Last Friday, I attended the first ever high school graduation ceremony at my son’s young, independent school. There were two students, two seniors sitting proudly up on the stage in their caps and gowns
Next year, my son will sit up on that stage with his six classmates and I will sit in the audience and sob. I will sob so loudly that I may possibly be asked to step outside the tent to collect myself so the speakers can be heard.
It’s been a long road, this educating of my son. A unique and wildly winding road. A road through wide fields and ditches, a patch of terrifying desert, an open beach, a bunch of tall grass. A road of workshops and home programs that stressed the importance of social and experiential engagement as the foundation for any learning. A road of cobbling together opportunities for social, physical, and academic challenges all the while, focusing on competence as the grand motivator. Fun too, of course. But competence, the seeing of oneself as able and capable—that was, and is, key. For him and students like him.
Actually, for all of us but for the typical crowd, a certain degree of competence comes with the territory. I never earned the ease I felt in many situations growing up. I can’t take credit for knowing how to read body language, facial expressions, and tone, for integrating the seemingly invisible information that seeped in from my environment.
Competent means “having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill, to do something successfully.” Part of our developmental program hinges on us believing we’ll be able to figure the thing out. If we lose hope, we give up. I’m not an etymologist but it’s interesting to me that competent comes from the Latin, competere, to be fit.
I think of how many kids like my son are deemed unfit.How many feel outcast because they don’t fit in. How many feel the pain from a world that often pressures them to get more fitby adding this or removing that so they are easier for others to take.
My son’s school is a place where everyone fits. It’s a place where they walk their talk of inclusion and diversity. It’s a place where the learning is done in a true collaborative conversation, where the students are encouraged to become independent learners by trusting in and following their curiosity. It’s hard work. They don’t do it perfectly. They don’t have to. That’s one of the gifts of the school and one of their mottos: Everybody’s working on something.
I like a place that knows making room for everyone is a lively, dynamic process because as much as I get that, as much as that philosophy fits with me, I forget all the time.
I forget that this place of learning and becoming moves in and out, like the breath. It’s not about finding the system and locking it into place. It’s about staying connected and open. It’s about saying, I got that wrong. How might we do it next time? What do you need? Where do you want to go? What questions need to be asked in order to be of more help?
What about you? What do you need today, right now, to feel more able, more capable? To believe that you can figure it out, find your way, follow your heart, your spark, your natural curiosity? Remember, it doesn’t have to be flashy. A handful of crumbs can lead you out of the forest if you just keep picking them up, one at a time.