Archive for April, 2014

“The Up Side of Down” author speaks at Fairhaven School

The PR Committee  at Fairhaven School has been noticing how may authors and thinkers in our society are writing about ideas that align with the practices and principles upon which we have founded the school. In that spirit. on Friday, April 25th, Megan McArdle, Bloomberg Review blogger and author of the recent book “The Up Side of Down,” spoke in the Chesapeake Room at Fairhaven School. Megan’s compelling thesis in the book is that people learn best from failure, and that both the current educational system and shifts in parenting appear to be undermining this critical process of growth and development.

Parents, staff and students enjoyed the talk and asked numerous questions. Thanks again to  Ms. McArdle for her time and her provocative, delightful presentation. We recommend her book, and we look forward to hosting similar events in the future!

For your review, here is a recent post from Megan’s blog:

“I’m on the road this week, giving talks on my new book about learning to fail better: that is, first, to give ourselves the permission to take on challenges where we might very well fail; second, to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible and move on when things don’t work out. This is, I argue, vital on a personal level, as well as vital for the economy, because that’s where innovation and growth come from. Read More

Author Megan McArdle speaks in the Chesapeake Room at Fairhaven School.

Author Megan McArdle speaks in the Chesapeake Room at Fairhaven School.

Fairhaven School Staff

April, 2014


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Reading What’s in the Tracks

When I talk about where I work, it often leads to looks of perplexity, interest, and curiosity, as well as questions. One of those questions is, “If your students don’t have to take any classes, how do they learn to read?” This is a very important skill that – according to the Huffing Post - is roughly 85% of the population. The great majority of people learn this skill at, or with the assistance of, conventional schools. Compare that to Alpine Valley School and schools like ours, where students learn to read on their own, in their own time. According to decades of anecdotal evidence from dozens of schools, no student has failed to learn to read before graduating. How can this be? How is it that these children are universally able to learn the basics without organized, adult help?

To answer this, I’d like to look at an earlier time in human history when people were reading something different: animal tracks.


Above is a picture of different sets of animal tracks. Can you identify any of these tracks? Can you tell which are the front set and back set of feet? Which animals are male, and which are female?


Here is another picture of tracks found in sand. Can you tell how fresh the tracks are? How many animals were there?

The amazing thing is that our ancestors could answer all these questions and more by reading animal tracks. I’ve read stories about people who could pick out one set of prints amid hundreds and match those tracks to the animal. Children would play at tracking each other and stalking small animals, making games out of skills that were necessary for their survival. This point bears repeating: for millennia, children became masters of reading tracks on their own initiative, through self-directed play.

The complexity and intricateness of reading animal tracks is immense. Learning to read, on the other hand—with letters that are always the same and easy to find—is well within the ability of children to learn through play. In fact, that is exactly what we see at Alpine Valley School, especially given the omnipresence of technology. Students are texting, playing video games and surfing the web, not to mention reading books and other publications on their tablets.

Whatever their culture, young people learn to master its tools because we humans evolved the desire to do so. When surrounded by something that opens up their world to more possibilities—whether it’s tracking animals for obtaining food and other materials, or learning to read in order to access information—children will rise to the occasion, learning all the skills they need not because they’re directed to do so, but because they want to master the world around them.

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This Week at AVS 4/25/14

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Truth in Humor

Recently I’ve noticed a trend as I take in my daily dose of media: the shows, commercials, and articles I stumble across have a recurring theme that a childhood in conventional school (the schools most of us experienced) is awful. An Onion article pokes fun of the high rate of ADHD diagnoses under the headline “More U.S. Children Being Diagnosed with Youthful Tendency Disorder”; the main character in New Girl talks about her hypothetical children, who “are going to be forced to go to school, just like everybody else, and they’re gonna hate it”; and a Jello commercial turns a kid’s first day of school into a trying day at the office that he’ll need pudding to cope with.


 All these things and more are meant to be entertaining—we’ll all have a good laugh and go about our day—but I can’t help but see a sinister side that points to a truth we, as a culture, choose not to see. Like the parable of the emperor’s new clothes, we choose to ignore or downplay the growing threat to childhood. Take a look at the links and pictures attached to this post and make up your own mind.

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It takes a leap of faith by us adults to point out that the emperor has no clothes and choose something different for our children. But I believe that given the space to be free and develop in a safe, caring community our children will become, as we at Alpine Valley School say, effective adults. Just ask any of our graduates.

Written by Bhagavati Braun – staff at Alpine Valley School

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Fairhaven Alumnus Book Release!

Rare Bird Books has just released Echo of the Boom by Maxwell Neely-Cohen, Fairhaven School class of 2004. A fascinating novel that explores contemporary youth culture amidst a looming apocalypse, Max’s book is an intellectual tour-de-force and a page-turner.  Based in Washington, D.C., “Echo” explores what makes Millenials tick as they text away, and Max’s lifelong interest in military theory certainly informs his characters and the narrative arc of his novel. echo2 Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Max’s first public reading took place in the Chesapeake Room here at Fairhaven School in celebration of our first fifteen years last November, and the four hurtling narratives hooked the audience members then! Support the arts, and support our wonderful alumnus Max; see what happens to Efram, Chloe, and the rest of his video-gaming, deejaying, philosophical characters by buying this unique, entertaining book. We will let you know when the “Echo of the Boom” book tour lands in DC.

Congratulations, Max. Now where in the world did you get the idea for the school-wide Capture the Flag game?

Mark McCaig

April, 2014

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This Week at AVS – 4/18/14

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I Agree…But My Job’s At Stake

Over the last 20 years, I’ve had lots of conversations about the Sudbury model of education with parents, students, and teachers of all levels. Conventional educators have often said to me, “Larry, I can see some parts of your school’s philosophy, but others I can’t.” And I can appreciate that: reasonable people will sometimes disagree.

Recently, however, I’ve been speaking with a lot more education professionals, and I’ve been hearing something very interesting: “I agree with you about the importance of play and freedom, but…” It used to be that their objections involved a philosophical disagreement about models. At some point these objections changed, and are now best summarized by a conversation I had following an event with other education professionals. After each of us had presented our respective models, one of my counterparts–the one associated with the most data-driven of the schools–approached me privately and said, “I can’t come out in public and say this. I agree with much of what you are saying, but my job requires that I do all this testing and data collection.” In essence, she may well have said, “My job requires me to disregard my conscience.”

Frankly, I’ve been hearing this a lot lately. In the last twenty years, the increasing drive toward standards and numbers-driven education has dominated nearly all so-called reform movements. Today’s younger teachers grew up in this skewed environment, then had their education furthered in a university system that is itself struggling with the same madness of data-driven instruction. Witness, for example, the call at the federal level for post-secondary institutions to disclose how much their graduates make, so that young people can make the right decision about where to enroll. To some extent, mainstream educators have long had to put their professional judgements aside. When I was a teacher in conventional schools, I always used to hear about “This Year’s New Thing” whenever a new administrator came along. Data-driven education is just the latest in a long string of fads the conventional system has foisted upon children (and, by extension, teachers and parents). And this obsession only seems to be getting worse.

In contrast, Sudbury schools like Alpine Valley School have featured self-directed learning, as opposed to number-driven education, for nearly 50 years–far longer if you consider that our natural learning environment mirrors the way most human societies have raised children for the past 10,000 years: young people learning by free play, as well as by observing and interacting with people of all ages. Rather than being driven by data, learning at Alpine Valley School is driven by curiosity and passion, by the desire to explore and master one’s environment. And this yields results you can count on, even if they can’t be measured in a conventional sense. Nearly five decades of Sudbury alumni reveal themselves as happy, productive people living their lives deliberately, based on the solid foundation they built while they were young. To see this yourself, I strongly encourage you to meet some of our alumni next month.

Best of all, this kind of learning doesn’t require anyone to disregard their conscience: on the contrary, being true to oneself is a major emphasis of life at Alpine Valley School. Along with freedom, respect, and responsibility, integrity is one of our core values. Here, no one has to say, “I agree…but my job’s at stake.”

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Chili Cook-off

As a final goodbye to the winter of 2013-2014, here are some pictures and a note from staff member Beth Williams about our recent chili cook-off. Enjoy!

At the end of February we hosted a Talkabout and Chili Cook-off, where Assembly President John Green led a lively discussion. The nine savory chili entries, several types of corn bread, and various other potluck treats were delicious. The community had a great time gathering with old friends and meeting some of the many new families of recently enrolled students. All around, we enjoyed a wonderful evening.

On April 25th, The Public Relations Committee will host another dinner gathering (potluck, plus Subway sandwiches). On that evening, we will welcome a special guest speaker, Megan McArdle, who recently released her book, “The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success”. This event is free and open to the public.

We look forward to seeing you there! It’s always so nice to spend time together empowering and growing our community. Potluck 1 chili8 chili6 chili4 chili 3 chili7

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This Week at AVS – 4/11/2014

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The Importance of Feeling Important

Hello, readers! I’m writing this post to share some of my experiences at Alpine Valley School (AVS). I enrolled at AVS when I was six years old and was a student there for twelve years before graduating in 2009. I learned a lot during that time, and it took me a while to narrow down the topic of this post so it wouldn’t end up being an entire novel on my childhood. I eventually decided on the subject of feeling important, which is something that stood out to me pretty strongly as I was thinking back on my time at AVS.

Here, everyone from five-year-olds to staff members has an equal vote at the School Meeting that’s in charge of running the school. Everyone can write complaints against everyone else, and everyone is on rotation to serve on the Judicial Committee (JC) that handles those complaints. For me, starting at age six, this meant that at no time in my school career did I think my voice was unimportant. If I wanted to change something at school, I could make a motion at School Meeting and vote for it. If I saw someone breaking the rules, I could write a complaint and take them to JC. And when I was serving on JC, I got to help decide if rules were broken and what to do about it. No one ever looked down on me or wrote off my opinions because of my age, because my opinions mattered just as much as everyone else’s.

This feeling of importance didn’t wear off after age six. As I got older, I took on some leadership roles at AVS, including School Meeting Chair and treasurer of Travel Corporation. When I was elected School Meeting Chair (everyone got to vote on that, too), I was in charge of setting up for and running the weekly meetings. This consisted of calling on people who wanted to discuss or make motions, calling for votes, keeping people on topic, and answering questions. As treasurer of Travel Corp, I kept track of our income and expenses, handled our fundraising money, and paid our taxes. These were not supervised positions either: I was fully in charge and responsible for whatever happened. All these experiences enhanced my sense of importance, because I was in charge of things that mattered, and I was good enough at them to be re-elected multiple times.

I believe feeling important is the first step toward self-confidence. And self-confidence, as we all know, comes in really handy during most social situations, including job interviews, presentations, and business meetings. Going to school at AVS, where students’ importance is reinforced all the time, really helped build my confidence and prepared me for those situations and many more that I’ve encountered in my adult life. I’m very grateful that I consistently got to feel important growing up, and I hope many other children get to experience it as well.

Written by Gina Mancuso – AVS Alum

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