The Boy Who Fished
Every year in early June John came to school to chat with me about his son. John was a gentle, intelligent man, warmly supportive of his son Dan, who attended the school.
But John was also worried. Just a little. Just enough to come once a year for reassurance.
Here’s how the conversation would go.
J.F.: “I know the school’s philosophy, and I understand it. But I have to talk to you. I’m worried.”
Me: “What’s the problem?” (Of course, I know. We both know. This is a ritual, because we both say the same thing every year, five years in a row.)
J.F.: “All Dan does at school all day is fish.”
Me: “What’s the problem?”
J.F.: “All day, every day, Fall, Winter, Spring. All he does is fish.”
I look at him and wait for the next sentence. That one will be my cue.
J.F.: “I’m worried that he won’t learn anything. He’ll find himself grown up and he won’t know a thing.”
`At this point would come my little speech, which is what he had come to hear. It’s all right, I would begin. Dan has learned a lot. First of all, he’s become an expert at fishing. He knows more about fish – their species, their habitats, their behavior, their likes and dislikes – than anyone I know, certainly anyone his age. Maybe he’ll become a great fisherman. Maybe he’ll write the next “Compleat Angler” when he grows up.
When I reached that part of my spiel, John would be a little uncomfortable. A snob he wasn’t. But the picture of his son as a leading authority on fishing somehow didn’t seem believable.
Mostly, I would say, Dan has learned other things. He has learned how to grab hold of a subject and not to let go. He has learned the value of freedom to pusue his real intererests however intensely he wants, and wherever they lead him. And he has learned how to be happy.
In fact, Dan was the happiest kid at school. His face was always smiling; so was his heart. Everyone loved Dan.
Now my talk came to its close. “No one can take these things away from him,” I said. “Some day, some year, if he loses interest in fishing, he’ll put the same energy into some other pursuit. Don’t worry.
John would get up, thank me warmly, and leave. Until next year. His wife was happy with Sudbury Valley, because she had a child who radiated joy.
Then one year John did not come in for our chat. Dan had stopped fishing.
At fifteen, he had fallen in love with computers. By the age of 16, he was working as a service expert for a local firm. By 17, he and two friends had established their own successful company in computer sales and service. By 18 he had completed school and had gone on to study computers in college. He had saved enough money for his tuition and expenses. Throughout his years at college he was employed as a valued expert at Honeywell.
Dan never forgot what he had learned in his many years of fishing.
My experience with Dan and John happened in the early years of the school. It made me think about the school and what it meant. So I was completely comfortable when my youngest son started to fish all day long. It was deja vu.
And I knew that he knew what he was doing.