Sunday, May 19, 2013

Letter to 8th Grade Parents

The end of the school year is upon us. Sometimes it feels like a welcome and well-earned cadence to a symphonic work, those last chords announcing the new music of Summer. But as often as not, it comes as a mild shock and surprise. Already? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we rang the gongs of the first day of school?

And perhaps that same surprise for the longer span of your children’s tenure at The San Francisco School. Whether three years or eleven years or somewhere in-between, the double sense that it was a slow and glorious unfolding and also went by in a flash. (Soundtrack with “Sunrise Sunset” playing here.)

Do you remember that first day when your children entered the school doors? They came in as a question mark. Would they make friends? Would they fit in and be accepted? Would they measure up to the work? Build the pink tower, cook the hurry-up cake, clap to the beat, draw a house? Master the intricacies of reading and writing and ‘ritmetic, weaving, xylophone and recorder technique, dribbling the ball with both hands, putting together a coherent Spanish sentence? Understand quadratic equations, Manifest Destiny, climate change, converse with their Nicaraguan host family, solo in the 12-bar blues and cross-mallet their way through Vivaldi, compete in the Futsal championship, enter the city-wide Science Fair, participate in the Amnesty group?

And here they are at the far-end of the question, a glorious, affirming answer. Yes ! Yes! And again Yes!! Now you see how you needn’t have worried as you begin to gather the threads of who’ve they been to celebrate them so joyfully at graduation. Each without exception an unequivocal Yes!! to the children we dreamed they might become, to the future adults the world needs and deserves. Each in his or her own style and character and personality, but all joined in their common values of humanity, integrity and social justice, their common fearlessness in expressing themselves and affirming what they stand for in the face of pressure to simply conform to some narrow-sliced standard. They are precisely the children we are proud to send forth to represent the deep values of the school culture and precisely the children you are so proud to claim as your own. It was a work we all did together, you the parents in your homes, we the teachers in the school and they the kids, sometimes in harmony with our efforts, sometimes in defiance as they sought to sort out their own dreams about themselves from our dreams about them. We all three made maddening mistakes, but none of them fatal and all of them in service of learning how to do it better yet.

Of course, it ain’t over yet. Graduation is a snapshot moment of the wondrous answers these children have become, but those answers are but a moment’s pause before the next questions. Perhaps it is the very notion that we are all of us questions aimed toward the answers that become the next questions that allows us to send them forth in confidence that they will grow and prosper in each succeeding phase of their lives. When we become fixed answers with no more questions to be asked, we stagnate, get stuck, lose that vitality of the 1st grade bursting into school with such enthusiasm, filled with the bubbling excitement of life’s promise. That beginner’s mind we invoke in our opening gong ceremony each year, renewed each year through the habit of perpetual questioning.

It’s always bittersweet for me to bid farewell to these kids, but also to the parents. Year after year, I pause and think about the families that have been present for so long, given so much to the school, been such an integral part of our community. I make a list of those kids who represent the last sibling and sigh, think of those who still have other kids here and smile, wonder what it will be like not to see certain faces at carpool. After 38 years of ongoing goodbyes, it doesn’t get easier. But I do know that life flows on and we survive it (until we won’t) and that community is not bound by time or place, but continues in our heart’s memories.

So on the cusp of graduation, an advance congratulations to you all for your child’s grand success and my gratitude for all the years.

Much love,

Doug Goodkin

PS And please read my next e-mail about the Jazz Field Trip!

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