Archive for April, 2015

Divergent Thinking

In this blog post, my colleague Bruce asked us to “reflect on the rapid pace of change in today’s world, the veritable tsunami of information out there, and the need for our children to retain the powerful, insatiable curiosity with which they were born.”

This line stirs up a lot of fervor in me. I am privileged to be around Alpine Valley School students every day; they inspire me with their amazing curiosity and ingenuity. Working here, I am often reminded of a great talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in which he describes divergent thinking as “an essential capacity for creativity, the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways of interpreting a question.” (You can watch the portion on divergent thinking here.)

The other day, some AVS students were playing a game in which a category is listed, and  the first person who cannot think of an item that fits the category loses the game.

For these students, this game was almost impossible to lose, because as soon as someone thought they were out of options they would change the context of the question. For example: one category was things one might call one’s mom, the answers started with mom, mother, mama, and maybe a few foreign versions of “mom”. But these divergent thinkers didn’t give up there. They could certainly call their mom “Sally”, or “George”, or even “Apple”. As you can see, this game could go on for a long time!

The divergent thinking demonstrated here is only a small example of something that is incredibly important. Sir Ken Robinson said that “creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” We do just that here at Alpine Valley School.

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This Week at AVS

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Soundbite Wisdom

These days it’s getting so you can’t go online without being fairly bombarded by inspirational quotes, often dressed up in pretty images. But I’ll tell you, as sketchy as the wisdom of sound bites may be, I’ve come to appreciate the truth behind clichés and sentiment. Sometimes truth really can be captured and crystallized, however challenging it may be to tease out the nuances and apply the lessons.

For example, in my last blog post of this school year I’d like to share a couple quotes that speak to the heart of what we do at Alpine Valley School in surprisingly powerful ways.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
~ Frederick Douglass

While today Douglass might have said “adults” or “people” rather than “men,” the truth of his statement is timeless. One of the challenges of describing life at Alpine Valley School is conveying the piercing beauty of watching young people grow up whole and intact. I say “piercing” because this beauty stands in stark contrast to the struggles young people face in other kinds of schools, struggles that often linger well into adulthood. As one of our parents has said on more than one occasion, what if we never had to lose our youthful spark, never had to spend much of our adult lives trying to recover our curiosity, intuition, drive, and self-confidence?

Giving young people a head start on healthy, vibrant adult lives is one of the things that most drives me in my efforts to promote Sudbury schools like Alpine Valley. It’s hard to imagine something a lot more moving than allowing children to retain and actualize their breathtakingly beautiful passion for life.

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 “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

~ Howard Thurman

As long as there’s been mass schooling, people have adamantly asserted that schools exist to serve a larger purpose, that we have a moral obligation to ensure that children are trained to meet the needs of the economy, or social justice, or environmental preservation, or any number of external agendas. Trained as a conventional teacher, it came as a revelation to me that letting people connect with their passions is an infinitely more effective way to create positive change than any kind of pushing or orchestrating could accomplish.

Conventional schooling assumes a level of control that doesn’t exist, and so it sets out vainly to engineer a better world—or rather, differing camps of adults pull kids in various directions, trying to mold these young souls in the image of their own personal values. Well, Alpine Valley School takes a radically different approach: our only agenda for young people is that they be empowered to tap into their own potential, to realize their unique gifts in a culture of freedom and responsibility.  In other words, our only agenda for children is that they form their own agenda. Amazingly enough, nearly five decades of Sudbury schooling shows that these powerfully alive people are role models for all of us in how to live authentic, meaningful lives.

What do you think about “building strong children” (or rather, letting them build themselves)? How about the idea that “what the world needs is people who have come alive”? What are your favorite inspirational quotes, and how might they guide the way we raise children? Please leave a comment below, and if you have (or know people with) children, consider how Alpine Valley School might be the best place for them to grow into their best selves.

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This Week At AVS

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Freedom Fighters

As a staff member at Alpine Valley School sometimes I find it challenging to explain to other people what I do for a living. I’ll meet someone at a party and be stymied by small talk, unable to put my job into the concise phrases others expect. A few weeks ago I met a woman who asked me what I did for a living, and rather than dodge the question or give her a half-truth (“I’m an administrator”) I went ahead and dove into the full-fledged explanation (“So, I work at this democratic school where kids get to choose everything they want to do all day, etc.). Afterwards I confessed my difficulty summing up what I do for a living, and she said, “Oh, that’s easy. Just tell people you’re a freedom fighter.”

And of course, that is what all staff members at all Sudbury schools are: freedom fighters. We advocate for a group so sorely underrepresented that the notion of their independence isn’t even considered—I’m referring, of course, to young people.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I am proud to work hard in service of Alpine Valley School, and in doing so I am proud to work with each and every staff member, many of whom I’ve known more than half my life (one of them significantly longer than that). I grew up here with the staff members as my models of effective adulthood—fair, steadfast, playful, and optimistic. They taught me what it means to stand up for what I believe, and working alongside them has been a consistent dream of mine since I was fifteen years old. What I didn’t realize when I was a student here was how much working at Alpine Valley School asks of the staff members. This work is soul-deep, and in addition to being meaningful and fulfilling, it’s also more demanding and challenging than I could have imagined.

These days everyone’s lives are changing so fast, sending us down different paths, and so I want to make sure I take the opportunity to say what an honor it is to do “work worth doing” alongside all of the other staff members here at Alpine Valley School. The school is my home, and the people there are my family,no matter where they go or what they do.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the AVS Community—not just my colleagues, but also all our students, parents, family members and friends. Thank you for being here, thank you for working so hard, and thank you for being freedom fighters.

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Meet Danielle Meitiv: Fighting for Her Kids’ Rights

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been giving their children some of the same freedom that they themselves enjoyed as children, in a world that is safer than the one in which they grew up. As a consequence, they have been visited by police, and the county Child Protective Services have threatened to take their children away. Here is my interview with Danielle.

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Meet Danielle Meitiv: Fighting for Her Kids’ Rights

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been giving their children some of the same freedom that they themselves enjoyed as children, in a world that is safer than the one in which they grew up. As a consequence, they have been visited by police, and the county Child Protective Services have threatened to take their children away. Here is my interview with Danielle.

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Meet Danielle Meitiv: Fighting for Her Kids’ Rights

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been giving their children some of the same freedom that they themselves enjoyed as children, in a world that is safer than the one in which they grew up. As a consequence, they have been visited by police, and the county Child Protective Services have threatened to take their children away. Here is my interview with Danielle.

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Meet Danielle Meitiv: Fighting for Her Kids’ Rights

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been giving their children some of the same freedom that they themselves enjoyed as children, in a world that is safer than the one in which they grew up. As a consequence, they have been visited by police, and the county Child Protective Services have threatened to take their children away. Here is my interview with Danielle.

Comments off

Meet Danielle Meitiv: Fighting for Her Kids’ Rights

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been giving their children some of the same freedom that they themselves enjoyed as children, in a world that is safer than the one in which they grew up. As a consequence, they have been visited by police, and the county Child Protective Services have threatened to take their children away. Here is my interview with Danielle.

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