I would never have imagined that we’d lose an entire week of school because of snow in Huntsville, Alabama. My emotions this week have swung from the incredible peace and tranquility I felt late Sunday night in the falling snow as I walked our dog Ryder, to the general happiness on Monday as we enjoyed all-out family fun, to a growing and hardening sense of frustration and disappointment as we followed the Huntsville City schools and called school off for yet another day, and Jennifer and other parents besieged me with appeals to “Please have school tomorrow!” I have a good friend who likes to refer to the “we better play it safe” kinds of decisions as his contribution to the “wussification of America,” and in this case, I’m inclined to agree.
But before I become completely aggravated and self-critical, I want to take a moment to reflect on why Monday was so much fun. After tromping around the snow in the yard with Ben and Claire and having our own snowball fight on Monday morning, we visited some neighbors and good friends after lunch. First we expanded the snowball fight to dads versus kids, and then we took the sled up Corlett and joined about 50 neighbors (mostly kids, but some adults, too) sledding down a pretty steep incline.
I spent five formative years as a boy growing in Nashville, and a flood of memories from snow days in our neighborhood came rushing back as I watched boys and girls and moms and dads hauling down the hill. What I loved most of all about Monday is that it was unplanned and unstructured fun. My own childhood was full of this kind of social interaction through every season of the year, and I was a little sad to admit to myself that very few children have those kinds of experiences in contemporary America. Instead, we’re inclined to schedule and structure the lives of our children, and while they might develop certain skills more completely than did the children of my generation, and while they might be more safe than they would be on their own in the neighborhood (when I was five and out with my friends in Pampa, Texas, the only rule I can remember was to run home when the street lights came on!) I’m confident they miss out on the social experiences of making up their own games, exercising their own imaginations, and learning how to deal with each other without the constant presence of teachers, coaches, and referees.
On Monday afternoon in our neighborhood I was impressed with the variety of sleds on Corlett. There were, of course, the wooden sleds with rails and slats, there were the fancy plastic ones that you can steer with ropes, but the best of all was watching a high school student zoom down the hill having folded himself into a laundry basket. I’ve heard this week of a Randolph alumnus in college who taped up an ironing board and actually put it to use.
Our lives today don’t often call for that kind of applied creativity, and I think we’re the lesser for it. Last week during faculty in-service, we discussed “The Creativity Crisis,” a Newsweek article written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. They lament a creativity decline in America that weakens our nation’s economic competitiveness and stifles the imagination and inquisitiveness that will be necessary for us as a nation to seize the opportunities of the 21st century and address the many challenges that confront us.
Schools and families have important roles to play if we are to push back against this trend. We need to honor the questions and insights that our youngest students have about matters that we take for granted, or don’t really understand ourselves. We need to make sure that we are making our curriculum and their learning as relevant to their lives as we possibly can as students move into the Middle and Upper schools. And we need to resist the temptation to structure assessments primarily around following directions and remember to avoid interpreting success based solely on the ability to memorize and regurgitate information.
I often wonder if we as educators and parents (I mean this broadly, not just us at Randolph) are preparing children for our past or their future. It’s a question worth asking, and a subject that we’ll tackle in our upcoming strategic plan. The 21st century will demand more from us, not less, and it’s critical that we think through what skills and competencies will matter most in a world that is increasingly mechanized and increasingly atomized. Look for much more from Randolph on these important matters in the months ahead—once the roads are clear and we’re back in school!