Sometimes I think of the Macomber Center as a version of a one-room schoolhouse, only updated for the 21st century. The shared open space has advantages and disadvantages. It can feel a bit crowded in the winter or on a rainy day with no quiet spot to escape to and no strict divisions between ages and temperaments, but it also draws everyone together, allows a real community to be built, and creates unique situations.
A CPR/First Aid class this week illustrated the positive aspects of our limited space. Fifteen members had officially enrolled in the class so we pulled back the chairs and tables in the main room to clear a large enough area for the class to take place. It was a beautiful day and at first the kids not taking part in the class were running around happily outside; however, as soon as we began moving the furniture around, it became clear to them that something far more interesting was happening inside. As the class began, I was amused to see that the “official” class was surrounded by an “unofficial” class, an audience of mostly younger kids genuinely fascinated by the spectacle taking place before them. In hindsight, it was not hard to see the source of their fascination. The instructor brought her own cool toys (CPR dummies, toy epinephrine pens, and an automated, talking defibrillator) and had set up a large monitor on which she played demonstration videos. In addition to listening to the information, the younger kids got to watch the older kids bopping along, 100 beats per minute, as they practiced their chest compressions and wheezing into the mouths of the bright plastic dummies. Fortunately, our instructor took it in stride, easily adapting to the setting, and happily answering questions and accepting answers to her own questions from anyone - “official” or “unofficial” - whoever wanted to take part was welcomed into the process.
I was nervous at first that the kids wouldn’t accept the boundaries of the class but I soon realized how absurd my worries were: of course the kids didn’t accept the boundaries of the class! But there was also no need for the class to be constituted by boundaries. They respected the attention of the other kids and they were genuinely interested in the material-- that was enough. It is difficult to describe how learning works in such an informal setting but it is also recognizable to anyone who has attended a successful seminar or meeting in a university or workplace. At such moments a lack of formality does not undermine the process but fundamentally strengthens it. Everyone is at ease. No one fears being called upon or asking questions. Laughter is not the product of the inattention but demonstrates understanding and comfort with the material and the setting. It is just a remarkable, healthy environment to be in. In our case distinctions between teacher and student, adult and child, “official” and “unofficial” student easily broke down. A group of people from the ages of 6- 62 all sat down on a beautiful day and learned the lessons of life and death together. It was actually fun.