This past weekend we did the Bridge Run. Or as it is more formally known, the Southeast Georgia Health System Bridge Run. It was a 5K- up and over the bridge for 1.5 miles and back again- a 6% grade, or so I am told. The steepest “hill” around- the highest point in the region, and the highest bridge in Georgia. A little Run that had about 800 people two years ago, and swelled to 2500 people this year. This year, we had Kenyans in the crowd who came here just to run it. It’s turned serious.
Hoewver, more than that, it was the bridge that we spent New Year’s on top of- the bridge where at the midpoint of the midnight, we were hovering in that space and time between. There was no way I wasn’t going to do the Run this year.
Truthfully, I should say James and I walked the Bridge Run, because as Jess from Diary of a Mom says, I only run if blood is involved. James used to run, but let’s just say it’s been a while for him and leave it at that. He and I walked. Together. Not hand-in-hand as an elderly couple were, but we kept pace with each other- him with his six-foot-tall-on-a-good-day pace, and me trotting beside him. We talked; we hugged at the top; we held each other’s necks when the other was gasping for air.
Elizabeth was coming off of an injury to her heel, and she alternated between running and walking. And Ray… Ray was our little marathoner. He ran more than the race, because he kept doubling back to run with Elizabeth until he outpaced her, when he would double back again. We joked that he ran the race twice.
I was so struck while I was trudging up and down the Bridge at how many different ways people were going about this. There was one woman who clearly had some form of physical disability that impacted her gait. She wasn’t in the best of shape. We walked around her easily when we were behind her. However, we stopped fairly often on the road back- to catch our breath, to ask someone to take our picture on the summit, to tie a shoe… and in all cases, we found ourselves again behind the woman who kept putting one foot in front of the other.
There were the serious runners- the ones who were here for the race aspect and who were competing. There were the serious runners who just love to run. There were the firemen- and one firewoman!- who were running as part of their training. There were the old couples who were out for a nice walk. There were the people who were there to go over the bridge. There were the political-statement makers who walked carrying banners.
The beauty of the Bridge Run was that everyone was allowed to run their own race. There was an order of things so that people didn’t get in each other’s ways- the serious runners went first, the team runners went second, the team walkers went next and the out-for-a-good-time walkers went last. Everyone got to play. Everyone got to feel the joy of being up on top of the world. Everyone got to enjoy the music and the free doughnuts afterwards. Some finished earlier; some took a while. Everyone did the same distance.
Some got medals. Some got a personal best. Everyone got an experience they won’t soon forget. Everyone got to run their own race.
If only schools allowed children to run their own race. If we are to hold children to the same standard, then we have to make adjustments to other parts of the educational experience- the time we teach them or the pace at which they go. I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way. The National Center on Time and Learning has noted how we are expecting so much more of schools these days- challenging standards, anyone?- yet, the actual time given to learning is so much smaller than the time given to schooling in other countries.
This issue of time affects gifted children and children with disabilities equally. When gifted children are constrained because they are not provided challenge at a pace that they need, their energy level and love of learning drops. When children with learning disorders face demands that are unreasonable, they also become frustrated and their love of learning drops. When we assign children to a lock-step program of time and content being held constant, then there is a need for special education and gifted education to deal with those children who aren’t running the race that everyone is running .
One of the things that has always appealed to me about the Montessori philosophy is their mantra of “follow the child“. While children of similar age ranges are grouped together, and while they are in school for the same amount of time- when a child is ready for the next “step” of a curriculum, they are provided that step, whether others of their age are working on that level or not. The children go through the curriculum at their own pace, socializing with their age peers, learning from their friends, teaching those who are starting in their content they just mastered- but facing their own personal challenges. There is no need for gifted education or special education in a Montessori classroom….
And so we were not pursuing a medal. We each had our own goals. And Elizabeth and Ray and James and I stood on top of that soaring expanse and felt our spirits soar- not because we were in a race with anyone else, but because we had run our own race.