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MAR. 4, 2020

Hours of School

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I (like most of us) spent roughly 5,000 hours in high school. By the time I received my diploma I was pretty good at the essential skills. I could overfill a backpack with textbooks, make it between classes in 5 minutes,  and raise my hand above all the others. I understood what a cosin was, spoke a little spanish, and wrote responses to written works. In all those hours I’d learned how to efficiently get learning done. Between the testing, college applications, sports teams, and everything else efficiency felt like the key. Time was a scarce resource to be judiciously managed.

One foggy morning in February I woke up before the sun, grabbed my backpack and decided to add a few more hours to that total. A conversation over lunch a few days before ended with an invitation to be a student for a day and shadow a member of semester 50 from first light until bed. Hiking up morning watch I was unsure what my day would hold. Even with those 5,000 hours of experience I was a little nervous. Despite living and working alongside our students everyday I was unsure if I was ready to be one.

The day progressed beautifully. Morning fog gave way to afternoon sunshine. I made it through math where Emily carefully walked us through similar triangles and sat next to a student as they wrestled with some big ideas. In Spanish the conversation whipped around the room with Rodrigo floating from person to person tweaking pronunciation and trading jokes. Lunch provided a moment to sit back just talk before diving into our afternoon. Ted’s history class had us probing what assumptions we had to make to live in a republic and Science had me chasing him through the woods as we all tried to sort out exactly what a niche was. In English we painted responses to a selection of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and I watched as a few careful questions from Chelsea transformed a student’s understanding of the piece. Craft gave me a chance to practice my precision and strive for quality under Jeffrey’s steady guidance. By the time I made it through dinner and study hall I was exhausted. So much had been packed into just one day. But just as I was ready to apply head to pillow my fellow denizens of Cabin 10 reminded me that we needed to have our evening meeting and close our day together.

As I listened to them relate anecdotes from their adventures and offer each other support I was struck by an obvious but important thought. Our students work hard. Like really hard. It’s something I’ve known but seeing them raise their hands, make bad jokes, and put their minds to work for each other even after 4 or 5 or 6 classes was just impressive.

In a world more and more obsessed with time, efficiency, and progress, the intentional pace students lived at stood out. The day was busy, long, and by the end exhausting. But it was never rushed. Time was a resource that was used liberally where it mattered. Faculty and students weren’t afraid to slow down and sit with something until it was right. Even after a long day we made time to be with each other and listen. In the midst of a busy class Rodrigo kneeling next to one student to work out boot verbs or Chelsea waiting patiently for a student to work through Dillard’s complex symbolism.

This slowing down was intentional and creates connection. It allows things that are swirling to calm down. When a stream slows it becomes clearer and cleaner as particles and debris fall out of suspension. I wonder if that is also what happens here at OA. As we change the speed of our lives what do we leave behind? When I think about the 5,000 odd hours I spent inside a traditional high school I don’t think I ever let myself slow down. Efficiency mattered, patience didn’t.

Annie Dillard writes that “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Returning to high school for a few more hours showed me the lengths we get to go to at OA to “try to be there” and I’m proud to say that I saw the beauty and grace in a whole new way.

By David Morgan