Tag Archives: Sudbury

Baggage Claim

Last week, I wrote about the process of finding—then becoming disillusioned with and leaving—what I initially considered my dream job, only to find a true dream job shortly thereafter (namely, my Sudbury career). Baggage_Claim_at_CPHToday I want to explore a key implication of this process, perhaps its dark underbelly: the emotional baggage that persists to this day.

That’s not to say it hasn’t gotten better: about a year ago I wrote about how the missionary zeal that overtook me when I discovered Sudbury schooling has been tempered by time and experience, how I’m considerably more diplomatic, pragmatic, and secure. But this bee in my bonnet is still there, and occasionally overshadows friendships now just as it did when I lost my best work-friend from my first teaching job.

So why is it that, even as a (self-professed) secure pragmatist, this stuff still gets under my skin? Why does my teaching past haunt me so, and why do observations of what happens in conventional schools still tend to drive me into a not-so-calm state of frustration, depression, resentment and/or anger? Continue reading


Filed under The Apostasy & the Ecstasy

Dream Jobs and Nightmares

You know the stereotypical dream where you show up to take the final for a class you haven’t attended or studied for? My version comes with a twist: I regularly find myself back at the high school where I began my teaching career. It’s the first day of school and I’ve done absolutely no prep whatsoever. I don’t even know where things are, and my mailbox is overflowing with unread notices.

What’s ironic is that, in the beginning, I really did consider this my dream job. This is the school where I’d done my student teaching, and during the ensuing year and half, it’s where I did the vast majority of my mostly-full-time substituting. The school had a solid reputation, and I’d lived in this town since starting my Master’s program, so not only was this my first-choice assignment, I didn’t have to move. And so I distinctly recall, on a late spring day in 1993, running upstairs to share the good news my principal had just given me with two of my closest teacher friends. I distinctly recall thinking with trembling excitement, “I just got the perfect job! I will never have to look for work again!”

Okay, so you know that old line that the best way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans? How about the warning, “Be careful what you wish for?” Well…

I had some sense, of course, some expectation that my life as a first-year teacher would be uniquely insane. In my case the insanity was enhanced by the fact that I had three preps (i.e., three different sets of lesson plans) and was the assistant Speech and Debate coach (which meant many long weekends spent in other people’s high schools). Yet at some point during that year, I realized that many of the things stressing me out weren’t likely to improve as I grew more adept at the work. As it turned out, I was right: three years after getting my dream job, I left conventional teaching for good.

So what happened? Why did I leave? Continue reading


Filed under The Apostasy & the Ecstasy

Niche Guys Finish Last (?)

If I ever wanted proof that our life’s work calls us, rather our choosing it, I wouldn’t have to look too far. In both my career and my personal life, I seem drawn to things that tend to appeal only to niche audiences. (See The Reluctant Reformer and Missionary Positions for related rants on this subject.)

In some cases, this is a minor to moderate inconvenience. For example, the fact that I’m passionate about singing early and contemporary music means there are relatively few opportunities and relatively small audiences—which means, of course, that those choirs often struggle to make their budgets. While this is occasionally frustrating, for me it doesn’t detract too much from the experience.

Where it really hits hard, this niche habit, is in my passions for Sudbury schooling and Zen. There aren’t nearly as many Sudbury schools as there ought to be, in my opinion, and those that exist are often quite small. On the one hand, there is some benefit in the constant incentive to streamline budgets, but far too few families even know about this model or have a school nearby, and far too many schools have closed in the years I’ve been part of this movement.

To some extent this is inevitable, at least for the foreseeable future: not that many people in our culture appear ready to leap to this not-so-new paradigm, to extend full trust and responsibility to school-age people. To find those who are, I long to develop better ways of spreading the Sudbury word, and then supporting those people and their schools. Hence my creating the organization now known as Friends of Sudbury Schooling (though here again, having a niche appeal means it’s that much harder to find the financial support to do the actual work).

With my Zen practice I face a similar challenge Continue reading

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Quest Questions

“If you don’t understand the way right before you,
how will you know the path as you walk?
Progress is not a matter of far or near,
but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.
I respectfully urge you who study the mystery,
don’t waste time.”

~ Shitou Xiqian, “Harmony of Difference and Equality”

I started this blog nearly three years ago with the express purpose of chronicling, and seeking guidance for, a quest of mine: to prove that one can simultaneously pursue one’s passions and sustain a modestly comfortable lifestyle. Well, the time has whizzed by, and I’m not sure I’m any closer to my goal, but this seems as good a moment as any for a progress (or lack thereof) report.

In the past three years I moved from Denver to Austin and back in something of a sub-quest for my magic mantra of Money, Mission, Mate, and Home. I’ve managed to earn enough from various school and freelancing jobs not to burn all the way through the savings I took from the world of regular, full-time work. When I’ve been able to maintain enough focus, I’ve brainstormed various schemes and ideas for how to find/create work I love that also pays the bills.

And yet, as I said above, I don’t seem to have progressed terribly far toward my goal of passion-driven, life-sustaining work, despite having learned a good bit and enjoyed some adventures. Were I to issue myself a performance evaluation using the criteria of that four-part mantra, I’d have to say I’m one for four at best (Mission), with bits and pieces of the other three.

How could I have let the years slip through my fingers just like that? How can it be so easy to get lost in the day-to-day trees as to completely lose sight of the life’s-purpose forest? I’ve been just getting by for years, telling myself, “Well, this isn’t so bad. Let’s give it one more year and see what happens.”

Well, no longer. I am no longer willing to “one more year” myself.

But what does that mean? First off, I think it means I have to stop wasting time; I have to stop indulging myself in any pursuit that doesn’t further this quest. It means I have to be ever more focused and disciplined in identifying and going after what I want.

Okay, fine: so what do I want, then? Again returning to the mantra, I want: Continue reading


Filed under My Quest

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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Over Thinking

 You overanalyze everything.

This is from an email a friend recently sent me, but frankly, it could be attributed to any number of  friends from pretty much any period of my life. Hi, my name is Bruce, and I’m a thinker. This habit of overanalyzing leaves me prone to indecision as well.

Here’s the thing, though: I’ve built a career on thinking. Teaching and writing, as well as promoting Sudbury schools, have for years required constant cultivation of my ability to craft and convey messages—all the more so when the message is complicated and/or foreign to the recipient’s experience. Over the years, my Sudbury work has frequently thrown me into novel situations with demands well outside my comfort zone.


Source: Destination Hollywood

While I relish such challenges, I do recognize the limits of an analytical point of view—but that growth was a long time in coming. When Star Wars: Episode I came out fifteen years ago, I distinctly recall my aversion to Qui-Gon’s advice to Anakin prior to the big pod race: “Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts.” Put feeling first? What was that Jedi master thinking?

In searching for that quote, I also discovered this exchange between Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master:

Obi-Wan: But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future.
Qui-Gon: But not at the expense of the moment.

It may be cliché, campy, or otherwise questionable to uphold Star Wars as a source of spiritual wisdom, but interestingly, in recent years I have found my way to a much older tradition. Continue reading

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American Idols

With professional hockey and basketball now entering their postseasons, and with the annual return of the national pastime known as baseball, I find my thoughts turning to the rather charged subject of false idols.

Don’t get me wrong: I have been, at times, rather fan-atic about sports myself, and I still visit ESPN.com regularly; there are still teams whose success or failure tugs at me. As a child back in the pre-Internet era, I collected baseball cards and kept scrapbooks of newspaper clippings. sportsingWhen, following a rather dramatic playoff loss, my father questioned why I was crying over a game, I angrily protested through my tears that “if I didn’t cry, it would mean I didn’t care!” Later, as a college undergrad I yelled myself hoarse over football and basketball teams my bands supported with great devotion.

So I hope I’m not being hypocritical here. Indeed, as I’ll explain shortly, there are idols everywhere—including self-righteous judgment. It’s just that, as in a previous post on the subject, certain aspects of the religion I grew up with seem to be making a resurgence in my middle age, ironically as I seek a more consistent, serious Zen practice.

The term idol can be taken to mean to anything worshiped falsely, the human tendency to get our priorities way out of whack and hold something up as being of infinitely greater importance than it warrants; excessive and/or blind devotion, that sort of thing.

Pretty much anything can be made the object of idolatry Continue reading

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