Thursday, June 24, 2010


Today was the first day of the Alternative Education Resource Organization conference, and I am sitting at the computer at 11:15 pm not quite able to go to sleep with so many images in my head. The biggest one is of over 400 people from all over the US ( and some from other countries) smiling and welcoming and curious about what the others were involved in. Many young people! A few black and brown faces. More public school teachers than I had expected, but of course lots of home schoolers, unschoolers, and folks representing a variety of other education approaches and philosophies. The first person we met was Rick Posner, whose book about the alumni of the Jefferson County Open Classroom, Lives of Passion, School of Hope is now in my backpack. I knew from a phone conversation that we’d had a year ago that I’d like him, and I did. He introduced me to one of his former students, Ian, who is here with him, and who struck me immediately with his sense of humor and astute observations as we watched a video conference with Herb Kohl.

Herb was full of piss and vinegar, chiding the Alternative movement for not being activist enough, and for deserting the public schools. He didn’t pull any punches, and I am sure agrevated a bunch of the participants with his negative comments about home schooling and the elitism he sees. He went overboard, as is his wont, but much of what he said was valuable. One quote I liked was “schools need to embrace the vision of a decent world>”

At a workshop on maintaining a positive school culture I discovered that there are a group of teachers here from the independent school in LA where I taught in 69-70! Play Mountain Place is probably the oldest Summerhill based school in the US. I was so pleased to talk with two young teachers who brought me up to date about how the school is doing. It sounds like it has stayed true to it’s original mission of incorporating ideas brought forward by Carl Rogers about the emotional needs of children. I hope i get to talk more with them tomorrow.

This evening we saw a film called The War On Children which traces all the inhumanness that has entered the public schools--from zero tolerance policies, to medicating for quiet classrooms. the film had many interesting and important points to make, but I am not comfortable with its conclusion that we need to toss out the whole public school system...the two videos of the day were in stark contrast on that point!

Time for bed. Tomorrow we show our film!

Friday, June 11, 2010


I went to two graduations this week, and enjoyed them both. Celebrating the achievements of young people is such a satisfying experience!

The first graduation was of the 15 students leaving the Open Classroom for middle school. It was held in our barnyard, under the pine tree we planted some 25 years ago which is now huge, and providing shade that is often needed on hot June graduations, but this year it was cool, and I chose to sit in the sun. From time to time during the ceremony small children wandered by me trying to catch Thumper the rabbit, who calmly nibbled on nasturtiums and yarrow except when a small hand reached out and she zipped away.

The graduates took turns speaking or singing something they had prepared. Then their parents, teachers and friends had an opportunity to appreciate them. The level of earnest sincerity always brings tears to my eyes. Parents looking their young fledgling in the eyes and saying “take wing!” Younger students remembering the kindness or creativity or craziness of their older role models. and most of all the many small and large moments that the graduates recall.

This group was unusual in one sad way. Along the way two of them lost their fathers--something that affected a third child too, as the men who died had both been surrogate fathers for him as well. Some of the tears I shed were for the dads who did not get to experience their daughters becoming young women. Then there was also our first Chicano student who started with us with no English. His speech was not the longest one, but his parents sitting in the audience were beaming, and so were all of us.

The ceremony went along a t a leisurely rate--starting at 10 and ending at 12:45. Everyone spoke who wanted to speak. Every child had his or her moment in the limelight. Last of all was Skylar, who told me later how hard it was to sit there so long, knowing he would be last, but you wouldn’t have known it from his calm demeanor. In the tradition of his two older brothers before him, he sang a moving original song about his years in the open. A perfect ending.

Many families were graduating their last child. Often it feels harder for them to say goodbye to the Open than for the students, who are so ready for new adventures. This is when I realize how important it is to have a school that welcomes the parents as well as the child. I look around at these adults and can see how much they have grown too. There were tears and hugs.

The second graduation was the next night. The eight grade graduating class was my last 4th grade---half of the class in the film. In their tuxes and strapless dresses they hardly looked like the scrappy young ones who tumbled all over me that June afternoon four years earlier. Tom got quite a kick out of trying to figure out who was who, and ran around photographing them as if he was one of the proud parents!

They had blended easily with the students from the other program and done well in middle school, and they were well represented among those who got up to perform for the several hundred people gathered on the blacktop. This was a group that loved to sing, and they still do.

All but two of those who had come from the Open were given awards. While they certainly deserved the awards, I felt twinges of regret that this is still part of the rite of passage. The ones who didn’t get an award were given a certificate where some special quality was addressed, but it feels to me that the act of giving awards diminishes the certificates, even though I know the teachers tried very hard to avoid that.

But that one off note could not take away from the idealism and confidence you could feel coming from these young people. They belted out their songs, danced around on the stage, and generally and delightfully strutted their stuff. I think I will always come to graduations, even when I don’t know the graduates, just to breath in a bit of that optimism!