal Declaration is “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.”

In September we celebrated Peace Day on campus with our students. Given the current palpable concern for our environment, Oak Grove expanded the UN’s declaration to include the life and security of the natural world. Together we sang songs and participated in various activities in our Lizard Groups. For those who don’t know, Lizard Groups are lateral groupings of students from kindergarten through 12th grade and staff.

One particularly poignant activity was the creation of Climate Crisis Mind Maps. In group discussions, students and adults explored three questions: What are our concerns about the environment? What needs to be understood about how to care for our environment? What is my wish for the planet? A former parent, Nusa Maal-King, mapped the conversations on large banner paper, which are now hanging in Main House.

Nayeli Tirado, Class of 2021, sat in a rocking chair on the Pavilion deck and read the book Three Questions to the entire school. The book’s message was echoed in many forms throughout the day:

There is nowhere else to be but here.
There is no one else to be but me.
The most important thing is what is right in front of me.