Children Are Like Locs
by Anika Prather
The Living Water School, Alexandria, VA
This has been the year for me personally, as a mom and as a school founder, to fully mentally and emotionally grasp that kids do not need our help to learn. It took these almost 4 years to fully shed any notion of assisting or even scaffolding what children are learning. I totally believe that we should just leave kids alone and stop interrupting them! I mean, I don’t even waste my breath asking my own kids what they learned or experienced, and they are developing in such incredible ways.
One day I had an epiphany about this. I have dreadlocs. This is the second time I’ve done my hair like this. The first time was just after college, and I wore them for 15 years. I would wash and put gel in it and twist them so they looked perfect. After some time my hair began to thin out so I cut them out and wore an Afro for a long time. Then I decided to wear the type of locs that Rastafarians wear, which are called “free form locs”. I literally just stopped combing and styling my hair. I washed it and put olive oil in it only. I only used a translucent shampoo, no conditioner. Basically I did as little to it as possible. My hair looked really crazy at first, but then it started forming these natural rope-like locs all over my head. All different shapes and sizes. This is my third year with them and people give me compliments about them all the time. Ladies will say, “So how’d you get your hair like that?” And I will say, “I didn’t do anything.” And they look with a blank look for a while and ask the same question in a different way. And I’ll just say, “Look, I didn’t do anything to my hair. I washed it, oiled it, and left it alone. Just nurtured it and let it do its thing.” When I said that, I thought to myself, “OMG! Children are like locs!!”
Evidence of how my family continues to evolve has also been seen in the fact that my husband no longer asks about their academics. In fact, I caught him in a debate with someone about why there should not be a thing called “tablet time”. He went on to explain with so much pride how his sons (my daughter does not like video games, but LOVES art) are so computer literate, are learning to set up their own YouTube channels, looking into how to design video games, etc., all because (when we are not running around in the family van) the kids are allowed to enjoy their electronics.
Now don’t get me wrong, Damon and I both still have “residue” and every once in a while may ask them if they need to take a break from gaming, but it is rare. I will say, seeing my husband defend Sudbury means everything.
This is how my life personally is continuing to evolve. Even my mom and dad are on board now and they loved meeting Mimsy. I think meeting her was a turning point for them. They can even argue the philosophy to others. Even as I’m writing this, my kids are in their space, doing their thing. My sons sitting nearby on the floor watching YouTube videos and gaming, and my daughter – I can’t even see her right now, but I hear her rustling around in her room crafting something out of a cardboard box I just gave her. They are free. My in-laws visited recently and noticed, “Hey Nika, we’ve been here all these days, and have never heard your kids crying or being upset.” I hadn’t thought of that before, but they are so content. My oldest son will come to me frequently and talk about how much he loves me for just letting him be free.
I share all of this even as in the school only a handful of us walk the Sudbury path. It’s a minority still of families who don’t want to give up the reading and math and writing learning groups. My husband had some amazing insight on why it is hard to get our community to shed the formal lessons, which he referred back to the black people’s fight for education. He explained that education was always used as a weapon against us. Not being taught to read, etc. was used to oppress us. So, black people have a major distrust in general when someone won’t “teach” their kids. That is what we contend with. I had one parent visit the school, just to be negative, and her comment was, “So what are ya’ll doing while kids are free? On your cell phones all day??” Like, I couldn’t even engage that question. So it’s a battle still, but we are still here!
My greatest excitement is about one of our graduates for this year. On his own, he took the SAT, studied for it, applied to a college, visited the college, met with the basketball coach and literally on his own is advocating for himself to get in! Just like your book said! We don’t know if he’s been accepted yet, but the school is in constant communication with him. He also, on his own, enrolled in classes for dual enrollment at the local community college. He is just doing life on his own and charting his path! This thing is amazing! I used to say, “Well black kids struggle to get into college, so we really have to help them....blah blah blah...” And here he is doing his thing, without me. There were days he would tell me where he was in the process and I’d be all nervous and I’d tell him, “I am so tempted to tell you what you need to do next, but you don’t need me to, do you?” He was like, “No, I got this.” I love it! This is one of my families who has fully embraced the Sudbury model. The parents don’t ask about academics, they let their kids do what they want, and actually advocate for their freedom when they feel anyone is hindering the philosophy in their child’s life. Honestly, those students who have parents that fully support the philosophy are the most successful, happy, peaceful, brilliant, articulate, goal oriented of the school. The kids whose parents do a lot of micromanaging are the ones who are struggling the most. I sometimes will meet with parents, one on one, begging them to just let their child go. Then I get frustrated and have to stop. The truth is so obvious!!! So I keep buying Sudbury’s books, sending online articles, talking and talking and talking, sharing what I’ve learned from SVS and I’m converting folks, little by little, along the way. I’m like a missionary for the Sudbury Model I guess?!
Here’s a transcript of a talk I had with my son:
Dillon: Mom I hate cursing!
Me: Um, ok.
Dillon: When I become President of the U.S.A., I’m going to make a law that no one is allowed to curse, and if you do you are going to jail!
Me: Dillon you can’t do that!
Me: Because you are taking people’s freedom. We may be Christian, etc. but the U.S.A. is not for just Christians! Everyone should have a right to say what they want and believe what they want. Do I oppress you like that?
Dillon: No. Like remember that time when I cursed?
Dillon: You didn’t do anything. I didn’t even get in trouble. We just talked about it and you shared words you use in place of curse words.
Me: Yeah, like Jumpin Jehosaphat or Good Googa Mooga or Dag Nabbit...lol.
Me: So even though we are Christian we cannot oppress others into believing or living as we do. Everyone should have the right to choose how they live their life.
Anyway, Sudbury has really made our home a peaceful place. The enlightenment it gives me and how it has helped me show my kids how to relate to the world around them has been an amazing journey. It has freed me and opened my eyes in a major way and I am grateful.
Note: This piece was originally published on May, 6, 2019.