*The Community Meeting
I hold this truth to be self-evident: that lectures cannot teach democracy. In a sense we had a governing council, and we were not represented by someone else.
The gathering might begin with a performance of some sort or a demonstration (I remember a Karate chop) or a song. Let That Circle Be Unbroken was one of our favorites. Individuals might have agendas, items they wanted to bring up. Perhaps it was a plaint or a request, a suggestion or an announcement. Sometimes a discussion ensued around a particular problem and how we could approach it.
Occasionally a vote was taken. I remembered when students wanted to keep the school open on Regents day when the traditional school was closed. We smiled at the decision. They wanted it that way. So be it. We had a simple rule and we meant it: one person; one vote. Hmm.
No one raised their hands as anyone could speak. “Interruptions take precedence” was a phrase often repeated. But it was more than that, for it was designed to be the image of community itself. I remember once we did a chord, hands held, the circle broke and then, now with a spontaneous leader, spiraled around and came closer and closer together. All breathed deeply and then we sang, all of us, holding our own notes. Yet if you listened closely, you could hear the chord slowly become resonant.
*Orientation Group Processes
were arguably the most essential to our alternative school’s shift in focus. We claimed that we were dealing with the whole person. (c.f. my ‘holistic visualization’ elsewhere in this blog as my attempt to add scope and English verbalism to my understanding of Carl Jung. One of my Berkeley advisors suggested that the image itself would have been writing enough for my candidacy.) Each offering was humanistically focussed on rejecting bias, learning to trust, considering how you participated in groups, whether you could express how you felt (not thought), seeing the larger picture even if it meant a compromise of what you had and wanted to hold on to.
We prepared weekly lessons for the entire year, most of these drawn from a number of previously existent sources, and prepped the not inconsiderable materials necessary to carry them out. For the most part faculty and some staff participated in these prior to facilitating them. A follow-up discussion later in the week almost always allowed time for after the process discussion. This ‘think about it for a while’ and come back…approach became part of my college work several years later as well.
One critical process offered Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I will not detail this here as it is widely available and can be readily searched at the reader’s will. However, it was the M in MT, the name of our school.
*Extended Faculty: Multiple Adults in the Same Classroom
Important to our work were the many adults who attended each class. The effect was interesting. For we would have different perspectives from the students and often from each other, and might approach ideas in unexpected ways. I co-taught a Psychology class after Syracuse University training, with Milt Siler, but our individual approaches varied in obvious ways and the combination often broadened the discussion.
The critical question was how to keep adult numbers up. (We had agreed to keep the same percentages of students to faculty as the traditional school.) To manage this we encouraged participation from other attendees. There were student teachers, an active nurse, an aide (and her child,) next years class taking a look, family members, a reluctant administrator on occasion (previous practice dies hard) and a parade of hundreds upon hundreds of visitors. (One day Professor Charles Calitri, who advised both John Sherin and myself at Hofstra came to see what his student hath wrought. He didn’t like it at all. My sense was the “chaos” bothered him, but it wasn’t really chaos; it was many pieces moving simultaneously.)
It was a common practice for students to present to the guests what was important to them in their studies. And since they were soon to have college and job interviews, well, let’s just say they were prepared for them.
In truth it was not always smooth sailing. Literate teachers do argue. And when trouble came, we met, closed the door and had it out. It reminded me of what children did when parents fought. . .you could hear the sound but you didn’t want to listen. When we emerged there were never any students waiting at the door. It is hard to grow up, no matter how old you are.
But most of the time when we weren’t in class, we hung out in the “faculty lounge.” It was an open place, really, available to all who wanted to be there. Sometimes I engaged in multiple discussions at the same time, waiting for what I could say that would apply to both. Often I just listened, maybe inserting a question or two for clarification. The need to talk about emerging self (not only with peer friends) or just to participate in an adult conversation was undeniable. At the traditional school they had a class called college prep. Mostly it was SAT practice. I can’t help thinking that they might have been doing it wrong.
*Posted Schedule for New Semesters
At the beginning of each semester I would make a school schedule. Faculty would have input based on what they wanted to teach. Clever, no? And students had input too, on what they wanted to study and occasionally what they wanted to pass on to others. It was modular in its structure based on 1 1/2 hour classes. There were no bells, so getting to class on time was the participants’ responsibility. Attendance was demonstrably higher than all but honor classes at the high school.
As most classes met twice a week and four were quite enough and assuming you attended the whole group classes which were required, (see above,) unstructured time was built in. It was basically the college approach. This free time was not unused or unimportant; it could be filled spontaneously or for individual recurrent pursuits. One student studied Kirlian photography. We gave him a dark room closet; he gave us the auras around our fingertips.
*The Performing Arts Center and Work Internships
*The Book Club and Library
*Failed Concepts, But Good Ideas
At the end of each Semester the students work in each class were considered by both students and facilitator and written up for presentation to college admissions or job interview. There were no grades attached.
In a sense it was ironic, for while the school was forever criticized and applauded for its efforts, the students were not subject to judgment. They were not on trial. We thanked them for their efforts and praised their accomplishments to be sure, but much was shall I say in transit, yet to emerge. And perhaps this is how all schools should be judged — not by the scores that students make, or their SATs, but preparedness for the world beyond, and beyond beyond. Has this helped in their lives? Have the questions raised and the experiences offered made sense to them when looking back? Will they remember them ten years from graduation? Will it have helped increase the complexity and richness of their lives?
Please follow and like us:
LEAVE A REPLY