The mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled.
I love this quote and was tickled to see that last part of the phrase on the outside of a garbage can at my son’s school…….. “ a vessel to be filled.” Clever I thought.
My son’s school is based on a model of education called Progressive Education. A model I stumbled across over 20 years ago. I had been a Speech Pathologist and worked with children with learning disabilities for many years. It was disheartening to see 7 and 8 year old students who had already given up on themselves, already felt like failures, already knew they were incapable of succeeding. I became ravenous for ways to bring sunshine and brightness back to their spirit. That hunger led me to discovering educational programs that inspired me, thrilled me and made me eager about the future of education.
However, my hunger and eagerness were from the perspective of a “professional” or even of a “philosophy”. This perspective was also from the outside looking in; like a detached view. I didn’t realize the shift that would take place as a parent who witnesses their child in this new paradigm or model of education. My son started at his Progressive school at the age of 3 because at the time it went from age 3-18. As an only child, it gave him a sense of family, siblings and was really fabulous. He was free to allow his mind to be kindled. He could be outside many hours in the day and go to where he was inspired……his spirit was free and his confidence grew. We loved it. But by age 9 or 10, as a parent my mindset changed. It was subtle; yet pervasive. Fear had crept in. Was my son “keeping up” with others? Was he “on level”? The very measures that I knew as a professional that were limiting creativity and inspiration, were now all I could think of and see. I wish I could say, I overcame my fear and stayed true to my viewpoint. Well eventually, I did. I first gave into the fear.
At 11 years old, I put my son in a traditional model of education, just to “get him caught up”, but mostly it was probably fear that I had made a mistake as a parent and that my optimistic, philosophical viewpoint was just a pipe dream. Oh my son “made the grades” but his spirit, his sense of himself, his true, unique expression was replaced with fitting in and being like everyone else. I was heartbroken.
It took three years to stumble around in the familiar world of traditional education before collectively we decided it was time to return to the place where he felt most inspired to learn and create.
I didn’t realize that as a parent, I would have to transform, evolve and trust when I wholeheartedly put my son in a Progressive school. I loved the “honeymoon” phase of the school. I wasn’t prepared for the fear or for the feeling of losing my bearings as he grew into the higher grades of middle school and high school. I also wasn’t prepared for the gifts and wisdom that he exemplifies when I do trust, let go and witness his journey. He loves to learn. He loves to be part of a community. He loves to contribute and serve in a community. He loves it that he has the experience of a progressive education and a traditional education.
Little did I know that over 20 years ago, my experience as a Speech Pathologist would have such an impact in my life. Little did I know that putting my own child in a Progressive school would enliven my spirit and life by expanding me to trust and enjoy the journey as I watch my son’s gifts emerge not because I had to make sure that happened, but because it is his true desire.
Janet is an inspiration to me every time I read what she writes, listen to what she says and see what she does. She lives what she believes – and is confident in how her child is unfolding. Thank you, Janet, for sharing your experiences and perspective.