Unencumbered Learning – A Parent Perspective

Later this week some of our students will be formally declaring their intent to graduate. As we look forward to this rite of passage, we would like to share the perspective of a parent who attended last year’s declaration of intent. 

Mit Allenby
March 2, 2019

To graduate from Fairhaven, students must engage with and defend the following statement:

My experiences while enrolled at Fairhaven have enabled me to develop the problem-solving skills, the adaptability, and the abilities needed to function independently and responsibly in the world that I am about to enter.

I had the recent pleasure of hearing several Fairhaven students declare their intention to graduate next June. In the bright, expansive light of the Chesapeake Room, with bare winter trees in view through the windows, senior students spoke about their upcoming thesis defenses to an audience of peers, staff, and family members  – their own and other Fairhaven students’.

As each young person declared their readiness for the world beyond Fairhaven, they projected a confident, grounded sense of themselves. Each described their deep engagement with a wide variety of interests and experiences. Each had drawn complex, meaningful conclusions, displaying original and meaningful thought about their triumphs and difficulties, their growth and change, and why these had prepared them for adult life.

I keep returning to a moment when a student talked about her interest in social justice, and how she intended to further pursue this interest at community college. A parent in the audience asked her to elaborate on what the term social justice meant to her, and her specific work. The student talked about her work with Swing Left, and the numerous texts she had sent during recent elections. She spoke a bit about women’s rights. And then she said words to the effect of, “This is what I know so far. I know there’s more to learn.” And left it at that.

What struck me was that this student was comfortable in her not-knowing. She didn’t feel compelled to justify her answer, to apologize for what she didn’t know, or any number of other possible responses. Her knowing felt both true and unencumbered. As a person who went through traditional schooling, I am very aware of how my learning is anything but unencumbered. Bringing forward knowledge in a conversation or presentation still carries all manner of additional emotions associated with the learning-for-others I experienced in traditional classrooms – the necessity of having a right answer, the anxiety that my answer is incomplete or insufficient, and the discomfort that “I don’t know” is rarely an acceptable stance. With this student’s response, I was again floored (as I am often as a Fairhaven parent) with the simplicity, directness, and power of human learning when it is allowed to seek its own objects and ends.

I am so excited for these Fairhaven students as they venture forward into the world. Their schooling has prepared them truly to think and to know as themselves, not as others – whether teachers, or parents, or school systems – would have them think and know. The as themselves has also developed in a social context where students display curiosity, respect, and love for one-another, as well as deal with more difficult situations and emotions. Fairhaven’s ability to support individuality in a social, democratic context is a very powerful ground from which to grow into ongoing human adulthood.

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