Please excuse the “proud as a peacock” tone of the following post, but I must admit to feeling some pride. This has been quite an emotional week for me. First, I attended my daughter’s 8th grade promotion marking her transition into high school and then, the very next day my son’s high school graduation. At these two events I’ve had the chance to reconnect with many alumni from Salmonberry School, the elementary school I helped found 14 years ago, where both my kids attended, and at which I still work. Some of these alumni are young men and women I haven’t spent much time with in recent years. I also got to interact with many other adolescents at these events and these conversations have allowed me to see the incredible diversity of ways in which kids develop and the range of personalities and styles of adolescents. These opportunities have also challenged me to search for the common thread that connects the Salmonberry kids – that’s how I’ll forever think of them, those students who spent at least three or four years of their childhood at The Berry. And I think, maaay-be I’ve got it!
It isn’t achievement, exactly, though these kids have achieved incredible heights, four valedictorians in two years at two different high schools? It isn’t artistry, though these are unbelievably creative and talented kids and artists. I think what makes our alums and our current Salmonberry students stand out, is quite simply that they care.
I use the word care with a very specific meaning. This is different than passion, hot and fiery. It is not just caring about, like I care about my favorite football team. It is noticing the inherent value in the other, and making it or them your personal responsibility. It is more than sympathy – noticing someone’s pain, more than empathy, feeling another’s pain as if it were your own, though these are important – it adds the layer of the imperative to act, to put oneself on the line when it matters, the commitment to protect and nurture what is important. So there is a huge distinction between caring about and caring for. The students that have graduated from our school have all gone in vastly different directions and their paths, I’m sure will continue to diverge. But what binds them, as far as I can see is the capacity as well as the commitment to care – for their work, their family and friends, distant others, and the world through which they journey.
I remember when I was charged by my Board with finding some short articles that summarized Salmonberry’s pedagogy, I turned to a chapter from Nel Noddings, The Challenge to Care in Schools “Really?” asked my Board Chair, “this is the one piece that speaks to our methods, our curriculum, our understanding of child development?” Yes it is. Noddings wrote for example, “Our aim (in education) should be to encourage the growth of competent, caring, loving and lovable people.” For those who haven’t read her work on the pedagogy and theory of care, I urge you to do so.
Why does Salmonberry value Arts? It is the aesthetic realm that is the antithesis of, and antidote to the anaesthetic of the industrial machine of school. Art, including music, dance and theater preserves kids’ myriad languages of creative expression; it facilitates a waking up of their feelings and emotions, and it allows them to practice and demonstrate care. Why do we have small classes? Intimacy offers the antidote to the boredom and disengagement inherent in 30 kid-classes. We are a community. We need one another. We are both carer and cared for. There is reciprocity in each relationship. Why do we use an integrated thematic approach to the curriculum? It is the antidote to the disconnection and detachment that grows necessarily from the fragmented and modernist worldview. A paradigm that has mandated that educators chop the world up into disciplines, subjects and 42 minute classes punctuated by ringing bells. Everything we do at Salmonberry grows from the seed of, and the need to connect and care.
Three “Martins,” whom I consider to be some of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century have all spoken of care. Martin Heidegger, a German Philosopher described Care as the very being of human life. “We are immersed in care,” he said. “It is the ultimate reality of life.” Martin Buber termed the seed of care, the caring relation as an I-Thou relationship. We mutually recognize the value, worth and sacredness of one another. And Martin Luther King Jr famously said “Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”
And how can we instill an ethic of care within children? At Salmonberry School we do not tell our students to care; we show them how to care by creating mutually caring relationships with them. As Carol Gilligan said, caring is a way of being in relation, not a set of specific behaviors. More on this on a future post, perhaps.
While we wring our hands and furrow our brows about American kids’ failure on the stage of global competition and achievement, I believe that we should be more concerned about our kids’ increasing disengagement, boredom, their lack of care, and the emergence of this “What-ever” culture. We should re-animate the reform discourse with the infusion of care.