“I was so upset that they were in this bubble and they weren’t learning life skills they needed. Everything’s been done for them. So the point is get out of your comfort zone. Learn to be independent. Develop some grit.”
Surprisingly, this quotation from Marie Schwartz is not a discussion of Fairhaven and other Sudbury schools. Rather, the comments of Ms. Schwartz, a so-called “gap year” advocate, are taken from a recent NPR story discussing the mainstreaming of students actually doing what they want to do for a year before attending college. Now that even Malia Obama is doing it, perhaps this idea of student autonomy is okay!
At Fairhaven School, we have seen many students explore other things after they leave and before they join other schools. We also see many people who leave and immediately join other schools. We see some who do both at once, joining the workforce and studying. We certainly see successful alumni who create their own paths. We think our students step into the world after Fairhaven so comfortably because we already engender precisely the traits that “gap years” attempt to engender. Independence? Check. Grit and determination? Check. Life skills? Double check.
Our novel approach is to foster independence and responsibility now, not defer it until later. We also do it for considerably less cost per student than both high-end private institutions like the president’s daughter’s school and garden variety public schools. Finally, our parents do not have to shell out more funds for these new gap year programs, some of which cost additional thousands!
Of course, we applaud anything that fosters independence and autonomy in young people. Regarding carefully managed gap year programs, however, we wonder if these are merely baby steps on the path to true self-direction and agency.