The Manzanita Narrative: A Report on Interpersonal Competence, Academic Achievement, Artistic Expression, Nature Connection, and Beyond

The first “Manzanita Narrative,” will be sent home digitally this Friday, February 13th. This report constitutes our assessment of each child’s progress during the first half of the year at our school. The midpoint of the year is upon us (Feb 12th), and we have covered much ground, explored many miles, and encountered many thoughts, ideas, and possibilities. Manzanita is a new school, having opened its doors this past September 3rd.

We are committed to moving the educational conversation towards a more relevant and responsive educational paradigm. Our youth are not the sum of their cognitive competencies any more than a flower is the sum of it’s varied colors. We live in a world and time that asks us to become all that we are destined to be. The challenges that currently abound, and which are hurling towards us from a not-too-distant future are real and substantial and yet we hold tremendous gifts, powers, and potentials to meet them with resilience, creativity, and competence. We join together at Manzanita as families and staff with a common intention to prepare ourselves and our youth to be fully engaged, fully expressive, and fully activated people in this emerging world. We live in a time that will require nothing less of us all.

I offer this introduction to our Narrative as a challenge to the current and still-prevailing paradigms of learning that emerged in the last 120 years, and which sprung from an Industrial Era that defined the worth and competency of a person by their measured cognitive capacities. We still live fully imbedded in a time where an “honors student” need not have actual honor. Yet we also see within the world of business and higher education a growing appreciation for much a broader skill set than what K-12 schooling values and tests. Future employers and college admissions counselors are asking for creative, imaginative, motivated, inspired, and competent young people. They are looking for team-players and school/job applicants who possess interpersonal competencies. This is our world, and things are moving very quickly. In just the last 10 years, over half of U.S. colleges have become ‘test optional,’ meaning that ACT/SAT scores are not required to apply. As professor Christine Cozzens from Agnes Scott College explains, “our desire is to see every applicant as a whole, complex person with many gifts and qualities and not as numbers.”

As we explore outcomes of the Manzanita experience in the mid-year Narrative, we offer evidence for areas where growth is occurring, where obstacles are encountered, and where passions seem most engaged for each student. We value much more than what are often the narrowly defined purposes of education. To thrive in the present world, one must be articulate and literate, reading and writing complexly and skillfully. One must also be empathetic and a good listener, able to navigate an often abrupt and unpredictable human world. To explore the wonders of modern science, or to enter the ordered world of business, one must have strong number sense and mathematical skill, yet one must also be intuitive, inspired, and interpersonally engaged to fully embrace the promise of science or business. To appreciate the economic, ecological, and social challenges of our time, one must study history and humanities, yet one must also feel deeply that one belongs to this earth and that one is kin to the varied human cultures sharing our planet, as well as the myriad non-human species under our stewardship.

Stepping out of the old and into the new can prickle our senses, and even unnerve us. We must hold fast to the deep knowing that things are changing quickly, and new paradigms are the seeds for miraculous changes ahead. We all possess an old wisdom already, one that will foster the full range of gifts, beauty, and potential within our emerging youth, and within this unfolding world.

There is no substitute for a ‘well-rounded’ person in the 21st century, and yet ‘well-rounded’ must be imagined as a sphere extending fully outward into the reaches of both time and space, as well as inward to the core of one’s inborn genius and intrinsic gift. There is room there for stories of ancestors, myths of interspecies kinship, and dreams of a more connected and compassionate world. We are so much more than the monochromatic limitations of an education born and bred in the too-sterile world of the Industrial Revolution. It is time for a new way to educate our young. That time is now.