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Losing My Sense of Entitlement

I spent eleven years (1974-1985) living and working at a place called Pendle Hill, near Philadelphia, where I served as Dean of Studies. Pendle Hill is a Quaker living-learning community—founded in 1930 and going strong to this day—where some 80 people share a daily round of classes, communal meals, physical work, silent worship, communal decision-making, outreach to the larger world, etc. When signed on at Pendle Hill, I was 35 years old, married with three children, and I had a Ph.D. from Berkeley. But as Dean of Studies, I made the same base salary as everyone else who worked there—including the 18 year-old who worked in the garden or the shop for a year or two while seeking a post-high school direction in life. In those days, that meant $4,000 per year, plus room and board. Like all members of the community, I had a daily job related to the communal meals—washing dishes after lunch. As Dean of Studies, I had to be off campus every now and then to raise money, or give a talk, or meet with potential partners. But that did not alter the fact that every time I needed to be absent at lunchtime, I had

Scott Nine’s Learning Story

I still remember every book I was asked to read for Dr. Tom Nolen’s class, The One and the Many. It was my first semester at Northern Arizona University. I entered the classroom curious — but also defined. Raised a devout and conservative Christian, I had helped my family start a church and began giving sermons when I was 14. At 16, my charisma and speaking gifts had me sharing a sermon about every other month with a congregation of 260 people. I was the student body president of my high school, captain of the football team, and the valedictorian to boot. I made the last minute decision to attend NAU, a state school, because the cost and distance of going to the Christian college of choice seemed too big at the time. On the first day of class, Dr. Nolen set the tone. He was inviting us into a large, complex, and uncomfortable conversation. How does society balance the needs and rights of individuals with that of the whole? What can we learn from exploring different views through literature and discussion? There were about 20 of us. The course would be rigorous. We were to keep a weekly journal,

It’s about intellectual AND vocational skills

I have always been a person who views learning as essentially a practical thing. You take action, you practice in activities and immerse yourself in projects, taking risks and as such making a great many mistakes that you end up learning and growing from. Where does all this learning take a person? Well for one, hopefully we become better people as a result. More confident, more self-aware, more mature, wiser, more capable of living and contributing and continuing to learn and grow. In another sense, by practicing things our hope is that we become better and better at them with time. Ideally, this continues until one day we are adept enough at using our hands or bodies or minds, creating or building or assisting or leading or discovering, that the talents and skills we have developed over the years are strong enough to devote to a career and to making our own little corner of the world a better place. Ideally also, through authentic living both in and out of the classroom, we learn those practical skills that it takes to survive independently in the modern world, while also knowing when and how to turn to others for assistance and

“The Child is Father to the Man”

“The Child is Father to the Man.” That’s what Wordsworth wrote, and some months ago a three-year-old youngster demonstrated the truism (I want to pun it, ‘proved the altruism’) yet again. He and I were sitting in a car in a suburban parking lot, waiting for his grandma. Adric noticed, then looked closely at a black man striding across the parking lot. “He looks like you, Jonathan,” Adric said. The man was about 25, buff, cue-ball bald, nattily dressed. I am nearly 70 and white, and so I was puzzled, but at least wise enough sometimes to try to see things with a child’s eye. Still, the resemblance escaped me, until I scratched my bald head. There is hope for the multiracial society Adric is inheriting.

“Prison gave me a sense of urgency.”

My soul looks back and wonders how I got over. How I stumbled past classrooms that couldn’t hold my attention into jail cells that couldn’t hold my hunger for knowledge. I’ve come to realize that a thousand baby steps led me to prison, steps that aren’t always definable, aren’t always recognizable. But the steps that took me away from the classroom are clear. I remember my eleventh grade AP US History teacher catching me with a blunt burning between my fingers. From the window Mr. Scott watched smoke defy the gravity I thought held me down. Even then, as a smart mouthed eleventh grader I’d read more books than I could number. Books ranging from Chinua Achebe to James Baldwin to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Walter Mosley; yet, those books didn’t translate into a passion for school. My teachers never knew about my reading habits and never did much to support them. I can’t name more than four books I read in middle school and high school as a part of a school curriculum. I never had to do summer readings, and never had to walk into a classroom and actually think critically about how something Shakespeare wrote years

“The Color Line”

One of the most powerful learning experiences of my life is a recent one where, pursuing a personal goal to develop my “will, knowledge, skill and capacity” for interrupting social inequities, I signed up for a two-day training. The most significant learning took place around an exercise called “The Color Line.” After filling out a self-report questionnaire and scoring myself about the degree to which I experience privilege in my life, I placed myself on a continuum based on my score. I wasn’t surprised to find myself closer to the high end of the scale — I am, after all, a white woman — nor was I surprised to see the lowest scoring participants were people of color. What did surprise me were other patterns the trainers were able to predict: the high percentage of low-scoring participants who held doctorates, how the continuum progressed from darkest to lightest skin tone, the exception of a smattering of whites in the mid-range who turned out to be members of biracial families, for example. While that activity gave me — and other participants – a lot to think about, the trainers were savvy enough to not leave it at that. Our homework was

Dorothy Boddy’s Learning Story

I am a teacher in a Title I school in Phoenix. For the past six years, I have been able to raise the funds to take some of my students to the Grand Canyon to take a class called “Dynamic Earth.” It is taught by the Park Rangers, who specifically deal with education and align the trips to the Arizona State Standards. Many of these students have never been out of their neighborhoods. When we get to the Flagstaff area and view the San Francisco Peaks (our tallest mountains — over 12,000 feet), my students are so excited. Last year there was a thin layer of snow at the rest area. Many had never seen snow. They ran and jumped around it until we had to get back on the bus. Their first view of the canyon was like watching children on Christmas morning or some other special occasion. The Rangers took us to a fossil bed a 1/4 mile down. They all learned that this area was once an ocean. They also learned the types of animals that lived in the ocean. Next, they hiked along the rim and learned the layers of the Canyon. The Rangers teach them the

Jenerra Williams’ Learning Story

At Mission Hill School, we publish a weekly newsletter that goes out to our extended community, both near and far. Within the newsletter is a short piece from each classroom teacher. Usually, the piece is a reflection on the children’s learning and growth. As I searched a few weeks ago for a topic to write I stepped away from writing about my students’ progress and instead thought I’d share a little about my own reflection as a learner. Recently it was our student teacher Molly’s last day. Every time a student teacher leaves I am filled with mixed emotions of sadness and joy. It is always sad to see someone leave who has become a part of your community. In a few short months they find their rightful places in our classrooms and in our hearts. However, I am joyful too. When student teachers leave my classroom, I feel confident that they have learned something about our school, our students, teaching, and themselves. It is in this confidence where I find my own growth. With every student teacher, I become a better mentor. I learn to ask the right questions. I learn to comfort and console and to create

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