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Time Is On My Side

Last week in between cases in Fairhaven School’s JC (Judicial Committee), a student restated  Stephen Hawking’s theory that time stands still inside a black hole. “Although a watch would probably explode in there, if it didn’t, he thinks it would stop recording time.” The school year is back, and the best forum I know for conversations about ideas is also back.

This student, who’s also an elected JC Clerk, set me to thinking while we waited for the principals for the next case. Although it’s not a black hole, Fairhaven School does have a different relationship with time from other schools. Time does not stand still here, but it sure does soften. Take the student who spend untold hours last year chilling under the fairy tree. He was new, and we checked on him from time to time. “I’m fine,” he’d say. And so we he took his time, decompressing from former schools, regaining his sense of agency. This year he’s fully here, even serving as a JC alternate clerk. Or take the gaggle of young girls who reserve the Lounge every day for their complicated games of house or school or whatever the latest variation of imaginative role-playing is. They do check the time for their room reservation sheets, but otherwise they seem to lose track of time. Exemplars of this timelessness manifest all over campus, and seem to be one of the hallmarks of Sudbury education.

For what is freedom if not ownership of your time? This is the great gift we give our students, and perhaps the biggest challenge for our parents. We’ve heard the rejoinders, often a version of this: “but the ‘real world’ runs on time!” So does Fairhaven School. JC happens at noon every day. Classes start on time. School Meeting? Wednesdays at 1. Kitchen Corporation meets like clockwork Fridays at 11:30. And so on. When students weave themselves into the lattice of structured activities here on campus, they find it resembles the rest of the world, with deadlines, clocks, and, crucially, responsibility.

But how fast will a rose bush grow? Which gardener succeeds with force? Here, we wait. A little water, sunlight, and soil, then watch the growth and development. Thank goodness nobody pushed Mr. Hawking in his theorizing. Can you imagine, “Okay Mr. Hawking, we need that black hole theory by the end of the day today. Actually, we need it by the end of this class.”

The clerks called JC back to order soon. Time unfurled. Students came and went, their pace similar to the leaves turning, to the acorns falling to the metal roof: right on time.

At Fairhaven School we think all people have the right to dictate the pace of their lives. And for a fourteenth year, they are doing just that again.

Mark McCaig

September, 2011