Tuesday, June 29, 2010

AERO Conference Digest

In many ways it already feels futile to try and capture the experience I have just had over the last four days at the 7th Annual AERO conference. In telling it to friends I find myself using the same words – like incredible, inspiring, amazing – over and over again. I struggle to articulate what has been a deeply perception-altering experience. I say “perception-altering” instead of “life-altering” because while I am certain that my life is in fact altered, it is born out of a greatly expanded awareness of my own ideas and beliefs as well as those of all the people I am hoping to affect change with and on whose behalf I am acting.

It is as though I entered the conference dialogue with a uni-dimensional objective and as the workshops, keynotes and days went on the nature of the thought grew into new forms; from one- to two- to three dimensions and possibly more.

Buzz terms like “social justice, diversity, elitism, multiculturalism” and grew into effectively tangible concepts for me and I felt I gained clarity of vision. And I’m talking High Def, here. Really Seeing what my emerging vision is truly about.

I was continually being moved to new and better places as I engaged in:

Shilpa Jain’s workshop and later, keynote about the Learning Community and Ecologies called Shikshantar that she co-created in Udaipur, India over a 10 year period.

Khalif Williams’ facilitation of discussion about infusing the values of social justice and environmental sustainability into the dialogue with learners in more compassionate and effective ways.

Matthew Davis’s keynote address about the dire need for the inclusion of other cultures (particularly of the non-privileged brown skinned human beings) into the model of child centred learning.

John Taylor Gatto’s spirited address about the history and sinister purpose of the current western model of public education. The notion that the system is actually working as it achieves its purpose of maintaining the status quo.

Documentaries like “Race to Nowhere” and “War on Kids” and “Schooling The World” and the conversations that flowed out of what the content of the films brought to bear about what is really happening (read: being done) to millions of children in the name of “education” every single day.

Gritty, honest, raw, authentic and passionate conversations – sometimes debates - in between, around, beside all of it which enriched the conference like a cup overflowing.

I formed deep resonant connections with people - sometimes within minutes - due to our shared commitment to educational reform, but more so for the restoration of humanity to our true selves.

And still there was laughter! - Laughter and joy and friendship and playfulness and Being. I know that I will go back to the AERO conference again and again because they are my people and I am their people too. I know too that though we return to our individual grindstones, uphill battles punctuated by small victories we are still together - not just with each other but also with all the people – peoples – who choose to share the journey with us.

The Work that Jerry Mintz and Isaac Graves and their dedicated supporters have done to bring this community and platform into being has truly been an investment in the advancement of our world. Being a part of that manifestation is a humbling, inspiring, exhilarating catalyst for this woman on a sacred mission bear witness to the divine spark in every human being, especially children, who I meet.

Yes, I have exhausted my limited capacity for adjectives and sentence structures in my valiant attempt to share this experience with you.

I will close this by telling you that I remain in a somewhat blissful state of gratitude and hopefulness that feels like nebulas and stars in my being. Even in the very tips of my toes and the soles of my feet upon the path of the passionate.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Education Theology

The fear-based nature of the traditional education system renders it incapable of effecting the kind of change we need for humanity to realize it's true self.

Call me an idealist but I wholeheartedly believe that the primary goal of the evolution of our species is to move toward Oneness. And that the path to Oneness is Love - pure and simple.

The way our schools and our world works today it is very much about separation through labels, competition, comparison, and judgement. Ways of being that fail us as a race; as citizens of the planet.

In school, children are pitted against one another - grading on a bell curve being one of the ways it is a standardized practice. They are placed into streams: Smart, Average and Slow (subtext: stupid). They are made to compete for better grades than their peers. The high achievers are praised, the "non-achievers" are ignored, even forgotten.

The mainstream system of evaluation is based on the notion that all humans must know all the same things at the same time. What is that about? We do not expect all 26 year olds to be proficient in all the same skills and have the same knowledge base.

Sure, literacy and numeracy are The basic knowledge base upon which most other pursuits are based. These are skills that are easily acquired through real life however and need not incite as much fretting and worry as they do today. Tutors and homework and studying and drills and flash cards and toys and games and TV shows and songs and books all geared toward making sure children learn to read and do math.

(I feel like I've gone on a rambling tangent here. I apologize. This is the product of early morning writing between molecules, quarters, gyroscopes, ladybugs and nerf bullets.)

The main point of this spiral is that "education" - rather, Learning - in an of itself, is good and desirable for all. Learning is Living and Living is Learning. Therefore we never stop learning. Learning is great fun! AND in a systemized environment, it MUST take place within the context of Love. Co-operation rather than competition, individual assessment of progress rather than standardized tests, recognition and value for all intelligences instead of just one, and an appreciation for the balance of community and individuality.

Love and Learning are the journey and the destination.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

20 Questions

It's really only 17, but that's not a reference that anyone would get so, naturally - for the sake of the craft - I simply had to fudge the numbers a bit. I knew you'd understand!

So, you remember the questions I'd told you were on the questionnaire? I finally wrote out my answers today! (You want a true confession? I'm gonna be honest here and admit that I have been stalling a bit in filling the form out. *whispering* IT'S TRUE! I'm kinda scerd that they'll just spit me out like a watermelon seed. PTEW! But scared or not, I'm doing it! ... Okay, back to the blog post:)

(Do I need to say *normal voice* here? No, right?)

I'm publishing this because sharing the journey is what this is about and what that's about is letting interested parties in so we can be Two Or More.

Ready for my answers! Here they are:

Name: The Village School (What do you think?)
Address: New Providence Community Centre, Blake Road, off W Bay St.
Name of owner: yours truly
Date of opening: September 2011
Ownership (Church/Company/Other): (Drew a blank on this one. Not sure if I need a holding company.)
Affiliation: Global Village School
Governance: Board of Directors will support School Director (that's me!)
Teachers and Students will work together to support each other.
Mission Statement: The Village School will provide children and parents from all socio-economic backgrounds regardless of race, gender or religion with a Holistic, diverse learning environment that nurtures the whole child. Our aim is to foster each individual's unique abilities/intelligence through colloboratve and/or self-authored curricula. As core values, learning will take place within the framework of Respect and Care for the Community of Life, Ecologicial Integrity, Social and Economic Justice and Democracy, Peace and Diversity. Through and uncompromising ethos of co-operative living balanced by Love of Self and others the Village School intends to be an emissary of unitive consciousness in the lives of our students, staff, families and the community at large.
Phyisical/Learning Resources (9 & 10): 2 Classrooms, 1 media lab, 1 indoor basket- and volley ball court, a vegetable garden, 1 library, on site food service, gendered restrooms, in room toilet facilities, in room sing facilities.
Clientele: First School Year (2011-2012) operating levels Pre-Kindergarten through year two; Second Year (2012-2013 (barring apocalyptic events)) adding continuing years three through six.
Admissions: 1. Application, 2. Family Interview (all immediate family present), 3. Village interview (student meets with her potential learning group and facilitators), 4. Registration, 5. Placement!
Instructional Programme: Global Village School Curriculum supplemented by: Art Expression/Exploration, Garden Projects, Dramatic Interpretations, Community Service, Physical Expression (swimming, soccer, running, court sports etc.), Mentorship by practicing experts-as-instructors
Staffing: Two full time facilitators, 2-4 part/full time room assistants, 1 administrative assistant/activities coordinator, several as-needed subject specific instructors (anything we want to learn about from finance to gymnastics and everything all around!)
Community Involvement: TVS family will work together - students, parents and facilitators - on ways to be actively involved in cultural and charitable organizations and events.
Finance: TVS will establish financial stability through fundraising and grants. With a minimum number of enrolled (full pay) students, basic overhead costs are met (rent, salaries, insurance). It is the intention of TVS to raise approximately $15 - $20K for operating capital.
Vision Statement/Development Plan: (This is a bit hairy and needs some kinks worked out but here it is:) As the singular provider of holistic, environmentally grounded education, TVS intends to maintain a small but stable niche market. As the school grows and exemplifies diversified pedagogical vehicles driving toward multiple intelligence, we will joyfully share our insight with other interested institutions of education. With growing awareness of the implications of current practices on the state of the global ecology, TVS is the first schoool in The Bahamas to base it's educational praxis on personal and global healing and wholeness. As we continue to study models of successful alternative public schools (in the U.S.) it is our hope to create practices that will influence mainstream public education here at home. (see what i mean? Hairy, hairy, hairy!)

So that's that! Gonna type it up real nice and pretty like and take it and a jacket/sleeves down to MinEd when I get back from AERO in a couple of weeks.

Wish me luck!

No, really do it. Out loud. Now...


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

The more I think about it, the more ludicrous our system of education appears to me. Not to just throw the blanket of blame all willy nilly on the evil empire system. I'm just saying.

It starts at around age two, where people (by people, i mean children) are placed in childcare provision facilities called pre-schools. Teacher student ratio is a Big Deal, so the class size must be small and must have a Teacher's Assistant to be considered remotely credible (read: "middle class"). And we can't have two year olds sitting around all day doing nothing but playing, now can we? Heaven's NO! They need to get busy being told what to do and when to do it, and don't even think about having an opinion.

This carries on through pre-school, elementary school and even high school when the people, now approximately 18 years old, have been completely socialized to the standards of behavior within the context of a herd - sorry, group of their peers - with an adult alpha human per group.

So for sixteen years, the young, growing people have all their big decisions made for them by their parents, by their teachers, by the society. We tell them when to do what, how to do it, where to do it - and don't ask why, because We Know What's Good For You.

... And now, young woman, as you graduate high school and you've had your 18th birthday - which magically turns you into "An Adult" - it is your turn to make a decision for yourself:

What do you want to do for the rest of your life? ... Now GO!

How is it that the absurdity of this has escaped us as a thinking race?! Are we not intelligent, thinking, rationa- ... wait, never mind.

Do you see what I'm getting at here? Being a grown up takes years of practice, yet we have been isolating young people, forcing our will upon them (albeit with good intentions) and denying them the opportunities to learn how to think for themselves.

We create this magical age when they are supposed to be able to literally go to bed as 17 year old "children" and wake up on their 18th birthday as Board Certified Adults. (?!?!?!?! - Come on!)

No. This will not do. It isn't doing.

I cannot overstate the value of recognizing children as individuals (aren't we all?). They are not small pieces of human clay to be molded into our own images of who we think we are and/or who we want to (them) to be. Rather, I call to mind the artist who spoke of the marble already having the finished piece within it and that the artist was merely the person who helped it to emerge.

Of course they need guidance, mentoring, facilitators. Of course, of course, of course!

But they do not need to be squished, pressed, squeezed or formed. They need loving adults in their lives who can help them process what they need help processing and help them access what the need to access; who will watch and wait for the wings to emerge.

One of the better definitions of Critical thinking that I found is this:

An essential tool of inquiry; purposeful, self-regulatory judgment that results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.

My best friend's son's teacher told her that of her entire class, he is the only critical thinker. Why? Because she is the kind of mother that is devoted to letting her children Be. Her children have a voice in their home.

The Village School has a mandate to foster self directed learning; ultimately a self-directed life.

Who doesn't want that for their children? For anyone they love, actually.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Linking Park

Power to the People! Children make their own playground!

Funny story...

I had called The Ministry of Education (from now on known as MinEd, cause let's face it, who wants to be typing and reading "Ministry. Of. Education" all the time?) - anyway I rang to figure out my first step in school starting and was told to come down and pick up the application form.

I was so excited I got up bright and late the next morning and headed out on a mission, which included a trip to the pool afterward. <-- This information is relevant and you will see why in a minute.

After some difficulty finding a way to access the oh-so-large and clearly-visable-yet-somehow-completely-inaccessible-from-the-road building, we finally got into the parking lot. Which turned out to be a fruitless victory due to a chronic lack of parking for regular human visitors.

Anyway, drama of parking aside, we trekked to the entry point. Upon approaching the miniature playhouse - er, i mean security guard hut thingie I noticed two things: (well, three actually):

The Security Guard was otherwise engaged on a Very Important Phone Call
A sign telling people that they must be "Appropriately Dressed" to enter the building. And
A forlorn looking young woman waiting by the Security Hut Checkpoint Place

Anyway, after The Very Important Phone Call was over, the Security Guard directed me to the sign-in book at the table behind his Hut. But wait! You can't go in, he said.


Do you have a jacket in your car?, he asked as he sort glanced around the general vicinity of my visible swimsuit straps.

Me: No, I can fix that! *easily ducking out of the halter style straps and tucking them away*

SG: That's not it. You need sleeves.

Me: HUH? (i'm beginning to sound pretty stupid here but the situation informs that.)

SG: (Again) Do you have a jacket or something in your car you can wear?

Me: No.

SG: Sorry you can't go in "like that".

Me: *scoff!* You're not serious?! All I need to do is pick up a form from MinEd!

SG: Sorry, this is what (-get this!-) The Permanent Secretary told us. Not my rules.

Well, it goes on for a bit; him explaining that those were The Rules and me telling him what a silly rule it was and eventually making sure I got him to admit (albeit whilst casting furtive glances and whispering in low tones) that it was, indeed, a DUMB rule. And THEN I noticed #3 again: the forlorn looking young woman who is wearing - (drumroll, please!) a spaghetti strapped dress and therefore cannot enter into the sacred halls of Noshoulderdom.

Lauryn is as baffled and confounded as I am about the rule and asks why they won't let me in. I tell her, a little loudly, that they must be AFRAID of SHOULDERS OR SOMETHING *cough cough*.

Well, ain't nothin' gonna break my stride. Nobody's gonna slow me down. Oh no, I've got to keep on moooovin'. (Google it!)

I was NOT leaving to come back another day. Hells to the no! So...

I noticed a woman wearing a marvelous turquoise pashmina and as she sped by me I tapped her shoulder and asked her if she would please grant me the most odd and giant favor.

And she did.

And I donned this unknown to me woman's perfumed pashmina; and me and my two children marched up to the office, collected our forms, marched back down, returned the bright shining wrap and went on our merry way. Leaving kindly SG (who was still apologizing as we passed by in our whirlwind of accomplishment) with great big smiles of gratitude and blessings of peace; even sympathetic glances at dear Forlorna - and we were ON OUR WAY to the pool and to our destiny!

*signing off with lots and lots - and LOTS! - of Flourish!*

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

All A-Board!

I have not deluded myself into believing that I can start a school all by my onesies. Quite the contrary, I am well aware of my need to make this vision a reality in, through, with a community.

My next move is to call together a Board of Advisors to collaborate with and bounce things around with. This little blog post serves as a prayer of intention to the universe to ready the right hearts and to gather us together very soon.

In the meantime I will begin documenting the relevant information that the Ministry of Education requires of this would be school starter. Want to know what they require?

The Name
Full Postal and Street Address
Name of Proprietor/Principal (let's assume that's me)
Proposed Date of Opening (September 2011)
Ownership (Church/Company/"Other")
Affiliation or Articulation Agreement (Global Village School)
Governance (how will it be bossed)
Mission Statement
Physical Resources/Facilities (where yo school gon' be at?)
Learning Resources (Library, Media Lab, Art room, etc.)
Clientele (Grades, No. of students, Gender, Recruitment tactics)
Instructional Programme (curriculum?)
Staffing (Faculty, Qualifications)
Community Involvement (PTA etc.)
Finance (can you say "Fundraiser"?)
Vision Statement/Development Plan
I've got a few of those done. Just need to come up with about $30 to $50K, no biggie.

So - like I said:

All Aboard! Dingdingdingdingding!
I did it! I bought my ticket to New York today which means:

I'm going to the 7th Annual AERO Conference!

I am publicly expressing a tremendous amount of gratitude to Isaac Graves, organizer of the event, for providing a significant discount off conference registration (read: cheap free) as well as accommodation assistance. Without both of which I would never have been able to attend.

I have saved and saved and have just enough to pay for transportation from JFK to Albany and will continue to save and save so I can have enough for food and resource purchase.

I am so excited!!!

I really feel like I can fly!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Change for a Paradigm?

This busy little blogging bee has so many thoughts racing through my head today that I can't seem to do anything else but read and write. I am now, as you can see, in the "writing" phase of the cycle.

So here's the thing, the idea of alternative education is very appealing to a great many people (or so it seems). People tend to be intrigued and, at least on the surface "get" why self or learner directed education makes sense.

Yet, I believe it's much the same as the way people (mostly would-be tourists) are always "impressed" when I tell them that I live in The Bahamas. I think for them it's like, "Wow you get to go to those amazing beaches and relax all the time and never have to go to work and sip pina coladas and eat fruit all day?!"

Wait, I think I got lost in the metaphor.

My original point is that people like the idea... right okay, I'm repeating myself. What I am really trying to say is that to really let your child be the boss of her education requires a bit of a paradigm shift. And by "a bit" I mean "Huge" (capital H and all).

So maybe my little school will have my two children as it's only enrolled students. Or maybe not - if people are interested in change for their paradigm, I'm interested in helping them make it.

Will that be two nickels or ten pennies, ma'am?

Background Check

Why do I want to start a school anyway?

First and foremost, there one key person who played a major role in diverting my life onto this track (though thinking about it now, I know it was inevitable). So in some ways she was more like an turning point in the course of this river of my life's work that was always bound to end up in the ocean of education(al reform).

Lisa Sawyer McCartney took a chance on me and hired me to teach at her marvelous pre-school, Unicorn Village in April 2001. In hindsight it fees like I blinked and went from working in retail (to somewhere in between starting my Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education) to having a room full of two year olds, an assistant and I was their teacher.

- And from breath One I was in love -

Two and half years later I had my first baby and it's been a wild and interesting journey ever since.

I first became acquainted with alternative education through my research into the Montessori method and immediately had a dream to start a Montessori school. I also explored other methods such as Rudolph Steiner's Waldorf, A.S. Neil's Summerhill and, later, Brent Cameron's SelfDesign through a growing collection of books I was reading.

Between the Summerhill School where students had equal say in the day to day affairs of their school and their education, and Brent Cameron's well articulated book about his own experience creating a learner-directed school around his daughter, I was greatly intrigued by and ultimately sold on "self design" as a concept.

Of course! It's all about The Learner!!! It makes perfect sense to learn about what interests oneself rather than about facts and materials that are irrelevant, uninteresting and very soon forgotten!

And then last year, purely by "coincidence" I read a book the 'modern father' of the learner directed movement, John Holt and it was all over for me. His book, Learning All The Time cemented everything for me and I have not cast even a sideways glance at mainstream/traditional education since.

And yes, I could just give it to my own two children and they would have happy, unencumbered childhoods as we shared, laughed, journeyed and learned together. No tests, no artificial grading structures, no HOMEWORK, no life being governed by other people's directives on our lives. I could...

But I can't. I won't and I can't. And I can't and I won't.

Everyone who wants to choose this path deserves a shot. Everyone who wants this kind of living-as-learning/learning-as-living experience for their children needs to have access to it. Many parents simply cannot stay at home and do this. (I don't need to go into the whys; you can figure that out for yourself.) And so...

...The room darkens, the music begins to crescendo and the spotlight hits the stage...

Enter cian t. sawyer and her great big dreams of joyful learning and living for young people (also known as "Children").

And though the dream is big, the school will be a small (I believe) intentional community of families who are living and learning in happiness together.

What more can I say? It's me. I'm here - and I really think I might just be right for the part.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Starting a blog about starting a school

At the very least, this is going to be an interesting ride, starting a school. A part of me is wondering what I am thinking. But that is a very teeny tiny part because almost all of me is like “What took you so long???”

The thing is, I live on an island nation that is deeply entrenched in it’s tradition and you don’t buck The System here.

”There is a Way that things are done. We’ve always done things that Way and there is no other possible method that is even worth considering so don’t even try it.”

Like that.