Ms. Halsey reflects on her spring horse camping trip.
As the months go by in a Thacher school year, students and faculty members learn about each other in a thousand different ways, times, and contexts: around the breakfast or formal dinner table, in a sunshiny moment on the Pergola or a sunset shared on a trail, at the whiteboard in a classroom, lab, studio or seminar circle, at practices and games and rehearsals, at coffeehouses and Open Houses, in dorm common rooms, and in Suburbans on highways or back roads on the way to community service projects, field trips, cultural excursions, or athletic events. Then there’s each faculty member’s TOADtalk. Monday morning’s all-School Assembly launches with whatever the Teacher On Active Duty wishes to share—a reflection, a story or song, a demonstration of some sort, or a simple poem. In this way, every week of the school year, the community gains a new window into the mind or heart or spirit of one of our own.
Katherine Halsey, whose TOADtalk is featured below, teaches in both the English and language (French) departments. Ms. Halsey heads the Lectures and Concerts program at Thacher where she works to bring influential thinkers, doers, and performers to campus. She is also an instructor in the horse program and advises junior girls. Ms. Halsey has worked at the School since 1995 and lives on campus in the Charles Horn House (one of the oldest buildings in Ojai—built 1865).
Several days into the trip, one of the students asked me if I think EDTs
are a disruption...
D I S R U P T I O N: from the early 15th century Latin disruptionem “a breaking asunder,” noun of action from past participle stem of disrumpere “break apart, split, shatter, break to pieces” dis (apart) + rumpere (to break), to break apart.
D I S R U P T I O N . . .
I thought for a moment, and though I heard the intrinsically negative resonance in the word so often used to signal inconvenient interruption, I responded to the student's question with an emphatic Y E S. Yes, I do believe these trips are a disruption, a breaking apart of the most valuable kind.
This triggered an animated, fascinating conversation about the healthy ways in which our excursions into the wilderness not only break us away from our pressured, daily routines but also break our perception open a little—in important ways that nurture our bodies and our souls. The students described feeling a welcome release from the hectic busy-ness of their normal school days; they expressed deep appreciation for time freely given on the trail and in camp to let their minds wander, to reflect on whatever occurred to them spontaneously...thoughts that are sometimes related to what they study, and sometimes not. They talked about the ways in which these trips can foster deeper connections between faculty and students, in part because we have the time to engage in more leisurely conversation over the course of the six days together, developing a trust and intimacy that are foundational to our academic and residential programs. And sometimes it’s as simple as a D I S R U P T I O N in expectation: we have some preconceived notion of what our trip will be, and then we experience something completely different. One thing the kids all agreed on is that the opportunity to be still, to simply B E in a landscape that inspires reflection and stillness of mind actually feels to them like some kind of antidote to the taxing routines of our days in session.
Our conversation came round to the idea that maybe L E S S is
M O R E . . . and that the “disruption” offered by EDTs allows us to step back and take stock of the contrast that comes into clear focus when we are out in the woods together...the contrast between how we live and feel day to day, immersed in the hectic, triple-threat schedules we submit to here on campus, as compared to how we live and feel during these brief excursions into the wilderness.
In the weird synchronicity that tends to inform my Facebook feed (just ask my students!!), I came home to an article by a young woman named Kelly Day who was awarded a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching that allowed her to spend five months observing schools in Finland, home to one of the top education systems in the world. Her major take-away: in Finland, L E S S is, in fact, M O R E.
Ms. Day writes:
“Finland truly believes ‘Less is More.’ This national mantra is deeply engrained into the Finnish mindset and is the guiding principal to Finland’s educational philosophy (little to no homework; no standardized tests!!). Conversely, in the US we truly believe ‘more is more’ and we constantly desire and pursue more. This mentality of ‘more is more’ creeps into all areas of our lives and it confuses and stifles our education system.”
She goes on to suggest that in education: “We are constantly trying new methods, ideas, and initiatives. We keep adding more and more to our plates without removing any of the past ideas. Currently, we believe ‘more’ is the answer to all of our education problems—everything can be solved with MORE classes, longer days, MORE homework, MORE assignments, MORE pressure, MORE content, MORE meetings, MORE after school tutoring, and of course MORE testing! All this is doing is creating MORE burnt out teachers, MORE stressed out students, and MORE frustration.”
So, again we come back around to the gift of the biannual EDT disruption to our version of more is more.
And, it turns out that there is growing scientific evidence that what Henry David Thoreau intuited in his 1854 essay, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods is actually true: The woods are good for us. A recent article published in The World Economic Forum reports that studies undertaken in Japan have proven that what they call “forest bathing” (basically hanging out in the woods) “lowers heart rate and blood pressure, reduces stress hormone production, boosts the immune system, and improves overall feelings of well-being.”
So, I come home from this memorable trip wondering if Thacher might explore D E V I A T I N G from the M O R E is M O R E model. The neuro-scientist Beau Lotto, in his book, Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, explains that it is our ability to defy conformity that has triggered nearly every advance in human progress. The next big innovation probably won’t be a new technology but a new way of seeing.
So, maybe we deviate from the norm and innovate, grounded in the new ways of seeing that EDTs inspire, moving toward a more sustained experience of the therapeutic L E S S is M O R E manifest in these extraordinary trips. In any case, I know we will continue to treasure and nurture this gift of D I S R U P T I O N for which I have the deepest gratitude every time it comes around.
I will leave you with this poem:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.