News from the Center

Dorothy Henderson, Head of School
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

As I write this message, the stars are just fading in the chill December morning. Out my window I can see the outlines of the Ponderosa pines framed against the barely lightening sky. Graduation for the sixteen students of the Fall 2008 Woolman Semester is just three days away. On Monday, the final projects of the semester, their Citizens of the World research papers were presented to the community in the Meeting House. Now the students and teaching staff are all enjoying a three-day retreat before graduation. This is a time to celebrate together what has transpired over these past four months. As have I watched these students work in groups and alone, it is hard to believe that most of them did not know each other last August.

It is tempting at this time to focus on what the students have gained by being here, by making a commitment to move out of their known experience to join us in a great experiment of activism, education and community. And yet I find myself wanting to share with you something of what we have gained by having them here with us. I want to speak specifically and personally to give you a sense of the actual experiences. The following are some of the interactions that have been particularly meaningful to me this semester:

Joining a group of staff and students weekly for “Deep Dinner”, taking time to connect with each other about our spiritual lives. This came about because Keenan, one of our students this semester, asked to have more opportunities for spiritual exploration. He is clear that this is one of the motivations that brought him to Woolman. Perhaps a Woolman tradition has begun.

Talking with Sol about the process of decision making at Woolman. Sol is a serious scholar and strong advocate of democratic education. In a Wednesday evening conversation when I was on homework duty, Sol questioned how empowered our community meetings are to make decisions affecting the daily lives of the community and students. He posited that perhaps we have a “representative democracy” rather than a true one. Students making the decision to come here agree to certain expectations; how mutable are those expectations once the students arrive and begin to assert their own views?

Talking with Christian about life here at Woolman, why he came, what he is getting out of it, and what choices he truly wants to make to create his own educational experience while he is here. In our conversations, I hear Christian trying to discern when his actions are responding to pressure from others and when they are truly coming from his own inner wisdom. This discernment may be a more valuable life lesson than any other that Christian gains while he is here, and his willingness to wrestle with it strengthens my own similar efforts.

Finding Ryann in the office early early one morning working on her Citizen’s of the World project. She had just finished an interview with a professor from Yale who had written a book about genocide. Ryann came to Woolman with a great concern about Darfur, and she has called us all to action to end the genocide there. Her dedication has pushed me to begin to educate myself. I have begun reading “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families,” by Philip Gourevitch, which documents the failure of the international community to respond in time to avert the genocide in Rwanda in 1992.

The sky has turned pale blue and the sun has hit the Ponderosas as I have shared these moments with you. Space does not allow me to recount more, but of course there are many. It is hard to limit myself to these.

A spiritual emphasis, experience of brotherhood and rigorous and sustained intellectual and creative work: these were the original ideals articulated by Josephine Duvenek in the founding of Woolman. These ideals are alive in the students of the Fall 2008 Semester. As we celebrate the graduation of these sixteen students, I am grateful for the teachings they have offered. It will be hard to let them go…and I feel a little more hope for our world that they will be out there.

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