Saturday, August 19, 2006

Children at Work

August 19

A child's job is complex and challenging. It is the work of being a child, exploring, under the supervision of a qualified adult, his world and all its possibilities. It is to learn about the planet around him, starting with the things that interest him, from the smallest insect he can see to the grandest tree he can climb and every leaf on it. It is to learn to get along with his fellows, to learn to work with them and to love them. It is to respect and trust the adults who teach him. It is to embrace life from the outset, free from fear, self-consciousness, and the threat of failure.

Wow -- I didn't know I was going to get into that. The picture, of course, is of Donnie Barrett's class at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, a Fairhope institution since 1907. Mr. Barrett spied a thicket of elderberry bushes on his way to work Friday morning, and pulled over and picked bunches of the berry-laden branches to teach the children about the making of jam. The day before he took them out to a pine tree and they carved a little cat face into the bark. He set a cup below the cuts to catch resin, which, right on cue (Mother Nature always obeys if handled properly) oozed drops of the piney syrup immediately.

I took my camera to the school yesterday looking for photo ops to submit to the press. I got more than I bargained for; I was confronted with a new spirit, a new joy, a renewal of the positive energy that emanated from every classroom in years past. After three or four pictures, my camera informed me that the batteries needed charging, but that was all right. My own batteries had gotten a charge already. For the past four years there has been an air of something like desperation at the school. Bad news lurked in every corner, and my many conferences with teachers and the director always yielded more jobs to be done, more people to call and console or cajole into action, and the feeling that my work in helping the school restore itself would never be done.

Now there is no such feeling. The new director has an upbeat attitude and a joie de vivre that is contagious. New parents are signing up their kids, and the new kids are loving this school. I can visit the school less and less as time goes on, because it is in good hands.

The first paragraph of this is as good a statement of the theory of Organic Education as I have ever written -- and I have written dozens. Go to the Marietta Johnson School link, and read the section "For Parents" which I wrote before the troubles began at the school in 2003. If you live in the Fairhope area and are in any way intrigued by this unique school, make it a point to visit the Marietta Johnson Museum between 2-4 P.M. any weekday and view some of the history of Fairhope displayed there. Better yet, go to the school itself and see if there is some way you might help. We are on the road to our second century, and the education system needs us more than ever.

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