Meaningful Work

"The students would have the unique experience of helping to create a new school." -an early Dublin School catalogue.

The other day I spoke to our students about the history of Work Gang at Dublin School. Our founder, Paul W. Lehmann once referred to it as, "the most important course in the School!" Mr. Lehmann saw that many of his students came from urban and suburban communities where they were frequently warned to "keep off the grass." I believe that the Lehmann's wanted their students to be builders, to feel ownership in something larger than themselves. Mr. Lehmann never used labor for punishment, never made up work for the kids to do, and hoped that the students learned something along the way. Today, our Mission Statement celebrates the value of "meaningful work" in everything we do.

When a massive hurricane rocked New England in 1938, just three years after the founding of the school, the students and the faculty went to work. First they cleared the trees blocking passage to the school, and then they went into town to see how they could help the larger community. When I first started at Dublin I found an old file of Mr. Lehmann's called the "Church Steeple" file. Incredibly, during the hurricane, the steeple of the Community Church was blown off the church, went straight up into the air, turned, and plummeted back down into the church. You can see a picture of this event in the History of Dublin School. Mr. Lehmann immediately formed a committee to fix the church steeple.

Seventy years later our campus was struck by a major ice storm that caused considerable damage to the campus. I had only been a member of the community for a few months at that point and was immediately struck by the esprit de corps of the faculty and students. It took years of Work Gangs to help fully recover from that event. Anyone who has spent four years as part of a Work Gang will tell you that it is powerful binding experience. Our students learn to not be entitled, things do not happen to them or for them, they are agents in the community and have agency in their lives. I spend a good amount of time with alumni from the 1940's and 1950's, the heyday of Work Gang. These alumni are not bored in their retirement years, they are often heavily involved in their communities and find joy in working with their hands.

Tomorrow we launch our Saturday Work Gangs for the year and the students will work in teams to build and repair trails, prepare the sugar bush for the maple sugaring season, tend the orchards, support the Buildings and Grounds staff, chop wood and deliver it to people in the community who can no longer cut or afford their own cord wood. The students will complain, laugh, smile, and regale us with their feats of strength and bravado. They are building themselves and building their school.