One of the Seven Universal Sacraments is the Spirit of the Group. That strange thing we label “Spirit” can be found when people come together for a common purpose and an esprit de corps begins to form: a delight in each others company, a bonding that can make their work or their play so much more meaningful. In my book I mention the school as a place where this Spirit can and should naturally form and was struck this week by how successful one of the schools I teach at has been in doing just that.
High Mowing School in Wilton, New Hampshire is a private school following the Waldorf philosophy that came over to us from Germany. The first Waldorf school in America was established in New York City in 1928, and High Mowing was founded as a boarding school 20 years later. Every year there is an event called the Senior Chapel, where the whole school meets after the evening meal and graduating seniors stand up one by one to talk about their experience at the school. There is some laughter, and also a lot of tears, as it hits home that they will never see this group of people together again.
But what struck me this time around was how many people said “High Mowing is my home and you are my family.” One day-student said she realized she had gotten into the habit of saying I’m going back to my house, never I’m going back home, because for her, the school had become her home. Many students singled out particular teachers who had taken the time to work with them, to encourage them, to notice them. One boy (young man!) told us that in an art class his teacher had picked up on the fact that he was having a really bad day, took him aside and spent the entire period talking to him, finding out what had happened, listening—genuinely listening. Choking up, he thanked her as she sat there at the Senior Chapel, and said he would never forget that day as long as he lived. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Another student told how he came here as a very cynical sophomore, but lost that cynicism, and learned to appreciate the friends, teachers, and subjects he was studying. Is there any higher praise than that for a school? The defeat of cynicism in an 18-year old !
Students don’t need an ever-greater load of curriculum, higher and higher math, memorizing more facts, as much as they need other people and an anchorage to keep them from being blown out to sea. If only every student in our jaundiced, jaded country could feel the way these students do about their school, if only they found a place they felt safe, a place they had friends who cared about them, teachers who took the time to listen to their problems—even if they didn’t learn everything there is to know for a standardized test, then… and at this point let me quote that old 60s band, Herman’s Hermits (lyrics by Sam Cook), and their anthem to poor scholarship but profound love. If we replace the “teen love” with the “love of school”, we’re really on to something:
Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took.
But I do know if I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world it would be!