“In order to foster intellectual development, experiences are set in motion that encourage a student to APPLY their academic knowledge in pursuit of understanding questions and issues that do not have a ready answer. Although humans can memorize and regurgitate, that is one small subset of our skills. Because we are the "thinking" animal, philosophers from birth, open-ended, thought-provoking issues fascinate us. And what fascinates us motivates us. Intellectual activity is the hallmark of our purpose.” – Louise Stilphen, Sparhawk School Headmaster & Founder
Our teachers were recently asked to showcase how they incorporate intellectual curriculum into their classrooms. The following is a piece written by Lisa Hughes, an Upper Elementary School Teacher.
Here we have a topic that cannot easily be “Googled” due to its highly subjective and amorphous quality. This is the type of thing that is not purchasable or easily written on an anchor chart. And yet, it is tangible to all, and present on a daily basis in my classroom. But, how?
First, my personality profile is firmly rooted in the desire to have meaningful conversations, with adults and children alike. I simply cannot keep myself from “digging in”, especially when I enjoy the people I'm with. Therefore, I typically engage students in deeper-than-surface level talk from morning meeting until the end of our day by asking questions, pressing for detail, and encouraging metacognition. For example, if a student shares an enjoyable experience they've had with their family over the weekend, I respond with a typical Bloom's taxonomy of increasingly thoughtful questions that elicit a deeper response. "We went to a play." might evolve into a dialogue involving what the play was and who the characters were; what the climax of the plot was; how it compared to other stories they have read or seen in a play; how the student would have changed one element and their evaluation of the quality of the production overall. In addition, sometimes children appear clueless about where their parents have taken them, geographically speaking. When I ask, "Where did you go to see this play?", I often get a puzzled look and a shrug of the shoulders. In my class, this becomes a launching point for discussing the importance of asking questions and noticing detail. I routinely encourage my students to create an awareness of their experiences, and not simply float through life like flotsam. Ultimately, they should know where they are going, because where you are is the fabric of which their lives are made.
Sharing opinions, experiences, learning and adversity is the hallmark of my interactive classroom environment. My tables are boardroom-esque, encouraging face-to-face dialogue. Unlike a classroom comprised of individual desks, I believe a collaborative physical space allows for students to move between groups, and therefore conversations. Isolation is possible, but only when a student seeks it or when that is what is deemed necessary for focus. Book talks, debates, pair shares, even lunchtime chats allow for such an amazing level of individual and group interactions; if the teacher monitors and encourages listening skills, word choice and open-mindedness, the intellectual capacity of students blossoms in effort to keep up with the expectation inherent to the standard of the class. I find they want to become a cohort, a salon of sorts, where all are free to set the tone and character of the experience, bringing with them the importance of art, science, music, literature, theater and athletics to all they do. It becomes their own thrilling philosophy of life, to enjoy learning about and experiencing the world, which they then share with each other.
Perhaps this sounds a bit out of reach, to you, for the average 10 year old? Hardly. But it is an experience that needs to be cultivated, modeled and encouraged daily. I make sure each student feels they have an expertise, an ability or interest that is wonderfully relevant to the group's development as learners. Being a good human is their job, after all. And all of this is what serves as the "intellectual curriculum" in my classroom.
One of the phrases that you hear most often about the culture at Sparhawk is that we "know our students well." If you are unfamiliar with Sparhawk, you might think that we are just talking about their academic lives- Billy is a B+ student who likes robotics... but, in truth, it's much much more than that.
The Sparhawk culture has been both organically and intentionally created over the past 20+ years. The cultural intention of Sparhawk can be ideated, but doesn't truly come to fruition without the actions of the community. We CHOOSE to be invested in each other. We share in each others' successes, and encourage one another during loss or challenges. We seek to understand the intricacies of personalities, and celebrate individuality. Most of all, we listen to our students and value their insightful contributions to our community.
The depth to which we know our students is highlighted at our graduation ceremony. Each year, members of our faculty stand before the audience and give individualized tributes and speeches for all of the graduating seniors. Teachers weave together recountings, fond memories, achievements and joy, showcasing the deep connection and understanding that we have of each student. Here's a snippet of a story that was shared this year by Emily White about graduating senior Jordan Michel:
Ten years ago I started my Sparhawk career at the Farm Campus. I happily began teaching Italian for the 1st time in an elementary school. And ten years ago, Jordan Michel, you too started your Sparhawk career at the Farm School and began studying Italian for the first time in your life.
After a decade, we can reflect on some of the most valuable things that Sparhawk has taught us both: fundamental ideas like patience, perseverance, openness to learning, trust, and bravery. These are just some of the necessary pieces to becoming a fair teacher and a role model student.
Indeed all of our graduates have some of these traits--There are countless memories I could share to demonstrate how they possess them, but I will talk about just three that I think best illustrate some of the finest aspects I see in you, Jordan. In my opinion, these are never-faltering parts of your personality. You embody these qualities and they define how you interact with others.
These are also some of the exemplary features that turn people into what we like to call good humans. And Jordan, you are just that, a good human.
Traveling to Nicaragua with you this past winter proved it; the trip allowed me to witness true and generous offerings from the heart. You find joy both in giving and receiving from others, and have much to share of yourself.
You never shy away from an opportunity to help those in need. This is your way of demonstrating kindliness.
It is hard to imagine a better role model for any young man than you, Jordan. You are the perfect gentleman--always holding a door, waiting for all to be served before eating, gracious and sincere. You are a compassionate friend--always supportive of your peers’ endeavors and willing to listen or offer helpful advice. You are a welcoming smile to newcomers--you accept all without judgment, and realize the opportunities newness and diversity can provide.
Being such a role model, you can only imagine the great fortune I feel knowing that you have been this to many, but most luckily for me, to my own son Nico. Thank you, Jordan for being this to him and to others.
In listening to this speech a few weeks ago, and rereading it now, I think the statement that "We know our students well" is too limiting. The truth is simply that we know each other well. To many of us, faculty and students alike, Sparhawk is a second home. We are growing together, sharing defining experiences that will help shape our future choices and we are building human connections that will last a lifetime.
The following piece was written by Louise Stilphen, Sparhawk's Founder & Headmaster. It's a recollection of her own childhood experiences and what first inspired her to shift her paradigm about education. Louise has penned this, and other stories that are valuable to the overall history of the founding of Sparhawk School. We look forward to sharing more stories with our community in the future.
I was born in Boston in the fall of 1947. The war had ended two years before, and I, one of the first crop of baby boomers, grew up in a working-class family in Boston’s largest neighborhood, spelled Dorchester but known to all of us as Dawchesta, near Codman Sqwaya. As with most people, everything, including place, class, “the times”, and family shaped what was innate to my nature.
My father was working in the construction trade as a laborer when I was in early elementary school. He was making a living but there was very little left over, certainly no money for luxuries like private school education. Not many people we knew had gone to private schools or college and it probably never even entered my parents’ minds that it would be an option for me. However, it would come to pass that I would have that opportunity.
I attended Boston public schools until part way through the fourth-grade. In those first years, I fought against going to school from day one. Half-day kindergarten at the Florence Nightingale School, all the way across the field from home, the field where the big kids like my brother hung out, out behind the A&P.
I was shy. I was satisfied with my world at home: my mama, my books, clamp-on, key-lock rollerskates. I had a ball to bounce but, “remember” not up against the neighbor’s house, a kitty, baby dolls, jump rope, and my big-for-the-city backyard, my whole wide world, the back piazza, in any weather, once even for the quiet part of a hurricane, and all the other places where my imagination roamed freely, indoors and out. I already loved books more than anything. What did I need school for? Indeed.
They used Dick and Jane basil readers. That means books with a limited vocabulary that is repeated over and over to tell the limited stories a limited vocabulary can tell. Dick and Jane! I liked Dick and Jane, themselves, except for their stilted talk. “Look, Jane, look. See Spot. See Spot run.” They were nice kids like me and the other kids I knew, but, language hound that I am, I wondered what these books had to offer me?
Fortunately for me, the city schools also taught phonics. We were old fashioned doing that then. In the suburbs, oh, the suburbs so shiny and ticky-tacky, they-all-looked-the-same modern, they stopped teaching phonics entirely in favor the “whole-word” or the ‘site-reading” approach. And literacy rates dropped in proportion. Vast numbers of kids learned a memorized vocabulary. Strategies that enable me decode words from other book universes were abandoned. I should say, the kids were abandoned, left standing, puzzled and without a passkey, outside the covers of books not taught in school. Their passports to the vast libraries of the world were never issued.
Maybe I was a school rebel from day one. I remember this literacy controversy being discussed by adults. They understood better than most educators what was being sacrificed. The sudden appearance of kids who couldn’t read, kids they knew, scandalized them. Why did such controversy interest me at all, though, at that age? Why did I tuck away partial understanding of this and other educational issues for later expansion? Does innate interest and ability direct the collection of partial understandings? It must. I declared as early as elementary school that I wanted to start a school.
I also wanted to be a movie star and a ballerina. The difference? There are hero dreams and fantasies and there is relentless innateness. I was collecting the understandings I needed to build my future even though I didn’t know there was a far future. I knew only the moment and next week or, at most, next birthday or holiday, but if I had known I was collecting stuff of future interest, I might have thought of our brains as having prescient little hooks that latch onto what to keep and what to let go. Mostly I let go of math for a while. Mostly I kept words and ideas about people and emotions and thinking and thinking about thinking.
So, I reluctantly traded in chunks of my personal time in exchange for school. I adapted. Miss McCarthy, kindergarten, was nice enough and I loved my first-grade teacher. I learned reading, writing, and arithmetic and that I hated dodge ball. It was scary and you had to play. I learned curly-cue handwriting. I was devoted to it. Girls were. I studied geography in the beige and musty, property-of Boston-Public-Schools books but I really learned it from the emerald green and white World Book Encyclopedias my daddy bought; they came in the mail, one a month. He paid extra for the next-to-the-top-of-the-line even though it was a luxury for us.
By fourth grade, I attended that school, just on the other side of my big backyard. (When my brother went there he climbed the fence. I walked around. Girls did.) And once I got there, I saw my world’s view reversed. It was my home that was on the other side of the fence now. The kids were still rough, but now I was fenced in away from my comforts. You can guess which version of the view I preferred. And it wasn’t just the view that was different. What prevented me from loving school by second grade was not the schoolwork; I liked it, rather it was the diminished status that kids had at school.
In my family respect went both ways. I was treated with love and respect, always and in all ways, even when I misbehaved. We paid attention to one another and our thoughts and emotions were honored. In conversation, although I did not always have the last word, my thoughts were considered, and I was taught to treat other people that way too.
These were the standards of my world-at-home; the school world was very different. Not that I misbehaved at school, but some kids did in little rebellious ways and when they did I was terribly burdened ethically when I witnessed what I perceived as injustices and dared not speak up. I was shy but confident in my analysis that the way kids were treated was just not right. But I went day-after day into teacher-dominated classrooms and sat silently, all the while suffering a visceral empathy for the other children and their treatment under the prevailing injustice. My terrible burden was that I did not have the courage to speak up.
I can mentally put myself at my desk, the first one in the third row from the windows and look up at Miss Lane, who often perched on my desk to talk to the class. Ramrod straight, rail-thin and exacting, Miss Lane, was, in my memory, always chastising someone. Her hair strained into her tight grey bun and not one curl ever escaped to gainsay the severity of her presence, nor ruffles, nor a bit of color or decoration.
We, too, sat ramrod straight but with our hands folded on our desks, as required, and when she was angry she would crash her tightly-held flashcards down on my desk in a jarring injunction, “Cccsh.” Someone was in trouble. She scared me. I remember trying to ease my hands out of the way of her card-wielding castigations without her noticing. I remember only her control and anger.
My fingers itched to tap her on the shoulder and, once I had her terrible attention, to tell her that what she was doing was not fair. But I couldn’t. I didn’t reason with myself: You are only a child. Who could expect a child to speak up? I just knew that I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t. It hurt me.
In the middle of that year, my parents moved me to a small, affordable, private school. My mother went to work to pay for it and she volunteered at the school to earn a scholarship. It was, perhaps, one of the best decisions ever made on my behalf. Up until this point in my life, home was a place to learn, and school was a disappointment. My new school, and, later the high school I went to were grand adventures in learning and they inspired my thinking about what education should be about.
The following blog post was written by Louise Stilphen, our headmaster & founder. It is the first of two parts that engages in the topic of our Lower School mathematical approach.
At Sparhawk, students of all ages are given the opportunity to solve practical, real-life problems as well as those found in math books. In other words, we combine traditional skill- development and practical applications. The applications, often called “hands-on” or “experiential” learning, allow students to use and practice their emerging toolbox of skills, in context, and in ways that are intrinsically interesting and make sense to them. The result is greater enthusiasm, commitment, sustained interest and, ultimately, comprehension. This dual approach also illustrates the reason for math learning.
I have never heard a child ask why they need to learn how to read, or write. Sometimes, however, kids ask, “Why do I have to learn math?” This is because math is hard work in a way that other academic subjects are not, and this is true even for those with math talent. Math is a new language, a foreign one in the sense that few students have much explicit experience of it before coming to school. Children, on the other hand, are immersed in language experiences even in utero. They learn vocabulary by listening as parents talk away to them and provide nouns for everything gaze or hands encounter. They observe social cues and use verbalizations to interact with others, even before they speak their native language. They literally dance the rhythms of syntax, internalizing the patterns while still very tiny. These are the algorithms of spoken language.
On the other hand, parents don’t talk baby-math to newborns, and even if they did, it would not be “math,” per se; it would simply be words with no reference, and without reference, 2+2 or Pi squared is 9.869604401 are just pretty nonsense syllables, in other words more English, Chinese, or French. We don’t read math books to children. Not even math-talented parents do this. Yes, there are some early exceptions to this rule, but usually it is because a child is, seemingly, mysteriously endowed with some understanding from a rare brain’s organization, that is not attributed to instruction. We have had such children at Sparhawk. However, direct instruction and math immersion is rare in most families and language immersion natural.
Counting, is not math, it is memorization. One-to-one correspondence is a foundational skill that does occur naturally: One cookie for you and one for me; Let’s count the trucks on this page; but beyond that, for most children, the foreign language of math starts once they begin school. The direct parallel would be to imagine a child whose only experience in language arts, before coming to school, consisted of recitation of the alphabet. No stories. No conversation.
Math is not only a foreign language, it is an abstract, ordered, logical and convergent language that, in the earliest years, requires a connection to the real world; it needs reference to real objects. Otherwise, math is intangible and mysterious, abstract and untouchable at a time of life when much of experience and understanding is concrete rather than abstract, and in the absence of experience, meaningless. And, if one is asked to do hard work, one should discover, “What’s in it for me? Why am I learning math?” In the absence of sense-making, math can also be frightening, as we all know it is to many. To too many, in fact.
These are the reasons why experiential math activities are the foundation for our very youngest students, and as children move through early elementary grades and show developmental readiness, more time is devoted to abstract reasoning and increasingly formal instruction in the standard scope and sequence of math concepts. Number facts are memorized and students develop skill in solving mental-math challenges. The combination of traditional skill development, the tools, and enticing challenges to solve, makes for a successful and fear-less approach to math learning. Both text and touch are essential and synergistic ingredients in early math learning.
We are often asked, "What makes Sparhawk School different from public school?" There are a multitude of answers, but first, I will focus on three related factors upon which all else depends. These defining differences are: our dedication to maintaining ideal teacher-student* ratios, overall group sizes**, and student-student*** ratios. The 'right' ratios are those that assure the best support for both our students and teachers.
Research supports the common-sense wisdom that group size, not simply ratio, is what matters most in terms of best attention for students. Small group size makes everything else possible. Students in a group of 20 elementary school students with two teachers simply cannot get as much emotional and academic support as a student in a group with 10 students with one teacher.
The reason stems from the nature of human needs, and the younger the child, the more important and immediate they are. The mixing together of the various wants, abilities, interests, needs and behaviors of each of 20 personalities creates an aggregate of complexities that is greater in combination than what would exist in two groups with a 1-10 ratio each. In a larger group, there are more distractions, in general, including visual, spatial, and auditory stimulation, and greater diversity of social challenges. If two students require attention in a classroom of 20 students, that leaves 18 children remaining with all of the aforementioned human complexities brewing. This is an overwhelming prospect for even the most experienced teacher, and even more so for a child.
This is all particularly true with younger students who have greater natural egocentricity and proper dependency on the teacher to assist them in so many ways. And, the younger the children, the greater overall diversity there will be. For example, a first-grade group may have students who do not know all of their numbers and letters and students who have been reading for a long time. What is the common ground for the teacher? In many traditional schools, it is the mid-point of the group’s abilities, or whatever state-mandated tests require be taught, no matter what the children’s statuses are. A common response to such a large class is to become procedure-heavy and to offer fewer choices and opportunities to work and grow as independent thinkers and workers, in other words, more authoritarian.
At Sparhawk we value the importance of creating the ideal group in size and student-student combination. Consider, for instance, the ability that Sparhawk has to create small, mixed-age groupings of students. This begins with the admissions process, when we select individual students not only for personal attributes that indicate age-appropriate levels of ability, motivation, and self-discipline, but also for their contribution to our community as a whole. These qualities are assessed based on day visits and, after sixth grade, also by the review of questionnaires and letters of reference from previous school personnel. Not every applicant is accepted. Public schools, on the other hand, are mandated to accept all students in its district. Students are then divided by age into groups of a certain number without regard to ability, motivation and self-discipline.
Furthermore, at Sparhawk, we consider the whole child, not simply their academic ability, but their social and emotional ability as well when assigning groups. Where is this student going to be most successful, and what is the best grouping of peers that will help them along the way? We assign students to peer groups of others who can support one another, creating a positive student-student experience and an overall enriching habitat for all.
During the elementary school years, the foundation for future education is set. These are the formative years. Students not only develop academic skill sets, but also character traits such as self-motivation and the panoply of celebrations-of-learning that the emotional safety of small-group learning offers.
*Student–teacher ratio or student–faculty ratio is the number of students who attend a school or university divided by the number of teachers in the institution. For example, a student–teacher ratio of 10:1 indicates that there are 10 students for every one teacher.
**Group size, as defined by Wikipedia: Size (the number of people involved) is an important characteristic of the groups, organizations, and communities in which social behavior occurs. When only a few persons are interacting, adding just one more individual may make a big difference in how they relate. As an organization or community grows in size it is apt to experience tipping points where the way in which it operates needs to change. The complexity of large groupings is partly because they are made up of interrelated subgroups.
Herbert Thelen proposed a principle that for members of groups to have maximum motivation to perform, the number of members in each should be the smallest "in which it is possible to have represented at a functional level all the social and achievement skills required for the particular required activity."
***Student-student ratio; The ratio of students to one another, or what we like to call the human scale. The larger the group the more interaction there is between students, and the younger the student the greater the challenge to negotiate the world of other children, whether for academic or social help. Lessons safely learned over time, in intimate groups, are often a challenge for teachers to provide at all, let alone individualize, and for the children to request.
Middle school is truly the time when students are finding their individual voices, developing a sense of being and building their self esteem. They are also at a crucial and pivotal place in both their academic and in their social and emotional development. Let's be honest, their bodies and brains are going absolutely bonkers and it's our job to help them reign it all in, all while keeping their love and excitement for learning.
How do you do that, right? We have found that teaching our middle school students experientially is our best tool in the vast teacher toolbox. We want our students to be themselves, and we want to hear their unique perspectives on the thematic subjects that they are studying. We have found traditional education methods only get students part of the way there.
Keeps the excitement in learning! Who wants to be bored and have someone talk AT you all day?
Allows students the movement that their active bodies require- It is counter intuitive to expect a growing body to sit in one place for eight hours a day (As an adult it's kind of torture, am I right?).
Builds critical and creative thinking skills necessary for 21st century minds- Who are you as a student and how do you approach this problem.
Helps students identify HOW they learn best - In many cases our students have at least eight more years of education ahead of them, they need to know who they are as a student so they can be successful!
Allows students to fail (often more than once!), rebuild, gain knowledge and find a solution- Life lesson, you are going to fail, if you don't fail, you don't know what to fix.
Teaches students to work co-operatively and independently to problem solve- Building both skills sets will serve a student long past their educational career.
Creates moments where students must advocate for both themselves and their classmates- This one is HUGE!
So what does an experiential lesson look like for a middle school student? Glad you asked. Our current theme in the middle school is Invent, Explore and Discover. Here's some examples of our students becoming the thematic lesson.
Studying Newtons three laws of motion: Students paired themselves off and wrote, created and starred in video skits that showcase each of the 3 laws.
Learning about Maya culture: Students practiced adding and subtracting with sticks and rocks in the base 20 scale using the Mayan system of math. Students also created Maya glyphs representing their names with traditional Maya shape structures.
Aztec art: Students created masks by plastering each others faces, building up the surface of the mask with clay forms and then adding the final decorative layer of found and forraged indigenous materials.
If you are interested in reviewing more of our experiential lessons, you can check out the weekly updates created by Bob Watson, our Lead Middle School Teacher, here. Of course its hard to encapuslate such a dynamic program in one piece of writing. If you are interested in seeing this style of learning first hand, or exploring some of the work of our students, we encourage you to take a tour.
Experiential Learning- What does that even mean right? Families who hear "Experiential Learning" on a tour probably can not grasp how or why our educational model is so different until their child does a day visit with us, or perhaps until they are enrolled. To us it's really about getting deeply into the subjects that we are studying, first hand, up close and personal. We become the lessons.
It might seem a bit like a rebellious concept, and perhaps it is. It rebels against the style of education that many of us grew up with (I certainly did!)- sit at a desk, read your textbook, repeat your textbook back, take a test so the teacher knows you understand the information. But, do you really understand the information? How do you know what you know? All you can really tell is that someone can repeat back exactly what they were told.
Whereas, in our experiential model, a student who is studying archeologists and artifacts at Sparhawk Lower School would be tasked with:
Learning excavation techniques, methods, and best practices by studying them and then by physically becoming archeologist and digging up artifacts
Creating a Cartesian coordinate system to map the recovery of artifacts - gridding the dig site and then mapping on paper the location of the recovered artifacts
Studying and categorizing artifacts once they are extracted
Students create their own artifacts out of clay and repeat the excavation and categorization process.
We want students to immerse themselves in the experience, and by doing so they will have greater retention of information than if they simply read about the process in a book. An experience connects all of your senses- it has smells and gives you a feeling, you witness, observe and connect information.
After the Paris massacre the Dalai Lama made a statement:
“We cannot solve this problem (terrorism) only through prayers,” the spiritual leader said. “I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.”
He continued, “We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony,” he said. “If we start doing it now, there is hope that this century will be different from the previous one. It is in everybody’s interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.”
After I read this I thought about a class I took a few years ago called Free to Love, Free to Heal at the Chopra Center in California. During the class the instructor lead us through an exercise where we pinpointed the person in our lives that did us the most harm. We then thought back in time to the formative years of the individual- what happened to them? What events in their lives lead up to them causing harm? Who might have harmed them? In my personal exercise I ended up considering the parents, family and friends of the person who did me the greatest harm- what had they done, or not done, that helped to form this person?
Sometimes when I think of myself, I think I'm just a pile of associative memories. Really, each of us are. We have defining moments in our life that changes our paradigm forever... many of them happen in the formative years. These memories can turn into emotional habits, that have a very real physical response. This can be a daunting thought as a parent. What am I doing now, that will reverberate for years to come? Who have I harmed? Which actions will harm my child and which will vibrate positively?
This all breaks down to me asking myself, what actions can I take on a daily basis to help foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony, or how can I be a better human?
An abbreviated list, in no particular order
Find your tribe (community) and love them hard & accept love in return
Be kind to others and yourself
Listen thoughtfully, answer honestly
Seek to understand before being understood
Learn as much as possible as often as possible
Seek truth, share truth
Advocate for yourself and others
Perhaps if I practice these skills daily I can increase my positive impact in this world, and when I slip up (that's that human part) I make amends.
I opened my email today to find a smilebox from Catherine Kulik, our art teacher at the Lower Campus. I was immediately thankful as a parent to receive my child's day in pictures, followed immediately by a sense of gratefulness to be a staff member at this school. When I pushed play I was greeted by beautiful pictures of our students during their Community Time, exploring artifacts from our human history that were completely foreign to them. In this short little slideshow I observed the moments of exploration from, "What is this thing?!?" to "Aha!" and everything in between.
What was particularly beautiful to me was the wonderment that was captured on their faces as well as the true sense of community between the mixed ages. Our students from kindergarten through fifth grade were paired together, observing, hypothesizing, drawing, developing ideas, categorizing, and exploring possible outcomes. We believe that all of these skills are an integral part in developing positive, critical, and creative thinking skills in children.
It is important to me that my child develops the ability to actively listen to the ideas of his peers, take in information and make observations effectively. However, I also want him to question the perspectives of his peers and himself, and have the ability to give and accept feedback in a positive and constructive way. These skills are honed over a lengthy period of time, helped tremendously by thoughtful teaching and experiential learning.
For more on critical and creative thinking, check out University of Michigan's page on the topics. Spoiler alert, it's not a beautiful page, but very informative.
A few years ago, right around the time that my husband and I were touring schools for our son (Sparhawk being one of them), I was introduced to the Ubuntu philosophy. Ubuntu (uu-boon-tuu), originates from Southern Africa and translates to mean "I am because you are". At the heart of this philosophy is a recognition of our shared humanity, and an understanding that there is a universal bond that connects each of us. For a deeper meaning, Michael Onyebuchi Eze, an African scholar, gives the following description:
“ 'A person is a person through other people' strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”.
This philosophy kind of became my litmus test for life. I began to evaluate my relationships, friendships, career decisions, and as it turns out, the school choice for our son on this philosophy. I remember touring Sparhawk, and being told about the "Community of Kindness" - but beyond hearing about this culture, we immediately felt and witnessed it. We observed multiple interactions between students, peers and teachers where there was a remarkable giving of not only kindness, but respect.
Fast forward a few years, I am now a parent and an employee at Sparhawk and over the past three years, I have witnessed the essence of Ubuntu in action here countless times. Our community extends kindness, it is compassionate, it is unique and it is accepting. We understand that an important part of each student's education is learning to be a good citizen of the world, and that begins with being a good human.