About Me 2: Public School

          My Grandma said she always wanted to be a teacher, but she had to leave school at 14 to get a job. My mother taught individuals to read, eventually quite a few of them. I had a brother born several years after I was. Enjoyed teaching him, showing him, all kinds of things. He would become a video production teacher in Los Angeles. I guess you could say I came by it naturally. 

          Summer camps gave me a chance for adventure. I particularly enjoyed Pete Menaker’s camp To-ho-ne and the stories he told. There was one about how he and his brother beat back fascists with baseball bats. One day he came upon my group at the swimming area of the lake, having a mud fight at lunchtime. A moment lapsed; I saw his face change. He bent down, grabbed some earth and joined in. He was 75 at the time; 

          Ralph Hill had a camp called Deer Lake. It was filled with animals of all kinds. I remember a photo of me in a softball game. I had apparently run into a deer. In any case the ball lay on the ground. I had not caught it. Right field was never mowed. This altered the skills necessary to be a right fielder. Simply finding the ball brought joy to all. Corning made and installed a huge solid piece of glass in the back of Ralph’s house. He had one condition: the flying squirrels in a nearby tree were not to be disturbed. Ralph set it up for visitors to watch the animals feed in a schedule that made it possible for each species to have a turn without running into prey. I remember the time I made homemade ice cream with a churn. Later I became a counselor and still later an administrator of a sort. When a bunk was giving their counselor a hard time, I was brought in. 

          The Wheatley School was clean, had well prepared teachers. Mostly though I was bored a lot. I knew I liked theatre. On my first date I took Amy to see Raisin in the Sun on Broadway. At Wheatley I began to act. I would go on to perform in some 40 plays and direct 40 more. I wrote a few too, when money for theatre was hard to find. I started a scholarship fund that gave away thousands and supported the theater with money from very cheap ticket sales. 

          Carleton College was clean, polite, and somewhat conservative. But it was a time of change and we from larger cities brought it with us. We wrote poetry and stinging prose. Kerouac came with me in a book and Ginsburg and the boys. My roommate offered to help me unpack, but when he saw the books, he dropped them on the floor and left the room. His Pastor had warned him against being influenced by the devil. He went insane shortly after.  

          I never understood why on Sundays everyone would disappear after church. They said they were studying. I didn’t study, at least not like that. I failed Russian 3 times. I couldn’t separate the sounds into words. It did terrible things to my GPA. But I wasn’t there for a GPA. 

          I was a Psychology major. I wrote a strong (honors level they said) comprehensive test. For the orals they asked me to lie down and answer their questions like I was on a Freudian’s couch. My orals weren’t strong enough, they said, to recommend me for honors. Oh, earlier I had taken all the high level courses offered by the department beginning with theories of psychology. I ended by taking their most basic course called “Learning Theory. ” I flunked that one too. They were behaviorists. To get any other kind of psychologists I had to beg the department to expand their ideas. They got me back at the orals. 

          Hofstra gave me a teaching credential, a fun Shakespeare festival, and Charles Calitri. He taught ’affective education,’ suggesting that it took more than cognitive learning to develop a full human being. He was an inspiration. Later when I helped create an alternative school, he visited. Didn’t like it at all. 

          Brentwood Public School stayed multi-racial during my stay. I started in Junior High, teaching the worst class twice a day. Early on I discovered that everything I had been taught in Education courses on how to teach English didn’t work. Grammar for instance. I’ll detail that later. By the time I moved to senior high, I was already concentrating on curriculum. I wrote 3 courses for an elective program. Of the 16 tried initially only 4 survived for more than a couple of years. The ones I wrote and photojournalism. My 3 were: Mythology, Drama Workshop and Psychology through Literature. They had one thing in common: they weren’t all about data—they had dimension. Teachers should always teach what they love. 

          A few years later I helped create the Maslow Toffler School. It was a public alternative school among the most successful of its kind. It featured no grades, one person one vote, lots of adults in each classroom and a kid or two mixed in with the same age students, process oriented approaches on a small group level and weekly community meetings. After a while there was increasing pressure from the community, union, administration.  

          When I went to Berkeley to begin doctoral study I found that all the 109 alternative educators I talked with and took notes on, had similar difficulties. Alternatives of many sorts, which had thrived in the 70’s, were now being rejected and attacked. I had arrived too late. Undaunted I wrote a series of essays over the years I was there. I took whatever courses I wanted. Students should always take what they want to take. I had a 3.975 GPA. I got two A- s: one when I took the top course from an experimental psychologist who was unhappy with my saying that correlation didn’t prove cause and effect and the other when I took the top graduate anthropology seminar from a Professor who had had a hard time with the student uprisings in earlier years and was displeased by my motif of student choice. The rest were A’s or A+ s. I had become a student, finally. I was ready. 

          I returned to the traditional school at Brentwood and put in several more years. They let me do my thing: rugs on the floor. desks in a circle, plants in the windows, 3 elective courses for students who wanted them. In a way it mirrored Buddha’s return from the mountain, bringing with him what he had learned and had found expression for. I taught Honors English for many years. My nicest compliment came from one of these. She said, “You have all this power, but you use it so gently.”

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