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Trivial Pursuits

Back when I used to watch Jeopardy regularly, I’d jokingly tell myself I was validating my intense liberal arts education. After all, being able to answer rapid-fire questions on a broad range of subjects clearly demonstrated my intelligence, right? If I wasn’t earning multi-thousand-dollar payouts, surely I could take comfort in imagining I was just as smart as the contestants.

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve watched Jeopardy on a regular basis, but I have been playing pub trivia most of the past seven or so years. This particular game is rather well-designed, with neither schoolish geeks nor those steeped in pop music, entertainment, and sports having a marked advantage. (And while I wouldn’t mind big cash prizes, the coupons for food and drink are a reasonable substitute.)

Why do I play trivia? Because it’s fun, of course. Hanging out with friends, eating and drinking and competing against strangers–what’s not to love? Still, enjoyment aside, I’ve come to appreciate over time how much this silly, social game has to teach.

It all begins with the team. Continue reading

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A Blog For Emily

“Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?” ~ Ezra Bayda

By this point in my career I’ve worked with literally hundreds of students. While I’ve been fortunate to maintain some connection with many, that number is dwarfed by all those who’ve fallen, largely or entirely, through the cracks of my hazy, fragmentary memory.

There remain a handful of students, however, whose memory persists independently of whether I see them online or even talk with them at all. Emily was one I’d always wanted to find but never managed to track down, despite periodic efforts. I kept trying because years ago we’d started talking and I wanted to get back to that, to resume the conversation and catch up.image

I have to admit, I recall little to nothing about Emily as a sophomore World History student during my first year of regular teaching (actually, that whole year is something of a stressful blur). What I do remember, vividly and fondly, is that during her senior year Emily got into the habit of stopping by my classroom after the end of the school day, just to sit and chat.

There were two teachers’ desks in the room, and maybe two or three times a week Emily would show up a few minutes after the last bell and sit at the other desk, and together we’d wind down after the long day. I don’t recall the specifics—although I do know one recurring theme was whatever she was going through with her boyfriend at the time. These conversations were simply an opportunity to decompress, to talk about whatever came up. Toward the end of that year, Emily gave me one of her senior photos, on the back of which she’d written the following: Continue reading

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Ice Bucket Challenged

ice-bucket-challengeI’m no epidemiologist, but as viral as it’s become, I knew it only was a matter of time before I contracted the Ice Bucket Challenge.

And I must confess, the approach of even such a healthy epidemic left me feeling uneasy. As conventional as I may sometimes appear, at my very core lies firmly rooted a stubborn contrarianism. As surely as if psychology were physics, the more people who are doing something—and the more pressure there is for others to join them—the more resistance I feel.

While I don’t want to isolate myself from society, I don’t trust the crowd. While, as a nonprofit promoter, I admire the effectiveness of this campaign, I wonder about all the other worthy causes out there. What about those who are already doing and giving all they can, or who prefer different forms of doing and giving?

Far be it from me, though, to rain on good fun or a good cause. Fortunately, my stubbornness is offset by an equal-opportunity skepticism of my own beliefs, as well as curiosity, openness and, I hope, some measure of human decency. Thus, in keeping with another of my patterns, I decided to participate but in my own way Continue reading

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Who’s Responsible For This?

As a former high school teacher and longtime Sudbury advocate, I’m pretty mindful of how different these two paradigms are for the adults and students who live them. My relatively new Twitter habit has really brought this out for me, enhancing my appreciation for what this contrast entails.

My tweeting counterparts in conventional schools frequently describe the burdens teachers shoulder on a daily basis. I remember from my own years in that system the weighty, unceasing responsibility of deciding what to teach students, and how: how to chop up and frame the material, how to get students motivated and keep them engaged, how to measure what they’ve learned. And of course all this instruction can only occur when teachers succeed at what’s known in the business as “classroom management.”

Yes, I remember quite vividly what a struggle teaching was, and this makes me all the more grateful I found my way to Sudbury schooling. While my duties as a staff member do include teaching, they extend more broadly to mentoring and building relationships with students, plus helping run and grow the school. In this environment I have discretion over how to do my job, working as part of a non-hierarchical team that frequently stretches me in new ways. Being on staff at a Sudbury school is demanding, but the challenges are more authentic and fulfilling than I’ve experienced anywhere else.

In both Sudbury and conventional schooling, adults take on serious responsibilities. In mainstream schools, however, so much of the responsibility for learning is placed on the adults. No wonder working there is so demanding and exhausting! Content, scheduling, activities, instruction and assessment, not to mention classroom and school management—teachers and principals are in charge of all these things, because it’s assumed young people can’t or won’t take responsibility for their own learning.

Contrast that with the distribution of responsibilities at a Sudbury school. Continue reading

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Looking for the Write Road

photo credit:

photo credit:

Following up on yesterday’s post, I feel the need to take my bearings on something I merely touched on there: how to go about securing enough freelance writing and editing work to pay the bills while building up CASE, my Sudbury schooling nonprofit.

I suppose this may simply be one more take on the ancient “day job” dilemma. My Sudbury passion doesn’t currently support me, so I look to other work—namely, wordsmithing, another of my passions—to fill in the gap. Yes, I could (and may have to) look for non-passion-driven work, anything that will generate income while leaving me enough time and energy to do what I love. But after all, the whole point of this blog, of my quest, is to find a path that doesn’t require excessive compromise; to prove that one can make a decent living pursuing one’s passions.

That’s all well and good, yet here I sit, enjoying the challenge of crafting words for which I am not being paid—which, for all I know, will never lead to a paying job or any other source of funding. Or might these verbal games actually lead somewhere? Such is the siren call of my current lifestyle: never knowing whether what I’m doing at any moment is a waste of time or an investment in a future of viable creativity.

So how do I solve this puzzle? Continue reading


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Sudbury: Theme & Variations (Part II)

As the title suggests, this is a continuation of a post I wrote a few days ago, the second half of a talk I prepared last December, but ended up scrapping. You don’t need to have read the earlier post first, but the two do work together to make my overall case.

Where else does theme-and-variations apply to Sudbury schools? Well, we all have School Meetings, and we all have some form of democratic conflict resolution. Usually this means JC (Judicial Committee), but some schools—at least in the past, and usually due to small numbers—used something called a Judicial School Meeting, a sort of blending of JC and School Meeting. Some schools have one or another form of mediation, including a daily pre-JC meeting where people have the option—if all parties agree—of talking through complaints more informally and seeking agreement or understanding. And some have an Ombudsman, a clerk who investigates allegations of elected officials not doing their jobs. Even within JC there are any number of variations, from how many people make up the JC to the vocabulary (e.g., sentences vs. consequences) and the procedures for handling cases.

One more theme-and-variation subject would be the diploma procedures at nearly all Sudbury schools. On the theme side, there’s generally a thesis that prospective graduates have to defend; usually something like the assertion that they’ve adequately prepared themselves to become effective adults. But the specific steps—such as whether that defense is voted on by a local panel, by a panel of people from other Sudbury schools, or by the entire Assembly—varies among schools. Schools in at least two different states aren’t even allowed by law to issue documents called diplomas, except under certain conditions, but we all have some means of acknowledging and honoring the moments when our older students are ready to move on.

This idea of Sudbury as theme and variations was an easy choice for a topic because, seriously, it’s been part of my daily life here at Clearview, my personal curriculum. Continue reading

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Interdependent Gratitude

It strikes me, on this AVAE* concert weekend, just how poignant a lesson on interdependence is found in a musical ensemble: each person reliant on others for the co-creation of beauty; everyone assuming the responsibility of showing up, learning the music, staying focused and present. Through a blending of efforts and perspectives and experience, through a common commitment, this unspeakably wondrous thing is brought into being that otherwise could not be. Performance touches upon the very essence of sharing, within an ensemble as well as between ensemble and audience.

This thing that I require in my life — experiencing and expressing music — I cannot fully accomplish on my own, no matter how hard I try or how much I work. No, the only way is through vulnerability, through giving of ourselves, recognizing the fact of interdependence and living up to it as best we can. This is how our souls are fed, through feeding each other. Awareness of this — and appreciation of the result — takes me beyond gratitude to a place I can only describe as reverence, quietly and humbly overwhelming.

This is my faith, my practice — this way of seeing, of being, of connecting with something that encompasses so much more than my personal, small self.


*the Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble

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