The junior was standing in front of U126. Twenty students had scattered themselves about the classroom, slouching in chairs, sprawling across the couch, or propping their elbows on tables. They were chatting and surreptitiously scanning their phones and trying to ignore my presence.
I had walked in, a few moments late.
“Ok,” the junior said, raising his voice above the general murmur. “So pay attention. It’s intricate, but if you watch, you’ll start to understand.”
He paused, making sure that he had everyone’s attention. The chatter subsided.
I was intrigued: he was about to address a subject that had mystified me for years.
“So, I’m going to show you this YouTube video. Here are the basics of how you play cricket,” he announced.
I’ve made a habit of stepping into the student world whenever possible. Certainly, I visit classrooms, watching the teachers work their magic and the students grow through the curriculum. But I’ve loved witnessing the education that occurs in the spaces between—the breaks, the outdoor sojourns, the club times; in other words, the education that blossoms outside classrooms.
Consider the hallway conversations. Yes, I hear the expected—the drama, the grumblings, the anxiety over grades, homework, and tests. But I also hear something else: curiosity.
The discussions from math and English, history and science, art and languages spill into the Collabalounge and CMS during free periods because the students, so inspired, can’t help but move beyond the expected. So, I tiptoe past intense arguments about literature, even though no teacher is grading the seminar.
Or students will strike up a conversation with their language teachers in German, French, Chinese, or Spanish in the middle of the Dining Hall, because that’s what one does at CA.
Or students will practically squeal about the intricacies of a math problem as they debate solutions over the white board in the CMS hallway.
The outdoor education extends to the Quad. Several weeks ago, a group of students filtered into the sunshine, guitars in hand, Mr. Qiao trailing after them. I watched for a few moments from my office, then wandered outside. One ninth grader, sitting off to herself, smiled as I asked what she was working on. “I can show you,” she said. “Want to hear me play this piece?” And she treated me to an informal concert, all the more impressive considering that she had been playing for only a few weeks.
Outside learning isn’t limited to the academic or artistic. Consider Spike Ball, that phenomena that has swept the CA campus. Haven’t seen the game? Imagine playing racquetball, but using one’s hands instead of a racquet, and employing a trampoline in place of a wall. Formal and informal tournaments have developed on the Quad, students diving and cheering and groaning, depending on how they served the ball, setting up (or failing to set up) their partners. And best of all, the participants referee themselves, relying on honesty as a guide. I marvel at the lessons in teamwork, fairness, and organization that I see every day.
For the past few Fridays, I’ve also visited several affinity groups. Almost all the students were grappling with challenging questions. One cadre was debating the nature of identity, especially for second-generation Americans. Another group, on a different day, was analyzing the nuances of gentrification. A third cohort was discussing citizenship and ethnic identity and the crazy, clashing, wonderful definition of self that emerges as a result.
Or, in the case of the students in U126, they tackled the importance of a world-famous sport, attempting to explain its intricacies to those Americans unschooled in the rules. That short video lecture was followed by an abbreviated game on the Quad, along with delicious treats.
In that twenty-minute lesson, I learned about a game played by a large portion of the world, a competition involving passion, intricate rules, and a weighty history.
All of these examples illustrate how our students have embraced the ethos of learning. They delve into the messiness that is learning, the color-splashed area beyond tests and grades, focusing on reasoning and discussion and performance and feedback and honesty.
So, as I wander through the hallways and across the Quad, I always experience that hush of expectation born from the understanding that I will witness, in some manner great or small, a beautiful act of education.