Resume of a Sort: an excerpt from a letter to a colleague at the MT alternative school we helped create

Dear John,

Now and again civilizations move in unexpected ways. New themes emerge, which may have flashed before (c.f. A.S. Neil) but now seem dynamic and current. This happened some 40 odd years ago. It was a time of change, informality and daring. It was a time to rethink what schooling was really about. The old clogged canals of the purpose and manner of the traditional school were replaced not alone by us, but by a cadre of revolutionaries, giving birth to ideas and even innovative schooling systems unheard of before that moment. And with reconsideration of purpose came new means to stir the tide. You and I were fortunate enough to get in on this.

After a union meeting where I suggested to the Superintendent that he consider “Alternatives” to solve his crowding problem, and after a number of false hopes and disappointments, your incredibly deliberate ignorance of the rejection of our proposal led to the birth of our school. You and Milt had already submitted that lengthy document that included many spectacular concepts.

  • Humanistic Processes designed to be applicable to real life decisions
  • Students practicing choice and taking responsibility for their actions
  • Unstructured time to allow for reflection and individualized pursuits
  • A concept of community with discussions affecting school decisions.
  • One person; one vote
  • No grades–replaced by student and teacher commentary on what was learned in each course and how each student approached it

And under these lay the basic concepts that there was more than one way to learn and more than one aspect of personhood.

In the spring of our opening year I was interviewed by a “Gold Coast” school in Nassau County and offered a 60% increase in salary to bring drama to their district. I turned it down for the opportunity to develop and try out some ideas I too was working on to approach human learning in new ways. I was already immersed in the study — I had for example accidentally discovered journaling in my first year (1966) though I never had had a teacher who encouraged this. I had a talent for course structures and had written three for the English Elective Program at the High School. I had a long tenure on the curriculum committee and had written and directed 3 full-length musical plays. I always thought that students seemed to learn more from the drama than they did from the courses. The traditional school offered little time to work individually with its ongoing rushes to the next station. MT as you called it promised to be far more relaxed without the persistent bells. I thought this would give me a chance to work with those who wanted to, approaching even shadowy problems in supportive and insightful ways. Many times this was done in the “Faculty Lounge.” I was already fond of “shadow casting” for actors to expand their range of insights into the human experience, so I felt comfortable with this approach.

I often felt that the two of us were oddly connected, partly by our experience with Charles Calitri at Hofstra and his Affective Education. And I went out of my way to choose songs for the community with a touch of church in them in keeping with the nature of the district.

I remember when you wanted to bring a demonstration group to DC to show our approach to a class, in a tent designed for that purpose, but couldn’t go for some reason and Milt did not volunteer. So I went. We ran into some trouble when the suddenly religious student-teacher thought that the half of the group who spent time with Rev. Sun-Moon should be mad at the other half who saw 2001: A Space Odyssey on a large screen instead. Milt I was told was rushing down to save the situation, so I hurried to settle the matter with private and then public talks to reunify the group before he got there.

There were of course serious differences between us as well. We allowed each other to express our disagreements rather loudly as I recall. And that was alright too. It was a family at dinner to me.

I remember images from the many plays we put on, like Doris summersaulting off the stage, The Chord, Revolution and the multiple stage effect. And the laser we borrowed for the death of the old man in my apocalyptic vision in The Stoned Age. And I remember an African-American woman seated in the audience just behind the actress and both of them crying simultaneously.

In any event I have few regrets. Well, it was too bad that the garden I tried to begin was mowed down by Building and Grounds. And I wish we had resolved the insurance problem with the touring bus idea, rather than be limited to our building. But all in all it was a gilded time, speckled with hundreds of visitors, visits with Alvin and Heidi Toffler, and students with more positive and curious energy than was common in classrooms under a system of control, grades and required lesson plans.

Of course there were consequences of our participation — and I always thought you bore the brunt of that, ever trying to re-energize the memory and hurt that your work never seemed to be truly acknowledged.

I had an advantage there — for while it cost me a sabbatical, I did pursue graduate School at Berkeley, knowing that MT would have a limited term in such a conservative, shall I say catholic, district. Brentwood wasn’t Great Neck or Roslyn Heights, or Westchester County. I thought it was only a matter of time before the country would again turn to more conservative retreats. At least for a while, I was not wrong.

I remember when I returned to the High School and you told me how they wouldn’t let you set up the classroom as you wanted. So the next day I did as I imagined you would have — hung plants near the windows, put a rug on the floor, desks in a 3/4 round circle, added an MT chair and discussed journaling with my new classes. As it turned out from the original 16 English Electives, only four remained: photojournalism and the three I had previously written. To these was added 11th grade honors English for my final four years. The only insistence was that I stay inside the classroom. I guess they thought I might be contagious.

After that I was on my way. Working with Joseph Trusso, we responded to George the 1’s call for alternative schooling systems. Ironically only The Peoples’ Republic of China ever accepted our proposal. We chose not to pursue it.

Then Marist College employed me to create an Ed. Psych Masters program for Teachers from scratch, and I facilitated the three seminars for a few years as the program took off. I also joined with 6 other professors at Marist to create a 1 on 1 writing tutoring service, sharing techniques each of us had found successful. And I began a series of Special Topics high-level literature courses, with significant assistance from Joseph Trusso and Debra Stassi. Great Books Western, Classics of Western Lit, Source Studies, Mythic Modernism, Psychology thru Literature and To Hell and Back: Ancient and Modern. The last was among the most effective, earning the highest reviews from students and ending with student presentations of their versions of Heaven or their Hells as the conclusion, offered with choice of media.

In all I spent 24 years teaching in college and at SUNY New Paltz in English, Psychology and Education. I supervised English teachers from Red Hook to Ellenville, taught a Humanistic version of teacher prep when the usual Professor went on Sabbatical, and offered a course in curriculum planning.

I retired when my mom got ill, but I began my Teachers Lantern website to pass on what I had learned over my 44 years in the classroom. Throughout it all the continuance of the Maslow experience clearly shone through. And so each year I was glad to make my Pilgrimage back to my pedagogical roots – where smiles and hugs met me and memories were tinged with gold.

8 thoughts on “Resume of a Sort: an excerpt from a letter to a colleague at the MT alternative school we helped create”

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