Because of the reputation of our program and the national results and international recognition we have attained, it is only natural that families are curious for our take on balancing high expectations and support at BASIS Independent. Read on for my take below:
Schools with very high academic expectations can easily become dystopian, highly engineered obstacle courses that lay waste to childhood. “Childhood” can signify quite different meanings to us all depending upon culture and personal experience. For me, when I think about “childhood,” I do not dwell too long on notions of innocence, but more on a hungry openness to new experiences and a capacity to feel and think with an intensity that weakens with the passing of the years.
One of my favorite statements about learning was made by the Russian writer, Alexander Herzen: “We think the purpose of a child is to grow up because it does grow up. But its purpose is to play, to enjoy itself, to be a child. If we merely look at the end of the process, the purpose of life is death.”
Herzen is invoking here a conception of play as a profoundly empowering human activity, and warning us that if we do not learn the joy and force of such play as children, our adult lives will be the less for it. Play, not as distraction from more important tasks, but as an activity that involves a total engagement in the complexity and revelations of the moment, a mind and an imagination supremely preoccupied by the invention at hand.
The academic culture that is grounded in competition alone, in a process of sorting to squeeze finally through that narrow portal someone else has built to define success and the correct destination for a life, seems like a sure path to stifling innovation and that burning urgency of the young person’s subjective, playful response to the world.
Yet learning cultures that stress support can also, in different ways, handicap and stifle the child. Accomplishment, and the high self-esteem that accomplishment generates, must be earned. Freud did not believe that psychoanalysis, his “talking cure,” could guide his patients to happiness, and it is a terrible truth that no adult, neither parent nor teacher, can “talk” or “love” a child into success and self-esteem. Indeed to try to do so would be a significant disservice to children who must ultimately make their own path in a highly competitive world.
In my view, children grow in school cultures in which they are constantly encouraged to reach and struggle for knowledge and skills that seem to be beyond their immediate grasp. Thus do they emerge, however messily, as strong, autonomous learners and independent and purposeful adults.
A healthy school culture is one in which high expectations are always matched by high levels of support. Indeed high expectations and high support are two sides of a Mobius Strip, such is their intimacy in all great schools. Watch and listen to a good teacher who has learned their craft, and it should not be possible to tell where one begins and the other ends, to distinguish the challenge from the reassurance, the excitement and anxiety of inventing or conquering the difficult and the new, from the reminder of what has already been accomplished.
Parse a healthy learning culture and throughout the hallways and classrooms you will see students running and stumbling and skipping and falling their way along these two indistinguishable sides.