Ethics, Life Related, Pedagogy

Community feeling

Yesterday I spent several hours with a group of women I’m proud to call classmates – we didn’t all graduate at the same time, but we all feel connected to each other and to our school.  The reason for our gathering was to begin preparing for the bicentennial of the school, in 1814.  One of the things we continually came back to was how much of an influence Emma Hart Willard and the school she founded (fittingly called Emma Willard School) have had on the lives of many more people than have actually attended, and how our time at the school has profoundly affected our lives.

As I drove home, I started thinking about other schools I’ve known either through personal involvement or through the involvement of others.  One friend calls it the Cult of Emma Willard; I think it’s not quite that, but we do seem to be an incredibly committed group.  When I talk to the students with whom I’ve worked over the years, their ties to their alma maters is less than mine is to Emma.  Yes, they feel a closeness with their classmates or with people in their “generation” (those that were 1-2 years ahead and behind them).  Often there’s a teacher or two they remember with particular fondness.  But the depth of a feeling of community is not there.

Here’s an example: in a few weeks, Hackley will host Alumni Weekend.  Many people from different classes will attend, but the mingling between the classes isn’t quite the same as it was at my reunion last June; the same holds true for college reunions.  This cross-generational mingling is something that I think is unique to Emmies.

Yet it’s a different sense of community than the one my friend K told me exists at Sudbury Valley, the school her daughter attended.  We weren’t all one big happy family at Emma, and there was a sense of Us v Them vis-a-vis faculty/administration and students.  At Sudbury, one of the things that attracted my friend was that when there were infractions of the rules, the discussion wasn’t a top-down “you bad person you!  you broke a rule!!” but one of a community discussion centered on “you’ve hurt the community and how can we heal this?”  – two very different approaches.

While I think the things that make the Emma Willard community special can’t necessarily be duplicated at other schools, it should be possible to repeat the Sudbury Valley community.  As the school year progresses, I’m going to do my best to work to create that collaboration between faculty and student. Perhaps one will follow the other?

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