Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No How = Know How

As I travel the world of non-traditional education, specifically democratic education, I am learning that like unschooling - there is no "One Right Way" to do it.

We humans like to have things neatly laid out and pristinely wrapped in clear cellophane packaging with labels including ingredient lists so we can take it home feeling safe that we know exactly what it is that we have bought (into). None of this "Well it's really up to the individual" business. Tell me exactly what alternative education is complete with formulas and predictable results. Describe in detail how unschooling works and how you Do It. Give me a list (which must have references and bibliography) of all the things I need to do in order to have a Democratic School.

Umm, sorry what? Summerhill is not identical to Sudbury is not identical to Brooklyn Free School is not identical to SelfDesign????!!!!

Slomo cam captures the dramatic NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! as the victim falls to the ground in dispair.

So that was me you saw in your mind's eye crashing to the floor. Shocked to learn (yet again) that there is not One Single Recipe for a democratic school like Yabba's Best Corn Bread Pudding or something. Rats!

I keep stumbling across ideas and things and examples and thinking, YES! That's what I want for The Village School. And that! Aaaand THAT!!! And.... that? Well, maybe not. But yes, that other thing for sure. Yes!

So if you ask me to tell you about a day in the life of a learner or teacher at The Village School, I really can't answer unless it's that day and it's the end of that day. Because it's kind of like "real life" (pretty messy stuff, that). And though one may have grand plans and schemes and ideas and examples and things and stuff, Real Life still manages to sort of Happen to one. Or to several. Or most. Or all. (Yep, definitely all.)

The thing is, if you put a group of people in a space together - be it three or 15 - things will not happen the same way all the time. The horror!!! (Unless you make 13,857 rules about every single permissible and non-permissible movement, word, idea allowed that is. Which isn't very democratic now is it?) The problem is that people have this nasty habit of growing and changing and learning new things, which makes for a dastardly time if one wants to pin them down and fit them into a label/category for an extended period (like forever or say, 18 years).

Which means that I get it. I hate to use the "O" word, but I am afraid I am a bit trapped into saying that a person cannot come up with one single definition for the above methods of facilitating learning because they are (...wait for it...) *sharp inhale* - Organic. Humans and learning are like living, "Growing Things". It's crazy! Kind of like some sort of garden project where all you really need to do is plant some seeds, keep showing up and helping them along with some water, good placement, chicken poop and a hefty dose of TLC and the things just seem to maagickly grow themselves! Miraculous really. (Wait, am I talking about people or tomatoes? I'm confused.)

The point is, even though there are some foundational philosophies that serve as the guiding principles for democratic/child-centered/learner-directed/organic/passion-driven (whatever you want to call the thing!) education, it will look different from place to place and person to person precisely because we are all one but not the same. <-- I teefed that little phrase from that song with Mary J. Blige and Bono.

Therefore, good friends, I eagerly await the birth and growth of this school in my head: another face for Democratic Education as it shapes and is shaped by yet another community.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pedagogy of The Oppressed

‎"The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have. For them, having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired through their own "effort," with their "courage to take risks." If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the "generous gestures" of the dominant class. Precisely because they are "ungrateful" and "envious," the oppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched" (Paolo Freire, 1970, p. 59) Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nurturing Creativity and Genius

By Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gives a wonderful Talk on TED about nurturing creativity and genius. Thought I'd share.

Lone Star State

A person can feel sure about a thing. Feel confident in their path and walk with purpose and direction. A person can be fully committed to fulfilling her destiny, believing that this - THIS is what she was created for (a distant-ish second, of course, to bearing and lovingly raising her beautiful children. Naturally.) A person can feel all these things and then one day wake up in the middle of the night (well, morning) struck with a kind of icy, toe-tingling doubt.

The sneaky kind that feels like you're "just a little chilly" at first, but then it starts snaking up into your purpose and confidence. It causes a little stutter in the stride and the person has to ask herself: "Am I sure? Is this where I'm really supposed to be going?"

Then this person - a friend of mine, mind you - not me - looks around and sees that she's the only one. Oh sure, there are kind and loving supporters on the side lines, bringing water and slices of watermelon encouragement but as far as other people who are actually walking this particular path beside her: bupkis. Zip. Nada. No. Body.

"Hows about you ask your old pal Aaron and/or Moses to do this one? Maybe it's not for me to do after all. I mean, wouldn't I have someone who has this [seemingly] esoteric Gut Knowing journeying with me?" she says to no One in particular.

Okay, okay, I'll tell you: it's me. (!!!)

I had a momentary 2 by 4 to the head of near-panic the other day hour. I was merrily reading - more like greedily devouring John Taylor Gatto's book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling the other day, nodding out loud, agreeing across pages and miles with so much of what he has to say and I was struck (enter the 2 by 4) with the thought of how NO ONE ELSE I KNOW reads this stuff! (Note: The melodrama being employed here is very important and very necessary because even though in actual fact it's true that I am personally familiar with other human beings who are reading "this stuff" not a single one of them lives on my 7 by 21 mile rock island home. End Note.)

So back to the shocking-unfolding-of-the-drama-music.

I just wondered why not me AND someone who reads all the same stuff? Why just me alone? (Yeah yeah yeah, the side-liners - but they can go home anytime they want. I've signed up for this thing!. They've pinned white rectangles with numbers onto my clothes. This is serious!) Is a running mate too much to ask for here?

Then I was all, How can I be sure? And Nathan was all - wait, what did Nathan say again? Something Sensible and Encouraging but I can't remember what (as I was probably too distracted with my near panic experience). But it must have worked because I'm not feeling like ripping the tags off and giving up, or worse, dragging some stranger from the crowd and MAKING them run with me (dammit!). Yeah, No, I'm good. I can do this. I have been made for such a thing as this.

As I said to Sensible and Encouraging Nathan in subsequent conversations - I believe that my choices as a mother, particularly the most recent to unschool [with] Lauryn and Ryan, are my way of saying that I am choosing another way besides that path that has been cut out for us; i.e. auto-pilot to a predetermined cookie cutter model of factory "success" (read: acquisition of stuff and things).

Maybe it started out as a rejection of that model, but I feel it's really now a movement toward something else (rather than away from the other thing). A sometimes-effortless gliding, other times uphill-plodding movement toward all that I have talked about before (you know, "peace, justice, humanity, sustainability" - blah blah blah, that old chestnut?) and that creating The Village School is my way of inviting other people on that path with me.

What's to be afraid of in that?

(Um... Discrimination, being ostracized, rejection, exile? Pish Posh! Piece a cake!)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Horizon: Mireless

I've been asking the question lately, What is the point of (traditional) school?  What is it for?  What purpose is it serving?

But then I had to ask, What is the point of this "Alternative Education" that I am espousing?  What is it for?  What purpose will it serve?

Answer: Humanity.

You see, even though I am very much about creating a school that respects it's learners and creates and atmosphere of equality for all, the larger vision is really restoration of Humanity.  

Under or behind all the labels - words we use to keep our distance from each other - are real live actual human beings; daughters, sons, cousins, sisters, mothers, fathers, best friends, lovers - People.  At the risk of sounding like I've gone overboard I'd say the labels we use for other living things, like trees, rats, caterpillars, whales, spiders, oranges, flowers - the create a distance as well.  

Anthony DeMello said in his book Awareness, (and I'm paraphrasing here) that once you name something such as a palm tree, you never see another palm tree again.  You just see the word and the one you first named.  

I am reading a book called Above All, Be Kind by Zoe Weil and her language has helped me give identity to the previously unformed, floating idea that I had about the ultimate goal of this kind of education.  She talks a lot about fostering Reverence, Respect and Responsibility in children.  I find that Reverence is what tends to be missing - if I could oversimplify it for a bit - from the way we are raising our children today.  In parenting and education alike we have literally stopped talking time to smell the actual roses.  

We are so busy spitting out empty praise ("Great walking, son!") and trying to keep up with the bills that we barely have time to truly Be Present and give Reverence to the moment, to ourselves, to our friends, to our spouses and most of all, to our children.  

(Digression warning!)  In my own genuine awe for living beings, I often find that I (feel like I) seem childish around the people who do not experience the world that way.  This is not a statement of arrogance or judgement - I literally become self conscious sometimes when I see a bird and gasp in awe and people seem a bit perplexed ("It's just a bird", their quickly averted eyes tell me).  

All this to say that what Zoe Weil said is what I meant to say: It is about our humanity.  The real world, she says, is dirt and trees and fall and fish and deer and rivers and sunshine and butterflies (again, paraphrasing); not stocks and bonds or corporate ladders or bank accounts etc.  Well put, Zoe!  

What is the point of peaceful, learner centred, respectful mindful education built on a framework of social justice and environenmental sustainability?  

Humanity.  Being People.  People Being.

What I see on the Horizon truly is a state of liberation.  The kind of freedom from bondage that people like Jesus and Bob Marley talked about; where we will nurture our souls and be emancipated from mental slavery.