A View from Glen Hill: Model behavior

“Young people model what they see around them, especially from those they admire.”  Parents, be aware!
That was the very clear central message of the presentations by three leaders in work with our children and youth who spoke in the second session of the Interfaith Series on Civility and Compassion at the Wilton Library. The last session is this coming Tuesday at 7 p.m. Each session is videotaped and may be viewed on the library’s website.
That central message has multiple subparts, and these panelists — Wilton Youth Services Director Colleen Fawcett, Cider Mill science teacher and Ambler Farm leader Kevin Meehan, and Assistant Superintendent of Wilton Schools Chuck Smith — laid those parts out very clearly.
What kids see lived out at home in terms of how family members treat each other transcends every other influence. Coming a close second is what they see modeled, on the one hand, by older youth to whom they look up and like whom they themselves aspire one day to become, and on the other hand, by teachers and other adult leaders working closely with them.
Kevin Meehan takes full advantage of these modeling elements in crafting programs at Ambler Farm that have garnered huge praise from young people and parents alike. Young people learn, from group activities that they genuinely want to be part of, that how they treat the land, animals, and each other makes a real difference. He underscores that it is not the volume of work done that is the measure of accomplishment but that young people be willing to work and learn together and that everyone is included so that no one is left unconnected to the process. Teams are built that are rock-solid, learn that they can depend on each other, and strive together to accomplish specific objectives under the leadership of their fellow youth. Mr. Meehan noted that similar team-building work can be found throughout town: from children’s theater to Scouting organizations, and from athletic teams to school clubs and activities.
Colleen Fawcett described trust-building experiences that help our youth to build bonds with each other. She used as examples specific programs in town that engage kids and enhance their team trust-building in experiences that also instill civility based on empathy. One example is the library’s robotics program in which teams compete with others from outside Wilton but always modeling a “gracious professionalism.” Thus, for example, if a competing team is missing a part and your team has it but doesn’t need it, you offer it to your competitor.
Mrs. Fawcett described other types of work here in Wilton offering similar experiences, including community gardening at Trackside and the Y with produce grown going to those in need so that our young people learn to have the needs of others always in mind and develop the expectation that they will give without getting. From these experiences our young people learn that they actually receive in satisfaction and sense of accomplishment even more than they give. She summarized the resulting frame of reference for our youth as that described by Dr. Roman Krznaric’s term, “the Platinum Rule.” Doing the Golden Rule one better, this rule prescribes that we should “do unto others as they would have us do unto them.” That advanced form of empathy is something the panelists confirmed is being accomplished for and by our young people every day here in Wilton.
Speaking last, Dr. Smith wove everything together by noting that his years in teaching have convinced him that, even more than learning, true education is about “becoming” in the sense of developing our best selves. Our society tends to want to number and measure everything and, in so doing, inculcates in our young people the notion that their value is measured by those numbers. That mindset causes all sorts of unintended, but nonetheless pernicious, consequences when the greatest truth is that we should all, whatever our age, be striving towards becoming our best selves in the infinite variety of forms that that can take. “Becoming” in this sense recognizes the uniqueness of each of us, and exposes uni-dimensional numerical standards as a hollow shell of real measurement of value and worth, at the same time as it challenges us each to grow into our best self.
When we make the rooting of life firmly in empathy, collaboratively working with others — well-modeled by adults and older youth — and emphasize “becoming” as our key objective in growth and development, we offer our young people the opportunity for enormous joy and satisfaction flowing from a life well and fully lived.