That which is seen and that which is not seen

In 1850 the noted French economist Frederic Bastiat wrote a famous essay with the same title, and with a very insightful point: lots of times there are situations where we have no trouble seeing their good side, but don’t think about another side, not so obvious, that turns out to be no less important.

With the summer break upon us, I feel that message has particular relevance to what went on here during this past year. So many good things happened that were “seen” - were obviously things that the community could point to with pride. Quite a few were written about here in our blog. For example:

• The school’s governmental apparatus continued to run smoothly.  The weekly School Meeting conducted the main business and policy-making of the school, continually re-examining all facets of the school’s operation. The Judicial system continued to reflect the community’s values of fairness, order, and personal rights. And the Clerks and Committees ensured that the day to day operation of the school unfolded seamlessly.
• There were several art shows in the dance room, displaying the rather amazing talents of many of our students, young and old. Some of these shows had a new twist: instead of featuring the varied works of one student, they displayed selected pieces by a number of students, with the result that the range of visual imagery was significantly broadened, and the wide extent of talent throughout the population became vividly obvious.
• On a similar note, five of the large sound baffles that were installed last year in the barn, to improve the sound quality of musical performances there, became the canvas background for large-scale paintings by five of our older students. It was an ambitious project - 4' by 8' paintings executed in the barn over a period of months. You can’t walk into the barn without seeing them, and marveling at them.
• The annual Coffeehouse musical talent show put on by the school’s Music Corporation continued a tradition of showing off a consistent element of life at school since the beginning: the presence of extremely talented musicians - instrumentalists and vocalists - in our midst. The works of pottery produced at school seem to become more exquisite every year. Photos of many of these pieces are featured on our Facebook page.
• A private business at school, run by students - the famous (or infamous, depending on your degree of orthodoxy regarding the evils of sugar) noontime concession - showed its proprietors to be particularly competent as retail managers and financial planners. The inventory was imaginative and usually extensive, and the bookkeeping involved was competent and clean. They ran a real business, not an “educational project!”

All of these are things that are seen, and generally held to be praiseworthy. What is not seen, however, is no less (and perhaps more) important to the individuals who come here, and has been present this past year in abundance:

• the personal growth that every member of the community undergoes, day after day, month after month, year after year.
• the passion and intensity with which everyone, regardless of age, engage their activities.
• the kindness which people exhibit to each other, and the generosity of spirit that manifests itself in so many interactions, large and small.
• the sheer joy shown in so many ways, the liveliness, the bright eyes, the movement, always movement.
• the marvelous conversations in every corner of the campus, now darting from one subject to the next, now probing more deeply into a vexing question.
• the games, those wonderful games, challenging, exciting, frustrating, satisfying, many the pure inventions of the participants.
• the competence that permeates every activity undertaken at school - the universal aspiration to do things well and, when done well, to do them even better.

And, maybe most striking of all, the sheer intelligence exhibited by everyone, old and young, a trait so striking that outsiders often comment that the school “works” because we skim the cream off the top of the mass of children!

It’s been a good year indeed. Like every year since the beginning, I’m tempted to say, “It’s been the best year ever.” Maybe in fact they all have been - all the years, like the children in Lake Wobegon, “above average.” Or maybe they just keep getting better, as the school’s culture continues to develop and flourish.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.