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Keep Reading. Keep Talking.

staff retreatWe have come to the end of our first quarter of school. In a traditional school, report cards would go out around this time and parents would be scheduling meetings with teachers to discuss their child’s academic performance.  That doesn’t happen at the Living Water School.  To best describe our reporting process is to just say simply the staff and parents have to keep reading and talking.  It is not easy to keep the mind in full comprehension of the Sudbury Model. We are still babies at this journey and must continue to read and talk to keep our minds from falling back into the old ways of relating to students.

This week has been interesting as parents continue the dialogue with us.  Doubt does creep up. Fear creeps up. Confusion creeps up.  Lack of trust creeps up.  It is just so hard for parents to trust. As Christian staff, we see at the root is a lack of trust in God.  I am a parent too, so I know this struggle because I also wrestle with it everyday.  We often forget that each child is already created with everything he or she is supposed to be.  Think of a seed. Nothing else needs to be added to a seed to become a beautiful plant, tree or flower. Everything that is needed is already within the seed. All that is necessary is to plant it, water it, protect it, support it and nurture it.  I don’t have to add roots or leaves or stems.  All of its identity and future substance is already inside of the seed! This is how children are.  However, parents feel that they have to add so much to them in order for the child to become what they imagine they should be.  What do we staff know having only met the child over the past 1 to 3 years?  So this sort of battle begins as staff and parents try to grapple with the struggle of letting go.

This adding on of  “leaves and stems” looks like running kids around to all types of extra curricular activities that the child hates doing.  These adding on of “fruit and blossoms” looks like hiring tutors or doing extra homeschooling at night.  What or who the child already “is” is just NOT ENOUGH.  It’s not enough because we have timelines in mind. We have their careers in mind. We have visions and dreams of all this greatness that will make us oh so proud, in mind and these visions bring a veil that prevents us from “seeing” who the child already is.  Who the child already is, if nurtured, left alone, protected and cared for, will become “something,” and that pride will come if we allow them to blossom into that inner calling that was already programmed into their DNA by the Creator.

When God called Jeremiah we see a Biblical perspective on what I share here and this verse comforts me so much as I go on this journey with my own children (don’t forget that I am not an authority on this, I am on the journey too!). Jeremiah 1:1-10 says,

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah was a young child!  God told him that before his time on earth even began, HE had already planned out his purpose.  What if Jeremiah’s parents had interfered with the “fire shut up in his bones”?  We would not have his beautiful book in the Bible!  Psalm 139 also expresses how God has created all of us already with a purpose in mind!

15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

The interesting thing about this concept is that even though a child is given to a parent…only the child really knows what God would have him to be.  Isn’t that a scary thought?  God’s plan for each human being is actually revealed to the child.  Yes, parents may have a direct Word from God as to the nature of the child’s call, but in the very inner being of a child, he or she KNOWS.  I believe parents are to protect children from getting away from their call and purpose, but that should not be fueled by our fear or what WE want them to be.

For example, I grew up in a home where the men of my family played basketball. They were stars in high school and as a black woman (because as most people know, basketball is such a rich part of the African American heritage), it was my hope and dream to have sons that would follow this family tradition. As my sons were born, I anticipated their natural basketball ability to come shining through. Unlike my brother and cousins, it didn’t. As they grew older, family members started to ask when I was going to get them involved with basketball, but they just never seemed interested. The interest just never caught on.  Finally one day my oldest son came to me and said, “Mommy, I just do not like basketball. I really love track. ” Although shocking, because how does a black man-child NOT like basketball!  That is just so inconceivable!!! Even still, I listened to him and I reflected on his life. As soon as he could walk, he wanted to run. As soon as he could run without falling, he would just run laps everywhere, for no apparent reason. He would run in circles for long periods of time without stopping. We actually have a video of him at about 3 years old running in circles around the entire kitchen and family room without stopping. At the time, we were puzzled and confused about the randomness of it all, and thought, “What is THAT all about??”  When he got a little older, he wanted to race everyone.  This was a part of his DNA. It was the Creator’s plan for him.  So, I went against my family traditions and enrolled him in track and he fell in love with it. In between seasons he is counting down to when the season picks up again.  He always packs his track gear on his own before we go to school, because he knows there is practice. I never have to remind him. It is his passion, his interest and it was there from the beginning.  Was this hard for me? Absolutely, but seeing him so happy and fulfilled and responsible about pursuing his passion totally relieves me from the slightest disappointment.

How often do we as parents and teachers miss supporting our kids’ real call in life because we are so blinded by what WE want them to be?  We waste so much time and money, when all the while in these odd, non-verbal ways, our kids are screaming at us that they were actually called to be something totally different than what WE imagined!  As we have entered into the end of the first quarter, I have found the struggle of parents to become more apparent, because there are no report cards or assessments to help parents feel more confident that their kids are being prepared for the “greatness” that they dream of.  Yet, because we have an open door policy for parents, they can freely come and dialogue with us about their child.  This was inspired by the chapter called “Fishing” in Daniel Greenberg’s FREE AT LAST.  In that chapter a parent was concerned that his child was only interested in fishing, but the parent was allowed to come in and talk to the staff as much as he wanted to work through his fears and doubts.  Traditional schools do not allow this.  Traditional schools have to be the authority and the students and their parents must simply follow what they say without question.  However, a child best develops in a community of people who are working together, reading about the philosophy, talking and seeking to understand how to best help the child, based on their individual needs.

So these dialogues are what have been happening lately, especially in this past week. We have all been engaged in these deep conversations with parents about their child and the philosophy. We have had parents ask for “something”…a rubric, an extra assignment, some type of standardized way to help them feel more comfortable, and we have stood our ground. We have denied the request to do that. Instead we have provided our own stories, thoughts of Peter Gray, thoughts of the founders of Sudbury Valley and even Bible verses that we feel support the Sudbury Model (surprisingly there are so many verses that do!).

This past week on two separate occasions parents have asked us to have more parent meetings where we discuss the philosophy. It was something we did more of last year, but the community voted to lessen them at the Assembly in June 2018 (The Assembly happens throughout the year, where parents, staff and students vote on the school calendar and the other major decisions of the school). Now we are beginning to see how important the dialogue is. In preparations for these parent gatherings, we would send out an article, blog post or book excerpt to be discussed. On one specific occasion, a parent met with us to discuss her fears of her child not progressing under such a free philosophy and during that time we reminded her of what the school believes regarding each child’s individual life journey.  In turn, she went home and re-read FREE AT LAST (by Daniel Greenberg) again, to get her mind back on track.  I tell you that book is our life blood! Even as a parent myself, I have to read it often to soothe my own fears about my 3 children.

Everything that has been shared in this post is rooted in the notion that it is so imperative that we continue to read and dialogue about our unique philosophy.  It is a total faith walk. Faith in God who has created our children for a specific purpose…faith in our children to be able to tell us WHO they are and what they want to become….faith in the school, staff and teachers to be the guardians of every child’s freedom and support system to reaching their goals…and faith in the parent that they have not made the wrong decision to give their child more freedom. You are not a bad parent or a negligent parent for desiring to give your child more freedom to reach their own goals. No matter what your family or friends or community may tell you. No matter what your pastor may tell you about the authoritarian role parents and teachers should play in their child’s life, YOU have made the right decision.  As Christians who have embraced the notion of giving our children more freedom, our most important task is to expose them God’s Word, introduce them to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and guide them into establishing a relationship with the Lord, so they can know their Creator and Designer. As Deuteronomy 6 tells us:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Our children belong to God and they were created by Him. They were merely given to us on loan to protect, care for, nurture and support as they organically grow into the beings that He already designed them to be.  To help us keep focused on this understanding, as a community we must keep reading about the philosophy until it becomes an unconscious way of life and we must keep talking together about it, working through our struggles and revealing the victories so all of us are inspired to keep believing in freedom for our children.


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