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Life Matters

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Recognizing that Life is Sacred

Wondrous are the wonders of the world, but none more wondrous than man.

At LePort Schools, we spend every minute of every day nurturing our students’ efforts to grow and learn, to become their own future heroes and heroines. We try to embody what Carol Dweck calls the “Growth mindset” and we cherish that task, regularly thanking our lucky stars that we have careers that offer us such excitement and opportunity.

Underneath this enthusiasm is a conviction that each of our students is an irreplaceable value, an unrepeatable instance of that most precious of all things, a human life. Each of us deserves the opportunity to live and experience the joys that life has to offer.

Too often enjoying life – actually relishing this world of ours – is seen as a phase only existing in childhood, a nostalgic time before, the refrain goes, one must “grow up.” But we at LePort don’t believe the fun has to end at eighteen, that life has to slowly lose its shine upon entering the “real world.” To the contrary, our mission is to ensure that our students have the knowledge and confidence to extend that benevolent attitude throughout the years, to lead lives of meaning and joy – just as we ourselves strive to lead such lives. The uniquely playful yet academic culture we have at LePort reflects this belief, i.e., that life is a playground, not a battlefield, and that growth is a process of deepening, rather than abandoning, the simple joys of childhood.

Our singular purpose is to help students delight in the process of learning and growth that will enable them to achieve their chosen goals as adults. By approaching education in a systematic way within a culture that values life, we are able to help our students gain a wealth of knowledge and relish in the seemingly unending excitement of learning (“the pleasure of finding things out”, as the physicist Richard Feynman describes it). Whether it’s as “simple” as a two-year-old successfully using the toilet for the first time, or as “complex” as an 8th grader discovering Shakespeare’s subtleties in Romeo and Juliet, with every piece of knowledge gained or success earned (or failure overcome) students are more comfortable with themselves, more confident acting in the world, and more excited to take on new learning adventures.

This purpose necessarily extends beyond our program. For if the striving to understand and the relishing one’s accomplishments were to end after graduation, what would be the point of our work? A real love of learning can and should be life long, from eight months old to eighty years young, from playing on the blacktop at the age of four to designing a playground at forty.

This educational philosophy of ours has its ultimate source in the civilization of Ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks were the first truly intellectual civilization in human history. From philosophy to mathematics to music to literature, the Greeks transformed the ideas that existed before them into fully-fledged fields of human thought. And yet, at the same time, the Greeks were also the first people in the world to play. The Greek attitude towards the world was that it is a place of wonder, an environment conducive to human flourishing. That is the attitude towards life and learning we strive to emulate at LePort Schools.

While the Ancient Greeks are the civilization with which we most identify, there are scores of other people and movements who share our outlook on life. In this post, we’d like to offer some brief insight into two modern thinkers who capture, and have deeply shaped, the LePort view on this issue: Maria Montessori and Ayn Rand.

Maria Montessori’s and Ayn Rand’s basic outlook on the fundamental value of life and learning is an important source of LePort’s basic outlook, a modern validation of the Greek spirit that moves us. These two women, one a physician/educator the other a writer/philosopher, each independently presented a heroic vision of man and a benevolent outlook on the world. Every individual counts, they said, and can achieve happiness in life.

Montessori’s works consistently reflect a reverence for the act of being engaged, of that “flow experience” in which one loses oneself in a consuming task or captivating observation. Here she describes how a teacher should strive to achieve the kind of all-consuming interest exhibited by someone like Thomas Edison:

Edison too, one of the first friends of the Montessori Method, was soon weary of being dragged by a fashionable wife to social functions when his heart was in his laboratory. One day he tore off his tie and dress suit, tied them in a bundle and threw them out of the window, exclaiming “There goes your social husband!” – and resumed an old dressing gown and slippers for work. People like these counted it no sacrifice to renounce lesser for greater joys. They did what they liked best to do, having acquired an intense interest which transformed and ennobled them, and the teacher who reaches this stage of interest is similarly transformed. He or she joins the happy group of men who have taken the road of life. As surely as the scientists they penetrate life’s secrets, and, win its rewards, not only for themselves but for all.

Life, for Montessori, is mindfulness. It is that experience of being present and aware and engaged in self-initiated observations and actions, rather than losing oneself in the false comfort of passivity. She argues that we should be preparing our children for active lives rather than for easy, passive lives:

When we take as an idea that we must educate or train men for difficulties, nothing is more clear than life and nothing is easier than death. If we want to prepare men in such a way to fight, they could not be better prepared in any other way than when we prepare them for life because all know how to die, but few know how to live…Up to the present we have done much to kill all the great wonderful powers which were in man, all of his most noble powers, all his divinity. We will be convinced of this, that we have smothered it. We live, and if we don’t live amongst people who are dead, we at least live amongst people who are weakened in slavery. (This is the) slavery of the means which have suffocated them. People who have become blind and deaf and incapable of thinking are moving themselves but incapable of the will to live and their will has been broken. Then we must feel and know enthusiasm even in taking this difficult path which is the path of life. (We must) feel this, that man must require the best part of himself, he must destroy the chains which have held him in slavery, and the hymn of Life should sound upon the lips of all.

Rand similarly celebrates the conception of life as an experiential value, and stresses in particular the connection between active-mindedness and personal fulfillment. In response to the claim that academically oriented students are not socially engaged, she writes:

The thinking child is not antisocial (he is, in fact, the only type of child fit for social relationships). When he develops his first values and conscious convictions, particularly as he approaches adolescence, he feels an intense desire to share them with a friend who would understand him; if frustrated, he feels an acute sense of loneliness. (Loneliness is specifically the experience of this type of child—or adult; it is the experience of those who have something to offer. The emotion that drives conformists to “belong,” is not loneliness, but fear—the fear of intellectual independence and responsibility. The thinking child seeks equals; the conformist seeks protectors.)

Rand also expresses admiration for the idealism that is the hallmark of youth:

This view of man has rarely been expressed in human history. Today, it is virtually non-existent. Yet this is the view with which—in various degrees of longing, wistfulness, passion and agonized confusion—the best of mankind’s youth start out in life. It is not even a view, for most of them, but a foggy, groping, undefined sense made of raw pain and incommunicable happiness. It is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one’s life is important, that great achievements are within one’s capacity, and that great things lie ahead.

At LePort, we hold that life is sacred. It is a gift to be enjoyed, and an experience to be embraced. Its meaning is not prescribed, but is found in each individual human being’s choice to pursue what he finds meaningful. Rand more than anyone else (with perhaps the exception of Aristotle) emphasizes the connection between virtue on the one hand, and successful living on the other:

I will ask you to project the look on a child’s face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world—inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride. If you have seen this look, or experienced it, you know that if there is such a concept as “sacred”—meaning: the best, the highest possible to man—this look is the sacred, the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone.

Fundamentally, Maria Montessori and Ayn Rand taught that an individual’s life is his highest value. In the context of education, this means that each child’s life is uniquely precious. Our overarching goal at LePort reflects this view: we strive to offer a superior education within a culture that recognizes how special each child truly is, and just how wonderful life can really be.

In the end, we believe that life matters, that it should be enjoyed. And we are very proud to offer a safe and caring environment where that idea is taken seriously, where children can learn to their heart’s content – and love, love, love doing so. We would not be the school we are today if it were not for Maria Montessori, Ayn Rand, and the many, many others who have influenced the way we view education, the way we view life. And so we thank the great educators who came before us, who made today possible.

If you have questions about the people and ideas that have contributed to LePort Schools, please let us know.

Jesse McCarthy is the founder of jemslife, an educational resource offering personalized teacher and parent coaching.

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