Tags: AERO, Democratic Education, democratic schools, IDEA, IDEC 2012
The IDEC 2012 was launched in the presence of students, teachers, university professors, leaders from the non-profit sector as well as local business people. The press conference took place last month with a detailed description of what the IDEC is and what it will mean to host the great event in Caguas, Puerto Rico in March of 2012. Lourdes Aponte who presides the Alliance for Alternative Education spoke about the role of the multi-sectorial effort behind the IDEC so that it will have an impact on the schools and education of the children and youth in Caguas and Puerto Rico. Scott Nine from IDEA spoke about the event and his projections for a deep dialogue among the participants that will take the IDEC to a new level of exchange and learning. The Mayor of Caguas, William Miranda Torres, shared with the group the importance of the IDEC for the new projects that will transform the city into a “living laboratory for learning” and the IDEC will be the launching pad for this great effort.
A highlight of the press conference was the testimonies of two former students of Nuestra Escuela, Viviana Pacheco and Jorge Vazquez, who eloquently shared their anticipation in receiving young people from all over the world in their community. The IDEC 2012 was off to a great start, the web site was presented and the request for presentations was launched. The public dialogue about democratic education has begun in Puerto Rico and will set the groundwork for an exciting IDEC 2012.
Find out more and register online at: www.idec2012.org
Tags: AERO, Alternative Education, alternative schools, Humane Education
Tags: AERO, Alternative Education, alternative schools, Barb Lundgren, Jerry Mintz, Unschool, Unschooling
Jerry Mintz was just interviewed by Barb Lundgren, the organizer for Rethinking Everything Conference.
Jerry will be presenting on starting unschooling resource centers at the conference, which is held September 2-5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. Find out more at: http://www.rethinkingeverything.net/
Listen to the interview here: Jerry Mintz Interview with Barb Lundgren
Tags: AERO, Arne Duncan, Jerry Mintz
This is a video that was taken when I confronted Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan at the Education Writers Conference about the damage No Child Left Behind has done to public alternative schools and asked him if they could at least give a waiver to public alternatives.
Just before this video starts I had reminded him that two years ago I asked him, at the Education Writers Association conference, if he would end No Child Left behind, because alternative educators felt it interfered with real innovation. Since he hadn’t ended it, I asked if some schools could request a waiver.
Tags: AERO, Alternative Education, alternative schools, Don Elwell
What World of Warcraft taught me about Education
This article was prompted by three significant experiences: ones that have really rewritten how I feel as an educator about what we’re doing. The first, as he title suggests, was getting sucked into playing World of Warcraft online. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an inveterate nerd, and did the Dungeons and Dragons thing in college, but I’d resisted getting involved in WOW mostly because I knew it to be a HUGE time sink. The second was acting as a camp director for Guard Up’s Wizards and Warriors LARP (Live Action Role Play) camp in Massachusetts one summer. The camp is basically a live-action version of games like D&D and WOW, with the kids living and playing the fantasy against monsters and going on quests. More on this later. The third was becoming aware of and ultimately involved in the “Democratic Schools” movement in the US. Based loosely on A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School model, the schools are run by the students, generally lack traditional classes or objectives outcomes testing, and stack up strangely well against traditional schooling models. How those knit together is the subject of this article, and of the change in my thinking.
If I were to summarize educational articles over the last five years it would run like this: “Why Isn’t This Working?” Our answers have been to pour millions more into education, and to get punitive with it. We punish kids with our constant “this will go on your permanent record” testing, we punish failing teachers with termination, failing schools with budget cuts, failing parents with chastisement. It is as if we feel we will somehow punish our way to a perfect America, to a perfect educational model, and it just seems to get worse and worse. Teaching in traditional public schools, I look around me, and the place is utterly joyless. The students are bored and surly, and not a single student interaction I see is around anything they’re learning. The administrators look angry. The teachers mostly look exhausted, their “teaching” having been reduced to getting students to spit back information on computer scored test sheets so that the district won’t be penalized.
I think back to the LARP camp. I think back to a little girl, about 7 or 8, who was too shy to speak to anyone. By the third day she was in the vanguard hacking away with a foam battle axe at an actor in an eight foot tall ogre costume. I saw breakthroughs like that all the time at the camp; in the solving of puzzles, in participation with the other campers, in learning to lead. . . .What was happening there? What was going on that I most distinctly was NOT seeing in our public schools?
So here, dear reader, is what I’ve learned. Here are the things that gaming, LARPing, and non-coercive schooling have in common that DO work and that our schools do so badly. I’ll leave it to you to sort out how they might be applied.
1) Neither gaming nor LARPing nor Democratic Schooling are punitive or coercive. When you “die” in World of Warcraft, you get resurrected. It’s an inconvenience, nothing more. You are ALLOWED to fail, without any real penalty, and then to go back with what you learned by failing and complete the quest. Fail once, fail thirty times, its all the same. Punishments are incentives NOT to do something, the threat of penalty. Yet we have used punishments on our students, our teachers, our school districts as “incentives” to do better. It doesn’t work. The great value of schools is the ability of students to fail, learn from it, and come back to succeed without dire consequences.
2) Gaming results in immediate rewards for success. In WOW you get gold and equipment and you get to “level up”, increasing your abilities and strengths. In LARP you get the adulation of your peers, the pride of group success, and, at least at the camp in which I worked, gold tokens that could be spent on real items in the camp store. In Democratic schools, students set their own goals and achieve them, the completion of personal or group projects becomes the reward. Yet what is the reward in our schools? We tell our students: Do this and when you get out of college you’ll get a good job. To a ten year old, “out of college” is over twice their lifetime away. It would be like someone telling me “replace the transmission in my Volvo and in 58 years I’ll give you a new car.” The disconnect is just too great, and too many things can happen in the interim to make the reward real.
3) Ask your kids (if they participate in online games): do you game for 40 minutes every day and then do other things? They’ll laugh at you. Gamers game for three or four hours at a time (how many times did you have to tell them to turn off the computer and go to bed because it was 3AM and there’s school tomorrow?) two or three days a week on average. They spend time with the game, working it, comprehending it, and then take time off to digest what they’ve learned. To our students, though, we don’t seemingly CARE how much they’re into solving the puzzles of geometry, or how interesting Poe’s short stories might be. Ding! Bell has rung, you’re studying Civics now. It’s rude, it breaks the train of thought. Worse, it breaks the train of investigation and concentration.
4) Human beings find things to do, things that interest them. We are driven to it by boredom and by our inherently curious natures. If a student in a “free school” tires of a subject, they’ll find another project to interest them. If a gamer tires of WOW they’ll do something else. No one wants to “just sit around” unless that “just sitting around” is actually contemplation, digesting thoughts and experiences, which is something we almost never allow our children to do.
5) “To get a Good Job” is not the be all and end all of human existence. I’m now seeing moves to start what is effectively job placement training as early as age 6. To make the objective of all education the student’s assumption of the yoke as a corporate drone is unlikely to excite a love a learning in our kids. The objective of our education system should not be jobs, test scores, or (as it was in my era) “beating the commies”. Our objective, as loving parents, should be to enable our kids to have good and happy lives, whatever those lives might be. George Santayana once defined a “fanatic” as one who had doubled their effort after completely forgetting their purpose. So it is, I feel, with our education system.
6) Looking at the LARP camp, some of the campers were always in the forefront, hacking away. Some stood to the sidelines and observed, learning, biding their time before participating. A few didn’t “get it” at all and spent most of their time back at the Inn chatting with the counselors and their friends. Kids have different learning styles and different learning rates. Similarly some of the counselors were always up front, theatrically urging on the campers (that would be me), others moved among them, working one on one, quietly advising, comforting, supporting….teachers have different styles as well. Yet we have evolved an industrial model of education. One Size Must Fit All, both for the students and the instructors. The horror is that a student would “fall behind” the goals we have arbitrarily set for their age. Yet what is the disaster if a student wishes to get ahead in History right now and to address mathematics later when they are ready and better able to apprehend the information? Is that “falling behind” and something for which the student, the instructor, and the school district must be punished? Or is it, rather, the student taking initiative and utilizing their own development and learning style to further their own knowledge in a way of their own choosing?
It is, after all, THEIR education, and their life we are discussing.
7) “Outcomes Testing” is really lousy at testing for things that really matter. Play any role based fantasy game and you’ll be constantly faced with challenges of reason, problem solving, and memory. The situations, however fantastical, will mirror and inform situations in your real life, and your success within the game may give you deeper insights into your own problem solving process in the real world. One success mirrors the other. However:
Old Yeller was:
A) A dog.
B) A goat
C) The Chinese Gardener
D) A & C
Tells you nothing about the story, how it felt, what it meant to the readers, how it related to their lives…..yet this is increasingly all we demand from our students: simple tests of memory that we can wave at accountants to prove the success of our “teaching” to avoid the punitive reactions we have built into the system (and, yes, I’ve seen questions during a brief piece of work for one of the testing companies, that were that offensive, idiotic, and inane).
Our current factory model of education was invented by the Prussians after getting clobbered by Napoleon in the 19th century. They wanted to create a population to feed a new army, one obedient and capable of comprehending the things necessary for the practice of modern warfare. In the process, they abandoned the centuries-old practice of “classical education,” of students studying directly with gifted teachers to pursue their own betterment as human beings, without time or grades or place constraints. Other nations in Europe, fearful of being militarily overwhelmed, adopted the same system, and thence to America. But unless your only educational objective is to produce scads of obedient cannon fodder, the system does not and has never worked particularly well. Nor does thinking of students as “products”, “consumers” or anything other than fellow human beings.
I do not know how to fix education, and I despair of it. The system has become too entrenched and too powerful to amend easily. I know individuals who are and have been brilliant teachers who have bailed from the system out of frustration and anger at the piling on of meaningless requirements and the arrogance that only an entrenched bureaucracy can acquire. I can tell you what advice I would give you, the parent; what I would wish for my own children:
I would send my kids, if i didn’t school them myself, to a democratic school where their love of learning wouldn’t be ground under the wheel of the system and where they could learn problem solving, democratic process, and to think and speak for themselves. I would encourage them to game, because it challenges logic and memory, and would encourage them to read and experience other thoughts, other ideas, other ways of being. If at all possible, I would travel with them, far and frequently. Not just to sites like the Grand Canyon, but to other communities, other cultures, other ways of life. And finally, when the time came for them to strike off on their own, I would make it clear to them that failure was not a consideration, that their happiness was my joy, that learning was lifelong, and that their place at my table would always be set and that they would always be welcomed back home with open arms and an open heart.
I can wish nothing better for my kids, and for yours.
Tags: AERO, Alternative Education, Global Village School
Using newer technological mediums and wholehearted story-telling to catch our eye.
“If I speak up will my voice be heard?” It’s natural to wonder, in today’s over-saturated information age, whether your words and efforts will reach a wide audience. Still, this may not be a question that young activists dwell on these days (and perhaps there is power in humility) as evidenced by two young graduates of Global Village School who are committed to harnessing technology to do what they can when they can.
A graduate of the University of San Diego, Jesse Aizenstat, 25, lists his current occupation as ”Intellectual insurgent for Peace.” His book about his travels is called Surfing the Middle East; it is about to be published as one of the first enhanced iPad ebooks. Aizenstat authors a blog called Blogging the Casbah, in which his goal is to employ levity and humor while highlighting the common man’s perspective on conflicts in the Middle East.
“I talk about politics apathetically,” says Aizenstat, “this is how it is, but what am I gonna do about it? For me, there’s no ‘who’s right and who’s wrong’–everybody’s wrong!” But in a youthfully genuine way, Aizenstat is not so much cynical as he is humble. “Who the hell am I to think that I could do something to change things? By doing whatsurfing with an Arab on one side of me and a Jew on the other?!” Still, he finds fault with the unremittingly serious reports about the Middle East. “Why can’t we have a little fun with it? Surfing and humor are tools to take a second look at the situation and they define who you’re hanging out with: just regular guys.”
Michael Preston, 27, is honing his skills as a spokesperson for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe while at UC Berkeley. When he was younger, Mike appreciated the importance of school and getting his high school diploma, but his motivation was lacking. While at Global Village School he found his fire and worked to gain skills now in order to have options later. “GVS gave me a platform to stand on and move on with my life…to move forward and upward.”
Getting serious about reading and writing produced unexpected results for Preston as he responds to inner and outer calls to speak out, in his quietly passionate way, on issues facing his native Winnemem Wintu tribe. Being a voice for the tribe is not easy for this soft-spoken young man, but telling a story comes naturally to him and the song in his heart comes through loud and clear.
Preston co-produced a radio show and has written articles for publications such as Indian Country Today. Currently, he is involved in the production of a movie about the Winnemem Wintu tribe’s journey to New Zealand where native Chinook salmon from the McCloud River in California were transplanted. The McCloud River was the center of Winnemem Wintu life until the 1940’s when the Lake Shasta dam project disrupted the salmon rivers. The Chinook salmon in NZ are the only surviving relatives of the once thriving salmon run on the McCloud; the movie will document the Winnemem Wintu’s efforts to reconnect to the salmon and return them to their sacred river.
Preston values the balance of structure and freedom that helped him raise his academic confidence. Aizenstat says about American education: “it is extremely rigid and seeks to confine the student with a predetermined curriculum. Global Village School reverses that by presenting options and asking ‘with your skill set, how would you express this?’ It’s a risk to ask a student ‘what do you feel passionate about?’ and then really listen to the answer.”
Global Village School:
Preston’s article in Indian Country Today: http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/archive/Preston-Protecting-salmon-ceremonies-and-culture-98107114.html
Preston’s radio project: http://www.radioproject.org/2009/05/the-war-dance-of-the-winnemem-wintu/
Aizenstat’s Blogging the Casbah: http://www.bloggingthecasbah.com/
About Global Village School –
From the coastal hills of Southern California, this successful distance learning school reaches out to students as far away as Arkansas, Argentina and Australia. The school offers an international K-12 homeschool diploma program that empowers students to cultivate their gifts and passions by engaging them in a creative, flexible educational process grounded in the principles of peace, justice, diversity, and sustainability.
Tags: AERO, Alternative Education, Rodney W. Lancaster
“A Place Where Teens Have Choice”
Rodney W. Lancaster
Do you have horror stories of going to school when you were younger? I do! I was the read-headed, acne faced, tall and lanky boy who was clumsy as an ox. I dreaded school, I was lost in Algebra, teacher lectures, coaches yelling at me for having two left feet, and just about everything else that was associated with traditional learning. I assume at least some of the readers reading this have experienced some type of trauma associated with public school and learning.
Therefore, I assert, that principles of lifelong learning relies heavily upon the aspect that all students have sufficient learning skills and the students ability to develop these skills in different learning environments throughout their educational opportunities. This is why I invite you to listen to my story. Hello, my name is Rod Lancaster and I am an Alternative Learning Environment Education teacher.
I have had the good fortune to become a doctoral student at Arkansas State University. I have had the pleasure of being taught and skilled by some of the leading professionals in the field of educational leadership. Brilliant minds, guiding my movements through the program like a coach on the sideline scripting plays, leaders who lead by example, leaders who carefully, creatively, and masterfully bring to my understanding the craft of teaching and learning. One such individual Dr. David Holman, an expert in the field of educational leadership at Arkansas State University, has led me to believe that teaching is about learning, which is about understanding human nature. The old saying “all kids can learn is a fallacy,” the saying “all kids can learn when they are ready to learn” is also not true, what is true is giving the kids the opportunity to learn when and where, and how they want to learn. These young men and women are not people in Taylor’s factory setting anymore.
At the heart of this philosophy is the willingness and ability to trust your young people. Affording them every opportunity to experience learning in a way that makes traditional thinkers just cringe. Nevertheless, forever letting these students chase their dreams, either successfully or through failure. This is what is being tried, right here, right now, in my ALE program.
ALTERNATIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT:
The ALE program has students from the ninth through the 12th grades. During each class, there is a maximum of 15 students per teacher, per hour. The ALE program alters the culture and basic ground rules that can stifle change in conventional public education. Although largely kept in the shadows and not well understood, the ALE program can be referred to as a “quiet giant” in the system of public education.
As the ALE program leader, I am always trying something new, something that will better educate the types of students entering the program. Perhaps more than anything, this program personalizes the education for each student; the buzzword “differentiated instruction” comes to mind. The program further provides a smaller environment that includes more direct and lasting relationships with their peers and me.
Principals and guidance counselors are starting to recommend the ALE program to at-risk students so they can focus more on the students who do not disrupt, or who are better suited for traditional coursework and classroom instruction. At the same time, many at-risk students and I have found that the non-traditional, new, and differentiated instructional atmosphere is actually more conducive to their learning. With the finding of this success, ALE instructional leaders such as me should be aggressively seeking to gain additional instructional strategies for the support of at-risk and hard-to reach students.
This is how I became aware of a school philosophy which has been around since the late 1960’s called the “Sudbury School Concept.” In 1968, the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts officially opened. It was the beginning of what was to be coined “the educational model based on self-initiated learning, democratic governance, and individual responsibility.” Since then, the Sudbury School Concept has become well known for helping create a new generation of people that are highly motivated, skillful, and rational thinking individuals who are intent on making their mark on society.
Beyond a doubt, life’s passage ways are about discovery, passion in what you enjoy, and the belief in the American dream. Therefore, what if we all went to public schools where the main objective was learning about all the above? Where the goal of everyday existence was to teach you about life, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness? That is what is happening in the Alternative Learning Environment. This is where my story begins.
This Sudbury concept was described in detail to the students on November 8, 2010. It was explained that I (the teacher) was going to initiate a short-term project that would last through Thanksgiving break. Put into plain words, they were going to be responsible for their individual lessons on the computer, practicing music, studying math, reading, writing, or engaging in intellectual rhetoric, within the ALE room. My capacity would be as the facilitator of knowledge, if they needed me. Therefore, it was freedom of choice that was being offered to them, allowing them to be them, to determine who they are and what each one wanted. Their overwhelming response to the idea was yes, and I mean yes! Their enthusiasm gave me resurgence in my teaching ability and their own individual judgment as young adults.
Each student was given the assignment of his or her individual lessons for a period lasting 12 days. Every student knew exactly what he or she was supposed to have accomplished and turned in by the last day, which was November 23, 2010. This meant they had complete control over when, where, how much, and how long they wished to study, or not to study.
The students knew that 12 assignments were due at a certain time, however, they would be allowed to work in small groups, one on one, or with me, in their engagement of time on task lessons when they felt it was necessary. This more than anything is interesting to note, these kids were more critical, and develop higher standards for themselves, when they were engaged in a self-imposed goal versus me giving them a pass or fail test.
Just imagine this. As my students, they were able to walk into my and class set where, and how they wanted, no questions asked. Some of my kids just wanted to set on the floor, which was fine with me. If they wanted to practice the guitar all day, they did. If they wanted to paint all day, they did. If they wanted to study their Math, English, History, Spanish, with me or their peers, they did. If they wanted to search the internet for specifications about rebuilding a motor, they did could do that too. Sounds chaotic, but you have to remember the Latin motto, “Ordo Ab Chao,” which literally means, “Order out of Chaos.” This is what is happening in my class and it is working. This for me is eye opening, coming from a traditional background of instructional methodology.
There were no (what I would call) formal assessments or evaluations with this trial run. The students naturally evaluated themselves by scrutinizing their own sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with what was going on at that moment in time. Traditional report cards will still have to be given out, and needed in this public school environment. That is why assignments were given ahead of the due date. Nothing new, nothing flashy, just a choice, which some students said they never, got inside the traditional structured environment.
Am I really doing anything different from traditional teaching with these kids is a good question? The only differing answer is that I trust them to become responsible, wise, and creative in all they do. Research has shown that the Sudbury concept actually raises a child’s curiosity about their surrounding world (Sadofsky and Greenberg, 1999). Therefore, as a result, these kids have become successful at the most important skill they could master, how to be masters of their own life, which I assume would coincide somewhat with the Sudbury concept.
The big question now is will I try this again. The overwhelming answer came from my kids, it will be yes, and I mean a resounding yes! This is because when the trial period was over, I quickly took their freedom of individuality away. It was almost to the point of mutiny in the classroom. I felt like I was on the set of Frank Lloyd’s “Mutiny on the Bounty,” and I was being cast out on the longboat. I hope that in my final scene of the ALE test, I too am able to give a rousing speech to my students such as Clark Gable does to his fellow mutineers speaking of creating a perfect society of free men, away from traditional means.
The reality I look forward to is that these kids see ALE as a very different instructional place, free from the restraints of them being incapable of self-improvement. A place for them to have “The right of nature,” which writers commonly call ‘jus naturale,’ the liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything, which in his own judgment, and reason, he shall conceive to be to be the aptest means thereunto” (Rachels and Rachels, 2007, p. 60). To me that makes perfect since.
Through their participation in this trial run of the Sudbury concept, the students gained experience working with others to make decisions. They acquired valuable experience discussing their positions on important current event issues that affected their day-to-day life. They came to understand that their opinions mattered to me as well as the group, and that it had a profound effect on the larger community, the larger community being their peers and teachers outside the ALE room. This is becoming a school within a school, where young adults get to practice life skills together.
These ALE students, my kids, are inherently motivated to learn, they are not just misfits of society and I am surely not the dumping ground for otherwise intelligent human beings. What these students need (in my humble opinion) is not to be force-fed. We need them in their own world; we need their insight, their creativity, and their individuality. It is when we as teachers forget our role as teachers that lead us to be so scared of change. We are the ones now so accustomed to forcing them to learn on a specific time schedule (for the test), that we leave them out of the final destination, which is the real world.
We have forgotten that there are two very distinct patterns of knowledge that teachers instructional strategies play with. One is declarative knowledge, the other is procedural (Pollock and Ford, 2009). Now, let me make this as simple possible. I have a student who farms; he/she drives a tractor. If they can name the parts of the tractor (e.g., tires, wheels, seat, brakes) they have acquired declarative knowledge. If they can drive the tractor, they have acquired procedural knowledge. The reality is that kids use both, but are we always teaching them both? This is why teachers should vary their instructional deliveries to accommodate both sides of the brain.
One thing for sure is that this is not a full-fledged Sudbury School. These students do have to go outside of the ALE room to standard instructional avenues. As a staff member, I have to be careful in identifying educational choices for these kids. This is done by inching my way into their thinking processes, goading them along, for their benefit. Pragmatically speaking, this may be seen as just a differentiated constructivist environment, participating in the democratic process. Nevertheless, you know what, I am here for these kids; they know my outlook on quite a few issues. They know I have been where they are now, they see me where I am today, and they believe where I am going tomorrow, what more can you ask.
Perhaps we who are ALE teachers could/should consider the following aspects about this experiment. It is not that the Sudbury concept worked, but more about trust. Trusting that our students have the ability and opportunity to accomplish what has been given to them within their DNA, even in failure. It becomes a driving, positive, innate instinct to increase their understanding of themselves and their environment, which undoubtedly will leave an outpouring of continued intense exploration of their life.
We therefore as teachers, (again, in my humble opinion), should be structuring our schools to mirror society, so that we can be the source of confident, and capable students in a growing pluralistic society.
Pollock, J.E., & Ford, S.H. (2009). Improving student learning one principal at a time. Alexandria, Va. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Rachels, J., & Rachels, S. (2007). The right thing to do. Basic readings in moral philosophy. New York, NY. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Sadofsky, M., & Greenberg, D. (1999). Reflections on the Sudbury school concept. Framingham, MA. Sudbury Valley School Press.
Tags: AERO, Alternative Education, Laura Grace Weldon
Laura Grace Weldon
My baby was as good as a dog. At least I hoped so.
I’d read that nursing home residents benefitted enormously from contact with therapy dogs. During and after dog visits these elders were more alert and in better moods. So I figured, why not bring my baby to a nursing home?
I contacted the nursing home around the corner. The administrator was enthusiastic. Then I talked my Le Leche League friends into forming a nursing home-based playgroup for our infants and toddlers. They were somewhat wary, but agreed to give it a try. Finally I got a local store to donate a carpet remnant for our little ones to crawl and play on. Between visits, the nursing home could roll it up for storage. We were ready.
Our first visit was difficult. Many of us had no experience with the range of disabilities we saw that day. But it wasn’t difficult for our babies. They smiled and cooed with friendly abandon.
We met regularly at that nursing home for several years. While our babies grew into toddlers the elders became our friends. Residents’ families and staff members often told us that our visits stimulated memories, generated activity, even inspired people who were mostly mute to say a few words. We were awed. Simply our presence, as we sat on the carpet playing with our children, made a difference to people whose once full lives were now constricted. We benefitted too. We listened to advice given by people older than our grandparents. We learned from our toddlers who accepted the physical and mental differences around them with natural grace. And we began to grasp our temporary hold on the privileges accorded to us by youth.
I’m still not sure why the young and very old are kept apart from life on the commons. Vital and engaged communities are made up of all ages. Chances are children have fewer opportunities to take an active part than almost any adult. This shortchanges everyone.
Throughout history, the young of our species have learned by getting involved. Children long to take on real responsibilities and make useful contributions. This is how they advance in skill and maturity. That is, unless we restrict them to child-centered activities.
Young people are also drawn to seek mentors. They want to see how all sorts of people handle crises, start businesses, make repairs, settle disputes, and stay in love. But these days they are largely kept from meaningful engagement with the wider community. They’re segregated by age not only in day care and school but also in most spheres of recreation, religion, and enrichment. When we keep kids from purposeful and interesting involvement with people of all ages they are pushed to find satisfaction in other (often less beneficial) ways. Meanwhile, our communities are deprived of their youthful energy and innovative outlook.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to reconnect children with our communities.
1. Involve children by giving them real input and responsibility in civic groups, churches, co-ops, CSA’s, arts organizations, clubs, and neighborhood organizations. What about a child who is a dedicated rock enthusiast but the local lapidary club only accepts adult members? Propose a joint adult/child membership, giving that child the same (age factored) opportunities to build social capital in the club. A similar approach can be taken with organizations that refuse to take youthful volunteers. Offer to give your time in partnership with the child, a two-for-one volunteer bargain. Adult advocates are often necessary to pave the way for genuine youth involvement in many groups.
2. Give children contact with the workaday world. They need to know people with a range of hobbies and careers. Connect them with people who are passionate about chemistry, bird watching, farming, the Civil War, engineering, astronomy, bagpipes, geology, blacksmithing, wood carving, drumming, well, you get the idea. Something vital is transmitted when one person’s enthusiasm sets off a spark of interest in a child. We’re rarely turned down when we ask to learn from others. People who love what they do can’t help but inspire kids and, they often tell me, the kids reignite their hope for the future of their work.
3. Help local businesses tune in to children’s interests. For example, a bakery might hang children’s art on the walls, make meeting space available for a kids’ chess club, host Invent A Cookie contests, open the kitchen for tours, offer apprenticeships to aspiring young pastry chefs, teach parent-child baking classes, invite speakers to explain the science of yeast and flour, give cupcakes as prizes for youth community volunteer hours, etc. Businesses that are truly engaged in this way inspire loyal customers, they also enliven the community.
4. Create age-bridging partnerships, as we did with babies and nursing home residents. Non-profit organizations are great places to start. One successful program called Girlfriend Circle started due to complaints. A group of women at a senior center often told a volunteer that they had no hope for the future because children “nowadays” are rude. The volunteer offered to set up a tea party for the ladies that included her daughters and their friends. At that first event the girls were seated between their older hostesses. Everyone enjoyed a lesson in napkin origami. Then they took part in a Q&A to learn about one another. After sharing refreshments both age groups were eager to meet again. The Girlfriend Circle met bi-monthly for several years, finding their friendships instructive and rewarding.
5. Include young people in civic affairs, giving them genuine input into programs and policies. This works in Hampton, Virginia. Young people take leadership roles by holding conferences and open forums, advising municipal divisions, and helping to run the Hampton Youth Teen Center. City administration also includes a Youth Commission, with 24 youth commissioners, 3 youth planners, and one youth secretary–all high school age.
This comes full circle for me, right back to dogs and volunteering. A boy who had been a member of the play group we held at the nursing home talked his family into raising puppies to be trained as service dogs. By the time he was 12 years old, this boy gave promotional talks about this program to clubs and schools. I attended one of his community programs. He started off with some anecdotes about exasperating puppies. Then he went on to describe the generosity and hope his family felt each time they attended graduation ceremonies for fully trained dogs, ready to serve. I tend to think community involvement is a path to wholeness. I’m convinced it has a lot to do with that boy’s smile.
Laura Grace Weldon is writer and conflict resolution educator. She lives on Bit of Earth Farm with her family. She’s the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. Connect with her at www.lauragraceweldon.com
“We Don’t Need No Age Segregation”
Hampton, Virginia Youth Space
Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon
Tags: AERO, Alternative Education, fertile grounds project, jonah canner
Are you an experienced camp counselor? Are you a youth worker who likes camping? You should apply for the Survival Project.
Survival Project is an overnight outdoor education program for New York City school groups. three-day outdoor education, group-building, and leadership seminar for school groups. Students form teams to complete obstacle courses comprised of puzzles and physical challenges. They participate in trust building exercises, cook their own food, employ problem-solving skills, challenge themselves physically, and learn the value of working as a group. Participants spend 60 hours without the aid of electronic equipment. They engage in physically strenuous activities through group and individual challenges. They also learn and enact valuable leadership skills they can bring back to the classroom and their lives at home.
Guides will work as facilitators of the program and will have an educational experience of their own. Interns will live together at our campsite in the catskills for four weeks this spring taking turns working as group leaders and support staff for the three day long trips. Interns will have access to a communal kitchen and will have housing accommodations provided. Interns will have time off on site and will have days off during which they can return to the city.
Watch the Survival Project Video here: http://vimeo.com/12302630
Instructors must have a proven ability to lead young people from all ethnic and social backgrounds in an outdoor group setting. Must maintain professionalism and exercise patience in high stress situations.
· Lead group conversations
· Maintain safety of the students in the field
· Support staff in logistics of program
· Facilitate challenge initiatives
· Develop mentor relationships with youth participants
Requirements (One or more of these skills)
· Competence in a wide range of outdoor skills (i.e.tent and camp fire building)
· Knowledge of group dynamics and diversity issues.
· Experience working with urban youth.
· Strong desire to help teens develop in the outdoors.
Contact Jonah Canner at Fertile Grounds Project: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 347-722-1757
More information can be found at: http://survivalproject.org