progressive education

The Creeps of Animal Mansion

"Okay, so the pizza resistance appears on the prairie. Now, how does the pizza resistance make the witch disappear?" I usually have to block out a certain amount of activity and noise if I need to concentrate on something like entering the weekly schedule into the online calendar, which is what I happened to be doing when these words broke right through that barrier.  So how does the pizza resistance make the witch disappear? This was Mark's question to Aurora.  "They squeeze it" said Aurora.  "They" being the two main characters in Aurora's latest script for The Creeps of Animal Mansion.  It was Mark's job to transcribe while Aurora dictated to him. Aurora is a 7 year old who spends most of her time creating games and stories and roping as many kids and adults into her imaginary worlds as she possibly can.  She has as little  need for the distinction between child and adult as she does for the distinction between  fiction and reality.  Lately, she has been working with Mark to give her stories a cinematic form.  She has written, directed and acted in a film series entitled Space Thieves, about a small crew of outer space explorers whose spaceship is invaded by burglars.

As Aurora sat eating her cashew nuts and narrating this elaborate plot to Mark, and Mark sat intently recording every detail, I thought to myself, where else would this meeting of two kindred spirits be possible; Aurora, who likes to run around outside wielding large sticks and dividing up territory, and Mark Bell, the former front man for the legendary 80's rock band, Thunder Train and an amateur film-maker with a passion for zombie movies.  What struck me most as I sat watching them work was not how different they are but how much they respected each other.

Macomber Spring!

Spring has arrived at Macomber Center, and with it a revival of the wonderful assortment of outside activities enjoyed by our members.  Back when the snow was still on the ground but the days were warming up, we tapped a dozen of the large maple trees on the property, collecting 40 gallons of sap, which we boiled down to one gallon of amazingly good syrup. We all enjoyed more than one pancake feast featuring our own syrup.

With outdoors becoming more green and beautiful by the day, games of four square, base ball, basket ball, and pickle happen daily, and the Tae Kwon Do class happens outside, with green belts being earned and awarded to the entire group last week. Our grounds have so many beautiful places to explore, and this week there was a small stream on the way to the "secret" place that required a stick-and-mud bridge to be built for crossing.


Inside activities included much music making, anagram and bananagram games, cooking, Scratch programing classes, marine dissection and forensic science classes, block building, and some iPad games as well. We are all looking forward to our end of the year pot-luck and movie night, when the latest film made here at the Center will be shown.

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” - Aristotle

When I speak with other people who share the unique experience of having gone to a democratic free school, what we end up talking about is not howit prepared us for success in adulthood - we take that as a given - but how grateful we are to have had such an idyllic, happy childhood; that we were free to spend every day doing just what we wanted.  People in the worlds of unschooling and progressive education spend a great deal of time arguing that these alternatives do an even better job preparing children for success than traditional education.  This has, of course, been necessary in order to legitimize these alternative movements within the mainstream.  But it leaves intact the basic assumption that childhood is merely a means to an end, that the purpose of childhood is to prepare for adulthood.  But childhood, just like all of life, is to be lived fully and enjoyed. Erich Fromm has said that in order for schools such as A. S. Neill's Summerhill School to take root in the United States, parents would have to start caring more about their children's happiness than about their success.  This strikes me, even today, as a radical defense of happiness.  I do not believe that success in adulthood can ever redeem a miserable childhood nor is there any reason to think that the ability to submit to authority and conform to a coercive educational system is likely to contribute to future happiness.  When children are trained to tolerate restrictions on their freedom and taught to restrain their creativity and curiosity for some future payoff, it is more likely that this pattern will simply continue to repeat itself throughout their life.  They have been taught that life is about tolerating low-grade suffering and accepting a restricted range of their full human powers.  When children become accustomed to happiness early on, however, they are likely to have a very high standard for happiness later in life and they will also be more inclined to take responsibility for their own happiness.