Fall 2009, Issue #58
Volume 21, Number 3
Summer Conferences Inspire Education Activists
Inside: Montessori education • Following in a school leader’s footsteps A Waldorf perspective on educational rights • And other provocative articles Book reviews • news and announcements
Printer to insert Bar Code
The Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) was founded in 1989 by Jerry Mintz. AERO is a branch of the School of Living, a non-profit organization founded in 1934 by Ralph Borsodi. AERO’s goal is to advance studentdriven, learner-centered approaches to education. AERO is considered by many to be the primary hub of communications and support for educational alternatives around the world. Education Alternatives include, but are not limited to, Montessori, Waldorf (Steiner), Public Choice and At-Risk, Democratic, Homeschool, Open, Charter, Free, Sudbury, Holistic, Virtual, Magnet, Early Childhood, Reggio Emilia, Indigo, Krishnamurti, Quaker, Libertarian, Independent, Progressive, Community, Cooperative, and Unschooling. One of AERO’s areas of expertise is democratic process and democratic education, but equally important is the networking of all forms of educational alternatives. It is through our work and mission that we hope to create an education revolution. AERO’s mission is to help create an education revolution to make student-centered alternatives available to everyone. Towards this end, AERO provides information, resources and guidance to families, schools and organizations regarding their educational choices. AERO disseminates information internationally on topics such as: homeschooling, public and private alternative schools, and charter schools. AERO’s long-term goal is to become a more effective catalyst for educational change by providing books, magazines, conferences, online courses, consultations, support groups, and organizational information and seminars in the field of alternative education.
Contents Being There
with Jerry Mintz. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 2
From the Editor’s Desk
by Ron Miller. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 3
What Time is it? — AERO TIME! The AERO Conference ‘09
by Franzi Florack. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 4
Report from the 2009 IDEC in Korea by Moe Zimmerberg. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 6 Structures for Autonomny: The Experience of Self Managed Learning College
by Ian Cunningham. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 8
Why it Works: The Montessori Method
by Cathleen Haskins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 11
If a Post-modern, Whole Child School is the Choice for Malia and Sasha Obama...Why not for everyone?
by David Marshak. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 14
Following the Leader: Succession
by Len Solo. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 16
Educational Freedom, Funding, and Rights: A Waldorf Perspective
by Gary Lamb . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 18
by Jenni Davis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 20
Education in the News
417 Roslyn Road, Roslyn Heights, NY 11577-2620 ISSN#: 110679219 Phone: 516-621-2195 / 800-769-4171 Fax: 516-625-3257 Email: email@example.com Website: www.EducationRevolution.org Find a School: www.EducationFinder.net AERO Executive Director: Jerry Mintz Education Revolution Editor: Ron Miller Outreach Coordinator: Isaac Graves Communications Director: Heather Merle Education in the News Editors: Carol Morley & Ron Miller Printer: Brenneman Printing Inc., Lancaster, PA
News Reports. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 21 New Books. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 25 Announcements: New Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 26 Communications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 27
AERO Advisory Board
Alexander Adamsky, Mary Addams, Chris Balch, Fred Bay, Patrice Creve, Patrick Farenga, John Taylor Gatto, Herb Goldstein, Dan Greenberg, Ken Jacobson, Jeffrey Kane, Albert Lamb, Dave Lehman, Mary Leue, Ron Miller, Ann Peery, John Potter, Mary Anne Raywid, Jon Thoreau Scott, Tim Seldin, Elina Sheppel, Andy Smallman, Nick Stanton, Corinne Steele.
Cover photo: Participants at the North American
Democratic Education Conference in Albany, NY in June. Education Revolution 1
Being There By Jerry Mintz
he last several months have been interesting and productive for AERO. Rather than concentrate on one event I’d like to present to you a sense of the general flow of activities in and around AERO. We have been working with the new Manhattan Free School to help them get through their first year. We’re also working with Brooklyn Free School to help them purchase their own building, a five-story brownstone that already has covered emergency exits from all floors, sprinklers and an alarm system since it had previously been a shelter. The total cost of the building is 1.75 million dollars. BFS put down ten percent to execute the contract but still needs to raise $200,000 to get the down payment, and has two months to raise it. The school is about to enter its sixth year in rented space in the basement of a church. It has 60 students and a large waiting list. Both MFS and BFS have sliding scale tuition according to need. The biggest event of the last few months was The North American Democratic Education Conference, followed by the AERO Conference. This year we hosted the events at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albany, New York. This sudden change in venue happened because the college where we had previously held the conference suddenly doubled our fees under a new president we had never met. Isaac Graves, our conference director, scrambled to find another site and the Crowne Plaza was happy to have us and wants us to return next year. Despite the sudden change of location everything went very smoothly and all of our feedback has been positive. This was the first meeting of the NADEC, and it drew 125 students and staff members from more than a dozen democratic schools. One group drove there across the country from Oregon. The schedule was very open and flexible with a lot of spontaneous activities. Late night swimming at the hotel was very popular. We plan to have the event again next year. More than 700 people attended the exciting talk by Patch Adams, the AERO conference opening keynoter. People used all the nooks and crannies in the hotel for scheduled and spontaneous gatherings. All the keynotes and workshops were well attended. I won’t go into any more detail about the conference here because we have another, more in-depth article about it in this issue. Also attending the conference were Kamala and Nami Bhusal, sisters from Nepal. For several years we have been helping the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Orphanage where they work. Kamala has been here several times. She brought her sister here for medical reasons and we have been hosting them. 2 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
Jerry Mintz in Montreal with two members of the group organizing a new alternative. Left: Marilyn Rowe. Right, Gilles Lavedure.
After the conference we immediately started working on making a record 23 DVDs of the keynotes and workshops. They are now available on our website. One funny incident happened toward the end of the conference which may give you some idea of the need for AERO. I was sitting in the hotel manager’s office talking to the bank, trying to get them to release the funds from our account to cover our hotel expenses. After a lot of official information was exchanged, the bank representative asked me “What kind of organization is AERO?” I told him that we helped people start educational alternatives, helped teachers and parents find them, etc. There was a long pause, then he said, “I have a five year old—I don’t want to put him in the local public school. I don’t know what to do!” After my initial shock at this change of gears I said to him, “What city are you in?” He said he was in San Antonio. So I said, “Check out the Circle School. It’s the only good thing I know there. I once visited and I heard they now have mostly young kids.” He thanked me, wrote down the school name, then told us that our account had now released the funds so the hotel could now get it from our account. After I hung up, the hotel manager, who had been listening to all this said to me, after some hesitation, “I have
a 19 year old who is very capable but just dropped out of college” and asked for suggestions, which I then gave him! Yes, the need is everywhere, isn’t it? After the conference we attended a visioning retreat of the School of Living, the nonprofit that AERO has been part of for the last 20 years. It was held at Julian Woods Community in Pennsylvania, one of the intentional communities for which SOL holds the land in trust. There were about 50 people there, representing various aspects of the SOL, including other intentional communities in MD and VA. One of the things we explored there was the feasibility of AERO becoming an independent nonprofit, as some of our funders had been asking us to do. There is precedent for this at SOL. For example SOL helped start the organic farming and health food movements in the 1940’s when some of its earliest pioneers were part of it, including Walnut Acres and Rodale. In early August I was scheduled to make a public presentation at the IDEC in Seoul, Korea. At the last minute the IDEC was cancelled because of a swine flu epidemic in Korea. The cancellation came so late that some people were already on their way. Because of this an informal event was held with some of those and with the conference organizers, many of whom were students. That event, for three days, was held at a Korean alternative school. Although I did not go, I was able to connect with the group through a special distance learning website that was arranged by AERO member Karen Locke, who works for a distance learning school, EdVisions Off-Campus. She arranged several terrific sessions with participants by video and audio to Israel, Australia, Austria, and the United States. I was able to completely hear the session with translations into English, and even see the room with all the people and the video projection from my webcam on the wall in the room when I asked questions or made comments! The next IDEC will be in Israel in April 2010. In late August I traveled to Montreal, Canada to meet with a group of 20 people who want to start a new alternative there. Some of them had been to the AERO conference and at least two had been in the school starters course. People are very excited about getting this going, but it was clear in the meeting that the laws in Quebec are not very friendly toward new alternatives. It seems likely that they will start with a homeschool resource center with an official school possible starting in two years. Most recently we have been organizing the online courses for school starters and the History and Theory of Educational Alternatives. Over the last several years we have helped start at least 35 new educational alternatives. Chris Mercogliano will help run the school starters course and Ron Miller, with help from Dana Bennis, will teach the History and Theory class. The courses have begun, but we will try to accomodate latecomers! So, as you can see, we have been busy as usual at AERO. We need all the support we can get to continue working toward making educational alternatives and learner centered approaches available to as many people as possible!
by Ron Miller
s always, I had a wonderful time at the annual AERO conference, catching up with old friends and making new, sometimes unexpected, connections. I’m impressed by the growing complexity and sophistication of the educational alternatives movement. People are still concerned about promoting freedom in learning, but they’re also asking harder questions about our responsibility to promote democracy and social justice in society at large. Many in this movement are seeking to address the ecological crisis facing humanity, finding ways to engage young people in the quest for a more sustainable and life-affirming civilization. Like many who attend the conference for the first time, I always come away with a renewed sense of hopefulness. The writings in this issue also reflect a sophisticated analysis of contemporary education and society, and also provide grounds for hope. Of course it is frustrating to have had a stirring vision of educational transformation and worked to promote it for 25 years, only to see mainstream culture go the way of “A Nation at Risk,” “Goals 2000,” “No Child Left Behind,” and now “Race to the Top”—policies of authoritarian control and mechanistic obedience to the status quo. (My critique of the hugely disappointing Obama/Duncan initiative is on my website at www. pathsoflearning.net/articles_Race_to_the_Top. php.) Even so, it is no small achievement to have built a vibrant alternative educational culture, which is attracting more and more interest as the destructiveness of standardized schooling becomes ever more clear to parents, teachers and young people. Our vision, our ideas, our welcoming and nurturing communities of learning are ready, waiting for the day the overbearing system collapses of its own weight. We could publish more critiques here, more denunciations of standardization and pedagogical imperialism. But Education Revolution, and AERO generally, is about positive alternatives. We show what is possible. When people see how young people thrive in respectful, flexible, democratic learning environments, it is self-evident that industrial schooling is harmful and obsolete. The more we spread the word about what we’re doing, the more reason there is for hope that transformation will happen.
Education Revolution 3
What Ti m e i s i t ? — A E R O T I M E !
The AERO Conference ‘09 By Franzi Florack
fter hearing about AERO for the first time in Fall 2008, it seemed that everything came together for me in Spring ’09 to attend the AERO conference: a free week between summer school teaching and university graduation, cheap flights from London to New York and a willing travel companion, my friend Holly. And so we set off to our adventure week in the States and the Alternative Education circle. And what an adventure it was! The 6th annual AERO conference took place between the 25th and 28th of June at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albany. With an attendance of over 300 students, parents, educators and theorists aged 1 to 89 from all over the US, Canada and beyond, the AERO conference is the biggest alternative education conference of its kind in the world. While it embraces all of the educational alternatives, it also promotes change in the public school system and state orientated private schools. This year’s conference, titled “Educational Alternatives: Past, Present & Future,” celebrated AERO’s 20th anniversary and offered more keynote speakers, workshops and talks than ever before.
In my opinion, the greatest achievement of the conference was to bring together people from all of those different directions... AERO managed to gather people who were not only interested in listening to each other and sharing their experiences, but were also able to see that we are all fighting for the same thing: better education.
For us jetlagged Europeans, the days started very early with a swim in the hotel pool and the most wonderful yoga sessions with Kristin Caccio. At 8:30 a.m. everybody (or at least those not still in bed) would come together for the new day’s announcements and workshop changes. One thing that impressed me was the great flexibility and calmness with which all of the days were approached. If one workshop was cancelled, two or three other people from the conference would jump in to share their knowledge of something they felt passionate about. The blackboard next to the elevator was not only used for the daily schedule and announcements
4 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
but also offered the opportunity for specific people to get in contact with each other—including a possibility for us to hitch a ride back to NYC! The great range of talks and workshops meant that everybody had time to explore different subject areas and educational directions over the course of the four days—from early childhood education to the peace curriculum. This year’s most anticipated keynote speaker, Patch Adams, brought the conference off to a controversial and hugely energetic start on Thursday night (“TV is worse than the atomic bomb!”). Other speakers included Don ‘Four Arrows’ Jacobs, Ira Shor, Jerry Mintz and Deborah Meier. Next to workshops on individual movements such as homeschooling, Montessori, Waldorf and Democratic Education, Ron Miller’s workshops on Spiral Dynamics and the whole of the alternative education movement brought together all of the different strands. A few talks, such as Robert Tauber’s “Helping everyday teachers create a more democratic classroom,” also offered suggestions on how to integrate alternative education values and approaches into public schools. In my opinion, the greatest achievement of the conference was to bring together people from all of those different directions. While it is common for the individual groups to promote (only) themselves, AERO managed to gather people who were not only interested in listening to each other and sharing their experiences, but were also able to see that we are all fighting for the same thing: better education. This was the first time that I really encountered democratic education and homeschooling (which is very uncommon in Europe) and it was really the passion of the people involved as well as the ideas that inspired me. Meeting incredible individuals who think about education in the same way I do and who are of all ages from lots of different places was an incredibly powerful experience. Thanks to the conference, I am now planning my journey to Israel for the International Democratic Education Conferenc in April, 2010. Many of the workshops left me with small but powerful insights (such as that “every parent just wants their child to be ok” from the childhood education workshop by Joan Lawson) or great inspiration (AERO’s “Start a school’ workshop with Jerry Mintz and the North Star presentation by Kenneth Danford). One of the most intense and immediate experiences was to hear Anna Finklestein and Kris Sage speak about their life as home-, free- and unschoolers. Engaging, inspiring and funny, their talks offered a great insight into what it is really like to experience educational alternatives.
The conference made me understand how much I don’t know yet and now I can’t wait to get involved in the projects. It truly changed my life and the way I see education. Although I had a little bit of prior knowledge it was fantastic to see the endless possibilities that are out there! My time at the conference made me learn more about myself as well as others and helped me grow. The AERO conference ended with a Benefit Silent Auction, a self composed AERO song (“I don’t know how anyone can think that we don’t learn”) and a goodbye circle. People from everywhere expressed how much the conference had inspired them and I can only agree. My little pet project, the foundation of an AERO Europe branch, will hopefully take shape in the next months and years. As an activist, I
am excited about the future that lies ahead of the AERO movement. The conference inspired me to learn and get involved—and that’s what education is all about, isn’t it?
Franzi Florack is German born language teacher, outreach
ambassador and film graduate, currently studying for her teaching degree at the University of Cambridge in the UK. She loves travelling, ballet, making cakes and spending time with the people close to her. As an education revolutionist, she is very interested in bringing the international alternative education community closer together. You can reach her at F.Florack@ gmail.com or read about her adventures in education and abroad in her blog http://trulyeuropean.blogspot.com/.
for the Education
Ron Miller’s newest book “marvelously lucid and thought-provoking” The Self-Organizing Revolution provides the clearest and most perceptive description of alternative education movements I have read. Drawing on the wisdom of the great educational pioneers of the past as well as the emerging paradigms of today, Miller suggests how a new consciousness can guide the liberation of children’s potentials and the restoration of life on the planet. This is a marvelously lucid and thought-provoking book. —William Crain, author of Reclaiming Childhood and editor of Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice
Order from The Aero Bookstore http://www.edrev.org/products.html Or direct from the publisher Holistic Education Press 800-639-4122 $12.00 • ISBN 9-18855-80274-1
Education Revolution 5
R e p o r t f ro m t h e
2009 IDEC in Korea By Moe Zimmerberg
6 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
movement, particularly because the people in it are so nice and so much fun. We also visited four alternative schools in the Seoul area. The Mindule School started as a drop-in center for drop-outs (a better term might be “school refusers” or “walk-outs”), and continues to be a resource for homeschoolers. The Haja Center has focused on media and the performing arts. We were treated to a performance of Brazilian music which so impressed me that I had to cut out during the Q and A to grab the musicians for an impromptu jam session. Music is a form of communication that needs no translation and builds wonderful bonds across cultures. The next day we visited the Gwang Myung YMCA Byeopssi School, which had a beautiful space especially the bountiful garden and outdoor grove for the older students, and the San Children’s School for a delicious lunch and a rousing performance of traditional Korean percussion. We split up for dinner and shopping before returning to the Gil School to clean up in preparation for the next three days of our adventure: The IDEC camp at the Jeonin School. Jeonin School is a boarding school in a rural area near Chuncheon City. They hosted the international participants, the organizers, as well as students, teachers and parents from the Korean alternative school networks. I think around 100
he International Democratic Education Conferences (IDEC) were launched in 1993 when several Democratic School staff and students attending a conference in Jerusalem traveled to Hadera, home of the first Democratic School in Israel, for a few days of earnest discussion and networking. Since then the conference has been held in 14 different countries. For people like us, workers in a small Democratic School hidden in the mountains of a profoundly ethnocentric country, the opportunity to get out of town and meet with others from different democratic schools is incredible. We go abroad and connect with the coolest people in each country: people who enjoy children and who are working to move their societies in a more non-authoritarian direction. This year, on our way to Korea, we decided to stop in Japan for a visit. I had no sooner arrived when I got an email informing me that the conference had been officially canceled due to fear of the H1N1 virus. We were not fazed. I knew if people showed up, we’d have a good time no matter how small the turnout; it was a matter of quality versus quantity. We had our tickets, so we decided to go anyway. The first four days in Korea were spent at the Gil School. Banji very generously donated her space to the IDEC travelers and the organizing committee. Originally only a few of us were going to stay there, but with the last minute organizational changes it became the IDEC location for those four days. Many thanks to Banji and the Gil School for hosting us and allowing us all to gather in the same place. The building had only recently been built. It was designed for a specific purpose: to be an alternative school. For those of us who adopted buildings, or (shudder) previous school buildings it set minds spinning with possibilities, “What if I could design a democratic school building? What would it look like?” We were well taken care of: they picked us up at the airport, walked us around the neighborhood to orient ourselves and fed us free lunches and tea at the local Buddhist Temple. They also took us to some local markets in downtown Seoul, Dongdemun, and Namdemun, which had incredible food. During the four days of getting to know the Korean organizers and international participants, we shared with one another a passion for our views on education and conversed about our schools and the development of Democratic Education around the world. Korea has had tremendous growth with 100 new alternative schools in the last 10 years! It’s exciting to be a part of a rapidly expanding global
Korea has had tremendous growth with 100 new alternative schools in the last 10 years! It’s exciting to be a part of a rapidly expanding global movement, particularly because the people in it are so nice and so much fun.
of us were fed and housed! One night we were treated to what they called a “meat party,” a renowned Korean barbecue. We had a chance to make presentations about our schools, including our graduate, Maya’s (we’re so proud of her) workshop on teacher evaluation. All the teachers had to leave the room while Maya helped the Korean students through an evaluation of some of their teachers — a first for
A demonstration of traditional Korean percussion. Photo by Moe Zimmerberg.
most of them! We also had a workshop on traditional Korean percussion. The San Children’s School students taught us how to play the instruments. This workshop was so popular that we split into two groups and performed for each other after learning a few songs. We also made IDEC history by adding international video conferencing to two of the sessions. It took us a while to work out all the technical bugs, but it was great, especially during the IDEC meeting, to have the comments from the previous IDEC organizers in Australia, Israel and England. The students who organized the 2009 conference really felt like the rug was pulled out from under them by the cancellation and wanted to have the chance to do a fullon IDEC in 2011. Unfortunately they didn’t have enough support from other Korean organizations that night to commit. They needed some time to pull together a coalition, so we decided that we couldn’t make a decision that night, but that we would send out an email to the previous organizers fully stating how we felt. After spending all this time together, the international travelers were enjoying each other so much that when the Gandhi School offered to host us for a few days we jumped at it. They were so nice to us; they picked us up from the Jeonin School and drove us everywhere we needed to go. They fed us, housed us, and even threw a party for us! The most fascinating part of this visit was our trip to the
ancient city of Andung. Some of the students of the Gandhi School had a grandmother who actually lived in a house in the cultural museum! She was a descendant of the Prime Minister of Korea some 500 years ago (That’s one step down from the king)! They’ve hosted the Queen of England, Bushes one and two, and now, the foreign participants of IDEC. We were treated very well with guides, food, and gifts. What a wonderful day! The following morning we participated in a ceremony for the opening of a new building at the Gandhi School, complete with offerings and rice wine thrown to the four directions and a feast at the end. We also got to see the traditional percussion music in its natural environment! We were able to appreciate the music more because of what we had learned at the conference workshop. Historians will debate for millennia (at great institutional expense, I might add) whether this was or was not an official IDEC; I leave it to them. It was the 2009 international gathering of democratic educators, students, parents and NGO’s, it was in Korea, and... it was great. We’re very grateful to the schools that hosted us, to the organizing committee, and to all who participated.
Moe Zimmerberg is currently celebrating his 20th year at The Tutorial School, a small democratic school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For a full bio, check out his website at www. tutorialschool.org.
Education Revolution 7
Structures for Autonomy:
Self Managed Learning College
The Experience of
By Ian Cunningham
oo often there is confusion about the difference between structure and control when talking about freedom or autonomy for learners. I want to say something about these ideas and to give examples from our practice at Self Managed Learning College. My case is that we (adults) should support young people to grow up to be autonomous human beings who can lead a good life (which includes moral, social and ecological dimensions) as created by themselves. We need to provide structures for autonomy. And good structures reduce control.
on appropriate structures.
The Taoists have a good take
They ask, What is the value of a glass? It’s an empty, rigid, transparent, resilient structure.
The ideal of autonomy is espoused in the writings of many philosophers. Yet we know that educational practices can inhibit autonomous development (the “hidden curriculum” of schooling). The structures of schooling such as classrooms, timetables and lessons imposed by adults, rules imposed by adults and institutional buildings inhibit autonomy. They control young people. However there are other structures in human life. In fact it’s almost impossible to lead an unstructured life. We may have routines (structures) for starting the day – get up, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, etc. Other structures might be around work routines – daily travel, answering emails, attending meetings and so on. The Taoists have a good take on appropriate structures. They ask, What is the value of a glass? It’s an empty, rigid, transparent, resilient structure. Emptiness is important as
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we can then choose to put into the glass water, milk, beer or juice. If the glass is full of, say, cement, it would be of no use as we could not put any liquid in it. So emptiness leads to usefulness. But we also need the glass to be rigid to hold the liquid. If it was made of paper the structure would collapse and the liquid would run out – usefulness needs appropriate rigidity. Transparency is useful because the learner and others can then see what is in the glass – important so that appropriate support and challenge can be offered to the learner. Finally resilience is important. Thin glass is more resilient than thick glass in coping with temperature change (if you remember your science) – so thinness is useful. Thick structures (with too much structure) are not robust and therefore are not capable of dealing with difference. We need the minimum structure to achieve our aims. Thick structures with too many constraints don’t cope well with difference. The value of our thin content-free structures is that we can use the same basic structures with 7 year olds and 70 year olds. All these structural aspects feature in the way we approach assisting young people to develop as autonomous human beings who can lead a good life. And we view these structures as avoiding inappropriate controls. Structures that create bounded emptiness liberate young people: school structures control. So we should avoid control as much as possible while creating useful, liberating structures.
Self Managed Learning structures
Self Managed Learning College runs a series of programs in England as well as supporting other organizations in Canada, Finland, Israel and Sweden. I will mention here the South Downs Learning Centre in Brighton. This project is for 12 students aged 11-16 who choose not to go to school. The program runs Monday to Friday within the hours of 9.00 a.m. to 1 p.m. When students join they initially encounter three structures.
➊ Learning agreement. Students are assisted to create their own learning goals and direction in life. They are asked to address five questions, namely: ■ Where have I been – what has been my experience of life up to now?
➋ Learning group. A student joins a group with five others plus an adult (staff member) as the learning assistant. The group assists the person to create their learning agreement and to carry it out. Students can discuss anything they like in the group and ask for any help they need. ➌ Community meeting. Each morning at 9 a.m. the community meets. At the start of the program this was to do things like agree on rules and ways of working (which can get modified at any time at any community meeting). The meeting is chaired in rotation by members of the community – adults or students. The person who chairs also has to manage the close down at the end of the morning – that is, organize everyone to clear up. By rotating the chair we ensure that power does not accumulate to one person. Anyone can raise anything they like in the community meetings and most days they are quite short. After the Monday community meeting each learning group meets to think through what each student wants to put in their timetable for the week. So timetables exist and
are another structuring device. However, unlike most schools, the students create their own individual timetables and the staff (learning assistants) timetables follow the students. The community re-convenes to agree on resources (who is to use what room, which computers are to be booked to which students, and so on).
here am I now – what kind of person am I, what do I W care about, what interests me, what am I good at, etc? ■ Where do I want to get to – what kind of life might I want to lead, what kind of work might I want to do, what goals for learning should I set myself now? ■ How will I get to where I want to be – how will I learn what I want to learn? ■ How will I know if I have arrived – how will I measure my progress and my development? ■
The structures assist learners to manifest their autonomy-in-community. We become fully-functioning persons through relationships. So our model of autonomy-in-community is to avoid narrow individualism and instead to assist young people to use the community structures to further their relationships and their learning.
All timetables are copied so that each student has their own copy and one copy of each is posted up so that everyone can see what everyone else is doing. Staff timetables are also posted up. Most of the staff time is spent working one-to-one or with small self-selected groups. Students also organize visits and other activities away from the Centre. On Friday each learning group meets to review the week. Students consider how their learning and activities
Students at Self Managed Learning College Education Revolution 9
have worked out. Often they haven’t stuck exactly to their timetables – sometimes for good reason, like wanting to spend more time on something. Sometimes it’s because they had problems and these can be discussed. Each student in a learning group has their own time to talk and to raise what they like. One of our roles as learning assistants is to make certain that everyone has a fair share of the group’s time. In the Friday meeting each student has time to consider what they might want to do the same or differently next week. Most students vary their timetables from week to week as they change and develop. Also we encourage them to consider if they are on track with the learning goals that they have set for themselves. Naturally these goals might change and any learning agreement can be modified at any time. However the agreement is an agreement with the group so they need to come to the group to suggest any changes to their plans. All these structures are designed give students as much freedom as possible. However we take the idea of community seriously and A S Neill’s distinction between freedom and license is important. To paraphrase Neill, if you want to ride your bike and it doesn’t get in the way of others, that’s appropriate freedom; if you want to take someone else’s bike without their permission and ride it into people, that’s license and not appropriate. Basically it is about having agreed rules that indicate what is permitted and what is not. And, like other learning communities, we sometimes have to deal with rule-breaking.
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The structures I have mentioned are ■ Empty – learning agreements, community meetings, learning groups, timetables are all filled up with what students want ■ Rigid – they are fixed so students know where they stand ■ Transparent – timetables are on show for all to see; staff are transparent in their views ■ Resilient – the thin structures provide just enough support to learners without constraining them inappropriately. The structures assist learners to manifest their autonomyin-community. We become fully-functioning persons through relationships. So our model of autonomy-in-community is to avoid narrow individualism and instead to assist young people to use the community structures to further their relationships and their learning.
Dr. Ian Cunningham is Visiting Professor in Organizational
Capability at Middlesex University, England. He chairs the not-for-profit Centre for Self Managed Learning of which Self Managed Learning College is a part. He also chairs Strategic Developments International, a social enterprise involved in organizational change work. He can be contacted at ian@ stratdevint.com or on +44 1273 703691.
Why it Works:
Montessori Method By Cathleen Haskins
Those who seek holistic alternatives in education recognize the sacred, often untapped, potential within each child. Sharing this same desire to cultivate the whole child, Dr. Montessori asserted that eliminating the power struggle between the adult (all-knowing, imparter of knowledge) and child (seeker of autonomy and freedom), holds the key to how we educate children and transform society, at the same time. Move out of the way and let the child do it himself, proclaimed Dr. Montessori. Inherent in this philosophy is the belief that children can teach themselves, provided the environment is properly prepared and the child has access to what he needs (including materials, lessons, space) to expand his mind and spirit. The Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting, giving control of the learning to the child. Montessori classrooms consist of children within a three year age span, allowing the younger children to be mentored by the older ones, to watch and learn from them, and to form relationships more like those in a family or a neighborhood. Older children grow in comfort and confidence, guiding and sharing what they have learned with their younger peers. The three year period allows children to develop at their own pace and teachers to honor the development of each child as sacred and unique, unfolding in its own time. My Montessori teaching experience allowed me to see how a three year classroom enables the teacher and students to really know each other, cultivating loving and compassionate relationships and giving children life tools for living respectfully and peacefully in community with others.
Teacher as Guide
The Montessori teacher does not generally give large group lessons, and is not the focal point during the school day. She provides lessons to children as needed, usually in small groups or individually, just as most assessments are done on an individual basis. She is an observer of children, which is her greatest source of information about the childâ€™s progress and development. She is responsible for maintaining the organization and beauty of the classroom. In my first visit to a Montessori school, I observed in a classroom of 3-6 year olds, that the teacher seemed not to be doing much. I noted that he was at times, barely noticeable. I remember the word, lazy, passed through my mind. Ah, to the unknowing eye what misunderstandings are wrought! The truth is, that in Montessori classrooms the teacher is not the center of the classroom. If, when you enter, you find yourself scanning the classroom to find the teacher, that is a good thing.
The Prepared Environment provides the key to successful learning experiences in which children have freedom and choice in the classroom. The environment is meticulously prepared, organized with care, and contain elements that foster independence. Furniture, sinks, counters, shelving,
r. Maria Montessori opened the first Childrenâ€™s House in Italy in 1907, and new schools continue to open today all around the globe. It is estimated that there are 4000 Montessori schools in the United States and 7000 worldwide. Why might the Montessori Method be an exceptional model for reform in early childhood and elementary education? The answer lies in a unique combination of practices fundamental to the Montessori philosophy, its core premise being that we change the world when we change education. Montessori believed that by nurturing the inner lives of children as well as the intellect, and by establishing learning environments in which children could realize their full innate potential free of adult domination and repression, they will grow in peace, joy, and a deep sense of purpose. When individual peace and harmony is established, the collective universal potential for peace will be realized.
Montessori believed that by nurturing the inner lives of children as well as the intellect, and by establishing learning environments in which children could realize their full innate potential free of adult domination and repression, they will grow in peace, joy, and a deep sense of purpose.
are all created for the childâ€™s physical size, encouraging independence and autonomy in even the youngest child. All elements are strategically organized to assist the child in developing habits of order and organization. Beneath all of the spontaneous choices for the children in the classroom, is a curriculum that is organized to give a sense of the bigger
Education Revolution 11
Over the next three years, as the children became familiar with the classroom and the organization of the curriculum materials, they were able to take more ownership of their workplans. By the start of the second semester, my third year students could write their own workplan, and fully direct their own learning. My task was to provide lessons and to be available conference with them, as needed. In this way, they began to take responsibility for their learning at a young age. I might add that one of the most interesting experiences I had working with 6-9 year old children was when they had the opportunity to have a free choice research project. For this, each student could choose any topic for independent study. The first graders had one complete day to engage in their study, the second graders had two days, and the third graders had three full days to engage in their research projects. Their enthusiasm was so rich and so authentic that to observe their excitement inspired me in my own understandings of a child’s capabilities.
Work and the Uninterrupted Work C ycle
picture and to aid in making connections across curriculum components as they learn and grow. The Montessori learning materials are beautiful, designed to “call” to the child. Rather than animated cutouts on the walls, bulletin boards decorated with brightly colored, store-bought materials, you might see artwork, plants, vases of flowers, and muted, natural tones in a Montessori environment.
Freedom to Choose
Those who study intrinsic motivation in humans know that choice is an essential element in feeling joy and enthusiasm in learning. My first, second and third grade students chose their work each morning from a workplan, which contained assignments for a 2 to 3 week period of time. When the children entered as first grade students, their workplans were created for them, though many choices remained for the child. They could chose which assignment to do, when to do it, where in the classroom to do the work, and how long to work on it. They also chose to work alone or with a partner. I was always striving to provide choices for them: which of 5 or 6 books would they prefer for their next reading book, or what type of project would they like to create to show what they have learned about a given subject. The workplan might request an invertebrate study, for example, but individually each student chose which class of invertebrates they would study, and which materials or resources to integrate into their research. 12 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
A student sitting in the “peace area,” engaged in the Individual Silence Game. The Silence card informs others she wishes not to be interrupted while she focuses upon the sand moving through the timer. Photo by Cathleen Haskins.
The idea of work in early childhood education is overshadowed today by an emphasis on the importance of play. But in Montessori environments, children love and respect their work, take great pride in it and never call it play. Montessorians believe that children create themselves, not through play, but through work. Dr. Montessori was not against play; she understood it as an important part of childhood. But repeated observations of children in her schools revealed that the children themselves preferred to work with the classroom materials rather than the toys
A three year classroom enables the teacher and students to really know each other, cultivating loving and compassionate relationships and giving children life tools for living respectfully and peacefully in community with others.
that were available to them. It was with a certain amount of amazement that Montessori proclaimed in her writing and lectures that she had discovered something entirely unexpected: the children wanted to work! Work, as a component of Montessori education, is based in freedom with responsibility, is child-directed, and involves choice: what to study, how long engage in the work, to work alone or with others, where to work, and often, how to express what they are learning.
The uninterrupted 2.5-3 hour work cycle provides children an opportunity to delve deeply into their work, to engage in periods of intense concentration, and to have a “flow” like experience. In traditional education, learning is fragmented, broken into brief periods of time, usually from preschool on up. Just as a child is beginning to really be absorbed in an activity, he is told to put it away and move on to the next subject. We know how frustrating that can be from our own adult experiences! In Montessori classrooms there are no morning recesses, no special area classes scheduled during morning work time, and no bells signaling a change of studies. The child understands this opportunity to work without interruption as a sign of respect for their endeavors. Rather than being tired from a morning of work, they are refreshed by it. Elevating student activity to a level of work honors the child’s endeavors. If a visitor were to visit my classroom for an hour, she might have observed several first graders enthusiastically creating a mural of the solar system, a halfdozen students each working intently with a different math material, a child absorbed in making a spreadsheet on the computer, a third grader listening to a first grader read, a child creating a project of his choosing to demonstrate what he had learned about amphibians, a student silently engaged in Japanese brush painting in the peace area, several students working together to learn the life cycle of a star, and more. At the end of an uninterrupted morning of work, I would quietly
move through the room telling the children to find a stopping point, as it was nearly lunch time. In the hushed silence of those moments, always, always, disappointed groans could be heard. The children did not want to stop working!
With over three decades working with children which include public schools, private schools, preschools and daycares, I find myself today an advocate for the beauty and transformative power of the Montessori Method. Why? Because I stood in the middle of it for almost a decade and witnessed, day after day, an educational program that nurtured the potential of each young child, revealing characteristics rarely seen by the adult world. These characteristics include a love of work, experiencing joy while working, the ability to create their own learning experiences, the capacity for deep concentration over an extended period of time, a strong preference for order and organization, an understanding that they have a purpose in life, a sense of unity among all living things, and a desire to live in peace, and compassion towards themselves and others. I experienced a way of knowing, interacting with, and educating children that not only respects the human potential, but cultivates it, allowing the light within each child to shine brightly. Together with a curriculum that is rigorous and respectful of the child’s capabilities, lies a method of education that cultivates the whole child, nurturing each to grow in joy, wonder, compassion, and love and contributing to a more peaceful world. With over 30 years of experience working with children of all ages, Cathleen Haskins holds a Masters of Science degree in education. She is a certified Montessori teacher with private and public Montessori School experience, and was the founding teacher for the Burlington (Wisconsin) Public School Montessori Program. Cathleen currently resides in beautiful Door County, WI where she works full time as a consultant, speaker, and writer exploring and promoting the idea that we create a more peaceful world when we change how we think about and educate children. Cathleen can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to http://www.teachingforpeace.com. Source for Montessori Schools: http://www.montessorinamta.org/Namta/geninfo/faqmontessori.html.
A second grade student constructing and classifying triangles. Photo by Cathleen Haskins. Education Revolution 13
Post-modern, Whole Child School is the Choice for Malia and Sasha Obama… Why not for everyone? If a
By David Marshak
ecretary of Education Arne Duncan wants to intensify the industrial, modernist character of American public schools. He wants a longer school day, a longer school week, and a longer school year. And he wants national subject standards, which will inevitably lead to one national test. And Duncan wants to institute merit pay, which is a euphemism for paying teachers to produce higher test scores. And this sort of merit pay, combined with national academic standards and one national test, will inevitably result in even more public schools becoming test prep factories. Thus, more and more of the same.
Arne Duncan seems to have no understanding that the most effective organizations in our society, both for-profit corporations and nonprofits, have evolved beyond command-andcontrol cultures.
Every one of these putative remedies grows from a belief that intensification of the command-and-control, modernist, factory model of production is what schools need to improve their performance. Arne Duncan seems to have no understanding that the most effective organizations in our society, both for-profit corporations and nonprofits, have evolved beyond commandand-control cultures. Peter Senge describes these new entities as learning organizations, which are built on the foundation of systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared
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vision, and team learning. Senge explains why Duncan’s desire to intensify the factory model of schooling is destined for failure. “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s ‘solutions,’” he notes. Factory model schools, though always flawed by racism and classism, worked reasonably well when America was primarily an industrial society. But given our evolution into a more postindustrial culture, the industrial elements of schooling—mass production, rigid time and curricular structures, simplistic age grading, and depersonalization and alienation—have become the problem, not the solution. A post-industrial society requires post-industrial, postmodern schools. We can find a good example of this kind of education by following President Obama’s two daughters to school one morning. Malia and Sasha Obama attend the Sidwell Friends School in the District of Columbia. Yes, this school is both private and expensive, but these are not its essential characteristics. Rather, Sidwell Friends School is more profoundly defined both by the values that it rejects— and by those that it embodies. Sidwell rejects the modernist, industrial paradigm of schooling that makes school like an assembly line engaged in mass production, that claims that all children should learn the same stuff at the same time. Sidwell also rejects the modernist claim that children’s individuality and inner knowing are irrelevant to education. Sidwell embraces a post-modernist paradigm of schooling defined by the following elements: S idwell is a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school, with 1097 students. This is about 84 children in each grade, a small enough number so that no child is lost in the crowd. If Sidwell had a freestanding high school, it would have all of 336 students. ■ Sidwell offers “a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement and independent thinking in a ■
world increasingly without borders.” It does not limit its curriculum to the antiquated 19th century subjects, as does every set of state curriculum standards—or the new national standards that Arne Duncan is pitching. ■ Sidwell encourages its students “…to give expression to their artistic abilities.” It does not cut the arts out of the curriculum to focus only on math and reading as so many schools have done in our testing-obsessed era but understands that the arts need to be an integral element in every child’s education. ■ Sidwell Friends School is a community that values “the power of individual and collective reflection…” Sidwell values not only knowledge that is outside the child and teen but also what children and teens know within themselves. Sidwell encourages reflection and inner knowing, neither of which are acknowledged in any state’s academic standards.
Sidwell rejects the modernist, industrial paradigm of schooling that makes school like an assembly line engaged in mass production, that claims that all children should learn the same stuff at the same time.
S idwell promotes “an understanding of how diversity enriches us,” recruits a diverse student body—39% of its students are persons of color—and offers a global and multicultural curriculum. ■ In its curriculum and communal life, Sidwell emphasizes “stewardship of the natural world” and engages its students both in learning the science of ecology and in developing the ethics that are at the core of the concept of stewardship: that every individual has a personal responsibility for ecological health and sustainability. ■ Sidwell also promotes service, and its curriculum and communal life engage its students in understanding why “service to others enhances life.” ■ Sidwell explicitly acknowledges multiple forms of accessing knowledge and truth: “through scientific investigation, through creative expression, through conversation… through service within the school community and beyond.” All state standards are far more simple-minded. ■ Sidwell recognizes that schooling is both about individual learning and about young people learning how to work together well with others. “Work on individual skills and knowledge is balanced with group learning, in which each person’s unique insights contribute to a collective understanding.” ■
S idwell is a school that focuses on personalization of learning and on educating the whole person. “Above all, we seek to be a school that nurtures a genuine love of learning and teaches students ‘to let their lives speak.’” Sidwell ‘s central ambition is “to recognize and nurture each person’s unique gifts.”
Yes, Sidwell Friends is an expensive private school; the tuition is about $29,000 a year. And it has one teacher on staff for every 7 students—and small classes and expensive facilities. But Sidwell’s commitment to implementing a postmodern paradigm of schooling focused on personalization of learning, a global and multicultural curriculum, an emphasis on ecology and environmental stewardship, service to others, multiple forms of knowledge, and personal responsibility and excellence has little to do with money. It’s driven primarily by the value of educating the whole person, and any school in America could enact a program founded on that same value. If Barack and Michelle Obama have abandoned industrial paradigm, modernist schooling and have chosen to send Malia and Sasha to a post-modern school focused on the personalization of learning in the context of a caring, responsible school community, isn’t it time that every family in the nation has the same opportunity? And if President Obama sends his own kids to a postmodern, personalized school, why are he and Arne Duncan advocating policies that would intensify the most defective features of industrial schooling rather than trying to transform schools to make them more like Sidwell Friends?
David Marshak is a lecturer in Fairhaven College and
Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University and a professor emeritus at Seattle University. A version of this essay first appeared in Education Week on August 3, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
Education Revolution 15
Following the Leader:
Succession By Len Solo
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issues and problems; teachers were members of teams (K, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8) who met at least weekly to share materials and ideas and to develop curriculum; each team chose a member to serve on the staff’s Administrative Team (with the principal, staff developer and parent coordinator), which met weekly to help develop policies and practices and to problem-solve. There was a monthly Staff Meeting which included finalizing policy recommendations for presentation to the Steering Committee. By just about any measure one could think of, it had been a successful school: there was always a long waiting list of children wanting to enroll; many parents enrolled 2, 3 or more of their children in the school; few children left the school before graduation; students always scored quite high on various standardized tests; if you were to observe a class, you’d see the students actively engaged in their learning; there was a strong sense of community among staff, students and parents; very few students failed to successfully complete Algebra I by the end of 8th grade; and the thousands of visitors we’ve had over the years—local, state-wide, from across the country,
uccession—who follows a founder or a long-time leader—is an important issue in schools, but it is more so in an alternative school, because of the unique features of alternative schools, such as democratic decision-making and experience-based learning, which are quite difficult to initiate, maintain and continue since they are not part of the mainstream and are often at odds with that mainstream. This article approaches succession by looking at one particular school, the Graham & Parks Alternative Public School (Cambridge, MA) and it is written by a long-time leader of the school, though I was not its founder. Graham & Parks was started by a group of parents in 1972 as a city-wide, K-8, public school of choice with a John Dewey/progressive education philosophy of multi-graded, open classrooms. Students were admitted by lottery within categories of race, gender, social-economic class and area of the city so that the school almost always had a diverse population. By design, the school was kept relatively small with about 380 students. For us, this diversity and heterogeneity were the best starting points for learning. The school believed in democracy so that all decisions— from policy, to hiring, to curriculum—were shared between parents and staff. Decision-making at Graham & Parks was accomplished through a variety of structures. The main structure was the Steering Committee (initially called a Policy Board) composed of 5 parents elected by parents, 4 staff elected by staff and the principal. All main decisions were made or finalized by this group. Each member had one vote, including the principal, who was bound to carry out its will. The Steering Committee developed a number of standing and ad hoc committees to help with its work, which enabled a fairly large number of people to be involved in decisionmaking. There were committees for hiring, evaluation, curriculum, building and grounds, funding, admissions, creative magazine and the like. We also had a very high percentage of parents who volunteered in the school—tutoring; reading; teaching something special to a class; running pottery, photography and wood-working programs; helping teachers with small groups in classes; and the like. The Steering Committee met monthly and was always preceded by a meeting of the Parent Council, to which all parents belonged. These meetings, for the most part, were well attended and often involved vigorous discussions. Staff members served equally with parents on committees but we had our own structures for decision-making: the principal, assistant principal, parent coordinator and staff developer met almost daily to share information and to go over
A new school leader can change established principles and practices, even long-standing ones like ours. Like drops of water on the hardest stone or dynamite in a cardboard box, a principal can subtly and not-so-subtly change, subvert, diminish and destroy even the most cherished practices.
from Japan, Russia, England, South Africa, Sweden, Germany and Ireland—always comment on the high level of student involvement and learning and how well our quite diverse students got along. In the ‘80’s, the state designated us as a Carnegie School; in the ‘90’s, Redbook said it was “one of the country’s outstanding schools”; and it was chosen as the Disney Spotlight School of the Year 2000. I was the school’s principal from 1974 through 2001 and I was part of helping the school become truly extraordinary. It was not until after I retired, though, that I was able to fully understand the importance of the principal’s role in not only being the torch-bearer for the school’s beliefs and practices, but
the one who primarily kept it going and growing. Because I had visited and studied many alternative schools, I was quite aware of the importance of carefully planning for leadership change. So, I announced my retirement well over a year in advance (though that did surprise most people because I was relatively young) and I used the remaining time helping the school to plan and to prepare for the transition. I spent a great deal of time with parents and staff reviewing our beliefs and practices. With several large groups guiding input from all staff and parents, we revised the school’s “Basic Beliefs and Philosophy.” We had a number of intense discussions during this process. Then, we reviewed our decisionmaking structures, which were quite elaborate, enforcing the idea that our school was democratically run in a shared process between parents and staff. We also spent considerable time that year reviewing these decision-making structures and processes—why and how they came into existence, purposes, etc. These were thoughtful, reflective discussions which were often better than most graduate education classes. When we had completed these reviews, we went about the business of finding a new principal. The first and most obvious solution to the succession issue for schools is to grow your own. I must admit that we thought of this, but too late, and we did not put much of an effort into that solution because there was really no one in the school who could take on or wanted the job. Other schools that I know of have gone that route, most famously with Neill’s daughter taking over Summerhill, but I also know that this seemingly easy solution did not work out for a number of alternative schools. Of course, the parents and staff were in charge of the process of finding a new principal through the Steering Committee, with some good assistance from the district’s Human Resources Office. Together, we advertised the position widely. It seemed odd to me that we did not have a large number of applicants and that none of them had any experience with alternative schools since the school was so well known throughout the area and across the country. We did, though, hire a person—who proved to be almost a total disaster during her two-year stint. She was far less competent than we initially believed, antagonized the staff, did not know how to manage the shared decision-making processes, did not have what it takes to stand up to central office staff and fell under the sway of certain school parents who wanted to change the school in ways that most determined to be detrimental. She alienated herself from most staff and parents and her continuation in the position became intolerable to everyone, including herself. The following two principals proved to be much better at managing the school but they were not invested in shared decision-making or project-based learning. These structures, ideas and practices were either misunderstood, sidelined or ignored in various ways. By 2008, the school had hired a number of new teachers who did not believe in, let alone know how to run, open classrooms. Most of the decision-making structures fell by the wayside or were gutted. Multi-graded classrooms were abandoned in grades 3 through 6. Only two teacher teams were functional. The School Department, which I had kept at bay,
inserted itself into the school with mandated programs and curriculum that had been controlled previously by the school. The school had been moved by the district’s School Committee and located in an affluent area so that it could be enlarged and more middle and upper class children admitted. (Through a state-wide referendum in the early 2000’s, bilingual programs were abolished, so our school lost its Haitian students, who had been about 20% of the school’s population.) When I spent my final year at the school helping to reeducate parents and staff about our basic beliefs, ideas, practices and structures, I had thought that parents and staff were so empowered they would have little difficulty continuing them, even in the face of a not-too-competent-or-committed leader. I was wrong. A new school leader can change established principles and practices, even long-standing ones like ours. Like drops of water on the hardest stone or dynamite in a cardboard box, a principal can subtly and not-so-subtly change, subvert, diminish and destroy even the most cherished practices. I am now much more aware of an administrator’s power. I have also learned that even the best structures and processes are empty unless they are infused with people who believe in them and who will actively promote and work for their continuation and refinement, especially a school’s administrator. This essay is not a sad story that ends in disaster. A new group of parents, along with some senior staff, got elected to the Steering Committee about two years ago and have been pushing for a return to the school’s basic principles. Thus, the Steering Committee was revitalized, as were some committees or aspects of them. Staff began to question and to speak out more (in spite of feeling intimated). The principal retired in 2009 and a new principal was recently hired. She’s a person who did her student-teaching at Graham & Parks, taught in another open classroom school in Cambridge and was an interim principal at another city school this past year. Her beliefs are consonant with the school’s beliefs, she’s a respectful listener, is lively and is a learner herself. And that’s where things stand for now. Though this is one’s school’s succession story, I think that it radiates sufficiently to be helpful to other alternative schools as they ponder what happens when a founder or long-serving leader decides to leave the school.
Len Solo has been a long-time alternative school activist. He founded the Teacher Drop-Out Center in 1969; was the principal of the Graham & Parks Alternative Public School, 1974-2001; founded a small, private alternative school near Atlantic City in 1972; started and ran a teacher training program at Stockton State College (NJ); was a high school teacher of English, math and social studies; authored three volumes of poetry (Landscape of the Misty Eye (2004), Rooted in Place (2006), and The Magic of Light (2008)); and has a forthcoming book about the Graham & Parks School, Making and Extraordinary School: The Work of Ordinary People; and is currently an educational consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Education Revolution 17
Education Freedom, Funding, and Rights A Waldor f Perspec tive By Gary Lamb
he Waldorf school movement was born out of a European peace initiative following World War I called the movement for social threefolding. It advocated for a balanced society based on equality in a democratic rights life, individual freedom in cultural life, and entrepreneurial initiative allied with social responsibility in economic life.1 In keeping with these three ideals, the following educational principles are viewed as the foundation of a free, prosperous, and just society.
Parents as their children’s representatives should have the ultimate say concerning which schools should exist, not legislative bodies or political interest groups.
Public education, more than government schools. A well-educated public is essential for a democratic society. Educating the public, “public education,” is an activity that should not be restricted to a specific type of school or education system. Government, independent, religious, and home schooling need to be viewed as valid approaches to educating the public.
The right of every child to a decent education. The
right to an education needs to be recognized as an equal opportunity for all children in the United States to receive a decent education. Compelling families to send their children to schools that are unsafe or clearly unable to meet the educational needs of their children is a denial and abrogation of such a right. Regarding education, a society’s primary legal obligation is to its children and their rights, not to a particular school or
18 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
educational system. Society’s obligation to uphold all children’s right to an education means first and foremost that all parents of school age children should have the financial resources to provide their children with a decent education—otherwise, that right is meaningless.
Freedom of choice and a financially level playing field for all types of schooling. All families should have
sufficient financial resources and the freedom to choose from a variety of local schooling options for their children, whether government, independent, religious, or home schools. The financial ability of a school to operate should depend ultimately on its ability to win the confidence and appreciation of parents and students rather than on the government’s determining which schools or types of schools should receive funding and then compelling families to send their children to them. In other words, parents as their children’s representatives should have the ultimate say concerning which schools should exist, not legislative bodies or political interest groups.
Independent Waldorf schools welcome the opportunity to educate children from all economic backgrounds. Independent schools have been unfairly limited in their ability to educate low- and middle-income students because of outdated state funding systems that discriminate against private school families and children. Independent Waldorf schools welcome the opportunity to have greater diversity in their schools and to serve a much broader public.
An equitable and efficient funding system for education. A funding system that is equitable does not
place a disproportionate burden on those who have the least ability to pay. The ideal funding system is one that collects and distributes funds efficiently in a transparent manner and does not burden schools with undue regulations. Funding programs based on education tax credits are an efficient and cost effective means to enable families of all economic backgrounds to select the type of education they think is most appropriate for their children. Since they encourage private sector funding rather than the use of tax money to uphold a child’s educational rights, they are less prone to onerous government regulations.
The freedom to teach out of personal knowledge and classroom experience. The world is changing; social
conditions are changing; human consciousness is evolving. Consequently, education needs to be an evolving art and science. Each child is unique, and each new generation has new capacities, interests, and challenges. Teachers need to have the opportunity and freedom to innovate and respond to the needs of each child and to the changing conditions of the world based on their direct insight. Each upcoming generation needs the opportunity to develop the insights and capacities to improve and, if necessary, to transform the existing economic and political systems, not simply to fit into them.
Each child is unique, and each new generation has new capacities, interests, and challenges. Teachers need to have the opportunity and freedom to innovate and respond to the needs of each child and to the changing conditions of the world based on their direct insight.
1. To learn more about the threefold social organism see the Institute for Social Renewal’s webpage www.socialrenewal. com. This essay was originally published in the report “Independent Schools and School Choice Legislation in the United States” jointly published by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America and the Institute for Social Renewal. The full report is available from AWSNA (firstname.lastname@example.org /518-634-2222) or online at www.socialrenewal.com.
Gary Lamb has been involved in Waldorf education
for approximately 30 years as a school parent, administrator, and teacher. He is co-founder of the Institute for Social Renewal, director of the Center for Social and Environmental Responsibility at Hawthorne Valley, and a board member of TEACH NYS, a political advocacy group promoting education tax credits in New York State. Gary has authored two books on Waldorf education: The Social Mission of Waldorf Education: Independent, Privately Funded, and Accessible to All and Wellsprings of the Spirit: Free Human Beings as the Source of Social Renewal, both available from AWSNA Publications at www.whywaldorfworks.org.
Freedom for independent schools to set their own educational goals, standards, and assessments.
Independence and freedom in education are meaningless if all schools are compelled to adhere to the same values, goals, standards, and assessments dictated by a centralized government authority. Independent schools should have the freedom to establish their own goals, standards, and assessments, and to create their own accrediting associations.
Independent schools will be accountable to the families they serve , the accrediting bodies they chose, and the states where they are located. In a free and just society, independent schools will have the option to create, choose, and be held accountable to independent school accrediting organizations. In the spirit of full disclosure they will inform their school families about their educational goals, curriculum standards, and assessment methods. It is appropriate that independent schools abide by pertinent state laws and regulations regarding safety, contractual commitments, discrimination, hate-based factions, fraud protection, and employment policies.
Real competition in education: a key to success. In
summation, real competition in education based on the foregoing ideas is the most efficient way to give parents of all financial and cultural backgrounds the opportunity to become actively involved in their children’s education, for the most valued educational approaches and schools to succeed, and for all children to have the best education possible. Education Revolution 19
The Standards By Jenni Davis With sincere apologies to E.A. Poe….. Once upon an inservice dreary While I pondered, weak and weary Over some ominous data charts of unpredicted scores; While I nodded, nearly napping Suddenly there came a tapping As if someone gently rapping Rapping on my brain’s front door… Telling me, “This stuff is nonsense— All it does is make me snore!” Only this, and nothing more. Ah, distinctly I remember it was in a new September And all the children came to school expecting to explore; When suddenly there came a zapping As The Standards came a-flapping Flapping into every classroom Plastered to the walls and doors. “Me you’ll teach,” The Standards muttered As the teachers stood and stuttered, “Only Me, and nothing more!” Gone forever were recesses games and fun because the test is now the only thing that matters… even tho it really shatters hopes and dreams that creative, meaningful lessons are in store. Hopes and dreams that school can be a place that kids adore… “Hopes and dreams are nonsense,” Quoth The Standards, “Nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger Hesitating then no longer “ODE,” I pled, “or Congress, truly your forgiveness I implore; But the fact is, I was teaching, And so quickly you came screeching and so harshly you came shrieking Shrieking at my classroom door, That I scarce was sure I heard you…” Here I opened my room’s door; Data there, and nothing more. Deep into the Data peering, Long I stood there, wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no teacher ever dared to dream before. But the silence was unbroken And the stillness gave no token and the only words there spoken were the hateful words “More Scores!” This was shouted, and an echo bounced back the words “More Scores…” Only this and nothing more. Back into my classroom turning All my soul within me burning Soon again I felt a zapping Somewhat stronger than before… “Surely,” I said, “you don’t mean it that test scores are all that’s seen with which our schools are judged as keen with… only scores, and nothing more? Surely tell me I’m mistaken and that kids can still explore…” Quoth The Standards— “Only Scores!”
Much I marveled this ungainly mandate to hear declared so plainly Though its answer little meaning— little relevancy bore… For we cannot help agreeing That no living teaching being Ever yet was cursed with seeing Standards plastered on her door. Standards, benchmarks, tests and data Plastered on the classroom door. Only these, and nothing more. “Be those words our sign of parting Standards, or Nonsense,” I shrieked, upstarting— “Get thee back into a shredder and off my classroom’s walls and door. Leave no benchmark as a token of the students’ spirits broken Leave my classroom’s pain unspoken Quit the files and books and more. Take thy words from out my brain and take thy data to the shore— to be dumped—forevermore!” And The Standards, never flitting Still are sitting, still are sitting Gathering dust in classrooms Along with old tests we abhor… And the children all are singing As their voices now are ringing “School’s again somewhere worth being and a place we all adore.” Gone forever are The Standards And the way they made schools flounder— To return here—Nevermore!
Jenni Davis has been an educator for 36 years. She taught learning disabled children for 15 years, gifted children for 12 years, became a gifted coordinator serving 6 districts for 8 years, and is now a “retired-re-hired” part-time teacher of gifted children in New Lebanon, Ohio (at the very school in which she began her own education many years ago). She lives in Englewood, Ohio, and is married to a studio potter. They have 4 boys, 1 daughter-in-law, 2 grandsons, a dog, 2 cats and an 18-year-old newt!! Her writings have been published in Ceramics Monthly, the Ohio Association for Gifted Children’s Review, and the Montgomery County Educational Service Center’s Pipeline.
20 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
News Reports Compiled by Carol Morley and Ron Miller
National ....................................................................................... “Race to the Top” guidelines conflict with Obama’s testing position, reformers say. From FairTest, 8/13/09.
Draft guidelines for the federal “Race to the Top” (RTTT) program, recently issued by the U.S. Department of Education (DoE), conflict with President Obama’s repeated calls for less emphasis on standardized exam scores and “would actually make high-states testing problems worse,” according to the nation’s leading assessment reform organization. In formal comments submitted to DoE today, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) wrote, “Unfortunately many of the ‘Race to the Top’ (RTTP) draft guidelines issued by the Department of Education represent a step backwards from the President’s goals.” The FairTest statement continued, “RTTT’s focus on high-states testing goes well beyond what even the test-centric No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law now requires.” During his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama said, “We should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests.” Candidate Obama added that the nation needs to use “a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas.” Just this June, President Obama explained that assessments could include “one standardized test, plus portfolios of work that kids are doing, plus observing the classroom. There can be a whole range of assessments.” Among the problems with the DoE guidelines cited by FairTest: - Basing teacher and principal pay on how well their students fill in multiple-choice test bubbles will undermine school reform, not advance it. As President Obama indicated, the use of test scores to judge schools, as mandated by NCLB, has harmed education. By encouraging states to make student test scores a “significant factor” in teacher and principal evaluation, RTTT will intensify the damage. - Encouraging national exams will not reduce the problems caused by over-reliance on testing. States with “tougher” tests do not consistently perform better on the National Assessment of Educational than those with less rigorous exams. Many countries with top-performing educational systems do far less testing with far lower stakes than does the U.S. - Continuing to overemphasize test scores will limit the value of
data systems. Though it suggests states gather various sorts of information, including out-of-school factors, RTTT treats test results as the most important data. Yet, test scores provide woefully insufficient data about learning. - Eliminating some major school reform policies currently available to states makes no sense. While blocking the more flexible options for “restructuring” schools allowed by NCLB that some states are using successfully, the guidelines continue the law’s automatic requirement to take extreme, often ineffective actions based solely on test scores. FairTest Executive Director Monty Neill concluded, “If the federal government truly wants to play a positive role in improving education, the Department of Education must go back to the drawing board. This misguided effort at ‘reform’ conflicts with President Obama’s stated goals and would perpetuate some of the Bush-Paige-Spellings regime’s worst elements of test misuse and overuse.”
Social and political momentum toward school choice.
The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America and The Institute for Social Renewal published a report in July, 2009, “Independent Schools and School Choice Legislation in the United States.” (Gary Lamb’s article “Educational Freedom, Funding, and Rights: A Waldorf Perspective” in this issue is part of the report.) The 60-page document opens by observing that “the debate about educational or school choice in the United States is quickly moving from whether or not educational choice should be a significant part of the education landscape to what types of school choices parents will have.” It goes on to survey school choice legislation state by state, finding widespread differences in the degree of educational freedom permitted to families. The authors argue against over-regulation of schools and learning: “The guiding principle underlying this study and analysis is that a free and democratic society requires a diverse educational system in which all parents regardless of financial background have the freedom to choose the type of schooling they think is most suitable for their children.” The report also discusses a recent survey that showed strong parental preference for educational alternatives; if financial barriers were eliminated, 85% of parents surveyed would choose independent or charter schools, or homeschooling, over existing public schools. The full report can be obtained by contacting publications@ awsna.org or calling 518-634-2222.
Education Revolution 21
National ....................................................................................... From Homeschoolers Can Apply to State-Funded Honors Program , by Nancy Badertscher, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Some of Georgia’s 39,000 homeschoolers will soon be able to rub elbows with the public and private school elite through the Governor’s Honors Program. Admission into the program is considered an academic coup and a résumé-builder for the roughly 700 rising juniors and seniors who are selected. The program, which cost the state about $1.2 million last year, offers participants a chance to spend six weeks during the summer immersed in study with other students who are gifted in academics or the arts. The students’ only expenses are travel costs and incidental spending. The Governor’s Honors Program has been around since 1964, and, this year, the Legislature voted to extend it to home study students. A provision in the law requires the home-school student to apply to a committee of the local public school district to be considered for nomination to the program.
New School Blends Past, Future, by Abdon M. Pallasch, Chicago Sun-Times: Can a school in North Lawndale achieve 96 percent attendance and 100 percent college placement? The Ford Motor Co. Fund’s first school in Dearborn, Mich., achieved those results, and now officials hope the same can be done at a new charter high school opened by the fund in Homan Square. The school’s curriculum will focus on innovation, said Michael Schmidt, director of education and community development for the fund. The hulking remnants of the boiler room of the Sears complex, which was built at the site 100 years ago, served as a backdrop as community and school leaders unveiled Henry Ford Academy: Power House High. The Homan Arthington Foundation helped raise $43 million to remake the old building into a state-ofthe-art school, leaving much of the old equipment in place. Coal chutes that headed to the Tiffany-glazed brick boiler room remain in full view. About 115 students each year will be chosen by lottery to be admitted as freshmen. “This once carried our city through the industrial age. Hopefully, this will now drive our students through the information age,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman said. Newark School Offers Alternative Path to Learning,
by Kristen Alloway, The Star-Ledger: Urban Academy, an alternative high school that opens here this week, has no tests, no grades and few textbooks. It is one of five alternative high schools the Newark school district, in partnership with several nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, will open this Fall. The five are in addition to two alternative programs that started last year. Plans are in the works to open three more next fall. This year, the five new high school programs, which will be run at district facilities around the city, will accommodate 875 students who have dropped out or are at-risk of leaving school. The models replace the decade-old Twilight program, which offered night courses for dropouts. The idea is that traditional high school programs do not work for every student. 22 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
The effort offers an array of options, from online courses, evening classes and internships to nontraditional settings that do not rely on textbooks and tests. Newark will join Nashville and Indianapolis in piloting the three-year program of the Alternative High School Initiative, a network of youth development organizations nationwide that started six years ago with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National League of Cities and others. From Let the Children Play (Some More), by Stuart Brown, NY Times: Goof-off time shouldn’t be limited to summer vacation: it’s important all year. For most American children in the not-so-distant past, “going out to play” was the norm. Today, according to a University of Michigan study, children spend 50 percent less time outside than they did just 20 years ago — and the 6.5 hours a day they spend with electronic media means that sitting in front of a screen has replaced going out. Through the lens of play research, we can see that there is a direct line between play deficiencies and some frightening public health and social trends: tragic statistics for obesity, 4.5 million children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, an increase in childhood depression and classroom behavioral problems involving violence, and an inability to interact well with peers. Just an hour a day of vigorous play can provide intense skill learning. Physical activity is known to lessen the symptoms of mild attention deficit disorder, and is associated with much lower incidences of childhood obesity. Active kids are also more facile intellectually and perform better academically in the long term. Evidence from around the scientific compass — neuroscience, psychology, exercise physiology, sociology and developmental biology — has revealed the importance of play. Deprive a social mammal like a rat or monkey of its normal rough-and-tumble play and it enters adulthood emotionally fragile, unable to tell friend from foe, poor at handling stress and lacking the skills to mate properly. Play-deprived adults are often rigid, humorless, inflexible and closed to trying out new options. Playfulness enhances the capacity to innovate, adapt and master changing circumstances. It is not just an escape. It can help us integrate and reconcile difficult or contradictory circumstances. And, often, it can show us a way out of our problems. The benefits of play come not from “rest” for the brain, as if play is just a time-out from life. Play is an active process that reshapes our rigid views of the world. From an evolutionary perspective, the smarter the animal, the more they play. For humans, play reinvigorates us not because it is down time, but because it gets us in touch with our core selves and the joy of life. From Students Get New Assignment: Pick Books You Like , by Motoko Rich, NY Times: For years Lorrie McNeill
loved teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, the Harper Lee classic that many Americans regard as a literary rite of passage. But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not assign Mockingbird — or any novel. Instead she turned over all
National ....................................................................................... the decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south Atlanta suburb. The approach Ms. McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books, discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals about their reading, is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature is taught in America’s schools. While there is no clear consensus among English teachers, variations on the approach, known as reading workshop, are catching on. In New York City many public and private elementary schools and some middle schools already employ versions of reading workshop. Starting this fall, the school district in Chappaqua, N.Y., is setting aside 40 minutes every other day for all sixth, seventh and eighth graders to read books of their own choosing. In September students in Seattle’s public middle schools will also begin choosing most of their own books. And in Chicago the public school district has had a pilot program in place since 2006 in 31 of its 483 elementary schools to give students in grades 6, 7 and 8 more control over what they read. Chicago officials will consider whether to expand the program once they review its results. Critics of the approach say that reading as a group generally leads to more meaningful insights, and they question whether teachers can really keep
up with a roomful of children reading different books. Even more important, they say, is the loss of a common body of knowledge based on the literary classics — often difficult books that children are unlikely to choose for themselves. Indeed, some school districts are moving in the opposite direction. Boston is developing a core curriculum that will designate specific books for sixth grade and is considering assigned texts for each grade through the 12th. Joan Dabrowski, director of literacy for Boston’s public schools, said teachers would still be urged to give students some choices. Many schools in fact take that combination approach, dictating some titles while letting students select others.
Unlocking Knowledge, Empowering Minds: Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a webbased publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity. OCW reflects almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT. However, OCW is not an MIT education; it does not grant degrees or certificates; it does not provide access to MIT faculty; and materials may not reflect entire content of the course. To learn more, visit http://ocw.mit.edu/.
International ....................................................................................... The first EUDEC (European Democratic Education Community) Annual Assembly took place in Cieszyn,
southern Poland from July 30 through August 3, 2009. Participants represented 11 European countries: Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey, and UK. There were over 60 active participants, plus 30 family members and students. This was the first Annual Assembly, sandwiched between last year’s EUDEC Conference in Leipzig, Germany and next year’s, which is due to be held in the UK. The Assembly has quite a different focus than the conference. It is essentially an internal EUDEC event, run for and by the members. It gives the Council and the rest of the participants an opportunity to focus on EUDEC in particular, rather than different aspects of Democratic Education in general. Probably the biggest task addressed at the Assembly was putting the finishing touches to and ratifying the Guidance Document, which the Council but chiefly Michael Sappir and Rachel Roberts have been working hard on this past year. The entire proposed restructured GD was ratified, with some amendments discussed and voted on in Assembly and a few dozen more postponed for online discussion and Referendum. We were also pleased to hear about the founding of the first two Regional Chapters: Germany and Switzerland. We trust we won’t have to wait long for further chapters to be founded in other parts of Europe. See www.eudec.org.
NORWAY Mosse Jørgensen dies at age 88 , the night of June 30,
2009. By Jostein Strømmen. For more than 40 years, Mosse was amongst the most influential reform-pedagogues in Norway. She was known as the founder of Forsøksgym, the first democratic school of Norway; a school founded by kids who had read the Summerhill book and who wanted a school of that kind in Oslo. They asked Mosse if she wanted to join them to get it going, and she was later always pointing out when people said she was the founder, “it was not me who started it, it was a group of kids.” She was the first head master at the Forsøksgym, and remained in this position through the first, most turbulent years. Later on, she worked as a teacher at and an inspirer of the school. Forsøksgym was closed in 2004. Mosse was also one of the founding members of the Norwegian Socialist Left (SV) party, and she was engaged in politics and through organizations such as “Learning for Life” and “Forum new school.” She was also active as a speaker, working to change the public school system in a more democratic and free direction. She later commented that it was like trying to turn an oil tanker in a pond. She also worked as a teacher for kids at a mental hospital in Oslo. In the 1970s, Mosse got to know “Friskolen 70” in Denmark, and she saw this as a model for how schools should be. Aaron Falbel, then a student at MIT spent a year at the school and Education Revolution 23
International ....................................................................................... wrote a book which Mosse in later years considered to be a recipe for a good school. Falbel’s mentor, John Holt, was also a good friend of Mosse. Visiting her cabin and seeing her patting her cat, he once commented: “In my next life, I would want to be a cat on Mosse’s lap.”
AUSTRALIA Principals Back Independent Push , ABC News AU:
Primary school principals have welcomed changes to Western Australia’s education system, which will see 30 public schools granted independent status. The changes will come into effect next year, and will allow principals of independent public schools to hire teachers, choose the curriculum and take greater responsibility for budgets and school discipline. All schools are being encouraged to apply, and the Government says more opportunities to become independent will become available in 2010. The Opposition believes it will create a two-tiered system. But Stephen Breen from the Primary Principals’ Association says the independent schools will be better able to meet the needs of students. “If they believe that they need an early childhood specialist on their staff, they can do that. If they believe they need two chaplains, they can do that. If they believe they need a more experienced business manager to actually handle the developments in the school, they can do that,” he said. Mr Breen says the current system has a one-size-fits-all approach when dealing with students. He says the changes are a major improvement. “We’re looking at catering for the different context so that schools in the north, let’s say Kununurra, and schools in the city, let’s say Ballajura or Beldon Primary School, all are governed by the same policies. These students have different needs, different wants,” he said.
UNITED KINGDOM Home Education Clampdown “An Infringement of Civil Liberties.” by Graeme Paton, Telegraph.co.uk: For the first
time, local councils will have the power to enter family homes and question young children, under new plans. They will also be able to order under-16s to school if there are fears about their safety or quality of education. Families’ groups said they were “absolutely devastated” by the move, claiming it undermined their freedom to educate children beyond state control. A review ordered by the Government estimated that as many as 80,000 children could be educated at home. Previous estimates put the figure between 20,000 and 50,000. Graham Badman, former director of education at Kent County Council, who carried out the study, recommended forcing all parents to register sons and daughters with local authorities every year. The review - accepted in full by the Government - said officials from local authorities should have the right to access their home with just two weeks’ notice and speak to children to ensure they were “safe and well.” They can revoke the right to home schooling if they have serious concerns over their welfare, it said. Parents must also
24 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
submit a statement outlining what children will be taught over the following 12 months. Councils can impose a “school attendance order” if they believe the education received is not up to scratch, with parents facing legal action if they refuse. Mr. Badman said a further review would be carried out to judge the structure of an acceptable home education. It is not yet known when the reforms will be introduced. New legislation will be needed to enforce rules on registration and local authority access to homes. The review was launched amid fears some children educated at home could be at risk of abuse. Mrs. Taberner, a mother of two from Sheffield, said the “horrendous” suggestion had been “trotted out by the Government” to justify the crackdown. Mr. Badman’s report said there was “no evidence” to suggest home education was linked to forced marriage, servitude or child trafficking. But he claimed the overall number of children “known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of [the] home education population.”
New Totalitarian Home Education Plans Drive Families North to Scotland, Guardian UK: Home schooling advisers
say they are being swamped by inquiries from parents who want to move to Scotland. The housing market may still be gloomy but one group of people could offer estate agents a glimmer of hope, as home education support groups report a huge increase in the number of inquiries from parents thinking of moving to Scotland. “People are serious about leaving England,” says Barbara Stark, chair of Action for Home Education. The surge in interest follows the government’s planned shake-up of home education in England – described by Stark as “totalitarian.” Schoolhouse, a Scottish home education charity, has received four times the normal numbers of inquiries from English parents considering a move north, with nearly 100 in the two weeks following the publication in June of Graham Badman’s review of home education in England. The review’s key recommendations would force families who opt out of schooling to register annually with their local authorities, submit learning plans and undergo regular inspections. The report was accepted by the government. Schoolhouse spokesperson Alison Preuss says: “The Badman report came out in the middle of June and we started getting swamped with calls from English families who were asking about how ‘safe’ Scotland was by comparison. We are not only being asked about the home education law, but also about the political climate, transport links, housing, employment and business opportunities by parents who are making plans to move to Scotland.” Scottish educational policy recommends that LEAs should be in contact with home-schooling families annually, but this is a recommendation, not an obligation.
New Books Brief Reviews by Ron Miller
Lives of Passion, School of Hope: How One Public School Ignites a Lifelong Love of Learning
A Room for Learning: The Making of a School in Vermont
By Rick Posner
St. Martins Press (www.stmartins.com)
Sentient Publications (www.sentientpublications.com) The Jefferson County (Colorado) Open School has been a successful model of engaged, student-centered education since it was organized in 1970. It is perhaps the most progressive, the most holistically oriented, public school in the U.S. In this new book (due out in November, 2009), Dr. Rick Posner explains what makes the Open School special. A long-time member of the staff, he interviewed dozens of its graduates, and through their stories he documents the transformational power of authentic learning. This school, he writes, gives young people “the chance to start shaping their own lives.” Through personal mentoring, a strong community, real-world adventures, and freedom to pursue individual callings, the Open School encourages youths to discover their deepest, best selves. One alumnus recounts that “I learned at the school that life has many facets. I am not restricted to one role in my life. Everything is related. This makes me feel more whole as a person.” The Open School presents a striking contrast to standardized education and stands as a glowing testament to what is possible. Posner’s book provides convincing evidence that this approach really does work.
Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers Edited by Tara Mack and Bree Picower
NY Collective of Radical Educators / Education for Liberation Network (www.justiceplanbook.com) This publication is an informative and action-oriented resource for any educator hoping to expand students’ understanding of social, cultural and historical issues. It is structured as a planning calendar for the school year, with detailed notes about historical events, social movements, and important activists relevant to each date. The booklet also includes an extensive list of online information sources grouped by themes, covering a wide range of social justice issues—civil rights, racial and cultural diversity, labor, media literacy, peace, disabilities, women’s rights, health and environment, and many more. There are inspirational quotations and discussion questions throughout.
By Tal Birdsey
This is a beautifully written personal account of an alternative school for young adolescents in a small Vermont community. Tal Birdsey is an inspired teacher who reaches out to young people with humor, honesty and wisdom. He describes his students’ struggles and insecurities, often related to their public school experiences, and how they opened deeper dimensions of themselves in the caring, human-scale community they established together. The story is warm and moving; it evokes laughter and poignancy even as it embodies a brilliant critique of standardized schooling. It is no exaggeration to say that A Room for Learning takes an honored place in the alternative education literature with classics like Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s Teacher, George Dennison’s The Lives of Children, and Chris Mercogliano’s Making it Up as We Go Along. Like them, Birdsey shows exactly how authentic education, stripped of labels, methods, and standards, nourishes the minds and hearts of growing human beings.
Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything By Laura Grace Weldon
Hohm Press (www.hohmpress.com) Laura Weldon draws on the experiences of diverse homeschoolers and her own insightful observations to show why learning rooted in the family and community makes so much sense. She demonstrates that when young people are allowed to learn freely and naturally, they gain extraordinary competence, self-confidence, maturity and wisdom. Free Range Learning provides a holistic overview of family-based learning, including teaching strategies (and resources) across many subjects and aspects of child development. The approach is inclusive and inviting—it is not argumentative but simply consists of Weldon and others sharing and reflecting on their own experiences.
Education Revolution 25
Announcements: New Resources the Announcing the upcoming launch of in on cati Edu Institute for Democratic whose tion niza orga l ona America (IDEA), a nati ort supp and ty ibili mission is to build cred nded in effective organizing for education grou nded Fou ts. righ an democratic values and hum from s cate advo and by a group of educators ed to around the country, IDEA is committ our een betw ect onn bridging the current disc ety soci our way democratic values and the believe educates and treats young people. We the have to ht oug that every young person ronment envi an in n lear opportunity to live and supports n, atio icip part that practices meaningful that and y, bilit onsi personal freedom and resp al soci and ality equ ter is directed towards grea , way this in on cati edu justice. By re-framing g erin fost s, urce developing innovative reso local, dialogue, and catalyzing action at the creating is A IDE ls, leve regional, and national , parents, hers teac ple, peo ways for YOU (young cypoli , bers mem ity youth workers, commun ety) soci of ors sect makers, and others in all skills, to join the conversation, gain valuable and ols scho r you in and create real changes we use beca this g doin communities. We are ng you re whe ngs know, as you do, that setti ocratic people experience an empowering dem learning ter grea ote prom environment not only also be may they but ent, and personal developm more a d buil to ch whi in the most essential way ety. soci ble just, vibrant, and sustaina lved at Visit our developing website and get invo se plea and g, n.or atio www.democraticeduc back feed and s idea r you contact us anytime with . .org tion uca at info@.democraticed IDEA, — Dana Bennis, Executive Director of team. A IDE the of alf beh on rs rato abo coll with , York (IDEA is based in New ld) wor the and ntry cou the around
26 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
Brace yourself. Buy some plywood for the windows . Store up some canned foo d in the basement. MATT HERN HAS A BL OG. I know. I know. But it’s tru e. And if I am going to do it I’d be thrilled if people read it. I’ll be posting at least once a week — eve ry Monday morning — and other times if I have mo re to say (!) I’ll keep it tight, including the occasi onal test-running of ideas for new books and articles to see what folks think. If you’d like to check it out, its launching on Sept. 21 at www.mightymatthern. com. If you feel so inclined, I’d be thrilled if you can pass the word on, link to it, tel l others. Thanks a lot.
rds.org/ a community http://stopnationalstanda together to fight of people who have come National Standards. We against the imposition of know that when all wage this fight because we e thing, many don’t children must learn the sam t when children are tha learn much. And we know of a pile of standards, forced to Race to the Top concerned about the many fall along the way. National Standards corporate-politico push for teaching eight-yearwhich offer timetables for ugh teachers were olds across America as tho edules. merely keepers of bus sch
Take a look at our revam ped website www.jola-montessori.com We think www.jola-montes sori.com is the best, most comprehensive first-stop for anyone interested in Monte ssori education in the United States.
Communications An Open Letter to Arne Duncan from Herbert Kohl This letter appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Rethinking Schools. Please visit their website at www. rethinkingschools.org for more information and to subscribe to their wonderful magazine! Herbert Kohl is a contributor in AERO’s new book, Turning Points, and he will be a keynote speaker at the 2010 AERO conference. Dear Arne Duncan, In a recent interview with NEA Today you said of my book 36 Children, “I read [it] in high school … [and] … wrote about his book in one of my college essays, and I talked about the tremendous hope that I feel [and] the challenges that teachers in tough communities face. The book had a big impact on me.” When I wrote 36 Children in 1965 it was commonly believed that African American students, with a few exceptions, simply could not function on a high academic level. The book was motivated by my desire to provide a counter-example, one I had created in my classroom, to this cynical and racist view, and to let the students’ creativity and intelligence speak for itself. It was also intended to show how important it was to provide interesting and complex curriculum that integrated the arts and sciences, and utilized the students’ own culture and experiences to inspire learning. I discovered then, in my early teaching career, that learning is best driven by ideas, challenges, experiences, and activities that engage students. My experience over the past 45 years has confirmed this. We have come far from that time in the ’60s. Now the mantra is high expectations and high standards. Yet, with all that zeal to produce measurable learning outcomes we have lost sight of the essential motivations to learn that moved my students. Recently I asked a number of elementary school students what they were learning about and the reactions were consistently, “We are learning how to do good on the tests.” They did not say they were learning to read. It is hard for me to understand how educators can claim that they are creating high standards when the substance and content of learning is reduced to the mechanical task of getting a correct answer on a manufactured test. In the panic over teaching students to perform well on reading tests, educators seem to have lost sight of the fact that reading is a tool, an instrument that is used for pleasure and for the acquisition of knowledge and information about the way the world works. The mastery of complex reading skills develops as students grapple with ideas, learn to understand plot and character, and develop and articulate opinions on literature.
They also develop through learning history, science, and technology. Reading is not a series of isolated skills acquired in a sanitized rote-learning environment utilizing “teacherproof ” materials. It develops through interaction with a knowledgeable, active teacher—through dialogue, and critical analysis. It also develops through imaginative writing and research. It is no wonder that the struggle to coerce all students into mastering high-stakes testing is hardest at the upper grades. The impoverishment of learning taking place in the early grades naturally leads to boredom and alienation from school-based learning. This disengagement is often stigmatized as “attention deficit disorder.” The very capacities that No Child Left Behind is trying to achieve are undermined by the way in which the law is implemented. This impoverishment of learning is reinforced by cutting programs in the arts. The free play of the imagination, which is so crucial for problem-solving and even for entrepreneurship, is discouraged in a basics curriculum lacking in substantial artistic and human content. Add to this the elimination of physical education in order to clear more time to torture students with mechanical drilling and shallow questioning and it is no wonder that many American students are lethargic when it comes to ideas and actions. I’m sure that NCLB has, in many cases, a direct hand in the development of childhood obesity. It is possible to maintain high standards for all children, to help students learn how to speak thoughtfully, think through problems, and create imaginative representations of the world as it is and as it could be, without forcing them through a regime of high-stakes testing. Attention has to be paid to the richness of the curriculum itself and time has to be allocated to thoughtful exploration and experimentation. It is easy to ignore content when the sole focus is on test scores. Your administration has the opportunity, when NCLB comes up for reauthorization, to set the tone, aspirations, and philosophical and moral grounds for reform that develops the intelligence, creativity, and social and personal sensitivity of students. I still hold to the hope you mentioned you took away from 36 Children but I sometimes despair about how we are wasting the current opportunity to create truly effective schools where students welcome the wonderful learning that we as adults should feel privileged to provide them. I would welcome any opportunity to discuss these and other educational issues with you.
Sincerely, Herbert Kohl Education Revolution 27
From “The Free School Apparent” By Bruce Zeines
The following excerpt is from my blog, The Free School Apparent. The creation of the blog was prompted by a meeting I attended at the first NADEC (North American Democratic Conference) in June of this year, in Albany, New York. I am a founding parent at the Brooklyn Free School and I have been looking for a way to upgrade my role in helping the school move to another level. The meeting I attended was about helping create a national free school movement. There was much discussion regarding social networks and websites and such, but nothing solid emerged from the meeting. In returning home, I had the thought of a national newsletter that would be just for the NADEC, but then it came to me that I should create a blog. Lend my voice in the wilderness in a highly accessible forum, invite others to join the chorus, and in the meantime sharpen my writing chops. As I began, I realized that I would have to speak from my own experience. What follows is one of my first posts which covers the basic premise as to why I became an active component in the Free School movement. Why I got involved in the first place. This is not the whole story, but one part.
Back in PS 46 — mid sixties
How does one get involved with a movement like this? What is the prime impetus? When I sit at parent meetings, I am always itching to tell why I came to this, but usually there is not a lot of speaking time at parent meetings. But I want to tell it as it brings more focus as to what is wrong with public education. How it tracks out the conformists and marginalized the non-conformists, maybe even the more innovative components of our society. My name is Zeines. I am proud of it, but how does a name matter? Well my name starts with the letter Z. Teachers in my day were incredibly uncreative (has it changed?) and would by rote, organize seating in the room alphabetically. This meant that from about first grade to sixth grade, the prime years of public schooling, I was seated at the rear corner next to the window. A perfect place for an artist and a dreamer, a talker and a schemer. This position allowed for me to get into all kinds of mischief. I could pass dirty notes back and forth to my other exiled friends. I could talk in hushed undertones. Best of all, being a budding artist, I could spend lots of time drawing in my notebooks. Working diligently on creating new cartoon characters, or animating stick men on the edges of my notebooks. Not a bad place for a kid like me to be. But as I was so engrossed in my projects and my forays into misbehavior, the teacher would suddenly call on me asking my input on one of the many boring and unsubstantiated theories she had up on the board (they were always SHE and mostly Miss). I would look up from my whirlpool of involvement, and struggle for a second to come to some understanding of what was going on, but it always added up to a moment of embarrassment and ridicule. Why was I not paying attention? 28 The Magazine of Educational Alternatives
The truth is, from a free school perspective, I was. But I was paying attention to the thing that interested me most (drawing). It is the one thing that has led me to more knowledge than anything else. It stands today as my central talent and it has fostered my curiosity into learning such things as folklore, mythology, comparative religion, ethnomusicology, music, physics and world history (this being a brief listing). So why is it that teachers in public education cannot understand this, when many of the young teachers who come to our school (BFS) do? We live in a society and world culture that inherently does not trust the child. Does not let children’s own natural curiosities lead them to their own world understanding. Somehow, I made it through the public school system, but as you may concede, not without scars. Not without the constant bruising to my self esteem, my deeper view of myself. The teachers at PS 46 succeeded in burdening me with a sense of failure. That no matter what I try, it could never be accepted by the world around me, despite my tenaciousness. It has taken me a long time to overcome these feelings, and they still linger there in that rear corner, by the window, where the letter Z has been placed. And for this reason, I have vowed that this crime not be repeated upon my son. So when the call came to gather a group of parents and teachers who wanted to take a different approach, I signed on, hook, line and sinker. And the love and passion for this approach has not only been good for my son, it has been good for me. Even at this later stage of my life, I am still learning, and it is in a free school that I do it. And the students are MY teachers now. http://bzeines.wordpress.com/
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Third grade students in Cathleen Haskinsâ€™s Montessori classroom, working together to create and classify triangles using the Geometric Sticks Box. Photo by Cathleen Haskins.
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