[Ed. The title is a literal translation from American Sign Language]
Perhaps it’s because rainbows operate in our psychology as a symbol of plenitude, especially for children, most of whom spend a great deal of their time under strict surveillance in secure pens called “schools,” which is ominously defined in Meriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “an institution for the teaching of children.” Rainbow-land is where we will finally be free to do as we please and be respected as complete human beings. But more on rainbows later.
At HVSS students are already free to do as they please - most of the time. They do have serious social work to do, too. Everyone has to take their turn serving on the Judicial Committee, for example, which occasionally becomes difficult, because investigations are quite thoroughgoing, and it can even become tedious, because they can take considerable time and sometimes backtracking and reworking. But it is real work with real flesh-and-blood importance, because the freedoms and rights of School Meeting Members are at stake, so it’s always important to proceed with patience and attention. Then there is School Meeting, where discussions sometimes extend beyond anyone’s reasonable predictions, but coming to the best decision we can - and honoring everyone’s right to fully participate - is always worth the extra time. Of course, HVSS is not at all dominated by intricate judicial investigation and laborious democratic process. Most of the time people are doing other things, and especially for younger students, a lot of the time that’s playing. But the play and the hard work of democratic process are not separate activities here; they support and inform each other.
A few weeks ago School Meeting was particularly fraught, filled with passionate debate and procedural frustration. I am the secretary, so it is my honor to type and post the minutes immediately following each meeting, and I usually have a couple other administrative tasks to take care of quickly before the end of the day. After the meeting in question, though, I felt rather burnt out, and instead of retiring directly to the office I stepped outside into the sunlight, where something was happening. Within the space of several seconds I found myself ensconced in a snow turret in the midst of a furious battle, anxiously shooting foam arrows at an approaching Viking force, comprised mostly of students who had been in School Meeting seconds before. They were huddled together and advancing slowly, shields held together wall-like in the Tortoise Formation made famous by Roman Legions. Two or three allies stood to my right, brandishing swords and whispering things like, “they’re going to overrun us,” nervously. And overrun us they did, and as I desperately tried to notch one last arrow I was felled by a sword blow to the thigh and then, writhing on the snow, I gritted my teeth and waited for the final blow. And then, moments later, I was heading back inside to complete my tasks, only now - my cheeks rosy and my heart light - I whistled while I worked.
Everyone knows that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but it’s worth thinking about how deep that dullness really goes; it’s far beyond a dour countenance. Jack also won’t work nearly as well if he does not play. And generally a group won’t work as well as a team if they don’t also play together. And how are solid relationships formed? How do acquaintances often become friends, at any age? By laughing and playing together.
Here’s an example of how expertly play and serious consideration are woven together by students at HVSS: for maybe two weeks now, the American Sign Language class has left a song chorus written on the blackboard in the JC Room. It is “translated” so that it can be signed in ASL, and it reads,
For a few of us, this has become a little joke. When we run into each other around school we might ask - quite seriously - “why so many song about rainbow?” or we might sneak up behind one another and whisper, “only illusion.” The verse is still there, untouched, above the JC table.
One day last week, JC was dispatching with business with its ordinary care and efficiency, despite being interrupted by tours and playing host to multiple visiting observers. At some point in our second hour one member had to use the office telephone. There was still a lot of work to do, and the rest of us decided to discontinue our work and take an in-room break until we could function as a complete body again. After 30 seconds of relative silence, one of the members, looking up at the blackboard, sang in an exaggerated falsetto, “Whyyy...sooo...many song...about raaiiinbowww…?” We all giggled, and then he continued, “And-other-side-what-there?” Another member or two joined in to sing the last two lines, and then - I’m not sure quite how - an a capella jam session broke loose. There was beat-boxing, operatic bel canto, harmonizing, polyphony, and a sort of monastic chanting (“rainbow-rainbow-rainbow”), all at once, and - somehow - it sounded great. There was a lot of laughter too, of course. We continued, organizing ourselves variously, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who began to wish that our missing member never returned. When she did, though, we reentered our work renewed.
Serving on JC can be exhausting, as it was on that day, but it’s vitally important, especially because it seems that it’s usually the process of JC itself - rather than, say, serving a sentence - that motivates transgressors to reflect. Facing a panel of peers concerned with what’s happening at school and charged with investigating whether you’ve done something that might violate someone’s freedom, and being given careful due process by that panel, is very powerful. Despite the difficulties, we’re able to do it well because at HVSS, while working on justice keeps us reflective and morally aware, play keeps us fresh, lively, and in tune with one another.