Field Notes: Bikers (Part 1)

“Education is a continual process. It’s like a bicycle: if you don’t pedal, you don’t go forward.”

-George Weah

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.

Is cycling fun or sport? Are bikes tools or toys? Are they utilitarian or impractical? The activity may include all of these and more. Since the school opened in 1998, and especially since we paved the driveway and parking lot a few years later, students have been riding various vehicles on campus. As a result, the School Meeting has written several rules about “riding wheeled objects,” and the Judicial Committee (JC) has applied them over the years. Riding them indoors? No. Helmets required? Yes, unless parents sign a waiver. Store them properly? Yes. An early explosion of skateboarding gave rise to the formation of Skate Corp. to come up with rules and to take responsibility for managing the many props they used for jumps and grinding. One graduate, who seemed to spend all his time perfecting his street tricks, became a professional skateboarder. When Heelys (wheeled shoes) became popular, concerns for safety and property led School Meeting to ban them.

Wheeled objects have been relatively dormant here lately, however, so nothing prepared us for the spring of 2019: bikes, bikes, bikes! The sudden surge exemplifies a first essential element of Fairhaven: in the absence of compulsory curriculum, activities come and go in exciting and unpredictable ways. Current examples include music (active), field games (dormant), and theater productions (active last spring and fall after a period of dormancy.) As a school, we do not impose such things; instead, we rely upon the natural ebb and flow of students and passions.

Another truism of these phenomena in the life of the school is that sudden arrivals of a new activity often lead to complex, democratic decision-making as we figure out how to manage it. When evermore young students brought bikes to school, out of concerns for safety, the School Meeting soon voted that “anybody bringing (or using) wheeled objects to school must be certified by Sports Corp. to do so.” Since Sports Corp. itself had been dormant, this represented a full stop for the bikes! The bikers had to first call a meeting and elect officers. They did so, electing two bikers to run the meeting (Executive Director) and take notes (Secretary.) While both officers had been in the school for multiple years, neither had held such positions before. Here, students step up when duty calls. As with many organizations, the role of Secretary is arguably more important than Executive Director, and this novice (and proud owner of a beach cruiser) took meticulous notes as we worked out the many precise rules for certification. Some staff members arrived late to the meeting and asked for a reading of the proposed certification requirements prior to the vote, and they could think of nothing to add. We elected four student certifiers, and the wheels were soon rolling again, just as soon as each rider heard the rules and agreed to follow them by signing the certification paper.

 

Although we do not require students to spend their time on certain subjects and activities, we do expect safety, and this emphasis has allowed us to prosper for twenty-one years. When the School Meeting saw so many young riders in the parking lot, in addition to requiring certification, we also took steps and made rules to alter the flow of cars and trucks on campus. Fairhaven School is a nimble, adaptable organization, and we debated all the parking lot changes at length before implementing them. Despite the inconveniences of closing some of the lot to event parking and installing a new stop sign, students and staff members agreed that safety trumps convenience and voted for the changes.

 

Mark McCaig
April, 2019

 

This post will be continued next week.