We think of this as a healthy, normal part of the process. Fairhaven students are testing themselves and the school. What are my limits? What are the expectations of the school community? What can I get away with? How do I operate successfully in this place, doing the things I’m excited about without infringing on others? Answering these and similar questions are often the heavy lifting of a Fairhaven experience, and the input of a jury of one’s peers alongside reasonable consequences for one’s actions can be essential data.
Otto and I sat on the porch and talked about the Mastodon molar that a former student found in 2008, and of the replica in the showcase in the upstairs hallway. Otto wanted to see the spot where the molar was found. We ventured down the wooden steps to the path in the woods. He asked me questions, adding and subtracting the answers in his head, and he took me on a journey to the earth’s past. By the walk’s end I had newfound reverence for the present moment.
Simply put, we as humans are wired to learn through play and story, two things role playing games merge perfectly together. It helps us make sense of the world and prepare for what’s next. D&D, of course, is not the only role playing game. At Fairhaven School, we see children of all ages play various role playing games throughout the day.
Last month, Fairhaven School’s Theatre Corp produced “A Simpler Time.” A smashing success, the play ran for two nights and ended up turning a profit. For most of our twenty-two years, the student-run, democratic Theatre Corp has been staging plays, and these are wonderful examples of how the school works. We caught up with director Sam Duffy. At fourteen, he’s younger than most of his cast.
Note that word, Aristotle’s “society.” On a macro level, the design of this school is to create an independent, interesting world with coequal freedom and responsibility, a society, if you will, with the explicit recognition that being social here is the best preparation for success in the larger society. Doing things together, then—social activities—may just represent the most important activity here.
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!
“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
Although I can’t believe it now, looking out at all this rain, a couple of days ago the weather was very hot and humid. One of the younger girls invited me to go to the stream with her, so we walked together down the winding, forest stairs. The leaves on the trees are now toughened up, and the sun is almost completely covered, except for the occasional diamond of light shining down. She got in the water, I stayed on the shore.
I have been working at Sudbury Valley School since my kids were little. They are older than many of you are now, and those of my grandchildren that are old enough to go to school are going to a school like Fairhaven, and like SVS, in Oregon. So it is clear to me: I trust children. My children trust children. I even trust grownups.