My most powerful personal experience in a learning community did not take place inside of classroom walls. In fact, I was in bed, missing my sixth-grade Christmas party due to the dreaded chicken pox. What timing! I had been looking forward to the event for weeks. Everyone was bringing in treats, and our teacher had a number of games and prizes planned. Meanwhile, I was miserable at home, trying not to scratch myself silly. About an hour after school had ended for the day, a knock sounded on our door. This might be a good time to mention that I lived a half-hour from town, at the top of Mount Kilkenny. Our driveway (AKA York Pond Road) was about five miles uphill. There were only three houses at the top of the mountain, all lived in by employees of the Berlin Fish Hatchery. Knocking at the door was a foreign occurrence. My mother opened the door to find my teacher, Mr. Halvorson, complete with bow tie and sweater vest, standing in the frigid mountain air. In his hands he held a bakery box. He had personally stopped at a bakery and bought me an assortment of goods. On top of
I grew up in a middle class Catholic family. Even though both my parents worked in the field of public education me and my siblings attended various Catholic schools while growing up. I entered Holy Rosary in 3rd grade. My family had moved to the small town I grew up in when I was 5 years old. I did not enter Catholic school until 3rd grade due the school not being able to accommodate me and my 4 siblings when we first moved. For the next 6 years I was in the same class with the same, give or take, 25 students. We experienced many things together. There is a huge difference between attending a local neighborhood public school versus a small Catholic K to 8th grade where students, parents and parish are all linked due to religious beliefs. We recently met at a fellow classmate’s home for our 35th class reunion and after 20 minutes it seemed as though we were right back in our small school.
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
This is a story of middle school where I learned that mean girls existed. I never knew anyone could be mean for really no reason. I was at my second year at Martin Lurther King Middle School in Northern Virginia. I saw some of my friend in class and prepared to sit next to them. They said that seat was saved. So I got up and moved to where the nerds, or skaters, or geeks were sitting and where I didn’t know anyone and sat down. I was a bit surprised that there was not room for me with my friends but that was life. Then I heard the bell ring and no one sat in that seat. I remember looking at them and thinking, “I thought they were my friends.” I looked at them all period, ignoring what ever learning was supposed to be taking place. I was in disbelief. I was in shock. Finally, I came to the realization, that they weren’t really my friends. I had to rely on my inner self and not those crazy middle school girls. I became a bit of a loner not really belonging to any click but made friends here and