Hello Rock Tree Sky Families,
Happy Summer Vacation!
The solstice is upon us which means we are officially in summertime.
We are hoping that you are welcoming this break from RTS as a time for relaxation, resetting, and reflection.
And in the spirit of reflection would like to use this abreviated Monthly Messenger as a platform to share some year-end reflections from our learners. You will also find a brief video full of highlights from this year together, and, as per usual, a slide-show of photographs from the month of June.
We would also like to use this space to express our gratitude to each and everyone of you. Your involvement in supporting each other and supporting the well-being of this community is not something that we take for granted. We genuinely appreciate the ways that you as parents, friends, and family members show up for community building events, for helping each other out with car-pooling, for sharing your enthusiasm for Rock Tree Sky with the greater community, and everything else in between. Mostly we thank you for trusting us to be a part of the experience of rearing your wonderful children. We have felt so inspired and humbled by witnessing their growth this year.
During the May Monthly Messenger the notion of evolution was explored as a way to define this transition from the 2017/2018 year to the next. We do not consider this an ending as much as a time for breaking away from routine to gather energy so that when we come back together we can do so with fresh excitement for learning and deepening community.
With that we will say see you soon.
Stay tuned for information and updates regarding summer camp offerings and the like.
And as always, Be Well and Stay Curious,
With love from the RTS Staff
The following are reflections from the learners when asked to share a favorite memory, project creation, or moment of learning from this RTS year.
Viola: "Meeting all my friends and learning to play the ukulele."
Memphis: "My first solder project- an electronic bug that scoots along."
Walker: "Farm! It's fun, there's lizards and stuff..."
Leon: "Everything! Playing with Elan and Walker, catching lizards...pretty much everything."
Elan: "I have silly thoughts sometimes. Like when I'm just sitting by myself sometimes I think about jokes I have with Walker and I just start laughing."
Vida: "Wilber! That's my baby goat. I got a baby goat this year and just getting to learn more about the goats this year [was my favorite part]. Also the Water Project because I got to learn more about really making a difference in this world. For next year I'm excited to be with my friends and do farm chores and just see what next year is gonna be like. And hopefully getting a water refill station at the park."
Andre: "Making things for my mom and dad. Doing pottery and building with Tara."
Mina: "Well... I did something silly today...I slid off the bench when I didn't mean to but then I said that 'I meant to do that'."
Joey: "Making the indigo tie-dye."
Aaron: "Hanging out with Kim and Chrissy."
Sequoia: "I did lots of painting and stuff this year. That was pretty cool."
Luci: "Being able to create unique pieces of work with a mix of materials."
Julian: "Building the cardboard pinball game."
Amaya: "Being with Rennix. My favorite thing I made was my hat."
Conner: "Cooking, blacksmithing, making a knife, and just spending time with friends. Next year I'm looking forward to working hard and having fun."
Theo: "Everything! Next year is gonna be fun."
Eero: "All of it. Looking forward to moving on with it."
Dear RTS Families,
Welcome to June. Welcome to our final weeks together of this RTS year. As we look closer though, we recognize that this year is not really coming to an end, but rather we are simply approaching a marked transition point.
As one of our learners reflected, "It's been cool to see how Rock Tree Sky has evolved this year and I'm looking forward to see how it evolves more next year."
The use of the word evolve feels very appropriate here. For as a learning community we are constantly growing, changing, unfolding, moving together. There is not a hard line that will separate this year from the next. Sure, we'll take a break from the schedule that we have grown accustomed to over the past nine months. We'll enjoy a couple of months of heat wave and summer adventures. And, when we do come back together in September we will be joined by some new friends and we'll be missing some old friends that have chosen to move in a different direction. But these things contribute to the evolution. Reseting then reconvening. We will continue to unfold.
But before we get caught projecting the future, let's instead reflect on what we have already moved through. The month of May alone provided a myriad of experiences that will surely be cherished memories. In this Messenger we will recall some of the golden moments that occurred during the month of May, we will look towards the events we have scheduled for June, and we will be reminded that the work and learning that occurs at Rock Tree Sky is authentic, sincere, and truly very human.
As always Be Well and Stay Curious
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking Towards JUNE
Friday June 8th: On Friday June 8th our Forest Friday will be convening at Lake Casitas. Rock Tree Sky learners have been invited to spend the morning on a pontoon boat on the lake. Learners will then have the opportunity to meet a park ranger and enjoy the afternoon learning more about Lake Casitas and exploring it's beauty. Please check email for more details.
Tuesday June 12th: On Tuesday June 12th a small group of learners will have the opportunity to visit the Turtle Conservancy in East Ojai from 10:30am until noon. We encourage learners to begin doing some research about turtles and tortoises and come prepared with questions for the experts that we will be meeting.
Thursday June 14th: On Thursday June 14th we will celebrate the year with a final Exposition. The learner Expo will begin at 10:30am at the Makerspace where learners will be displaying work and creative projects. At noon families will be invited to transition to the Farm for a lunchtime potluck and aerial silks demonstration.
Reflecting on MAY
The month of May was absolutely bursting with activity.
A major highlight this month was witnessing the interplay of learners following multiple threads of inspiration to generate imaginative creations.
For example, early this month community member, Sharon Damarell, offered a demo on growing crystals. Many of the learners were excited to engage in this activity. Mentor, Casey Murphy, shared in this excitement and felt inspired to learn more about growing crystals. Casey's interest captivated many learners and together they all have by experimenting with different chemical combinations and have been growing crystals on small animal skulls.
Loom weaving has also captured the interest of many learners this month. During the first week of May learners built their own looms with Tara in the wood shop. Then, Ojai local, Anna Mahar, offered a tutorial on tapestry weaving with yarn. Throughout remainder of the month young weavers have been engaging in this activity and teaching each other how to create different patterns and techniques.
This month Rock Tree Sky also began exploring lessons in sex ed. and human development. Each week we were joined by human development specialist Ellen Sanchez who offered age appropriate seminars for our younger learners on topics ranging from friendships and relationships, to human bodies and changes that occur during puberty, to awareness of sexual identity. Casey and Natasha also began offering sex ed for the high school cohort.
Another activity that has felt inspiring this month has been witnessing several learners partake in a self-regulated, self-governed judiciary system. During Forest Fridays we have noticed learners engaging in a game that has been made safer by the creation of this court of law which serves as a platform for airing concerns and making decisions about what behaviors are okay and what behaviors feel harmful. Somethings that I have heard said during these court proceedings include;
"No consensual rough housing, but consensual rough housing is okay."
"What does that mean?"
"It means no rough housing unless the two people that are doing it say it's okay and are okay, then it's okay."
"[So and so] is crowding my space!"
"That's a felony!"
Hearing these dialogues fills me with a sort of peace of mind and the sense that these kiddos are competent and caring. This judicial system has been entirely kid-created and kid-driven. And hearing them passionately express the need for affirmative consent and respect for personal space fills me with the faith that these young people will grow into engaged and compassionate citizens of the world. There is a real excitement there- evidence that while the working of Rock Tree Sky may seem unconventional, the work that is happening here is real, good work.
And of course a major golden moment, or series of golden moments this month was the Rock Tree Sky Camp Out.
During the third week of may RTS learners, mentors, and families enjoyed several days and nights of camping at Carpinteria State Beach. The week was filled with fun activities from exploring tide pools, to body surfing and boogie boarding, to sculpting a sand mermaid, to playing beach soccer. But what really made this week special was the bonding that was able to occur. As families and learners came and went throughout the week, learners had the opportunity to share time with people outside of their usual social group and deepen connections with friends. The whole experience felt like a family affair. It was peaceful, wholesome, and fun to occupy a different space together, to share three meals a day, to say good-night and good-morning, and simply be together.
The photos bellow were captured by parent, Brian Kuhlmann. Thank you Brian for sharing these beautiful photographs!
Quotes From the Kids:
The quotes bellow are Rock Tree Sky learners' responses to the question "If you could have any superpower, what would it be?"
Keenan: Elementals - the ability to control all the elements. Like if it's natural, I can bend it.
Cooper: Elementals are pretty cool but I would think teleporting cause you could get out of any situation.
Julia: To have supervision. It'd be useful to look in cars to see if my keys are in it. Or to look in my purse to find my pone. Or to look in people's bodies.
Bella S.: To change probability. Because what are the chances a million dollars will fall out of the sky? I could change that to 100% - Then I could pretty much do whatever I want.
Tyler: Invisibility - you could get away with anything.
Alev: Turn myself into anything.
Hunter: Super speed - fastest man in the world.
Elan: To shoot a web out of my hands.
Ryder: Spider man webs!
Walker: Shooting lighting or a web out of my hands.
Riley: I'd be a teleporter.
Vida: To be able to move things with your mind cause then you can move yourself and also fly. And to talk to animals.
Zuzu: Be able to control other peoples minds...but I wouldn't use it a lot. Not really control but more like...mind tricks.
Savannah: To either breathe under water or fly. I think those would be fun.
Amaya: Water. Like water power. You could control water.
Lana: I don't know...To fly probably.
Sequoia: You can't just ask me a question and expect an answer! I don't know. Nothing. Nothing is my answer!
Parent Education: Exploring "normal" in our "weird" world.
As we prepare for the final weeks of this Rock Tree Sky year, we begin to reflect on the growth and learning that our children (and perhaps even ourselves) have experienced since September.
And as we transition into June and the "last day of school" buzz flutters about the air I can't help but recall memories of "last days of school" of past.
Like many, I was reared in the conventional school system. I so remember the buzz and excitement that filled the halls as the final day of confinement approached and summertime freedom was at long last on the horizon.
I also recall certain mixed feelings as I looked towards the upcoming academic year with the awareness that certain friends might be in different classes and any special bond that I had with my present teacher would likely fade away with the assignment of a new teacher for the next grade level.
There were also feelings of anxiety as final exams were administered, final projects were due, and report cards were handed out.
For on that piece of paper- the report card- my worth would be defined in single letters. My competency would be subject to be compared to and measured against that of my peers.
For many of my peers who were not as academically inclined as I was, there were also feelings of dread and fear that that piece of paper would bear the unholy judgement, the lowliest label -- failure.
And now, as I look forward to the last day of this RTS year I am so happy to report that virtually no signs of dread, fear, or anxiety can be detected within the community. On the contrary I am hearing learners express that they do not want RTS to be over. I am hearing learners say that two months of summer break is too long.
We don't have report cards or exams. When we reconvene in September we will essentially be picking right up where we left off. And the prospect of coming back together in September, picking up where we left off, continuing to grow and evolve together as a community feels wholly joyful. It feels good. It makes sense.
But I would also like to acknowledge that since we don't have report cards or exams or formal assessments some of you may be wondering How do I know if my child's growth and learning is on track? Are they learning what they are supposed to know? Is my kid normal?
And to respond to those questions I would like to say YES. If your child is happy, if your child is asking questions about the world, if your child plays or explores then they are creating their own track and chances are it is the right one for right now.
Education analyst and director of the film Schooling the World offers her perspective on what is "normal" in this talk, Alternatives to School, given at the Economics of Happiness conference hosted in Portland, OR, 2015. (GO WATCH IT!)
Speaking from years of experience and the knowledge of how a vast array of cultures from around the globe rear children Carol Black examines and critiques the conventional school system in the United States. Black makes the claim that while American's have come to view compulsory school with all of its grading, measuring, competitions, and authorities as "normal" - this way of child rearing is actually counter intuitive to how humans evolved to learn and be together as social beings.
Black explains that human beings evolved as participants in small, mixed age communities where immersion in nature was an indubitable part of life. Engaging with and exercising the natural tendencies to play, observe, explore surroundings, follow curiosities, and imitate the behaviors of others continues to be a fundamental part of life. (Sound familiar?) However these fundamental experiences are so limited in the conventional school system that children in this nation are required by law to attend.
Carol Black asserts that many children cannot adapt their natural tendencies to operate within this system. These kids are then labeled as failures (or worse) and those labels so easily become adopted by the child and carried over into the rest of their experiences. Within the confines of a conventional school it is so challenging, near impossible, for children to grow to be sincere versions of themselves.
All of this then supports the notion that what we are doing at Rock Tree Sky is more normal or more aligned with what human beings were born to do. With how human beings were born to be. And it is my belief that if we agree to continue trusting the process, our kiddos will grow to become intuitive, compassionate, community oriented, passionate, curious, and fully competent human adults.
Dear RTS Families,
We hope that April found you all well.
We certainly have had a busy month at Rock Tree Sky after an extra long Spring Break. From state mandated testing, to facintating field trips, from a new woodshop, to new wildlife on the farm...Rock Tree Sky learners have been thoroughly engaged in a range of activity. All of the spring time buzz and bustle has affirmed that our community is constantly evolving. And reflection has affirmed that our learners and mentors are always growing.
It feels exciting that, unlike experiences at more conventional schools, as RTS moves ever closer towards wrapping up our year together the energy level is not winding down. Rather, it feels like momentum is increasing. We want to build more. We want to grow more. We want to play more. We want to learn more together.
We are headed into May at full velocity and are looking forward to what this month will bring!
As always, Be Well and Stay Curious!
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking Towards MAY
Thursday May 10th: Human Development specialist Ellen Sanchez will be facilitating sessions for K-8 graders from 9:30am to 1pm. These sessions are open for all learners - even those who do not regularly attend on Thursdays. More details to come with regards to the time slot that your child's session will take place. We are requesting that all learners attend this first session.
Friday May 11th: For May's second Friday event we have planned a parent Date Night at Boccali's. The event will take place from 5pm-8:00pm and we will be providing childcare! More details to come via email.
Thursday May 17th: Human Development specialist Ellen Sanchez will be facilitating sessions for K-8 graders from 9:30am to 1pm.
Monday May 21st- Friday May 25th: RTS Camping Trip! Regular programming will be closed during this week. We would like to invite and encourage families to join for the first night (Monday) of our camp-out at Carpinteria State Beach. Please RSVP with the dates that your child will be camping with us. Formal invite with more details to come.
Saturday May 25th: Please note, we will not be gathering for a parent discussion group this Saturday as this is directly after our camping. Instead we will gather on Saturday June 2nd.
Monday May 28th: RTS will be closed for Memorial Day
Reflecting on APRIL:
April has been busy and expansive at Rock Tree Sky.
For starters, our Makerspace has literally been expanded upon. Over Spring Break we had a tool shed and platform deck erected behind the Makerspace. Now all of our woodworking tools have a new home and our young builders have a focused space for designing and constructing projects. So far young makers have worked on projects such as building dollhouses, jewelry boxes, wooden swords, bird houses, and more. It has been inspiring to see all that can be created now that we have a designated space for building. It has also been fun to witness how young learners inspire, influence, and support each other creatively in that space.
We are especially grateful to Tara for holding down the fort, bringing so much positive energy, and teaching these young makers so much.
In other news, this month our learners have been especially busy with work towards the Water Project.
If you haven't heard, the Water Project is a youth lead initiative with the goal of reducing pollution in the form of waste produced by plastic water bottles. The Water Project is encouraging the people of Ojai to stop buying single use plastic water bottles. And to support this ask and offer a solution the Water Project is raising funds so that water filters might be installed in the Ojai public water fountains and water bottle refill stations might be installed at Libbey Park.
RTS learners have engaged with the Water Project by researching Ban the Bottle Initiatives in other cities as well educating themselves and others on facts about pollution created as a by-product of bottled water.
During Ojai Earth Day, young learners set up a booth to represent the Water Project, raise funds by selling raffle tickets for Disney Land tickets, and generate awareness about the initiative. Learners also created a short video about the project that can be found on the RTS website www.rocktreesky.org/water-project.html.
Also shoutout to Jim who represented RTS at Ojai Earth Day by giving a brief talk about the work that we do! Great job Jim!
On Tuesday April 10th some of our teenage RTS learners took a field trip to view Ojai local Vina Lustado's tiny home and office as a way to cultivate inspiration and work on design details for the ongoing project of converting our school bus into a comfortable hang out and study space for teens. Learners were also able to see the battery systems that store the energy from the solar panel layout.
Then on April 27th several RTS learners and families took a field trip to the California Science Center to view the exhibit of Ancient Egyptian relics. Folks who attended the trip felt inspired by the exhibit and the experience as a whole.
It's amazing to consider all that has happened in just one calendar month. We are looking forward to what May will bring.
An Interview With a Young Person
The following is an interview with Vida Haring, an RTS Learner who has been passionately involved with the Water Project
Chrissy Dasco: What inspired your involvement with the Water Project?
Vida Haring: I feel like I've always wanted to help the environment in some ways...especially after the fire. Now [that I know more about the Water Project] I feel like we really do need to do this. Some people think that in 10 or 20 or 30 years the world will be unliveable and I think that we can make it more liveable if we stop using plastic water bottles...and [we got to save] the fishys.
CD: What has been the most interesting aspect of this project for you?
VH: I liked Ojai Earth Day because there were a lot of different people there. I had never been to an Earth Day before and it was really cool to sell those [RTS] water bottles and see lots of people who were excited about what we are doing. I am also excited because [at Earth Day] I saw lots of other thinks that can help to protect the environment.
CD: What has been the most challenging aspect of the project for you?
VH: Speaking out and advertising...I'm not one to be like, trying to get someone to buy something. But it's still cool because I got to learn a lot.
CD: What are you hopeful for?
VH: For people to stop using plastic water bottles because we don't need it and it's hurting...the fishys!!
But can I just say something else that's been cool?
CD: Of course, please share.
VH: I liked to see the school come together and really work hard for something. I had never seen that before and it's pretty cool and I hope we can do more in the future.
For this parent education section I would like to start by proposing a couple of big questions; What does it mean to raise free people? and How do we understand and practice consent within the context of a self-directed learning community?
During the most recent meeting of the parent discussion group these questions were addressed and explored. I understand that not all parents will be able to attend the monthly discussion group meetups and therefore I would like to use this space to elucidate some of that which was discussed. I would also like to use this space as a platform for calling forth a continuation of this conversation. The exploration of these questions is bound to be ongoing. And while we might not be able to be present at a group meeting, we might be able to meet up with a friend or acquaintance within this community and talk about this stuff over coffee. We do have each other.
So, this first question, What does it mean to raise free people? is a question I have often contemplated as a mentor in a self-directed learning community. Unschooling advocate and children's rights activist, Akilah S. Richards, eloquently and passionately addresses this question in a recent episode of her podcast Fare of the Free Child. To start our meeting on Saturday, we listened to the first twelve minutes of this episode (which I encourage you all to do...and if you've already heard it listen again!) and then launched into a conversation about what pieces were particularly meaningful to us as individuals.
Essentially Akilah S. Richards states that raising free people means moving towards "liberatory relationships" with the goal of growing "emotionally stable people." She states that as parents and mentors we do this by disrupting connections to oppressive patterns and by avoiding parenting and mentoring from a place of anger, fear, and thoughts about how society thinks children should behave. Rather, Richards states that raising free people means trusting intuitive wisdom and, most importantly, raising free people means trusting children.
Richards then breaks down raising free people into a four step process. It starts with awareness, which is described as the "conscious realization of ways we learn and accept harmful relationship management tools." Next comes disruption, which Richards describes as "deliberately installing temporary barriers" to thought patterns within ourselves that go against efforts to raise free people. Then there is deschooling, which is recognized as a lifelong process of transitioning from deliberate disruption of reactionary parenting to embracing raising free people as a new normal. Finally there is unschooling which is developing confidence is child trusting, liberatory relationships.
Then, of course, there is the question of why? Why do we want to raise free people? Akilah S. Richards grazes the surface of that question in her podcast but ultimately I believe that locating an answer must come from turning inward.
For me, as a person who is not yet a parent but a person who has chosen to devote her life to mentoring children, the motivation to rear a liberated population has come from the experience of struggling with anxiety, and struggling to love and accept myself in environments where I was not free ie. the Catholic high school I attended. The motivation to raise free people also comes from a place of recognizing that I am a citizen in a nation where my values of acceptance, empathy, community care, care for the environment, and cooperation are so often overruled by greed, untrustworthy politics, and money power. I am a citizen in this nation, yet I so often feel powerless. My freedom here is illusionary.
I want the rising generation of people to be free, truly free. I want the rising generation to be liberated from oppressive relationships, so that they might not pass forward the cycle of oppression onto their children. I want the rising generation of people to know how to lead themselves so that they will not submissively turn to some authority who does not hold the best interests of the community at heart. I want the rising generation to be free to be their best selves, so that they might love and care for themselves better and therin better love and care for their friends and neighbors.
An essential tool for caring for ourselves and our friends and neighbors is consent. Which brings me to the second big question How do we understand and practice consent within the context of a self-directed learning community?
This concept is so important because as Elenor Roosevelt said,
"Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility."
It is understood that this requirement or responsibility is the responsibility to care for one other. It is in our human nature to require and achieve a sense of group belonging and experience demonstrates that if we do not care for others, nobody will want us to be a part of their group. Therefore, the freedom to be ourselves is limited by the responsibility not bring harm to others.
Living in community will not work if one person's self-determined behavior is hurting another person or causing another person to feel unsafe.
We address this at Rock Tree Sky by striving to create a culture of consent. As mentors we encourage our young people to slow down and check in with themselves and each other when engaging in activities and playing games. Rather than controlling their games, we do allow the kids to make the rules. And we encourage them to practice noticing and expressing what their personal boundaries are. We encourage our young people to make agreements about what behaviors feel good and what behaviors they rather not engage in before play begins. Agreement making is a simple and effective way to take care of ourselves and our friends when playing. Making agreements is also a practice in self-advocacy which I recognize as a form of practicing freedom to be.
We are free to choose whether or not we want to play in a certain way, and we also have to accept that sometimes certain types of play will not work for the group or the larger community.
I would like to ask parents to help us model and co-create this culture of consent both within and beyond the Rock Tree Sky community. I am also looking forward to learning more about boundary setting, body rules, and, self-advocacy practices from human development specialist Ellen Sanchez during the upcoming months. And as a final note I would like to ask you all if you know of or have any resources that can be shared surrounding the topics of consent, and balancing boundaries and freedom.
If you do have resources to share, questions to ask, or if you simply want to join in the conversation please feel free to email me at email@example.com
Thanks for reading!
Dear Rock Tree Sky Families,
Happy April! We hope that you have all enjoyed a restful, relaxing, and rejuvenating spring break.
If February felt big, March felt wet, and April thus far is feeling vernal and full of flowers.
Lots of rain during March meant lots of water, lots of puddle splashing, lots of mud, and of course lots of new growth and new life.
During March many learners enjoyed playing and swimming in the creek and exploring the fresh water that was flowing in a creek bed on the new farm. And while many of us were experiencing an unexpected extended spring break in lieu of the rain, one of Natasha's goats gave birth to two babies which many of our Farm Friday students got to enjoy holding and cooing over on our last day of RTS before spring break.
And now that the rain has past and the wildflowers have blossomed we can notice the feelings of cleansing that the March showers have inspired. All that we do not need has been washed away so that we might reset our energy and open up space for fresh possibilities.
The timely spring break offered moments for introspecting and reflecting, moments for gaining insight into how we have been moving through our experiences. And it is through times of self reflection that we might gain clarity and determine how we might want to continue to move forward on our personal journeys.
Because March was such a short month at Rock Tree Sky, this Monthly Messenger will also be abbreviated in structure.
Following this letter you will find important dates to mark on the April calendar. In the Parent Education section you will find an excerpt from the book The Self-Driven Child about a concept the writers refer to as 'Radical Downtime', and accompanying this excerpt we have included a link to an On Being blog post about the 'Disease of Being Busy.' We hope that you find these texts thought provoking and pertinent especially with regards to spring break.
We are looking forward to seeing you all again and being together this spring!
As always be well and stay curios,
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking towards APRIL
Tuesday April 10th: On this day some of our older learners will have an opportunity to meet Ojai's tiny home pioneer, Vina Lustado, and visit her office and tiny home. The intention is that learners will gain some inspiration and engage in some design work for converting our school bus into a tiny classroom/lounge space.
Friday April 13th: For April's second Friday community gathering we will be coming together for a Spring potluck at our farm location. Please bring a dish to share and your own cups, plates, utensils, etc. 5pm-7pm.
Thursday April 26th: A reminder that many of our learners will be attending a field trip to the California Science Center to view a special exhibit on Ancient Egypt and King Tut. Attending families have already signed up for this field trip. Please note the change in date.
Saturday April 28th: A third gathering of the parent discussion group will take place from 10am-12pm. Please bring a dish to share and your own plates, cups, utensils, etc.
Childcare will be provided.
The following is an excerpt from The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives (2018) by William Stixrud, PhD and Ned Johnson
We hope that you found that excerpt insightful and the find following commentary by Omid Safi thought provoking and meaningful.
Here is a link to a blog post by columnist Omid Safi titled "The Disease of Being Busy"
Dear RTS Families,
Despite being the shortest month on the calendar, February has felt big at Rock Tree Sky.
Projects have gotten bigger, friend groups have expanded, ideas have grown deeper, and there is a heightened sense of meaning to what we are creating. There is no doubt that RTS is flourishing.
Within this Monthly Messenger we will take a look at events planned for the upcoming month, share some reflections about the goings-on of February, share some quotes from our learners who pondered the question 'where do new ideas come from?', and share some thoughts regarding Rock Tree Sky's position within the global children's civil rights movement.
As always, Stay Curious and Be Well.
With love from the RTS Staff.
Looking towards MARCH
Friday March 9th from 6pm-8pm at the Makerspace: For this month's second Friday community event, we will be hosting a panel of parents and grown children who are veterans in self-directed education. We will be hearing from a parent of former Sudbury Valley Free School attendants, as well as a Sudbury alumni as a way to learn more about Democratic Free Schooling and the parent. We will also hear from a mother of three children who has been raising them as self-directed learners for eighteen years. No child-care at this event but we encourage interested students to come as well.
Sundays March 11th and 18th: RTS representatives will be at the Ojai Farmers Market offering town water taste tests and selling raffle tickets in an effort to raise money for better tasting water re-fill stations at the Ojai public parks. If you and/or your child are interested in volunteering at the RTS booth please let Natasha know.
Wednesday March 21: Human Development Specialist Ellen Sanchez will be offering a parent information session at our Makerspace. Ellen will be facilitating human development courses for our learners during the month of May. She has offered to provide parents with information about the topics that she will be discussing during her courses and answer any questions you may have. The session will run from 5-6pm on Wednesday evening. Childcare will be provided.
March 24- April 9: Spring Break! RTS will be closed.
Saturday March 30th 10am-12pm, location TBD: Natasha will be facilitating the second gathering of our parent discussion and support group. All parents are welcome, childcare will be provided. Please bring a dish to share.
Reflections on February
February at RTS was a month of implementing big ideas. Our learners have been demonstrating their abilities to advocate for themselves and to manifest their intentions and creative pursuits.
In our woodshop for example, Tara has been assisting learners who have come to her with objectives for creating more involved projects. Lucas has been working on a go-kart, Paige has been building a bookshelf, and Isabella A. designed and built a wooden box for storing and displaying her handmade jewelry (which is also incredible I might add!).
The black-smithing offering has also been a big hit and work is now being done to create a forge at the Farm.
Bella S. and Satia have began focusing effort on creating a Rock Tree Sky year book - a big undertaking to say the least.
Kim has been feeling very proud of paintings that all of the young artists have been creating. This month Kim introduced the learners to oil paints and the work has been quite impressive.
Outside of the makerspace the learners created a micro-city by building 'houses' out of found materials. Learners of all ages from our five year olds to our seventeen year olds had fun building shelters and engaging in the game. And while for the kids this micro-city situation was a game (entirely kid-created and motivated) - us mentors noticed deep work and learning. Navigating how to co-create and maintain peace within a community is one of the most human lessons to practice and engage with. It is not always easy and feelings inevitably get hurt. It has been fascinating to witness the kids engage in struggles to resolve conflicts, to practice leadership and responsibility, and to practice self-advocacy. While mentors were available for emotional support and advice though the height of challenges, we ultimately allowed space for the kids to work through issues on their own.
By engaging in big games our community of learners of all ages have been strengthening their relationships to one another.
While relationships within our Rock Tree Sky community have been strengthening, so too have our connections to the greater community we inhabit.
For instance, Natasha has been mobilizing efforts around bringing cleaner, tastier water to Ojai's public parks. Several learners have been activated by this mission and have been involved with the process by researching the story of water, collecting and testing water samples, and have even gone with Natasha to meet with the city planners to demand better water in our public parks.
And on February 22nd RTS learners attended a field trip to the Ojai Museum to view the work and meet Ojai local Dennis Shives. The work was whimsical and inspiring. We are excited to see what the kids will create based on the inspiration gleaned from this experience. It was also evident that the kids had a great time being out in the community for the day.
Out on the farm, our garden fence has been rebuilt. With the help of a parent volunteer learners were able to participate in re-creating garden beds in preparation for some spring planting.
Additionally we've been stoked to be exploring the vast expanse of land available to us on the farm. Lizard hunting (don't worry, we don't harm the lizards!) has been an exciting way to explore different corners of the farm.
And during the last week of February Jim and Chrissy lead a hike all the way up to some secret meadows beyond the water tanks.
Finally, the last Saturday of February held the first gathering of our parent discussion group. Several parents came out in an effort to cultivate community and hold space for one another to contemplate and talk though big questions surrounding themes of trust and academics. Increased parent engagement and inter-community support are big things that we have been wanting to implement and practice since Rock Tree Sky's inception. We are looking forward to exploring more big questions and growing this support network during the upcoming months.
Quotes from the Kids:
This month learners responded to the question: Where do new ideas come from?
Opal: "New ideas come from old ones combined. Like many many people tell you many many things - so you know those things- then you have new ideas from that".
Andre: "Don't ideas come from your brain?"
Mina: "Maybe they come from heaven..."
Memphis: "I think they come from when you see something new and you want it...like you want to do it or create it."
Aaron: "Reading! A chocolate factory! I don't know!"
Hunter: "People seeing something that's working. Like they look at something but not for what it is...like they see it from a different angle."
Bella S: "That's what I was gonna say...I don't know...Imagination? Humans?"
Sequoia: "That's a species."
Finn: "From trying things out."
Luci: "Experiences and imagination."
Penny: "People's minds."
Nikolai: "New ideas come from being inspired...by other ideas."
Being a parent of an unschooled or homeschooled child might, at times, feel isolating, During the month of February we kicked off a Rock Tree Sky parent discussion group in an effort to strengthen an inter-community support network. For this Parent Education piece I found it relevant to bring up the point that Rock Tree Sky is not alone in its mission to emancipate children and offer a space for self-directed education. In fact, we are part of a global movement that is using Self-Directed Education as a tool for empowerment within the context of the Children's Civil Rights Movement.
Today there is an endless stream of resources that address a multitude of questions and concerns with regards to self-directed education, unschooling, homeschooling, and the like. I have found that exploring blogs, reading articles, and listening to podcasts has helped me to feel more sure that the work I do at Rock Tree Sky is relevant, important, and valuable. I have also been inspired by the ideas shared, and have been able to use these resources to help me develop better language to describe what I do to skeptical acquaintances and family members.
A great place to start is the Alliance for Self-Directed Education website. Here one can peruse relevant articles by global contributors in the online magazine Tipping Points and access a variety of podcasts such as Off Trail Learning by Blake Boles and Fare of the Free Child by Akilah S. Richards.
Another blog with accompanying podcast that I love was recently shared with me by an RTS parent is Living Joyfully by Pam Laricchia.
I hope that you find these resources useful. And if there are any websites, podcasts, or publications that you enjoy please let me know!
Now, as I mentioned above, RTS is a part of a major social justice movement. A want for social change is what first inspired me to dive head first into the world of self-directed education. And the manifesting the intention of rearing a more caring and compassionate population is were I find meaning and value in the work that I do as a mentor at Rock Tree Sky.
After reading a recent article on Tipping Points by Alexander Khost, The Children's Civil Rights Movement, (which I encourage everyone to read) and listening to this episode of Fare of The Free Child (which I encourage everyone to listen to) I was reminded of a piece that I wrote during my senior year at UMass. I've included an excerpt from each below. I hope that you find these articles and excerpts thought provoking. I also encourage you to initiate conversations surrounding social justice and human rights with your children.
"Our political system makes sure that these children understand that they: are not full fledged citizens and cannot be trusted in their vote until they are eighteen; cannot be trusted to follow their own pursuits and so are placed in compulsory schooling along with labor laws that do not allow them to work even if they wish to do so; and do not have control over their own bodies, allowing parents to have legal control over where their image is shown, when they can walk out the door or even decide the length of their own hair.
These are but a few of the seemingly endless ways in which parents, institutions and laws strip young people of their rights on a daily basis, making such controlling actions and demeaning treatment of individuals now commonplace, mechanically followed, and unquestioningly accepted...
Since children’s legal rights are typically held by their guardians, their own representation comes from an adult perspective. And if money is power, children are helpless since any money they may possess is also handled by adults. They cannot work to raise funds in their own defense or to break free from the controlling power (and when they can start working at fourteen, they are taxed without representation because they cannot yet vote. Perhaps it is time for teenagers to dump tea in a harbor?) The skeptic may say, “But children are young, they are inexperienced. Surely they cannot be making governing decisions and controlling money. Surely they need to be reigned in until we have taught them how to be responsible.” And so, paradoxically, society obstructs children’s abilities to make decisions for “their own good” and thereby denies them the thing they need most for growing up to be responsible and self-governing: practice." Alexander Khost
"If [young people] are in supportive environments instead of being colonized in the sense of adults laying claim to who and how they are and what is best for them and how they are resource and all of these things that's when you get to see that level of brilliance and advancement..." Akilah S. Richards
"The power to initiate transformative movement emerges from the power to think. Great transformation occurs through the construction, evolution, and sharing of ideas. Education is the process through which people learn how to make meaning of thought, practice constructing ideas, and develop understandings of how the possession of knowledge manifests in power and in action. Radical thinkers and reformists have long understood these notions and hold the interwoven relationship of knowledge and power as truth. In that, radical thinkers have continually been inclined to consider the ways in which the education system creates the power relations of a particular society. Operating under the understanding that systemized schooling defines the functionality of a society, it comes to reason that transforming the pedagogy and nature of a society’s school system is essential in reforming that society (Watkins, 2005).
In the context of the United States, a nation that divides and stratifies its people by race and class, the necessity for radical reformation cannot be ignored. Since term radical refers to the root it is appropriate and pertinent to organize the foundation of societal reformation around the education of children. Just like flowers growing up from seed and root, spreading new seeds upon maturity, children likewise grow and evolve towards adulthood. In time these grown people behold and pass along the lessons and ideologies that they have been taught. A nourishing growing environment from the time a seed takes root is essential for the production of healthy flowers and the spreading of healthy seeds. A flower grown in darkness and starved of nutrients surely will not thrive. In the same way children reared in inhibiting and oppressive environments will not develop salubriously. The well-being of a population is determined by the way in which that population was nurtured during development- from root to bloom.
One must consider that the true nature, purpose, and function of the public education system in the United States is inequitable in it’s distribution of nutrients. Rather than providing for flexible and wholesome growth, the pedagogy used in public schools has been designed to indoctrinate young people with particular ideologies of the power relations, social structure, and ownership within the greater society. One must also consider the intersectionality of race and class within the context of the education system and recognize that children who are disadvantaged in life are set up to be disadvantaged in school and that pattern cycles through generations (Watkins, 2005, Kharem, 2006)." Chrissy Dasco
Kharem, H. A (2006) Curriculum of Repression: A Pedagogy of Radical History in the United States. New York. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
Watkins, W.H. (2005) Marxian and Radical Reconstructionist Critique of American Education: Searching Out Black Voices. In W.H. Watkins (Eds.), Black Protest Thought and Education (pp.107-135). New York. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
Dear RTS Families,
Happy New Year!
Wow! It sure feels good to be together as a community again. Through fire and flooding and a ferocious outbreak of the flu, the strength of our community has certainly been tested. But, unlike the the monotonous tests administered by the conventional school system, it is through enduring these real life challenges that we actively strengthen our resilience.
When hardship strikes we become stronger and wiser. Together we compassionately hold each other and develop strategies that support community care.
During the month of January, we noticed a positive shift in energy amongst Rock Tree Sky community members. A sense of enthusiasm and motivation has been infections. We also sense an attitude of appreciation for our community and the space we share amongst learners and families.
The excitement for learning, want for togetherness, and general feeling of gratitude have all been inspiring reminders that there are blessings to be found even in fires, floods, and flus.
We are looking forward to continue to expand in this new year together and are hopeful for the potential that it holds.
As always, Be Well and Stay Curious.
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking towards FEBRUARY
Friday, February 9th: 6:30pm-8pm This month's 2nd Friday event is a parent Makerspace experience! Join for an evening of community engagement making with drinks, snacks, and different activities hosted by our mentors.
Childcare will be provided for those who need it.
Monday, February 19th: President's Day - No program
Saturday, February 24th: 10:30am-12pm Join Natasha and Chrissy for the first gathering of a monthly parent support/discussion group. We are looking for a volunteer to host this event. If you are interested in hosting please let Natasha or Chrissy know!
Reflecting on JANUARY
January has surely been a month filled with newness. Each week of January has presented a different flavor, a different surprise.
RTS started up after an extended holiday break on the second day of the New Year. And in addition to reopening the doors to the Maker Space and the gates to the Farm, we also opened the doors to an old school bus that we have began converting into what will be a new classroom/hang out space for our teenage learners.
Out on the farm we have manually erected a new arial silks rig that has allowed for increased participation in our bi-weekly arial silks classes. And, after two days of steady rainfall during the second week of January, a new carpet of green grass has sprouted on the farm. The changes in the landscape caused by the fire have opened opportunities for the creation of new ways to engage in the space such as building new forts. On the farm we have also worked to relocate our labyrinth and are excited to report that the final stones have been laid! This labyrinth was created with the intention of providing a meditative space for community members and it was lovely to see children silently and intently walking the path last Friday.
Back at the Maker Space we have new weekly offerings including blacksmithing and cooking classes. We also have installed some new computers and drawing tablets.
In other news, Natasha and Chrissy have announced the launching of a new parent discussion and support group. The intentions of the group include increasing community engagement by participating in a continual dialogue exploring a variety of questions in regards to self-directed learning.
Finally, to celebrate our togetherness and all that we have created together, the RTS Learners hosted an Exposition of work on the 25th of January. Learners entertained community members with creative performances as well as a display of their work in an open gallery walk.
As a community, Rock Tree Sky is delighted to discover what is to come in the forthcoming months and to experience even more new energy, new ideas, and new possibilities.
Quotes from the Kids
In response to the question: What are you hopeful for looking towards the upcoming year?
Zuzu: "I'm hopeful that the trees will grow all back. And that the baby chicks and chickens become friends. They sort of interact right now but there are also sort of in separate flocks right now. I'm hopeful that we will see more green leaves this year."
Vida: "I'm hopeful that it gets more like spring was last year; more green, more baby animals...I hope something big happens this year...I think it's gonna be a good year."
Helen: "I hope that everybody gets their wishes...And I hope that whatever happens will be a surprise."
Sophie: "I hope everyone has fun and I'm hopeful that everyone is kind to each other and cheerful and all sorts of things like that."
Elan: "I'm hopeful that we move the goats to new farm. Then we could milk them and stuff and that would be nice."
Luca: "I hope to have an awesome and exciting year full of adventures."
Gabriel: "Thats a hard question. I could think on this for while."
Quinne: "I'm hopeful that I'll get my screenplay made."
Kingsley: "Nothing. Life is a downward spiral. No -- I'm perfectly content. I guess I want things to be different but to still be good..."
Well, it is now 2018, and for this month's Parent Education piece we would like to address one web of questions that most parents are continually grappling with. That is the web of questions regarding the role of technology in the lives of their children.
I think that in 2018 most of the concerns that parents have with regards to technology and their children have to do with specifically with 'screen time;' i.e. social media, gaming, entertainment, etc. The main concern being the disconnection and isolation that might result from extended time spent behind a screen. Which actually is a concern that some kids have for themselves despite their affinity for technology - to quote Hunter "[Technology] is an amazing thing -- I couldn't live without it." But when I asked Hunter to define technology he said, "Technology is something that disconnects people or makes them separated from the natural world."
I myself have many opinions about the role of technology in my life and the lives of my peers. Yet, I do not have any concrete answers for what is optimal screen time allowance or what are appropriate media to engage in. And instead of provide answers that I do not have I am sharing the following link to a recent episode of On Being with Krista Tippett: The Universe is a Question. During which Krista Tippett converses with Kevin Kelly, founding editor of WEIRD.
I find this conversation relevant and useful for puzzling through my own relationship to technology and I am sharing it in the hopes that it might offer a useful perspective for puzzling through the role technology might play in the lives of your kids. (Though I must say that Kevin Kelly does not provide any answers to the questions of optimal screen time allowance or appropriate media engagement either...in fact these things are hardly mentioned in this conversation).
According to Kelly, technology is defined as anything that is made. And, he says, technology ought to "generate surprises."
In this conversation, Kevin Kelly also speaks about the perspective of technology that is upheld in the Amish tradition which is in essence that technology is only introduced and allowed by the community if it is communally determined that the technology in question will help to enhance community connectivity.
So instead of asking how much time is too much screen time? I am offering the following list of questions; Does this technology increase connectivity to others? Does this technology allow for increased creative potential? What is the motivation for using this technology and is that motivation sincere? Will this technology aid in generating surprises? Why, how, and what will we reap from that?
Please enjoy these photographs from our day at the tide pools shot on 35 mm film by mentor Chirssy. If you would like a copy of any photographs of your child just let Chrissy know, she'd be happy to email and/or have prints made!
Dear RTS Families,
As 2017 comes to a close, we find ourselves counting the blessings brought to us this year. At the same time we must acknowledge the hardships that came as a result of the Thomas Fire and extend our condolences to those who lost homes or otherwise suffered. We celebrate our resiliency as a community and the way navigating hardships together draws people closer to one another. That experience of community care and connectivity is what we would like to focus on moving towards the New Year.
2017 may be remembered as one of the most apocalyptic years on record; from the political climate to the degradation caused by Thomas Incident. Yet it was also the year that brought you all to RTS and that is something worth celebrating. With that in mind, may we all move forward into 2018 with grace, humility, and compassion for one another and the Earth we share.
Wishing you all a very blessed New Year.
** For those families that have not visited the upper valley since the fires, please be aware that the landscape has changed dramatically up the Dennison grade. If you and your children will be seeing this for the first time when coming to program, know that feelings may arise. We suggest you give your family an extra few minutes on your drive up to go slowly and respond sensitively to the experience.**
As always, Stay Curious and Be Well,
With love from the Rock Tree Sky Staff.
Looking Towards JANUARY
Friday, January 12th 6:30-8, 2nd Friday event at Makerspace: We would like to take this opportunity to connect, share our stories, and offer support to one another upon our return. Please join us for potluck snacks and discussion. Childcare will be available.
Monday, January 15th, MLK Jr. Day: Break - no program
Thursday, January 25th 12:30-3:30, Project Expo: We have rescheduled our winter project exhibition and hope that all families (whether or not you typically attend on Thursdays) can join us. Performances will start at 12:45 followed by a gallery walk-through with plenty of time afterwards to chat and share potluck snacks.
Monday, Jan 7th - Wednesday Jan 24th, Parent volunteer opportunities: One way we plan to support one another with the changes we will be integrating upon our return is to work together as a community to rehabilitate and enrich our spaces. We would like to welcome parents to join us as we work with your children in this recovery. Below is a list of a few of the projects we will be tackling. Let us know if you would like to volunteer during program hours for any of the below projects in the weeks before the winter expo. Please specify what day or days in that time frame work best and we will try to schedule the project for that time.
- Garden rehab: repair the irrigation, and get some planting done!
- Bus conversion: We finally received the quote on the insurance we would need to run the bus as we had hoped and have sadly found it to be cost prohibitive. However, we are feeling creative and want to convert the bus into a mobile indoor space at the farm. Perhaps a "tea bus" instead of tea house...or a mobile wood-working station? However the space evolves, we need to start by removing the seats and envisioning the possibilities. Wanna join?
- Wood working tables: We want more wood working spaces outdoors for the littles...can you help?
- Playground set up: We have different elements we would like help setting up including a large ariel silks rig and other elements at the farm.
Reflecting on DECEMBER
Although our time together in December was short, many of us were still able to enjoy an exciting adventure that will surely live on in our memories.
On Friday December 1st many RTS learners, mentors, and families ventured to Carpinteria State Beach to experience a rare opportunity for viewing and exploring the tide pools. We spotted sea stars, sea anemones, octopuses, crabs, and sea urchins to name just a few of the life forms that live amongst the rocks and the waves.
It felt refreshing to breathe the salty air and fun to be together as a community for the afternoon.
Then, during the second week of December, the RTS staff came together to do some deep cleaning and organizing at the Makerspace. We also have been brainstorming new features that we would like to create at both the Makerspace and New Farm in the New Year. We are excited to share our ideas with the learners when we all return to Rock Tree Sky. We would also like to invite the learners to think about any additional features that they would like to engage with at either space.
First, a poem...a reminder that our job as parents is not to simply shelter our children from distress but to support them as they integrate what has occurred As with all great and fierce events, we are changed by it - as we should be.
We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
Never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to get over a life is to die,
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things,
and be then not any less pain
but true to form.
Because anything natural has an
inherent shape and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for:
not the end of a thing
but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life without
obliterating, getting over, a
single instant of it.
— Albert Huffstickler (1927-2002), from “Wanda” Walking Wounded
This month we decided it might be useful to include some resources for helping children cope with trauma such as natural disasters. We acknowledge that this work is challenging especially when considering we are all humans experiencing the pain, confusion, and loss of control that come when disaster strikes. Major crises don't occur everyday and therefore even as adults we are learning how to cope with the stress. The best that we can do is show up for each other, prepare ourselves with information, and practice strategies for helping our loved ones feel safe and cared for.
This fist link will bring you to an article published on the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center website. This article focuses on Helping Children Feel Safe. This information is useful both during and after a crises. It provides a useful reminder to reassure children that they are being cared for by staying close to them when possibly and by respectfully listening to them and holding space for them to express emotions. It also provides advice on developmentally appropriate ways to share information with children about the disaster or traumatic event.
This link will bring you to ready.gov Helping Children Cope. This article includes examples of Q&A with regards to crises and provides appropriate responses for children of different ages and stages of development.
We hope that we might all someday view the Thomas Incident as an opportunity for growth and learning.
Dear RTS Families,
It is December already and it seems that the more time we share together, the quicker it goes by. Connections have deepened in our third month together. And, the Thanksgiving holiday allowed a timely opportunity for us all to pause and take notice of all that we are grateful for.
On the Thursday and Friday afternoons prior to Thanksgiving break, we ended our days together with full group closing circles during which our learners expressed and shared ‘thankfuls’. It warmed our hearts to hear so many of our learners express gratitude for aspects of the Rock Tree Sky program including the friends that have connected with here, the freedom they are allowed here, and the beauty of this space.
During one of these circles, Jim shared an inspiring piece about expressing gratitude and feeling love for those things that often go unnoticed. As we move forward through the holiday season we would like to all to practice opening ourselves up to the capacity to love the less obvious things that surround us; things like rocks, trees, and the sky.
Be well and stay curious.
With love from the RTS Staff
Looking Towards DECEMBER
Friday December 8th: We will be Holiday Caroling at the Gables of Ojai at 4:15 pm. After caroling around the neighborhood we will enjoy pizza and cocoa at Libbey Park.
Saturday December 9th: Makers Market at 182 S.Lomita Ave. from 10am -5pm - come support the kids' booth!
December 14th: Winter project exposition from 6pm-8pm at the Makerspace. Potluck salads and snacks welcome.
December 16 to January 2 2018: Holiday Break
Reflecting on NOVEMBER
During the month of November we really broke ground at the farm! We dug a trench and laid pipes for an irrigation system in what is to be our permaculture garden. Additionally organic matter (horse manure) has been spread and trees have been planted. We are very excited for the shape the garden is taking and the variety of outlets for engagement and learning that will naturally grow with this garden project.
In addition to the permaculture garden, learners and mentors have been vision boarding ideas for other features that we would like to bring into and build on the farm. One example is a labyrinth designed by Natasha. And this walking meditation pathway has already begun to take shape. The community is also interested in building a ropes course including a climbing net and zip-line on the premises. We would like to encourage everyone to keep the ideas coming. It feels good to utilize and celebrate the expansive space that we have.
Back at the Makerspace learners have been getting crafty this month in preparation for the holidays and the Makers Market. Soap making, hand crafted jewelry and accessories, and plush dolls are just a few examples of the creations the kids have been crafting this month. Several learners have also been focusing attention on bow and knife making with Casey. And many of our learners aided Kim in painting a larger than life backdrop that was utilized as stage decoration for a local ballet.
Other special activities this month included a field trip to the LACMA where learners experienced an inspiring exhibit from artist Marc Chagall. We all enjoyed a live jazz demonstration from our very own Paul Herder and community member Dave Anter. And we were visited by a reptile specialist who brought along several exotic reptiles for our viewing.
Yes it has been a busy month...and trust me, everything I’ve listed here does not even describe the half of it! Looking forward to lots more growth, adventures, and learning in the upcoming month!
Quotes from the Kids
In response to the question: What are you thankful for?
“I’m thankful for dogs and my family.” Luca
“I’m thankful for getting to pet that horse! I LOVE that we are alive!” Julia
“Making stuff.” Rocco and Julian
“I am thankful for walking around and sitting down and playing with my friends and laying down and doing yoga.” Amya
“Having such a great home. I’m grateful for the food and get and for my family of course.” Riley
“My family.” Luci
“I could never live without Raimy and Lucas.” Hunter
“My family and friends.” Melia
The following is an excerpt from Chrissy’s Honors Thesis Reclaiming Education 2016
exploring the question How Do People Learn?
“One learns to live, not by hearing of other lives, but by living…” (Neil, 1960, p.117)
In this section, my aim is provide a concise, layperson’s explanation of how people learn as understood from an evolutionary perspective. Using anthropological and biological evidence (which I will invite you investigate further), I will contend that the way in which people make meaning of the world around them is inherent in our human genetics. That is, people are biologically programmed to make meaning of the world by actively engaging with their surroundings. And, because learning occurs as a result of natural processes, I will assert that school, as it exists in Western society, stifles the capacity of humans to develop in ways that foster social and environmental justice and mutualism. Therefore, I will promote the argument that the future wellbeing of our planet and species depends on radically reforming systems of education in ways that move away from compulsion and standards and instead move towards programs that allow for self discovery and free choice.
Before I begin a discussion regarding education reform as a means for social change, I will first describe how people learn and develop as social beings. Simply stated, learning is biologically based; it is natural and it is constant. As primates, we develop understanding through the innate functions of observation, imitation, exploration, and play. Sensory perceptions of and interactions with our social and natural environments trigger emotional responses that manifest in the performance of particular behaviors. That is, we learn how to behave based on the feelings experienced as we witness situations and perform particular actions (Bernhard, 2013, p. 8).
Human beings are active organisms and members of the primate order. The ways in which we learn are fundamentally the same as those of our primate ancestors. That is, we are intuitively driven to engage with and explore the surrounding world through experimental play (Piaget, 1952). Encouraged by the novelty, pleasure, and excitement in discovering the new, young primates are internally motivated to play both alone and in groups. Explorative and experimental play is the natural way that young primates satisfy their inborn curiosity to understand the surrounding world. This motivation to experiment and play is rooted in the innate need to develop skills for survival. Children that are allowed the time and space to experiment with their natural and social environments will cultivate knowledge as characterized by the survival skills of social competency and communication, self-awareness, protection of the young, feeding and food getting, and reproductive practices (Harlow and Mears, 1979).
It is the young who still have the greatest amount of untapped novelty to explore and who are more frequently reinforced by novelty reinforcers for further exploration, play, and creativity. Hence, younger primates tend to generate a higher frequency of the explorative and playful behavior which may lead to useful innovations (Baldwin and Baldwin 1979, p. 103).
Though the intention to learn survival skills may not be acknowledged by the child, the purpose of play is to inform the child of what behaviors contribute to ensuring well being versus activities that are harmful (Harlow and Mears, 1979). For example, Jane Goodale writes of her observations of the Tiwi Aborigines of Northern Australia:
Very young children are allowed literally to play with fire, and never once did I
hear a parent telling their child, “now be careful, dear.” The maxim “experience
is the best teacher” seems to be rigidly followed…Generally parents or other
adults will only interfere in their child’s activities when they become really
dangerous to some other younger child who cannot fend for itself (Goodale, 1971,
It can be inferred that if a child’s hand happened to be burnt by the flames, that child would learn to avoid such close contact with fire in the future. Evolutionary developmental psychologist and author Peter Gray describes and positions the importance of play in our modern society as the following:
Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their own lives, It is also the primary means by which children practice and acquire the physical and intellectual skills that are essential for success in the culture in which they are growing (Gray, 2013, p. 5).
In addition to active exploration through playing, human beings learn through observing and imitating the behaviors of others. Observation is the process of witnessing another being’s behavior and interpreting whether the behavior should be imitated. When observing another perform particular actions, the observer will subconsciously make inferences regarding the outcomes of the action. Does that person appear satisfied after taking that action? How have others reacted to that person’s behavior? What behaviors are rewarded with approval? What behaviors are disapproved of? Observing the behavior and actions of others may then initiate the modification of one’s own behaviors. Blurton Jones and Konner (1976) describe this type of learning as it has existed in hunter gatherer societies:
This indirect adult communication of important information seems comparable to the indirect way young men acquire information about animals and technology, which appears to be quite simply a matter of watching and listening to other people and then trying for one's self. There is almost no direct teaching (Jones and Konner, 1976, p. 338-339).
Tonkinson's (1978) studies of the Mardudjara people of Australia also supports the importance of observation and imitation as a means of developing social survival skills.
[Children] see the system in action and thus learn both the ideal and actual patterning of social relationships as part of growing up. They absorb the system effortlessly, learning the primacy of kin category as a behavioral guide.... Having learned the system, children begin conforming to it in early adolescence without any specific directives from their elders (Tonkinson, 1978, p. 45).
Children that do not live separately from adults but participate in group activity and witness adult reality will learn to carry out the responsibilities of adults upon maturity. Furthermore, as active participants in the community, children recognize their own value, and they trust that their wellbeing will be protected and supported by other group members. In hunter gatherer societies, learning to live was learning to achieve group belonging in equilibrium with a sense of self-identity. The survival of the group was based on mutualism and reciprocity and one’s status was measured by one’s capacity to contribute to maintaining the wellbeing of the group as a whole. Gary Bernhard describes this living as simple, natural, and inevitable.
Becoming an adult, for most of human existence, has meant coming to an understanding of how the need to belong to a group and the need to have personal identity fit together. In the social environments in which our species evolved, these needs coexisted in a dynamic balance, so the young found their fit with others and themselves as a normal consequence of living. This discovery process also promoted an understanding of how to subsist in the physical environment, how to choose and live with mates and friends, how to live with relatives, how to raise children, how to dispute with others, how to resolve disputes, and so forth (Bernhard, 2013, p.8).
The survival of the group depended on each individual’s capacity to live in mutualism with others and with the natural environment. In his book Free to Learn (2013) Peter Gray expounds on this point, framing the value of reciprocity “from an economic point of view,” Gray writes, “People [in hunter-gatherer bands] share their skills and efforts freely as they cooperate in obtaining food, defending against predators, and caring for children (2013, 24-25).” A community system based in mutual cooperation and sharing was absolutely essential for group survival. A community system based in these tenants, naturally allowed for the children growing in the community to cultivate community supporting social relationships and perform the ideals of the society as the young mature.
In an age of rapid communication and information transfer, diverse cultures and a world of varying belief systems and customs, it is not possible for the humans of the world today to revert to the hunter/gatherer existence. But it is possible to maintain and enjoy the conveniences of modernity in a way that harkens back to the old value of maintaining mutualistic relationships within social and natural surroundings. In our Western culture there is a false assumption that “the survival of some must come at the expense of others” (Bernhard, 2013, p.12). Really, our species’ survival has largely depended on the capacity of people to live with each other in community systems of sharing and reciprocity. When, how, and why did the myths of competition, desire for ownership, and the dream of dominance replace the way of life that sustained our primal ancestors? And is it possible to unlearn these myths in the twenty-first century?
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Bernhard, J. Gary. 2013. Primates in the Classroom: An Evolutionary Perspective on Children’s Learning. 2nd Ed. EvoEbooks
Gray, Peter. 2013. Free to Learn. New York: Basic Books.
Harlow, H. E, and C. Mears. 1979. The Human Model: Primate Perspectives. New York: Wiley.
Blurton Jones, N., and M. Konner. 1976. "!Kung Knowledge of Animal Behavior." In Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers, edited by R. Lee and I. DeVore. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Piaget, J. 1952. The Origins of Intelligence in Children. Translated by M. Cook. New York: International University Press.
Tonkinson, Robert. 1978. The Mardudjara Aborigines: Living the Dream in Australia's Desert. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.