(Last weekend we celebrated fifteen years of Fairhaven School with various activities on campus, including an open Microphone. Parent Lisa Speigner, who was out of town, wanted to share the following piece. Look for more posts from the evening soon!)
Although writing has always been a relatively effortless outlet for my creative expression, for some reason, whenever I try to write about the impact Fairhaven has had on me I find myself with a serious case of writer’s block. I have found it hard to put into words events that have so profoundly changed me in such unexpected ways. However, with Fairhaven School’s 15th anniversary coming, I was determined to get something on paper to share. I hope I can do it justice.
Aside from the positive changes Fairhaven and the Sudbury model of education has had on my daughter, I continue to be amazed at how it has changed ME. From my first school meeting, I began to realize that Fairhaven isn’t just about kids, a lack of homework, JC, the freedom to cuss if you want to, or some academic discussion about what education is or isn’t. It is about people, acceptance, individuality, and learning to find joy in “being” rather than doing.
Even though, initially, Fairhaven was about finding a safe place for my daughter, it has become an oasis of peace for me. As a black woman in America, I had come to expect to be judged harshly and treated unfairly because of stereotypical portrayals of what women who fit my profile are supposed to be. Sitting in my first Fairhaven meeting, where I happened to be the only black person in the room at the time, I was acutely aware of a strange sensation…the feeling that no one was judging me. I sensed that I was being observed with the same type of curiosity that I believe babies have, with no pre-conceived ideas, no expectations, just an openness to whatever comes next. It was disconcerting and almost took my breath away because in that moment, I realized that even I didn’t know what came next. Feeling un-judged for the first time in my adult life jolted me into realizing that my life was being held hostage by what I believed others thought of me. That night I asked myself, “How would your life be different if you believed you were good enough, as is?” Suddenly I began to wonder about the possibilities of a life lived based on “being” rather than doing and it has changed me.
As I have interacted with and observed the Fairhaven family over the past few years, I find myself doing much more intent listening and feeling than I generally do. My evenings are sometimes spent journaling and contemplating interactions and conversations with Fairhaven-ers because they challenge so much of what I have come to believe as truth. While attending the pre-graduation thesis trial readings, I remember how shocked I was at the direct questioning to which the candidates were subjected. It was amazing to me to hear probing, direct, questions, being asked — out loud — without a secret ballot to keep the askers anonymous. I was shocked because in the “real world” people rarely say what they mean. This type of corporate dishonesty is not only expected but applauded, giving rise to generation after generation of people who have no idea of what is true, including who they truly are. Seeing the effect of honest, open interactions between the students and staff during these past years, has made me strive to adopt the same. How different might my life have been if there had been more truth told to me by caring friends and family? Perhaps I would have “found myself” earlier if I had known who I was looking for.
While strangers and newcomers to Fairhaven often question whether or not any “learning” actually happens here, over the past two and a half years of just watching, listening and reflecting on all that is Fairhaven, learning has happened for me in unexpected ways. Of all the lessons I have learned, however, one stands out and it is this. If a child (or in my case, an adult) becomes convinced of the fact that they have value, that they can contribute in a positive way, and that developing their strengths is more important than trying to “fix” their weaknesses, they WILL find their path to success. That education has given me the courage to finally pursue the life I know is still available to me…the one I was afraid to pursue before because of the fear of what people might think of me. Yes, Fairhaven is different, but so is every individual who has ever graced this earth. If a person is born, lives and dies without ever knowing who they are, what was the point? But when a person has the opportunity to learn who they are…the sky is the limit.
I will close with an excerpt from a Robert Frost poem that has come to mean a lot to me. It sums up what Fairhaven means for me and my daughter. We will never be the same.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.