Many interviews with prospective families begin with questions and answers about the bread and butter of traditional schools: classes, tests, homework. Soon, however the conversation shifts to learning, and we inevitably discuss the vital and creative human process known as play, probably the most common activity at Fairhaven School.
More and more families who contact Fairhaven tell us that they are “unschooling” their children, and the growth of curriculum-free homeschoolers seems to be increasing. Although we try to clarify the difference between the two approaches in interviews and conversations with prospective families, it’s a complex topic, especially since each family who adopts this style of homeschooling necessarily creates a distinct experience for their children.
If you have been on campus this spring, you have seen them: anywhere from a few up to a dozen students, riding their bikes. Throw in the occasional skateboarder, scooter rider, and homemade go-cart captain, and the locomotion on campus this year is impressive, providing an opportunity to dig deeper into the world Fairhaven students create.
As so often happens here, the ordinary became the extraordinary, simply because we had the time and the mutual respect to practice the ancient art of conversation, of speaking and listening. Fairhaven is, among many other things, teeming with conversations, and this one was both typical and noteworthy, an especially lively portion of Ruefle’s lifelong sentence. Isn’t the spoken word perhaps the most important distinction of the human species? We recognize and honor this distinction here. Instead of sit down, be quiet, and do you work, our instruction is: do what excites you and talk!
The candidates were prepared, genuine, intuitive in their interactions, and open to all kinds of feedback in a way that had to have erased any lingering doubt for any attendee about what Fairhaven graduates are ready for after graduation. They’re ready for whatever they can dream up, and they’ve had the gift of time, space, and access to unique resources to prepare for their own adult lives using approaches that the “gap year” after traditional high school is becoming so popular for these days. Fairhaven students have had “gap lives” in all the best ways. They’re so ready.
“Being able to have a voice at a young age is something I value a lot. At Fairhaven, I like being able to actually have an opinion and have that opinion matter. It’s different here, because my opinion impacts the environment—the rules, J.C. sentences, and so on. I actually have freedom of speech here, but in public school, telling someone who’s older than you that they’re doing something wrong or that you don’t agree with will get you in trouble. Here, my opinion matters.” Student, age 15
Fairhaven School students become ambassadors of radical happiness for everyone they meet. Strangers marvel at how articulate they are, their ability to entertain themselves, their desire for justice, their comfort occupying their own skin, and their ability to speak up and be heard. Fairhaven School students and graduates present an alternative childhood, where trust in oneself forms the foundation for a life well-lived.
We all think our kids are special and brilliant and couldn’t possibly do the bone-headed things other kids do. As a staff member with two kids at school, I was able to see that my kids—although, of course, brilliant and special—were among peers who were equally brilliant and special, and that my kids were just as capable of spinning tales at the dinner table about why they’d been hauled into JC through no fault of their own.