Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Boys of Baraka

A few weeks ago I watched the first half of a PBS documentary called The Boys of Baraka. This was an amazing movie in many ways, and I'm excited to see the other documentary made by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Jesus Camp. But really, I digress, because this isn't about the film, but about me and my children. Film used to be an academic interest and hobby of mine; now my main hobby is obsessing about my children.

So this movie was all about these boys from a "bad" neighborhood in D.C. who go to the Baraka School in Africa. It is a school designed for inner city boys who are having a hard time academically and socially, and the school's focus is on nature, teamwork, and just letting these 11-13 year old boys be boys.

What struck me so much was how the physicality of these boys manifested itself in these two different environments. In their D.C. 'hood, most of them were physically aggressive at times, and, while this sort of physical aggression did happen at the Baraka School, it was much more unusual. Instead, the body language of these boys changed from defiant, challenging and aggressive to boisterous and curious. At the Baraka School, they danced, they chased lizards, they were very active and often wild, they were silly and creative and wonderful.

I think of my own boys, and how they change when they are in nature and surrounded by hard physical work and challenges. Of course, I haven't seen this in Henry so much yet, since he is so little, but Luke is a child who cannot walk three city blocks but can climb a mountain. He will dig and haul 25 buckets of dirt when given the opportunity. He has raked a whole lawn. Last spring when we went camping, he was a delight.

Even in the best of situations they are full of energy, often bursting at the seams with it. What was so wonderful to see in the movie was how the boys of Baraka were not expected to stop jostling each other and wiggling around and dancing and yelling. This was expected of them, being boys.

And while I could get bogged down in nature vs. nurture and justifying all of my statements about boys--and who really knows why my boys are as active and loud and obsessed with trucks and superheroes as they are--what I really know is that my boys need nature, and space, and places to be loud and rough and active.

I don't know where we will wind up living in the long run, or where or how my boys will be educated, but I know that I want to be somewhere that my boys don't need to pick a fight in order to be as active and loud as they want to be. I hope we can be in a place where they can chase bugs (and probably dismantle them) and build forts and run and yell at the top of their lungs with, not defiance, but joy.


Julia said...

I saw this documentary also, I think last fall, and thought it was great. It was pretty remarkable how most of the boys thrived in every area when they were removed from their unhealthy urban neighborhood. When I saw the movie, I remember having the thought: why do they only take boys, why no girls? Girls could benefit from a program like that too. But reading your thoughts here makes me think that maybe there is just a more urgent need in boys to be movers and shakers in the great outdoors. I hope you guys get to move somewhere outdoors-y one day.

Mom said...

I saw this documentary also, quite a while ago. I was really impressed by it, too. One of the best years that Eli had at St. John's school was when he had Mr. Feldman. Mr. Feldman had memories of being a very active boy in a traditional American school environment and hating it. He let his class (which happened to be 99% boys) take turns rolling around on beanbags in the middle of the circular chairs during reading time (which consisted of lots of adventurous, exciting "boy" type books) The class got a break to move around every 1/2 hour or so. They could stand at their desks if they weren't disruptive. They went on field trips out into the woods (the "50 acres") near the school for hours, finding things that were edible in the woods, making campfires, shelters and cooking potatoes in the fire for lunch.(this was in the winter in Alaska.) Anyway, it was a year Eli will never forget. I think he may have learned more that year than any in his school career, so far.
Anyway, I love your blogging, Ser. Keep it up.

Ser said...

Julia, I think there is an urgent need for a lot of boys to be movers and shakers and risk takers and adventurers, and the great outdoors provides the most natural arena for that. This is not to say that girls don't need nature just as much as boys. But perhaps many of them need it in a different way.

Mom, I'm so glad you are reading and that you commented. Your writing is lovely. You should start your own blog!