Consider this experiment. Find the most fascinating people imaginable—people who write, paint, compose, and delve deep into arcane passions of all sorts. Then, find the most adventuresome children and families—people who care most that their days are rich, exciting, and full of art. Put all these people together and give them incredible autonomy. Encourage them to create, experiment, and take risks. Trust that academic skills are built best when teachers and students are free to delve deeply into their current passions. Trust that students who are given a taste for this sort of adventurous plunge will keep coming back for more throughout their whole lives.
This is the experiment our school was founded upon, and these tenets are strikingly visible every day at the Lower School. Don’t be fooled. Most of the people tromping around our building are doing things usually reserved for adults – contemplating canvases, burying their noses in books, trying out sophisticated words – but they are only four feet tall. Also, don’t be fooled when you see that the adults helping them don’t fit the typical mold of “teacher.” They might have paint spattered on their clothes. You may find them immersed in their own writing or preparing for an exhibit or gig. You may run into them at an edgy art show, or a recondite concert. In short, we hired them because they are fascinating people who have passions and projects, and, because of this, they have something meaningful to say.
Gabe Howard, who for 35 years shaped the Lower School into what it is today, loved to use the word “wicked” when describing the ideal people at her school. She wanted the kids to be a bit wicked, and the teachers, too. This is not a word frequently used when describing people at a school. When queried for clarification, she said a “wicked kid” is spirited, doesn’t always do what she’s told, and thinks of her own way of doing things. And she might just write one of the poems below, which aren’t your typical sunny day school products, yet each was written joyously by a flourishing child with a sly smile on her face.
Head of the Lower School
Who is this man?
He is the most distraught
person and gloomy person on earth.
Wretched food he has.
If you take a bite,
you will stay forever.
His realm is a
place where the sun never shines.
– Aurelia, third grade
Julia is me and I am Julia.
The universe is bigger than my brain. I love to think my brain is bigger, it is kind of bigger when I am thinking.
– Julia, second grade