Archive for January, 2015

This Week at AVS

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Can I Help?

A few days ago I was catching up with a former Alpine Valley School staff member named Martha. We were reminiscing about my time as a student and all of the different activities that I was part of. I reminded her about one particular memory which may not seem like much to other people, but it really meant a lot to me.

Martha was putting together a schedule of working hours for the other staff. She was sitting at one of the tables in the Main Room and working out all of the various logistics when I came up, a student of fourteen, and asked if I could help. “Sure,” she said, inviting me to take a seat. Together we worked out this word problem: “If Bruce works from nine till five and Larry works from eight till four, how many additional staff members do we need to cover the remaining hours?” It was the first time I remember having fun with numbers, and I think that was largely because we were solving a real-world problem and not some abstract quandary involving trains.

After we had worked out an appropriate schedule we started color-coding all the different staff’s time blocks so that they were easily visible from a distance (it’s worth noting that this was before computers were heavily utilized at school—and yes, I am that old). I don’t know what brand of markers we were using for the job, but they had names like “brushfire” and “meadow.” We made a game out of it, giving each staff member a nickname corresponding to their marker color, which left us with monikers like Sunkist Connie and Moonbeam Bruce. By the time we finished, we were both in tears from laughing so hard.

This moment sticks out in my memory for a couple of reasons: above all, it was the first time an adult (other than my parents) had treated me like a contributing member of a team. Martha acted like I knew what I was doing; she didn’t talk down to me or try to use the experience as a “teachable moment.” She treated me like a competent individual and I rose to the occasion. I contributed to this small project in a meaningful way and actually had fun while I was doing it—an experience without precedent in my young life.

This experience also kicked off a higher level of involvement in the school community for me. I started using those three magical words more and more often, asking everyone, “Can I help?” And every time I was able to contribute I not only learned some fraction of a useful skill, I learned that I was capable and that my help was valuable. Those lessons have stuck with me to this day, and I strive to follow the example that Martha and the other staff members set for me in my youth now that I’m a staff member here myself. There’s nothing like being empowered, and I’m so glad that students at Alpine Valley School have the opportunity to experience that feeling every single day.

Missa circa 2000

Missa circa 2000

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We will be closed, Friday 3/6/15

We will be closed, Friday, March 6, 2015 due to inclement weather per PGCPS.

For email or text notifications please sign up at www.SchoolsOut.com

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This Week at AVS

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Grateful for Fairhaven

(Fairhaven School parent Elizabeth Arnold shared this journal entry with us and we would like to pass it on along with some recent photos taken by students and staff. Enjoy!)

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Grateful for Fairhaven – a place, an environment, an opportunity, where love can do its magic – – souls can come to know themselves, each person able to come fully into their own, ending up solid and grounded, where children can play with their shadow selves in a safe haven, and learn where the boundaries lie between chaos and civilization, where consequences have meaning, not just arbitrary rules fashioned by strangers, but crafted with love to be true learning tools, where children end up teaching themselves, and each other, and even the staff ~ and parents can gain an appreciation for another way to learn, and for how amazing their children are, where resistance isn’t necessary, so instead of negativities arising, beauty and mastery . . .

and thanks to you all for keeping the magic going.

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Indifference, the Anti-Love

batman-be-coolI have lunch with a friend whenever he shows up in Denver. An electrical engineer by trade, he has supported Alpine Valley School from the day it opened. We share a love of personal liberty, all things free, and the peace of a non-coercive world.

One day my friend suggested that the deeper meaning of the word “cool” is not excellence or popularity but indifference. This indifference he sees as “anti-love,” and he asserts that the indifference of young people in conventional schools may be a condition developed by schooling itself. His thoughts have been percolating in my mind the past couple years, as I’ve struggled with how to connect them with our unconventional approach at Alpine Valley School.

Before drawing those connections, here’s the gist of what my friend said:

Popular culture lives on many lies, one of which is that the opposite of love is hate. Consider these admonitions: “Hate is bad; don’t do that” or “I don’t hate, therefore I’m good.”

Hate is not the opposite of love; the opposite of love is actually indifference. Love starts with caring and ends with a positive action—even if that action is to allow another to go down a questionable path. Hate also begins with caring, but ends in a negative action—causing somebody pain, for example.

Indifference, however, never cares; it is the pure expression of anti-love.

How is this relevant to education? In nearly every educational setting in America, there exists a phenomenon loosely referred to as “cool.” Cool is a slippery term—often just meaning “I like that,” as in “That car is cool!” Cool has another meaning, though: a cool kid is one who is above everyone else. Cool kids ignore the plight of others; to be cool is to be indifferent.

Those who are indifferent have little curiosity, little empathy, and little investment in cultivating relationships. Despite appearances, the indifferent eventually lose their happiness because of their lack of personal connection to others (such connection surely being an aspect of love).

In conventional schools, 5- and 6-year-olds are pretty much powerless, so they tend to do one of two things. First, they find friends who provide protection. Those friends are their peers, who will demand loyalty to provide protection; that loyalty becomes peer pressure down the road. Second, they build a wall of indifference about themselves so that attacks by others can’t penetrate. Unfortunately, the wall of indifference eventually extends to every other aspect of life: parents, subject learning, adults in general and, finally, oneself.

Conventional school is an anti-love machine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow many of the most gut-wrenching problems we face as a society actually stem from indifference, from anti-love? I can tell you from my experience that the longer kids stay in conventional school, the more indifferent many become: think, for example, of the so-called fourth-grade slump or the stereotypical moody teenager.

Consider just one key element of conventional schooling: the huge power differential between adults and children, or between the popular and the unpopular. Power in conventional schooling is used with some threat of punishment, forcing others’ actions regardless of their will. This has the consequence of leaving the powerless with fewer reasons to care.

The more teachers become instruments of curriculum delivery, the more indifferent they will become to students who are constantly measured and evaluated. I’ve written before that many professional educators see the problem but are powerless to challenge it and show they care. Indeed, I am in no way condemning teachers who are forced to do things against their professional judgment.

Sudbury schools, on the other hand, are as close to institutions based on love as is possible. At a Sudbury school the amount of power over the individual has shrunk to a minimum, and that power is easily (and often successfully) challenged by even the youngest students. Simply put, the self-governing nature of Alpine Valley School allows love to exist by allowing people to care, by giving their desires and opinions equal weight—by giving them power.

One of the greatest gifts of a Sudbury education is the comparative absence of indifference. Consider our school’s judicial system. Our first and foremost goal is find the truth of a given situation. This requires us to maintain bonds of trust and compassion fostered as a matter of course, because no one has the power to coerce and the power of School Meeting to do so is very limited.

The greater society, like our scaled-down version here at Alpine Valley School, requires a mix of love and power, qualities one might see as incompatible. Sudbury schools, in my experience, come closest to finding an effective and potent balance between love and power, effectively banishing indifference through the personal liberty granted to students of all ages.

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Spread the Word: Feb 4 is Global School Play Day

The Bedley brothers (Tim and Scott), who are both teachers in California, have started a movement, and it seems to be taking off. They have declared Feb. 4, 2015, to be the first annual Global School Play Day. Let's do everything we can to support it!

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Spread the Word: Feb 4 is Global School Play Day

The Bedley brothers (Tim and Scott), who are both teachers in California, have started a movement, and it seems to be taking off. They have declared Feb. 4, 2015, to be the first annual Global School Play Day. Let's do everything we can to support it!

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Spread the Word: Feb 4 is Global School Play Day

The Bedley brothers (Tim and Scott), who are both teachers in California, have started a movement, and it seems to be taking off. They have declared Feb. 4, 2015, to be the first annual Global School Play Day. Let's do everything we can to support it!

Comments off

Spread the Word: Feb 4 is Global School Play Day

The Bedley brothers (Tim and Scott), who are both teachers in California, have started a movement, and it seems to be taking off. They have declared Feb. 4, 2015, to be the first annual Global School Play Day. Let's do everything we can to support it!

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