Twenty-five years ago when I asked my wife, Ginny, to give me her opinion on startng a school, the look of bewilderment that moved across her face convinced me it was a good idea. My asking her to marry me ten years prior had produced the same effect, and since both instituions have been successful, I have used her expression as a sign of future successes in a variety of schemes. Cedar Hall is not so much a school as it is an ideal. The purpose of education is to lead children in an understanding of the purpose of education, and this is best accomplished by not mentioning that there is a purpose at all. To preserve in children their natural love of learning is the primary goal, and this is best accomplished by answering the questions of the 'what' and 'who' of education.
The 'what' of education is often referred to as curriculum and is designed to produce an effect that is measureable. Our culture demands scientific analysis to determine whether or not an idea is viable or valuable. We must view it on a spreadsheet or a bar graph with a general trend upward to convince us that positive results have occurred. We eagerly await unemployment figures, price indexes, or stock market prices. A Power Point presentation gives us lists of inputs and how they have affected outputs. Billboards show us 'before and after' pictures of malnourished, depressed, overweight bald men who, through a treatment, become fit, happy, hairy contributing citizens with sex appeal. We use the tangible tools of this world to chart and justify those things tangible, but education, with its emphasis on the human spirit, is far more complex and cannot be reduced to a series of computations.
At Cedar Hall the 'what' of education is secondary to the 'who'. When parents apply at Cedar Hall, it is far more important for them to know the individual who will spend seven hours a day with their child than it is to know the methods and the curriculum. Both are necessary, but understanding the heart of a teacher will explain the many aspects of his or her teaching methods, the decisions concerning discipline, and the overall construction of the classroom in its attempt to produce a healthy environment in which to learn. For example, Donna Griffin, who teaches in the Primary School consisting of grades 3-5, was raised on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania under the authority of a strict father. The daily hard work and high expectations made her into the tough teacher she is. She allows few excuses and refuses to pamper her students. She also had a very loving and playful mother who taught her how to be a nurturer. This parental combination provided Donna a balance that plays itself out in everything she teaches. So it is not unusual to see her outside playing during recess, laughing and carrying on like a child, but also demanding much from her students academically and in matters of character when they return to the room. The results of all of this is that parents do not really send their children to Cedar Hall Primary, but rather to Mrs. Donna who puts her own spin on education for the benefit of each individual as she gets to know them well over a three year period. The 'what' of education comes from her experiences, and it is dynamic just like her students- always changing in an infinite number of ways. This is why a certain curriculum is not flexible enough to meet the needs of each individual in her classroom.
Gilbert and Ginny Gordon have similar stories as each was raised on farms with demanding fathers and nurturing mothers who inspired a great love for learning. Ginny attended Harpeth Hall in Nashville and Gilbert attended Webb School in Bell Buckle where both of them learned the value of an academically rigorous setting. Both have high expectations academically, but greatly value the relationship made with a student after three years. To know Gilbert and Ginny is to know the Middle School. Cedar Hall School is a personality: Primary- Mrs. Donna, and Middle School - Mr. G and Mrs. Ginny.
Below is an attempt to give a written list of our basic tenets. This was difficult for me because I would like to explain each one in detail, but then it would be so long no one would read it. They are in no particular order of importance.
1. To help students develop a deep sense of integrity by providing opportunities for trustworthiness
2. To use the natural world as a classroom as often as possible
3. To help children learn to make connections between all subjects
4. To encourage students' natural curiosity as they develop into independent thinkers
5. To teach a student how to learn instead of what to learn
6. To remind students that to read good books is to educate one's self
7. To teach a student the importance of discipline and hard work
8. To let children be children as long as possible
9. To allow students the opportunity to mentor others, regardless of age
10. To foster a love for learning
11. That school is nothing more than a community of learners
12. To prepare students for life, not school
13. That honesty is the only policy
The example of building a brick wall illustrates our basic premise of education:
Students who acquire knowledge without thinking about its connection to other knowledge is like building a brick wall without the mortar. The mortar represents the ability to think and make connections, and without it only a few bricks actually touch each other, and the wall will soon collapse. On the other hand, students who find no distinction between subjects where all information is pertinent and relevant, and are able to connect all of knowledge together build a wall where all bricks are connected by the mortar of thought, and there is no limit to the height of such a wall. This is the beauty of a one room school where one teacher can draw all subjects together in a natural way.