By Mary Agner, Fairhaven alumni parent.
My son was comparing Fairhaven to the public school he attended until he was eight. “You know,” he said, “when I went to my old school, I was always doing things because someone told me to. I did things to make my teachers happy, or to get someone to like me, or to be like everyone else. At Fairhaven I do things for myself, and I don’t have to worry about what other people think.”
I had to admit to him that I was in college before I began to learn to think for myself. At twenty-something, I was just beginning to learn that no one else in the world had the credentials to teach me about myself.
In the past few months I’ve commented more than once that my sons are doing things I didn’t do until college. You know some of them. Choosing your own course of study. Wasting tuition by not going to classes. Unisex bathrooms. Open campus. All night study sessions. My sons and a friend tried this a few weeks ago. They stayed on the computer until about six in the morning. The consensus at breakfast was that they probably should have gotten some sleep. It took me more than one all-nighter to learn sleep is good for the brain.
What about this hopping around from one subject to the next? One week it’s computers, then it’s sculpture, then “maybe Latin, I don’t know,” then music, or stand-up comedy… And Legos. Legos are important, worthy of a room unto themselves. Marathon games of Dungeons and Dragons. Okay, that’s nice, but what are they really learning here? I think my parents asked the same thing when I was earning my degree in psychology. “Why do you need to take modern dance?” They wanted to know. “What good will pottery do you? Backpacking… you need this?”
Then there’s the language. And I don’t mean Latin, Spanish or Greek. You’ve been in the school; you’ve heard it. I usually object to the offensive language that come out of our kids’ mouths. I hate it. I wish they wouldn’t. But I can’t say I’ve never heard it before. There was actually a time when I talked like that myself (college, of course). Then I got it out of my system and began speaking like a civilized person again. I’m not saying the bad language is a good thing. Not at all. I do trust, however, that it serves some useful purpose, and once its usefulness is spent, they’ll stop using it.
Finally, there’s conversation. Discussion, dialogue, and disagreement hum in every corner of the school. They talk and talk and talk about… who knows? Remember how much we talked in college? Coffee shops, dorm rooms, laundry rooms, hallways, apartments, street corners, elevators… You didn’t need an invitation, you didn’t have to know the person. You just talked. You listened. You learned about people and things you never knew existed. You talked with students who majored in subjects you had never heard of. You talked with people who were just like you, and decided maybe you weren’t so weird after all.
I passed my classes and collected my degrees. But to this day, I believe the biggest half of my education came from conversations I sneaked into when I “should have been studying.” So what does it mean that Fairhaven students are doing what many people don’t do until they’re in college? I know some critics would say they’re experimenting in social activities that they aren’t ready for. Some people would say they’re getting all the foolishness out of their systems so they can eventually settle down and learn. I believe they are learning now.
What I did until the age of twenty-something was information storage and retrieval, guided by the expectations of others. Fairhaven students don’t have to worry about what people think. They think for themselves.
This blog post was originally featured as an article on Fairhaven School’s previous website.