«There is no gate, no lock, no bolt you can set upon the freedom of my mind» Virginia Woolf
This week I have been thinking a lot about the concept of independence and what it means to me, as a person and to us, as a school community. The idea of independence is closely linked to the notion of identity and it is clearly a central tenet of our ‘community of learners’. We talk about supporting student autonomy and independence all the time. Although it is not named as a central component of our philosophy, surely ‘the construction of the individual identity’ implies independence?
It is fascinating to me, in a country that certainly leans more towards collectivism than individualism (Hofestede 2001) and a school that emphasizes the wellbeing of the community, that we are also so concerned with developing independence. Perhaps this is because we are thinking more about the philosophical discussion of independence, rather than some of the more contemporary interpretations that we are more liable to see being propounded and highlighted via social media. We are more concerned with the thought that independence is about more than making up your own rules and doing whatever you want – it is about being able to work things out for yourself, rather than just believing in something because an authority tells you it is so. Or perhaps it is because of the overriding association that we make between freedom and independence?
We often think about independence and freedom isolating; that those who are independent are ‘lone wolves’ who do not work with others. Many times, I have been described as an ‘independent woman’ – something that I consider to be a compliment, but is often offered as little more than a veiled insult – because I choose to do things for myself and enjoy experiencing and learning how to do new things on my own. I am capable of this, but it does not mean that I do not need or want the support and company of others. Many philosophers have discussed the idea that independence is not about distance or separation, it is about being able to make the choice.
This is why we promote the concept of independence in our students from Kinder 1 through their journey with us, should they choose to stay, to Prepa. As parents and teachers, the last thing we want for our children is for them to feel insecure and vulnerable. Teaching them independence means that they do not have to be reliant on others unless they choose to be – and the next important part of our job is to teach them how to know when they need to ask for help and support. This for me, is true independence, knowing that you have the ability to seek assistance in the right places when you can’t quite do it alone; recognizing the need for a second opinion to develop an idea or a project into something even better. Independence not only boosts our self-esteem and intrinsic motivation; it also supports our sense of belonging –knowing that we can work as part of a team as well as individually makes us more capable of taking chances as we develop our identity.
So, if we want our children to learn patience, cooperation and self-discipline, we have to offer them the chance to be independent. We need to offer them the chance to be less reliant; relinquish our control – a little at a time. Until they feel in control of their choices, they cannot take ownership of these values for themselves. Consider what opportunities you can present to your children during this quarantine. What choices can they make? What can they realistically control within this situation? And then the hard part – let them make the choices – give them the control. Let them set their own goals within your supervised area of freedom (let’s not get carried away – we still need those boundaries). Only when they see what is within their control can they begin to truly understand the responsibilities that go along with their growing independence.
The celebrations earlier this week allow us to reflect on those who have sacrificed and fought for independence, who have paid a price for the rights and privileges that many of us are able to enjoy today. Rights and privileges that afford us our independence from a controlling power. We also have to begin.
Culture’s Consequences 2 ed., Geert Hofestede, Sage Publications, 2001