Shoeless at Fairhaven
“Play’s awesome. If you’re not going to play when you’re young, when can you?” Cormac Finn, 2015 alumnus.
Yesterday, the termite man came to inspect the school. He walked around the buildings with our building clerk, checked the corners of the rooms inside, looking everywhere, as he is trained to do, to notice the unusual. At the end of the visit, he came to the office to sign out. He had indeed found something he thought was unusual: “There are two kids running around outside with their shoes off.”
“Yes, we are aware,” the Office Manager Miranda kindly replied, smiling.
“It’s a little damp outside on the ground,” he continued.
“Yes, it is,” Miranda said.
“It’s also a little cold,” he added a little surprised.
“Yes, we know. Students here are allowed to go barefoot,” she ventured a brief explanation, well-versed in the familiar line of questions regarding the nuances of Fairhaven.
He told us we are free of termites, laughed a little and left. We aren’t sure what he was thinking about our school. Did he believe that going barefoot was unhealthy or dangerous? Was he simply curious? I would take a bet, though, that he had his own memories of going barefoot as a child, and that they were pretty good ones.
If I hadn’t had the opportunity to work at Fairhaven for these past twenty years, I wouldn’t have been able to gather my own evidence on the value of going barefoot in childhood. How do I know going barefoot makes kids happy? Because I find their shoes! I find them inside and outside, muddy and wet, under a table, one here, one there. The shoes speak for themselves:
Other campus visitors (carpenters, water testers, delivery people) have asked questions about Fairhaven. Our answers can open up a whole new world for anyone new to the Sudbury philosophy of education. One question usually leads to another, and before you know it, you’re talking not just about the opportunity to cast shoes aside and run through the field barefoot, but everything else Fairhaven is about: twelve acres of woods and stream, two buildings of inviting space, the absence of grades, the abundance of trust. It’s not that everyone goes barefoot, it’s that young people get to choose whether or not they want to be barefoot. They choose whether or not to attend School Meeting to vote on a new rule, and they choose when they want to play a game, read a book, or talk to a friend for hours on end.
The same day the termite inspector visited our campus, it was a little chilly outside, like he said, but also sunny, and it felt like spring was saying hello. I think the students sensed this. Kids scampered about outside on the field, rode skateboards, played basketball. Some wore shoes, others didn’t. Happy…and free to be shoeless.