writer/educator seeks viable life of creativity and mindfulness

Welcome to the chronicle of my quest to prove that the pursuit of passion can entail a sustainable income. Along the way, I hope you’ll enjoy my ramblings on Sudbury schooling, Zen, and the joy of writing.

If something here somehow intrigues, confuses, or bothers you, I invite you to leave a comment—though hopefully framed in such a way as to enhance, rather than hinder, fruitful dialogue. After all, one of my main goals here is to stimulate conversation and new ideas, not listen to myself talk.

“Now,” to quote Maurice Sendak, “let the wild rumpus start!”

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Doing Nothing: A Love-Hate Relationship

So much in this country and world is so seriously screwed up — but what am I doing about it, apart from sitting in comfort on my privileged posterior, intermittently complaining, occasionally feeling guilty? Like most, I spend so much of my time on trivial nonsense, willfully blinding myself to my outrageous lack of real contributions (out of self-protection? I don’t know, does the reason really matter?). I don’t want this post, this blog, to remain yet another exercise in self-flagellation (rationalization/consolation). I am tired of thinking (talking/writing) but not truly acting, stopping instead at the point of feeling soothed that, golly, I sure have my heart in the right place, huh? 

But how do I avoid once again falling short? How can I (finally!) make the leap from good intentions to sustained (and sustainable) action? I still have bills to pay, and limited time and other resources. I still have no idea where to begin or how to move forward.

At the same time, I have to confess Continue reading

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Much To-Do About Nothing

Words, words, words
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?

Like Eliza, I sometimes get sick of words — more specifically, my own; more specifically still, the fact that when it comes to what I imagine as my “mission,” I feel frequently and endlessly stuck in a swamp of my own verbiage. 

Partly, I think, this reflects the challenge of carving out any sort of time for any new venture — or even oases of sanity — in a world that doesn’t much support dreaming and remaking. Yet even when I’ve found myself with extended time to play and explore, I feel stymied by an inertia whose roots extend far deeper than distraction. 

Basically, I‘m butting heads with an overabundance of options and no clear sense of direction, compounded by a touch of imposter syndrome.

There are even myriad tracks within the countless options! Continue reading

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Resurrecting a Blog

It’s been longer since I last posted here than the entire time this blog was more or less active. For better or worse, five years (and change) after my previous post — 9.5 years since my first — the subtitle I originally chose for Write Learning (writer/educator seeks viable life of creativity and mindfulness) still very much pertains. 

Recently I’ve upended, scrambled, and otherwise shifted my personal situation, a kaleidoscope twist facilitated by the pandemic, but inspired and significantly driven by my ongoing quest for meaningful, sustainable work.

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The Hard Way

“All right, we can do this the easy way or the hard way…”

How many of you have heard some variation of this, in real life or some movie or show? It’s something of a cliché, right? Some authority figure, maybe a detective, trying to secure the cooperation of a less powerful but recalcitrant individual, issues this not-so-thinly veiled threat. Do what I want, or I will make things difficult and unpleasant for you.

In this post, I want to discuss the relative merits of the hard way. For starters, consider the seemingly unstoppable human drive to learn things the hard way. I’ve often thought you can offer someone several detailed reasons why they won’t like the results of something they’re about to do—you could create charts and images matching the consequences against things they most definitely hate—and yet, so much of the time, the person will insist on doing it anyway.

At some point it occurred to me that if this is such a common experience, maybe there’s something deep at work here. And maybe that something is this: Continue reading

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Advanced Placement

A few years ago—when I was first getting this blog going—a student from my first teaching job asked me…

…to write a post (or several) that explain why Sudbury is better than Hickman at its best. I’m not trying to challenge Sudbury, but I’ve been wondering for ages…I’ve always thought of your European History class as (by far) the best class I ever took. And I can picture how the average Sudbury class (or module? phase? session?) would be far better than the average Hickman class (honors, AP, whatever), but what I still don’t understand is how Sudbury allows you to deliver something better than your AP Euro 1995…I think my overall question is that I picture AP Euro as a complete success and example of how traditional education should be done, and so it’s hard for me to picture that an unstructured (differently structured? maybe that’s my question) program can be so much better.

It’s a good thing this assignment didn’t come with a deadline! But seriously, her question has been stuck in my head all this time, as I too have long been fascinated by the contrast between my own schooling and first career, on the one hand, and my subsequent immersion in Sudbury schooling. Now, finally, I’ve found the time and summoned the nerve to dig into another comparison of these disparate strands of my professional life.

My first thought is that there’s actually nothing in Sudbury schooling that would prevent me from teaching an AP European History class like that one from the mid-90s—nothing, that is, except for the Sudbury requirement that classes be completely student-initiated. Yet in 19 years with Sudbury, I’ve almost never taught a  history class. I’ve taught a little history, sure, some Spanish and piano, and a lot of English (mostly creative writing) and math—but never anything resembling AP Euro. Why might that be? Continue reading


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19-Year Beginner

These past few years, I’ve been very fortunate to see my Sudbury work reaching larger audiences. In addition to a steadily increasing reach on Twitter, I’ve had the pleasure of particulating in a number of shows, such as the Conscious Consumer Network’s For the Love of Learning and L4G.tv’s Education Show. Most gratifying have been the times my colleagues at other Sudbury schools have brought me in for both presentations and longer consulting gigs.

That said, I also feel a fair amount of ambivalence when I’m regarded, especially by other Sudbury schools, as some kind of expert. Mostly this comes from a longstanding habit of self-deprecation, the good Midwestern modesty on which I  was raised. I wonder, how can I be a Sudbury expert when I’m still figuring so much of this out? Even two decades in, the scope of this work is truly daunting: Continue reading


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What I Talk About When I Talk About Self-Directed Learning (Part Two)

Last week I began a pair of posts on self-directed learning, considering first what it means and looks like, promising in Part Two to explain “why I’ve found Sudbury schooling particularly effective in supporting self-directed learning.”

But it’s a tricky thing, explaining self-directed learning. As I said previously, it “doesn’t look like learning to many people…If these kids are actually learning, then why does it look like they’re just goofing off? If this is so educational, why does it look like perpetual recess?” Because that is what I see at the Sudbury schools I know: tons of play and conversation; kids hanging out and running around; kids on screens and outside and active and resting and…well, living, basically.

So where in this is the learning, and how is it self-directed?

Let’s take the self-directed part first. Continue reading

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(Note: I wrote the following as the text for a musical piece commissioned to honor Thomas Edward Morgan of the Ars Nova Singers. In September 2016 Tom received a lifetime achievement award from the  Dairy Arts Center in Boulder, Colorado.)


All too rarely one appears, so 
blessed by love and light to 
make connections, see possibilities 
the mass of us would miss    

drawing together divergent elements,
sparking reactions, birthing beauty 
from and for us all; freely giving over 
years without being consumed, like 
the sun warming, the rain showering 
a life-giving essence, like 
the bee pollinating far beyond 
intention and activity.

We thank the artist, this alchemist 
who creates for us a richer world
where we may live more 
deeply and more true.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Self-Directed Learning (Part One)

We all have things we’re so deeply accustomed to—phrases, habits, routines, etc. —we rarely think about them. And with good reason: without these blinders, or the time we spend on autopilot, the sheer volume of input in our raw experience would overwhelm us to the point of paralysis. However, it’s also quite useful to at least periodically step back and reconsider what we typically take for granted.

After nearly two decades of working for Sudbury schools, I’ve written and spoken about self-directed learning so much, it’s easy to forget that this term might not be as self-evident as I, most of the time, seem to assume. Advocates of self-directed learning (a group that extends well beyond the world of Sudbury schooling, for sure) use this label as a sort of shorthand for the theory of learning upon which we base our various practices, while those newer to the concept, I think, are often at something of a loss as to how exactly theory and practice connect.

So with this pair of posts, I’d like to engage in a little navel-gazing, first teasing out what self-directed learning means and looks like, then, in Part Two, explaining why I find Sudbury schooling such an integral and uniquely valuable means of supporting it.

Let’s begin with the notion of directing one’s own learning. Continue reading


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Least Restrictive Environment

My formal teacher training was so long ago—and so irrelevant to my subsequent career, for the most part—that I almost never think of it. Recently, however, a term from those Curriculum & Instruction days found its way to my conscious mind, where it’s accumulated new layers of meaning, perhaps a bit like a grain of sand irritating its way into a pearl.

The term is “Least Restrictive Environment,” and as my memory recalls, stretching back to the early ’90s, it pertains to the world of special education. The idea is that those students unable to function in a regular classroom should be given one as close to it as they can manage. In other words, Special Ed kids may require greater restrictions—restrictions intended as supports: fewer options or more oversight, that sort of thing—but those restrictions should be minimized, so that their classroom experience is as close to “normal” as possible.

For what it’s worth, here’s what Google put at the top of my search page just now: “In the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), least restrictive environment (LRE) means that a student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers, to the greatest extent appropriate.”

So my memory seems relatively accurate: but now, after nearly twenty years’ experience with Sudbury schools, I have questions that wouldn’t have occurred to me as a beginning teacher. First and foremost, why should only people with a “disability” be provided an environment that’s the “least restrictive”? I understand that the context of these restrictions is the mainstream classroom, but really: Why should anyone’s education be any more restrictive than absolutely necessary? Continue reading

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