Friday, July 8, 2016

A Culture of Caring


It is not easy to find a single crumb of comfort in the face of the daily news. In the past month, mass shootings and terrorism in Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad, Bangla Desh and two more police murders of young black men in my home country. But one thing that keeps the flame of hope sputtering is the reaction of alumni of The San Francisco School on Facebook. Without exception, they are outraged, concerned, caring, fed up, grieving, openly confessing their sense of helplessness and growing hopelessness, ready and willing to act and equally aware of the need to enlarge their own capacity to love and create a just beauty and a beautiful justice.

I have no measured science behind this, no statistics of the percentage of alums expressing concern in relation to the number of graduates from the school or whether certain decades produced a different kind of adult than others. Nor do I have anything that would hold up in a scientific or sociological journal to back up my theory that a lifelong habit of caring begins young. If your values are not carefully cultivated in the early years or left to the accident of family, TV, peer groups and such, then it will be more difficult to build your moral fiber as an adult. And once you hit 21 or so without ever being asked to look beyond your nose to see how the “isms” are born and maintained and at who’s advantage and profit, nothing short of an intense life crisis will probably ever change your stubborn and narrow prejudices.

This should not be a surprise. Everything else we learn comes from a foundation mostly fully built by the time a child is 7. Or even 3. Learning languages, music, dance, sports and such is impacted greatly by the atmosphere of language, music, dance and sports the child breathes daily. So with the moral atmosphere. If schools take seriously the job of preparing the young for the demands of the 21st century, they would do well to create a Culture of Caring.

It begins, of course, with the way the adults in the community—teachers, administrators and parents—care for the children in the schools. Instead of kowtowing to adult fantasies of what they think children should know and caring more about the test scores than the kids holding the pencil or pecking away at the keyboard, they instead will wrap their curriculum around what children actually need, what fits their developmental stage, what the children themselves consider worthy work and what they consider worthy play. When children are well-cared for, are listened to, are invited to express themselves and given the skills to do so in multiple medias, are respected for what they have to offer, why, they then develop a capacity to care for and listen to and respect others. So many of the uncared -for children in adult bodies are doing harm because they missed out on the love they needed and deserved.

From that foundation of direct experience of caring, the students at my school grow into learning a history not told by the winners, the stories of the underdogs who fought and made a difference, a familiarity with the way money, greed and power run the show and make caring difficult, if not impossible. The South objected to the end of slavery not just because they were attached to their way of life, but because they had built an economy around the brutal subjugation of human beings and wanted to protect their investment. I don’t believe singing songs about Peace and wondering “People, why can’t we just get along?” goes deep enough to bring the healing that the 21st century so desperately needs. We need some social analysis here and the kids at our school are getting it.

None of this is fanciful theory. I am seeing it at work with alums of The San Francisco School from a half-century of cultured caring. We’re here to help others understand how to do this. And to make it personal, here is the unexpected testimony of a student I remember from the late 80’s who I haven’t seen or heard from in over 20 years.

You are one of the greats, Dougiekins! You still teach me that there is so much hope, community and loving kindness in the world with the intention of your life. Have I ever told you that you are one of the mentors in my life that allowed me to feel safe enough to discover that there are many different possibilities that I have the power to access in my life? Because of this, I have been able to continuously overcome incredible obstacles. It is evident that my ability to learn in my formative years that I actually possessed the capacity to change the circumstances of my life would not likely have happened had it not been for you and SFMS. My teachers (especially you) created the space allowing me to experience something I couldn't and probably wouldn't have otherwise, where I could feel what it felt to be normal in greater society with a true sense of  belonging. I knew that at least 6 hours out of the day, I was free to be me and being me was actually all right. I may have even come to believe that I had some special talents and a unique sense if purpose. I certainly didn't start my first day of school feeling like this. The conditions of my childhood and family dynamics didn't have the needed components that provided a good sense of self-esteem. Had I not been given the opportunity by you as my teacher to look at myself through a different lens instead of only seeing myself through the de-facto conditions of my life filtered by oppression, I would not have broken (or at least interrupted) the vicious cycle of poverty (objective poverty) for my children. My love, admiration and gratitude have no limits with you. You make the world a much happier place to exist.

Of course, it was no effort on my part. She, like every child, was worthy of care and I simply enjoyed her as I try to enjoy every child. It's so easy. Yet it apparently can make a big impact. Let's go, people.

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