The Value of Doing Something Stupid
I have always been aptly described as a scaredy-cat. Once, when I was twelve I got stuck atop a three-foot high rock wall for forty-five minutes because I was too afraid to jump down to the other side. That story has lived in infamy among my friends, something to remember and laugh about whenever Marc shows reluctance to try new things.
I've always envied my peers who went boldly into the unknown, and who spent their adolescence amassing stories much more epic than getting stuck on top of a retaining wall until their Mom was called. Even though I still shake my head sometimes at the nonsense kids get up to, I see the value of being brave and trying things out, even if the result is sometimes messier or more painful than you bargained for.
There's no shortage of brave/foolish behavior that's unfolded at Alpine Valley School and, in fact, I think it's one of the selling points. Our school exists as a microcosm of the real world, in which people do ridiculous things all the time. At Alpine Valley School there are boundaries, and the consequences for crossing them are very clear. These boundaries represent the safety of a caring community and watchful adults that have the best interests of the students and the institution at heart. There's limits to the stupid stuff you can get up to at school and exploring (and testing) those limits is a necessary part of childhood. The consequences that are doled out as the result of breaking our laws are an opportunity for learning and for growth, allowing the student to determine whether or not the behavior is worth repeating.
To be clear, when I'm talking about the value of doing stupid things, I don't include actions that are outright violent or harmful in their intent. Mostly, I mean the kind of action that begins with the thought "I wonder what would happen if I..." and concludes with "Well, that was an experience." Trust is a foundation of our philosophy and we must be able to co-exist knowing that no one is out to intentionally harm anyone else or wantonly destroy their property.
Beyond experimenting with the physical environment (e.g. "I wonder what would happen if I went down the big slide facing backwards") there's social trial and error that occurs at our school. This was more my speed when I was a student. Through debates in School Meeting I got to try out different arguments and political leanings to see what best matched my philosophy. In fact, I honed that philosophy altogether through debate, discussion, and proposing what sometimes seemed like pointless and provocative motions. But discussing whether or not to take a field trip to the Moon (a motion that ultimately failed due to lack of funds) helped me learn how to debate, and stretched my mind to allow for new possibilities. To outsiders my suggestion that we spend an afternoon flying to the Moon was utterly ridiculous, but to me it was a practice run for proposing new, more significant, laws.
There is space at Alpine Valley School for all manner of exploration, while also maintaining clear boundaries and consequences for overstepping them. My colleague, Larry, refers to this experience as "the walls of the pool". We allow students an Olympic-sized pool of freedom for them to swim around at their leisure, but there are still walls in place that they may bump into from time-to-time. Students experience these walls as a sense of safety and comfort, knowing that they will not be in any real danger even as they are going boldly where they have not yet gone before. Alpine Valley School allowed me to expand the walls of my own pool of experience and try new things under the watchful eye of caring adults, and explore rhetoric knowing that I would not cause any actual harm. It let me be silly, and occasionally even stupid, and to freely grow from those experiences, learning as I went.
To hear another student's story of bumping up against the walls of the pool, check out our podcast episode: Passion Projects featuring AVS graduate Ethan Welshon:
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