Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Fairhaven, "R" rating

From: David Rovner <>
Date: Fri May 14 07:49:00 2004

I suppose Joe missed this one:

      The Lessons of Volition

      Play Teaches Ownership and Choice at Fairhaven School

      --by Joe Jackson, adjunct staff member

            Several months ago play was the topic of conversation at a
Talkabout held at Fairhaven School. Play is a very important idea when
talking about Sudbury model schools. It happens constantly, and its
prevalence makes Fairhaven look different from any other school most people
have seen. The relentless quality of play is the key to what helps Fairhaven
students develop the ability to focus and persevere.

            During the Talkabout, a fascinating concept began to take root
regarding the supposed differences between "work" and "play" that sprang
from the observation that most of the play taking place at Fairhaven looks
an awful lot like work. What we realized is that whether something is called
work or play has nothing to do with whether we like doing it. Our level of
satisfaction in an activity is determined by whether we have a choice to do
it or not.

            After all, the only real difference between a student learning
math at Fairhaven and a student learning math at a conventional school is
probably that the Fairhaven student is doing it voluntarily.

            Why is volition so central? Ownership and choice are what make
volition the most important principle governing human behavior.

            Josette, Taylor, Zach, Anna and Jessica hard at play.

            In our work lives, volition virtually always governs whether a
person likes or dislikes his or her job. Imagine two people both working for
the same organization. The first person flawlessly performs all tasks
assigned to him, but is tightly managed and only performs work he is
required to do. The second considers the minimum requirements of her job to
be a point of departure, assumes responsibility far beyond the extent of her
assigned position, and has a boss who encourages self-motivation, creativity
and empowerment.
            While the first person is possibly an excellent and trusted
employee, the second person has a stake; she is an owner. Her sense of
responsibility is driven by her stake in the organization, which is in turn
driven by her sense of responsibility. The precious byproduct in this
self-propagating equation is that our second employee is almost certainly
experiencing a high level of job satisfaction.

            During my career in the military, my colleagues and I always
smile when we hear someone in the middle of a four-year enlistment swear he
will get out the end of his term. Almost invariably, as he approaches his
moment of freedom and choice is once again a factor in his decision, he will
"re-up," almost as if a switch has gone off in his head.

            What is flipping that switch? The only difference in that person
's life from mid-term to end-of-term is choice. We all derive pleasure from
both work and play only to the extent that we feel free to start and stop
whenever we choose. Having mentally let go of the job, our colleague looks
around him at his career options. When he sees continuing in the military as
just another one of his choices, the job appeals to him in the manner that
originally brought him there. He can now choose to "return" to the job.

            Most folks think kids play video games because they are fun. But
anyone who has really played or watched the complex strategy games of today
knows they are quite simply hard work. The work my eight-year-old son has to
do to move to the next level bears no resemblance to play: in order to
progress he must slay a monster to get through a door which reveals a series
of doors that will either have more monsters behind them or the key to open
the door to the "boss" monster that must be vanquished in order to proceed.

            The ironic truth is that, sitting at desks 18 miles apart, my
son and I essentially do the same thing all day. In order for me to move on
to my next task I have to gather information from a variety of sources (some
of which are available, some I have to leave messages for, some of which are
dead ends). From this research I craft a document that undergoes several
rounds of edits before it can go to the "boss" for approval. (Unlike my son,
however, I am not required to defeat my boss in combat.)

            Clearly what my son is doing is work: challenging, frustrating,
and repetitive. So while skeptical neighbors or family members raise an
eyebrow at his daily regimen of computer games, Lego and freeze tag, I
marvel that he has learned something that most people three times his age
haven't-to work really hard with no regard toward obstacles and setbacks.

            So the beautiful thing about Fairhaven is not that it teaches
Latin or sewing or video editing, but that in the Fairhaven environment a
student may never realize there's a difference between playing Diablo six
hours a day and writing a million-dollar computer application in C++.

            At Fairhaven the object of the lesson is ownership and choice,
and the ruthless nature of grueling, frustrating and repetitive play is
often the teacher.

see also a Spanish translation: Las Lecciónes de la Volición

~ David Rovner

Received on Fri May 14 2004 - 07:48:05 EDT

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