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Cascade Matters is the blog of Cascade Educational Consultants. Cascade has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. We are committed to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens. Learn more about us.

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Life Lessons of the Barber Shop

barber
My father was a barber. He opened the U.S. House of Representatives Barber Shop in Washington, D.C. As a youth, this provided me an opportunity to visit with him and legislators often.

I remember the interactions among the barbers and the legislators and legislator-to-legislator exchanges. As I remember them, these conversations were more about friendships than opposing political views. They were more humorous than serious. The feeling was one of comfort and welcoming, perhaps my father’s barber shop was a refuge from the offices and halls of Congress.

As a sociologist, I was introduced to the concept of the third place. It is the concept of community building creating an engaging space to balance one’s experiences in “the home” and “the workplace.” I immediately remember my time in his barber shop and recognized it as a traditional third place. I am sure that was not an original idea but for me it fit the definition.

Today, I go to a traditional barber shop and I know the barbers’ names and they know mine. We share stories and engage in conversations on many topics. Our ages vary, but there is a sense of relevance of our experiences and aspirations for our children, or grandchildren and ourselves.

During a recent haircut, a young family arrived and a conversation ensued with the mother about early childhood education. She talked about hopes for her children and opportunities for quality education in our community. The conversation engaged her two children (ages 10 and 4 years old) responding to some of our questions and sharing their experiences in school and sports.

As I walked back home that day, I reflected on my youth and visiting my father’s barber shop and the similar comfortable feeling I experienced during my recent haircut. It was great to have a place for engaging conversations across generations, discussing diverse topics and each of us understanding the relevance of that third place to our lives.

I also wondered how young people today seek and find that third place in their lives.

A place that builds community, creates a sense of comfort for meaningful conversations, builds an informal civil society and ensures equity among participants.

I wonder if the use of technology helps facilitate or impedes creating third places in the lives of youth. If virtual communities provide the optimum opportunities for youth to engage in safe, equitable and relevant conversations that lead to a feeling of connectedness and belonging (as I felt and feel visiting the barber shop)?

For me the answer can be found in response to the following:
  • Does the intended purpose of virtual interactions and communities include creating a safe equitable space for engagement?
  • Do participants in virtual interactions and communities feel a high level of connectedness and belonging to others in the community?
  • Are we creating hybrid opportunities through Wi-Fi connections at coffee shops, sporting events, art/music performances and other private/public events that are social and virtual at the same time that create a sense of the third place?
Now, let’s turn these questions to the older generation. Are there virtual opportunities that can be taken advantage of that contributes to a sense of a third place? It is not unusual to hear other grandparents discussing their FaceTime or Skype interactions with their grandchildren; can this use of technology be expanded to include virtual engaging conversations with their peers and others beyond the family?

I believe we all benefit from engaging in a third place and that there are many opportunities, regardless of age, for quality engaging interactions with our peers and others face-to-face and/or virtually.

What is most important is that our democracy and civil society is built on ensuring there are places citizens can engage, share, learn and aspire to be part of something bigger than themselves. Correspondingly, we should seek and find a third place in our lives that ensure this feeling of connectedness and belonging.

About the author: Terry Pickeral, president Cascade Educational Consultants has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.

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