Fear and Desire at the Ice Skating Rink

By Ben Page

Last week, The Open School visited an ice skating rink in Anaheim. For most of the students, this would be their first time lacing up a pair of ice skates. For me, it had been almost twenty years. Needless to say, we were all a mixture of nerves and excitement.

Observing this episode unfold before me was like watching an advertisement for self-directed learning and the ‘Yes I Can’ attitude that we’re always talking about. The students got out onto the ice and clung to the wall, slowly circumnavigating the rink and watching the more seasoned skaters glide past them. It wasn’t long before they started to feel like clinging to the wall was a waste of their time. Ice-skating, after all, was more than the experience of trying on uncomfortable shoes and hanging out in a big cold room.

I watched one of my students laughing and reaching out her hand to our visiting artist, Emma. “Hold my hand!” she screamed. Emma skated over to her and said, “Look, I’m totally cool with holding your hand, but you have to let go of the wall.” It was if I could see a scale tipping in the students’ mind; the desire to skate was outweighing the fear of falling. She took Emma’s hand and they wobbled past me.

Five minutes later, she didn’t want Emma to hold her hand. And she fell, and she got up and laughed. We all laughed. We were out there learning something new, something that looked a little daunting, something that might have even resulted in a small bruise or two. But that was all part of the magic.

When everyone let go of the wall, I felt like there was learning of indescribable value happening in that moment. And it wasn’t an abstract warm fuzziness; it was a knowing that their brains were changing. Their brains were building resilience through controlled risk taking and we know that this is critical if they are to become courageous, ambitious, responsible, independent, imaginative adults. This is where it all starts, out there falling over and laughing on an ice skating rink in Anaheim, California. In those moments, these kids are like superheroes in my eyes; they are learning to put fear aside so that they might fly.

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