I was cleaning out the closet in my workroom and didn’t so much run across as go looking for two boxes full of books and papers from a project I was part of a few years ago that didn’t go as I hoped it would. The boxes had been in there, calling for my attention for I don’t know how long, and I was going to get rid of all of it. Throw it away, shred it, send it back where it came from. In sorting through it you maybe can guess what happened. I got interested in it again dammit. I couldn’t stop flipping through pages, going over old notes, surprised at all the time and effort and materials in evidence before me. Was it really all not worth saving? Was I really done with it? And where did this renewed interest come from? Did I just want it to not feel like a waste of time, or was there still something I needed to do with it?
Let me tell you a little about this defunct project. It was a try at opening a school alternative. A not-school. There were three of us studying and planning, having regular meetings, holding public forums, fully immersed in the work and dedicated to creating something meaningful. Then I stopped myself. I had been uncomfortable for some months, not quite happy with the plans but neither able to explain why. So eventually I just removed myself from the work, and when I did that, the other two in the planning group didn’t continue much longer. I didn’t feel great about that part, but I did feel great relief in quitting something that wasn’t right for me, or at least wasn’t the right time for me.
Coming back to those materials years later, seeing my interest in the project hadn’t left, I began to wonder, just why had I quit? Where had my discomfort come from? Was it the plan for the school itself or was it just me? Then it came to me: instead of pushing through a plan as I had wanted to do back then, I needed to speak my heart and mind, to say what I believe and have discussions with other parents and educators and young people about what they believe, about our experiences learning and schooling. This was what I had tried to skip by way of shortcut and ended up with a short circuit.
What I believe:
We are not meant to be in the world the way we think we are.
We think: I have to work hard at a job to make money so that I can live.
We think: I have to go to school (or my child has to go to school) and do the work there that they tell me to do, so that I can work hard at a job to make money so that I can live.
Forty years ago I went to school for the first time, and in those 40 years there has been very little time that I haven’t been in school. I went from high school to college, to more college, to working in a college, to working in another college. I figure 40 years is time enough and experience enough to let me now speak my heart and my mind. I will say it again: We are not meant to be in the world the way we think we are.
We are meant to dream and create and thrive, not follow a curriculum someone else has set out for us. We are meant to hear the voice of our Spirit, not push it down and drown it out so that we can be led solely by the intellect.
I feel I have spent the last 20 years trying to find my way to being whole again. The school system is at the heart of what splits us in two, telling us that our own instincts are wrong and not to be trusted. Telling us that the authority of the teacher is what’s important. Telling us that we should work for the approval of others, not for our own interest and our own joy. What did I learn in school? I know I learned many many things. But I learned this lesson of splitting the self much too well.
This split self has been my experience, and though I know I’m not alone in this experience and these thoughts, I want to discuss this with others. I want to talk about our schooling experiences and our learning experiences. I want to talk to students and teachers and non-students and non-teachers. I want to talk about learning and how we are meant to be in the world. I invite your comments below. How are we meant to be in the world? And what would a (not-)school look like that would help us prepare for that? I also invite you to return here where I will report back on discussions I have with the people I know, their experience of being in school and their thoughts on what school should be.