As another academic year comes to an end and we prepare to part ways for a well-earned summer break,
I’m reflecting happily and with great pride on the year about to close. One of my proudest moments involved looking out over the 300 or so people gathered in the elementary Commons for this spring’s State of School as Ben Salk ’09, one of our alumni panelists, called out to Becca Hedgepath, or “Mrs. H.” I was particularly happy for Becca, a seasoned teacher, when Ben noted that she was the first person who helped him to understand that “rules are rules and rules don’t change.” It was poignant, funny, and sweet.
And it got me thinking.
Ben’s affectionate comment got me thinking because I’ve come to understand that rules—even the hard-and-fast ones—are, in fact, reconsidered from time to time. That may even be the case with some of the rules that Ben learned about grammar and organization from Becca when he was in Division One. Case in point: Until very recently (embarrassingly recently), I always inserted two spaces after a period. Teachers of mine repeatedly underscored the importance of those two spaces, but somewhere along the way the rule changed. As a particularly irreverent Slate article noted, “Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” I’ve been mostly successful in editing out that extra space when I close a sentence, but I must say it’s still a work in progress. I’m still a work in progress.
Of the many lessons I hope we instill in Wildwood School students, one relates to the Life Skill of Flexibility. I want our students to revel in the idea that we learn as we go, that hard-and-fast-rules can change. Our work related to inclusion with regard to language reflective of the gender spectrum is yet another example of how rules change. Although we at Wildwood were ahead of the curve, thanks to a core group of driven students several years ago, we and many peer schools around the country continue to reflect on changing practice, and the laws that are redefining how young people in public schools are to be affirmed for who they are. The dialogue about he/she morphing into they/them, or other gender neutral pronouns, is active on college campuses, and it’s increasingly becoming a topic of conversation in K-12 environments as well.
I join Becca and Ben in a playful and affirming nod to the importance of learning the rules, knowing what they are and why they are so. That said, I’m equally—and perhaps even more—engaged in the changing nature of our world and the ways that we are preparing students to come to learn the rules, even as they get comfortable with the fact that some rules will—and should—change to reflect the times.