Friday, October 30, 2009

The Dark Side of Schooling

by Jim Strickland, originally published in the March/April 2009 issue of Natural Life Magazine

Let me start by saying that I am not one of those people who believe that schools are part of an insidious conspiracy to turn our children into mindless automatons ready to sacrifice life and limb in the service of Big Brother - I think that job already belongs to television. But even if it turns out that schools actually are part of some sinister government plot to control us, I just can't bring myself to believe that very many teachers are in on the plan. I'm going to generalize here, but the teachers I know are among the most sincere, caring and giving people I've ever met. I'm convinced that most teachers really love their students and truly believe in the work they are doing. And, in the interest of full-disclosure, I happen to be one of them.
But we all know what the path to hell is paved with (and I'm not talking about subprime mortgages). It is precisely the good intentions and selfless generosity of so many educators that make it almost impossible to have a critical discussion about the value of schooling without coming across as attacking someone's grandmother or burning an American flag - I mean, them's fightin' words!

So take a deep breath and rest assured I'll leave your grandmother out of this. The fact is that schooling does indeed have a dark side, one that produces harmful effects that cripple individuals, weaken communities and undermine democracy. And all this is done in the name of helping us.

For example, one lesson you'll never find in the course catalog - let's call it Schooling 101 - is actually part of every class you or I have ever taken. This class teaches the most basic of all school lessons, namely, the need to be taught. Everything else builds on the mastery of this one essential concept. Once we have accepted and internalized the belief that learning requires teaching, we have met the fundamental prerequisite for a lifetime of dependence and diminished imaginations.

In this paradigm, the ideal student knows that learning is synonymous with schooling and will never make the heretical mistake of attempting to learn from direct experience or on their Page 40 own initiative. Schooling 101 assumes that the only knowledge with real value is that which makes up the official school curriculum. You can imagine the impact this lesson has on our capacity for self-direction, independent thinking and creative expression!

After we learn the need to be taught, it is a natural progression to the next lesson, Schooling 102: Those who have more years of schooling are superior to those who have fewer years. This lesson conditions us to accept a hierarchical organization of society in which the majority of us willingly defer to an elite group of revered "experts" when making the most important decisions of our lives. We learn that these experts not only have more skill and knowledge in their area of specialized schooling, but also that they are wiser and better people than most of us. Therefore, they have the right (and yes, even the social responsibility) to decide what is best for the masses.

And just in case any of us are still plagued with nagging doubts about the superiority of the mega-schooled, those uncertainties are quickly put to rest when we attempt to decipher the coded "professional" lingo that these experts use to define the important issues affecting us and our communities. Whether it be education, economics, healthcare or politics, as long as the problems and solutions of our day remain incomprehensible to the common person, we are more likely to accept our own ignorance and accompanying inability to organize for effective action. How can we act on issues that we can't even understand? This learned resignation destroys our power as citizens and makes a sham out of our democracy.

Once these first two lessons have been sufficiently mastered, the next lesson is a piece of cake. Schooling 103 teaches that only school-issued certificates and credentials can qualify you for jobs and higher education.

This lesson effectively seals the deal that makes schooling into what social thinker Ivan Illich refers to as a radical monopoly. A radical monopoly is not just the dominance of one brand over another, but a situation in which we are made dependent on a particular product or service for our very survival. For example, the automobile has become a radical monopoly because we have built the infrastructure of our communities around it in such a way tat it is almost impossible to get our basic needs met without a car. It's not just Chevy versus Ford. It's Thrive versus Wither, Participation versus Isolation. In the same way, when we build the infrastructure of our workplaces and institutions of higher education around the need for exclusive certificates that can only be acquired in schools, then we have effectively shut down access to political and economic participation by any other pathway.

In his paradigm-busting book, Tools for Conviviality, Ivan Illich writes, "Schools tried to extend a radical monopoly on learning by redefining it as education. As long as people accepted the teacher's definition of reality, those who learned outside school were officially stamped 'uneducated'...Radical monopoly imposes compulsory consumption and thereby restricts personal autonomy. It constitutes a special kind of social control because it is enforced by means of the imposed consumption of a standard product that only large institutions can provide."

Should one be legally obligated to submit to the social and intellectual conditioning mechanism of schooling for 12 years (or more) just to be granted the "right" to apply for a job or a college-level course? Can any employer successfully justify the claim that this life-consuming obligatory ordeal is the only acceptable preparation for a particular job in their business or organization? It is illegal to discriminate against potential employees on the basis of criteria that don't directly pertain to the their ability to perform the job being sought. Shouldn't the burden of proof be on the employer or college admissions board to show that, if required, a particular school-issued certificate is indeed absolutely necessary for successful performance of a job or program?

One final lesson I'd like to briefly mention - you guessed it, Schooling 104 - teaches us that learning is separate from the rest of our lives. Most schooling takes place inside cubicles that are isolated from the people and work of our communities. Since curriculum tends to be predetermined and administratively imposed, school subjects are inevitably far removed from the the vital issues that would naturally engage us. And FYI - bribing, threatening, or otherwise manipulating students to comply is not the same as producing personal engagement. Personal engagement cannot be coerced. It is a voluntary investment of heart and mind in something that matters to us. It also just happens to produce a beneficial little by-product known as real learning.

It is this chasm between the official top-down curriculum and the real stuff of grassroots, day-to-day life that renders much of what goes on in schools meaningless. And when students are unable or unwilling to respond to a curriculum they find irrelevant and confusing, they are told that they are the problem. How condescending is it to be assured that it doesn't matter whether or not the curriculum makes sense to you. It makes sense to the experts who designed it - end of discussion. Now get on with the program!

These are lessons we may not sign up for, but that schooling teaches as part of its inherent structure and philosophy. Like I said earlier, I don't believe anyone is intentionally using our schools to do us arm, but we have to admit that real harm is being done to countless students who are learning these lessons, and learning them all too well. They are developing the apathy, powerlessness and alienation that naturally result from beliefs that cripple. They learn that they are not capable of deciding what is really important in life, not capable of defining and working towards their own goals, not capable of being in charge of their own destinies and not capable of organizing with others to take meaningful action. They are being immersed in a surreal world where everything that feels right is wrong and everything that feels wrong is right.

So, what can we do? Well, first we have to overcome the impact of our own schooling and come to believe that we actually can do something. And once we acknowledge that this dark side of schooling is real, doing nothing is not a morally acceptable option. Let me suggest two political actions that I believe will have a positive, long-term impact on the institution of schooling.

First, we must make schooling voluntary. While many children thrive in our schools and appear to emerge relatively unscathed by its hidden curriculum, this is certainly not true for a growing percentage of students and their families, not to mention the health of our democracy. How can we justify legally compelling citizens to submit to a process that is at best not working for them, and possibly doing life-long damage? We can't.

Second, we must make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of school credentials alone. Since we know that there are a variety of effective pathways to developing skills and knowledge, we must honor these as legitimate. Employers need to take on the responsibility of screening applicants based on the specific abilities actually needed to perform the job being sought, rather than on a piece of paper that indicates, more than anything else, compliance with a dominating system.

These two actions would remove the obstacles for effective change to occur over time. Schools could continue functioning as they do now and good teachers could continue having a life-changing impact on the students they love and serve. But for those who aren't thriving, who are actually being diminished and even harmed by compulsory schooling, there would be an acceptable way out that would not make them into social, economic or political outcasts. And as a democracy, we can do no less.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Please Support Our School!

If you have been enjoying this blog and support the mission and vision of our school, we hope that you will consider supporting us in the following ways:
  • Spread the word about our blog - tweet our posts, share them by email or on Facebook, make a comment, let people know about us.

  • Go onto GoodShop and type in Wellspring Community School (in the middle of the page). After that, you can go to the websites of hundreds of retailers (Amazon, department stores, all kinds) and Wellspring will receive a percentage of your purchase, no added fees, no funny business. Just you buying what you'd be buying anyway, and WCS gets a cut!

  • Visit Greenraising, select Wellspring from the "Choose Your Affiliate" drop-down menu, and shop away!

  • Join our Cause on Facebook

  • Shop at Powell's online bookstore using the link in the left margin of our blog or the school's website and we will receive a portion of your purchase

Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Many Paths, One Journey to Health

The Holistic Moms Network unveiled the second installment in their cookbook collection, Many Paths, One Journey to Health: In the Kitchen with Holistic Moms at the Natural Living Conference on October 17. With over 300 pages of recipes, this book features something for everyone and is a wonderful addition to any kitchen.

This book includes recipes that appeal to people who follow many different dietary paths, including local eating (broken down by season), macrobiotics, raw foods, traditional diets, vegetarian diets, and GFCF (gluten-free/casein-free) and egg-free diets. Because the recipes are all mom-tested, mom-approved and mom- (and some dad-) contributed, you can be sure that they are easy, healthy, and kid-friendly.

This unique cookbook is particularly perfect for people who are new to holistic living and want to learn about many different diets without investing in dozens of volumes for their home cookbook collections, but it definitely has appeal to those who are more familiar with holistic eating as well. The introduction includes a brief explanation of the nutritional paths represented in the book that is helpful to newbies and veterans alike. This collection of recipes makes a great gift, too - a wonderful way to encourage healthy eating among family and friends, and a guaranteed way to get them to cook delicious and wholesome meals for your family when you visit!

Anyone want to join me in enjoying an autumn Pumpkin Smoothie (page 98)?

Order your copy here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Person's A Person, No Matter How Small

or, You Know You Have "Mommy Brain" When Your Most Profound Thoughts Come From Dr. Seuss.

Of course, Dr. Seuss is pure genius. Only he can write children's books about things like environmentalism, self-esteem, prejudice, peace, the global arms race, contentment, creativity, success, gratitude, greed and vanity using words like jigger-rock snatchem and yook zook. Books that are still not only in print, but remain popular decades after their original publication.

My daughter is currently into musical theater, so we went to see Seussical Jr. last month. Since then, I have probably listened to the score a thousand times. Literally a thousand. It is fun and catchy - you can definitely sing to it - but it's one of those things that sticks in your head and is impossible to get out. I find myself singing it everywhere, all the time.

For those who have not had the pleasure of seeing it, you must. It is based on the Horton stories (Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches the Egg) but there are elements of many other stories woven in. The Master of Ceremonies is the Cat in the Hat, and the curtain call song is Green Eggs and Ham - all in all, there are elements of 17 Dr. Seuss books represented.

Anyway, the main plot of the story is Horton's efforts to save Who, the "tiniest planet in the sky" which is on a speck of dust that he carefully places "down - safe! - on a very soft clover" and guards even though he is scorned and mocked as "the biggest blame fool in the Jungle of Nool" for his efforts by the other jungle animals, especially the Sour Kangaroo. Horton's refrain is "a person's a person, no matter how small."

And here is the genius of Dr. Seuss. He manages to distill my personal parenting philosophy, and one of the main cornerstones of Wellspring Community School, into a pithy line uttered by an elephant named Horton who lives in the Jungle of Nool.

Adults and children differ in terms of experience, or opinion, or vocabulary, or ability to understand subtlety and complexity - just as, by the way, adults all differ from each other. Yet, there is more about us that is alike than different and our thoughts, needs and emotions all deserve equal respect. A person's a person, no matter how small. I love that. So simple, yet so profound.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pumpkin Picking With Wellspring

Last week our students went on a pumpkin picking excursion to Wightman's Farms. It was a positively glorious day, perfect weather for some outdoor fun and learning!

Friday, October 23, 2009

How to Have a Green Halloween

Halloween is just a week away! If you're looking for easy, fun and Earth-friendly ways to celebrate, check these out:

  • Green Halloween is THE resource for all things green and Halloween, and includes costume ideas, alternatives to trick-or-treating, party ideas, a discussion board, and a list of community events
  • Crafting A Green World has some super cute Halloween decorating ideas - I personally like the detergent bottle jack-o-lantern, and the toilet paper roll boxes are something we will definitely be trying
  • No list of Halloween options would be complete without mentioning UNICEF, right?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Giving Your Children a Global Perspective

A recent post on the Simple Mom blog, by guest poster Jamie of Steady Mom, gives suggestions for raising children with a global perspective.

The world is changing. Technology has connected continents like never before. Within seconds, we hear about triumphs or tragedies happening in faraway places. With this amazing knowledge comes a deep responsibility.

This is the world in which our children live. We have the privilege of introducing them to its beauties, its cultures, and even its challenges. Our kids can become the world’s problem solvers, providing they’ve developed a compassionate heart and an international mindset.

It’s easy for all of us – mothers and children alike – to be mostly concerned with ourselves, our needs, and our own countries. But a personal, intentional connection with the world broadens our horizons, keeps our problems in perspective, and supplies us with ideas to positively impact others.
Read her suggestions here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's For Lunch Wednesday - Lunchboxes Around the Web

A recent Internet search revealed a few resources to help parents think about creating healthy and appealing lunches. The Vegan Lunchbox is short on recipes (McCann is, after all, trying to sell her cookbooks!) but full of ideas. I love the idea of feeding children foods from different countries - I think it's a great way to ensure variety as well as exposing them to different cultures.

Healthy Child, Healthy Planet recently posted this list of 20 Creative Ideas for Healthy School Lunches. Most of them are not vegetarian, but it's always helpful to have options for those who do include meat in their diets.

Another nice lunch blog is the Laptop Lunchbox site. They post a weekly menu with easy ideas for busy parents - again, they are looking to sell a product (albeit a very good one, I can vouch for them!) but the ideas are great and it's easy to make your own bento-style lunch without the fancy "Lunchbox System".

Speaking of bento boxes, there was a great article in the latest issue of Mothering magazine full of beautiful, if somewhat over the top, mealtime creations. Another source for bento ideas is the Foodie Footsteps blog - subtitled Adventures in Bento Lunches for My Little Foodie. Not all vegetarian, but definitely more do-able than some of the boxes in the Mothering spread. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Review: Hope is an Open Heart

I am always looking for good children's books that reinforce the values we try to teach and live in our family. A recent great find at our local library is Hope is an Open Heart by Lauren Thompson (who also wrote another one of our favorites, The Apple Pie that Papa Baked). The photography is beautiful - the cover almost looks like a watercolor painting - and shows diverse landscapes and people. The art is complemented by language that is simple, clear and poetic. At the end of the book, Thompson shares the inspiring stories of some of the subjects of her photos who turned tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami into personal triumphs.

What I really like about this book is the fact that it includes the entire range of human emotion. Hope is not only "knowing that you are loved", but it is also "angry words bursting, making room for understanding." At first it might seem strange to juxtapose the concept of hope with feelings such as fear, loneliness and sadness, but it is important for children to know that in moments of suffering, as well as moments of joy, there is always a gift to be found. What a beautiful lesson.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Engaged Parents = Student Success

Here at Wellspring, we recognize the importance of parents' involvement in their children's educations, and invite them to get involved in any way they can. Our teachers consider it one of their primary functions to develop a strong working relationship with their students' families, with the understanding that education is best when it is a partnership among the important people in a child's life. reports that the Illinois Parent Information Resource Center has developed an arts-based, community centered approach to parent involvement in their children's education.

Parents are universally accepted as a child’s first teacher. It’s intuitive, and we usually know it from our own experience. Schools that embrace this reality and recognize the important role parents play in their child’s education are better able to create curriculum and build relationships with parents that have a profound effect on a child’s journey through school.
Read more about the program here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A New Culture Needs a New Education by Ron Miller

Originally published in the online journal Global Intelligencer in January, 2007

The transition to a postmodern culture will bring about significant changes in all areas of society. Our ways of thinking about healing, spirituality, food, community, the natural world, and even economics and business are, in a broad sense, turning from the materialism and reductionism of the industrial age to a more organic, holistic, person-centered and locally rooted worldview. It is no accident that modern educational institutions are similarly being challenged by alternative ways of teaching and learning. The system of schooling as we know it, with its grading, testing, standardized curriculum, and control over students’ use of time, reflects the mechanistic worldview of the age now beginning to decline. Parents and educators who are beginning to question this worldview have turned to diverse philosophies and methods, from Montessori and Waldorf schools, to democratic schools, home education and community learning centers, among others.

This is a confusing time in education. Public schools are driven into even further standardization and desperate competition by the so-called No Child Left Behind policy of the federal government. Conservative politicians call for privatization and voucher schemes. Some see charter schools (publicly funded but independently run) as the ideal model. And well over a million families are keeping their children out of school altogether, for all sorts of reasons. Until this generation, most parents simply sent their kids to the neighborhood school, but now we are faced with a dizzying array of choices, with little understanding of their philosophical differences. In this article I will provide a brief overview of the field of holistic education and list some of its distinctive examples.

Simply stated, holistic education is an effort to cultivate the development of the whole human being. Where conventional schooling views the child as a passive receiver of information and rules, or at most as a computer-like processor of information, a holistic approach recognizes that to become full person, a growing child needs to develop—in addition to intellectual skills—physical, psychological, emotional, interpersonal, moral and spiritual potentials. The child is not merely a future citizen or employee in training, but an intricate and delicate web of vital forces and environmental influences. Ultimately, holistic education reflects a spiritual rather than a mechanistic worldview; it recognizes that in the growth of every child, some mysterious life force is unfolding and seeking expression. This force might be understood in religious or quasi-religious terms, as in Waldorf education, or it can be seen in a more naturalistic sense, as a biological urge—a worldview that makes sense to many progressive and democratic educators. In any case, a holistic approach to education respects this life force and seeks to nourish it. Clearly this worldview is very closely aligned with the impulse behind organic agriculture, natural medicine, ecological awareness, and other areas of the emerging “green” society.

A holistic education is usually characterized by several core qualities. First, it encourages experiential learning. There is more discussion, questioning, experimentation, and active engagement in a holistic learning environment, and a noticeable absence of grading, testing, labeling, and comparing. Learning is more meaningful and relevant to students—it matters to their lives. Second, personal relationships are considered to be as important as academic subject matter. These learning environments strive to cultivate a sense of community and belonging, and qualities of safety, respect, caring, and even love.

Third, there is concern for the interior life, for the feelings, aspirations, ideas and questions that each student brings to the learning process. Education is no longer viewed as the transmission of information; instead it is a journey inward as well as outward into the world. Fourth, holistic education expresses an ecological consciousness; it recognizes that everything in the world exists in context, in relationship to inclusive communities. This involves a deep respect for the integrity of the biosphere, if not a sense of reverence for nature. It is a worldview that embraces diversity, both natural and cultural. Holistic education shuns ideology, categorization, and fixed answers, and instead appreciates the flowing interrelatedness of all life.

These core qualities are practiced in diverse ways. Montessori schools provide a carefully designed, multi age “prepared environment” that encourages children to explore and experiment according to their own pace and interests. Waldorf teachers lead classes through a curriculum meant to respond to the stage of soul development of each age group, using stories and arts. “Democratic” or “free” schools, and many homeschoolers, seek to remove all adult obstacles to children’s curiosity and spontaneous community. Progressive educators encourage young people to examine the world with a critical eye and a commitment to social justice. And there are a few holistic schools based on particular spiritual traditions (Quaker or yogic, for example) that bring centering practices such as meditation into their classrooms.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Educating for Global Change

Today is Blog Action Day sponsored by, and the topic this year is Global Climate Change. Here at Wellspring, we try to do our part for the environment. We compost and minimize trash. We encourage parents to pack waste-free lunches. We provide wholesome, organic snacks for our students. Many of our families are vegetarian. We avoid the use of plastics in our classroom and other play areas. We encourage outdoor exploration and introduce our students to the beauty and wonder of nature.

What we do not do is engage our students in conversations about the nitty-gritty of global climate change - polar bears and melting ice caps, carbon dioxide versus methane, water shortages and food security, changing weather patterns.

According to environmental educator David Sobel in his book Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, children go through three developmental stages as they bond with the Earth. The first stage, Empathy, is from ages four through seven. (Sobel is primarily concerned with teaching about the environment in schools; as a parent I would argue that the Empathy stage is really from birth to age seven.) The second stage, Exploration, is from ages eight to eleven, and the Social Action stage is from twelve to fifteen. In other words, it is not until adolescence that children possess the necessary level of emotional and intellectual sophistication to understand the complexity and abstraction of global issues and activism. Young children see things in black and white, but the big problems of our day are painted in many shades of gray. Therefore, it is best to spend the pre-adolescent years developing a deep bond between children and their environments and teaching by example so that they are motivated to take action when they are older.

If we introduce children to the huge problems of the adult world before they are ready, this can lead to a feeling of apathy and dissociation, similar to the way that children exposed to media violence become immune to all violence including that occurring in real life. "If we prematurely ask children to deal with problems beyond their understanding and control, prematurely recruit them to solve the mammoth problems of an adult world," says Sobel, "then I think we cut them off from the possible sources of their strength."

Think how fearful and hopeless you may sometimes feel when thinking about big global issues like climate change, and then try to imagine how hopeless a child would feel given the fact that their capacity for understanding and their power to effect change is in its infancy. This is not what we want for our children. What we want to do is empower our them to, in Sobel's words, "take a vested interest in healing the wounds of past generations while devising feasible, sustainable practices and policies for the future." The way to do this is to provide our children with "immersion, solitude, and interaction in a close, knowable world."


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Eating the Rainbow

When my daughter was young, she was a great eater. She'd eat whatever I put in front of her with gusto. I naively thought that her eating habits would last, but unfortunately as she entered the toddler stage she also became a picky eater. I would struggle to get her to eat two or three different foods in a day, especially if they were not white.

I read in a parenting magazine about "Eating the Rainbow" - being sure to eat foods of different colors each day. This ensures a well-balanced diet, since foods of different colors tend to contain different nutrients. It is also an easy way to think about introducing variety into your grocery shopping and your diet without having to do a lot of research about nutrition contents.

We made a big chart on a piece of poster paper with the days of the week down the side and the colors of the rainbow across the top. We combined blue and purple, since there are not a lot of blue foods out there. We cut out pictures of healthy foods from magazines and glued them to our chart, and then we had it laminated at our favorite office supply store.

As my daughter eats a food, we check off the appropriate box on the chart. As the day goes on and she is looking for a snack, I remind her to check and see what color she is missing, or I might suggest that it's time to "eat a yellow (or whatever)". Once she's eaten her colors, she's free to have whatever healthy snack she wants. Since it's laminated, we use a dry erase marker and are able to re-use the chart each week. We've had great success with this technique, since it's fun for her and easy for me. If you give it a try, please post a comment and let us know how it goes!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Public Schools Move Towards Waldorf Philosophy

The growing charter school movement has many public schools starting to move away from the usual methods of educating students. 44 Waldorf-inspired public schools, mostly K-8 charter schools in the western part of the US, have sprung up and are having great success.

The Waldorf method suggests that teachers time their teaching to coincide with a child's readiness to learn. For instance, they teach writing before reading, which sometimes results in students starting to read as late as the third grade. "We hold back on intellectualizing the child until it's time," says sixth-grade teacher Chris Whetstone.

In "Learning from Rudolf Steiner: The Relevance of Waldorf Education for Urban Public School Reform," a study published in 2008 in the journal Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice, researcher Ida Oberman concluded that the Waldorf approach successfully laid the groundwork for future academics by first
engaging students through integrated arts lessons and strong relationships instead of preparing them for standardized tests.

Read the whole story here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Television Op-Ed

Judge not, lest you be judged, but...

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes:

TV isn’t called the idiot box for nothing. Even at its best it replaces engaged and active thought with passive and sedentary spectating, while at its worst it destroys children’s innocence, inuring them to violence, mockery, and crude sexualization. Television is by definition a visual medium; it appeals not to the brain but to the eye. You don’t have to study hypnosis to understand how easily the eye can be exploited to undermine alertness, focus, and good judgment. Just look at the dazed and vacant expression on the face of a youngster watching TV. Most parents would be calling 911 if their child drank something that caused such a reaction. Why doesn’t the zoned-out oblivion induced by TV cause parents to panic? Is it because they’re hooked on it

Read the whole piece here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Dads and Favorite Guys of Wellspring Community School

Here are some photos from Wellspring's Bring Your Dad or Best Guy to School Day earlier this week. The students loved showing off their space to their favorite guys (and were very sorry to see them go when it was time for lunch), and the dads had a great day learning about what goes on at Wellspring!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Littlest Wellspringer

The Wellspring community is thrilled to announce to the world the arrival of our brand new mascot and future student Keanu Jerod Mack born at home Saturday, September 26 weighing 8 lbs, 6 oz.

The young mister is at home taking it slow with mom (Stephanie Field, our esteemed WCS director), hard working super-proud dad (Dave), and two sibling bloggers, who are holding down the fort at school (Leah and Skyler), entertaining the dog (Bodhi), and soothing the cat's nerves (Sally). Dorothy (elder goldfish) and Whitey and Goldy (Wellspring goldfish who summered at the Field-Mack's and haven't yet returned to school) are all taking the commotion in serene fishly style.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Sneak in Some Veggies

Our parents have some great ideas for sneaking some vegetables into their kids' favorite meals. One family puts zuchini chunks into potato soup, another uses cannelini beans in place of cheese for a healthy mac and cheese.

Another easy one comes from Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food. When making a grilled cheese sandwich, use a mixture of shredded cheddar, sweet potato or butternut squash puree, butter and salt as the filling instead of using a slice of American cheese. Yum!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Our Lunchtime Blessing

Welcome, welcome, to our table.
Welcome, welcome, we all join hands,
or make a bridge, together.

Earth who gives to us this food;
Sun who makes it ripe and good;
Dearest Earth and dearest Sun
We'll not forget what you have done.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Educating Outliers

These days I'm lucky if I get through one book a month, and that one is usually "read" in my car via my iPhone while shuffling kids and critters here and there. My latest is Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is about the fact that extraordinarily successful people owe their success not only to hard work and talent, but also to accidents of birth and circumstance that put them in the right place at the right time.

The last chapter of the book talks how different societies educate their children, and the impact of those educational legacies. Setting aside the question of what "success" is, Gladwell cites research showing that children who perform best on standardized tests are those who spend the most time in school. Personally, I'm not a fan of increasing school hours (and I’m not sure that Gladwell is either, at least in the case of middle class American children). However, there is something that Gladwell said that I think is particularly interesting:

Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds. (page 246)

The reason, he says, for the correlation between hours in school and test scores is simple: the more time a child spends in school, the less rushed the teachers are, and the more time there is to actually explain and think about the material – in other words, there is time for students to learn persistence, doggedness, and the value of hard work.

In most American school settings, unfortunately, children are not taught these qualities. There isn't time. They have forty-five minutes for math each day, and the teacher needs to cover a proscribed amount of material in those forty-five minutes before the students move on to history or language arts or whatever. The day is so fragmented that young people can hardly settle in to think about anything before it's time to move on the next thing, and the next.

One of the things I love about Wellspring is that here, children's need to have their own pace is respected. They are given the freedom to be dogged and persistent, to work on a project until it is done.

My daughter has only been coming to Wellspring for a few short weeks, and already I've noticed a marked difference in her attention span. Before, my husband and I were concerned at her "inability" to sit still and concentrate on anything, to work hard and long to figure things out. She gave up and called for help or moved on to the next thing far too quickly for our comfort. But last weekend, she spent hours outside collecting sticks and acorns and pine cones to construct a (fairly complex and stable) fairy house under a tree in our back yard. She never would have done that two months ago.

In a society where things are moving faster and faster with each passing day and each technological advance, Gladwell’s words should be taken very seriously. During the formative years of our children’s youth, they need to learn the basic skills of success. By the time they are adults, the world around them will have changed in ways we cannot imagine. But the basic skills of success do not change – they need to be able to think, to solve problems, to be persistent and dogged, to work hard. This, they learn at Wellspring.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Play is Important!

In the September 27 School Issue of the New York Times Magazine, Paul Tough writes about something that parents and staff at Wellspring already know - that play is the work of childhood!

At the heart of the Tools of the Mind methodology is a simple but surprising idea: that the key to developing self-regulation is play, and lots of it. But not just any play. The necessary ingredient is what Leong and Bodrova call “mature dramatic play”: complex, extended make-believe scenarios, involving multiple children and lasting for hours, even days. If you want to succeed in school and in life, they say, you first need to do what Abigail and Jocelyn and Henry have done every school day for the past two years: spend hour after hour dressing up in firefighter hats and wedding gowns, cooking make-believe hamburgers and pouring nonexistent tea, doing the hard, serious work of playing pretend.
Read the entire story here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Simplicity, simplicity

With children at home, especially if they are small or there are a lot of them, simplicity can sound like a fantasy. Things that seem like they should be easy, like getting breakfast on the table or giving them baths, can become overwhelming and complicated in the context of real life. But for those parents who want to give their children the space to develop a sense of self and to explore their creativity and curiosity, it is vital that we make time for that to happen in our lives.

The website Zen Habits recently posted a list of 25 ways you can simplify your life with children:

Anyone who has kids knows that any life with kids is going to be complicated, at least to some degree. From extra laundry to bathing and cooking and shopping and driving and school and chores and crises and sports and dance and toys and tantrums, there is no shortage of complications.

You won’t get to ultra-simple if your life includes children … but you can find ways to simplify, no matter how many kids you have.

Read the entire article here.