Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Blast from the Past, Part 2

Here is another "Oldie but Goodie" article that was written 10 years ago this summer. Sego Lily School was just about to open, and at the time I was a mother of 2 boys, ages 5 & 3. Corbin, the oldest, was ready to begin his first year of school. I had none of the feelings of elation that Michael Ventre mentions, and I have to say that 11 years later I still don't feel that way when it is time for my 8, 12 & 15 year old boys to head back to school after a long summer. Enjoy my musings, and I will share another article next week!

2008 flash-back: Ebag and his buddy bake cookies in the kitchen.

How's THAT for a flashback smile!

This morning, while enjoying a cup of coffee and an unusually quiet start to my day, I clicked on an MSNBC link entitled “10 songs for back to school.”  It led me to the following article:

Back-to-school beats

Ten songs to accompany your kids’ end-of-summer blues


By Michael Ventre

MSNBC contributor

Updated: 12:46 p.m. ET Aug. 31, 2004

Right around this time of year, sweat starts to pour off the brows of young people, while parents breathe a sigh of relief. School bells are ringing.

The summer is over, and it’s time for students to stop lying around, playing video games or watching television, sending text messages to their friends even though their friends are right in the next room, eating their parents out of house and home, failing to do chores, borrowing the car without permission, hosting a “study group” in their rooms with the doors locked, and looking for jobs only in places that they know are not hiring.

For parents, though, the news couldn’t be much better. The abode is again quiet. The little freeloaders are back in class where they belong. Let the teachers deal with them. That’s what they’re getting paid for, isn’t it? Aside from doing their carpool duty, parental units across the land soon will be dancing in the streets during school hours. In fact, maybe a little reward is in order for enduring a summer of chaos. Dad, it’s probably time for a new set of irons. Mom, even though you already have about a hundred pairs of shoes, a busy lady like yourself could always use a few more.

The article goes on to list ten songs that parents can sing to celebrate the return of their children to school, including “Be True to Your School” by the Beach Boys, and “Rock and Roll High School” by the Ramones.  No harm in the songs themselves, but I couldn’t help but be appalled at the tone of the article itself.  I mean, I know the author was speaking in jest (or at least, I hope there was a bit of jest in there), but it seems to me that the tone and language of this kind of article DOES communicate, and it DOES reach the ears and minds of the children in our society.  I decided to re-write the article, or at least a few bits of it, in a language that I hope will soon reflect not only childrens’ attitudes about school, but also adults’ attitudes about children.

Back to School Beats – Ten Songs to Celebrate the Return of the School Year


BY Jen Schwartz

Sego Lily School Founder, mother of two

Written September 1, 2004

Right around this time of year, excitement starts to build in the minds of young people, while parents look back fondly at the summer time spent with their family.  School will soon be starting.

The summer is over, and it’s time for students to prepare for another year of exploration, creation, and finding their passions.  The summer was filled with many adventures, and of course they never stopped learning, but children look forward to interacting with the friends and teachers that they have missed over the summer.  Yes, it will be another full year of learning, growing, and being supported by a loving and close-knit community, second only to the family that the child will be leaving behind as they go off to school each day.

For parents, the news is bitter-sweet.  Having their children back in school means more time for work and other projects, but it also means that they will be missing out on some of the daily interactions and adventures they have enjoyed so much over the summer.  The return to school is both a time of celebration for what lies ahead, and a mourning of the end of yet another wonderful summer.

Somewhere along the way, our culture started relating to children like a burden, to teenagers as freeloaders, and to school as a place to dump our children and get them out of our hair.  Somewhere along the way school became a place to be dreaded by children, and fall became an end to what was otherwise a great, fun, and adventuresome life (i.e. the end of summer vacation).  So what will it take for our culture to once again relate to our children as our greatest resource, and for children and adults to relate to school as a place in which students further their exploration of the world?  This, I believe, is one of the most important questions in which we can engage.  The answers to this question are the answers to many, if not most, of the problems we face as a society.  I dare us to all begin to answer these questions, and to use our voices to promote positive images of young people in our culture.
Our old apricot tree - fruit, and a place to play!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Blasts from the Past, Part One

When you move, you get a remarkable opportunity to see ALL of your 'stuff'. It's a great time to purge and re-organize, to make decisions (some easy, some difficult) about what is really important. Since we have essentially moved Sego Lily School THREE times in the last year (out of the old building into PODS, out of the PODS into the temporary buildings, then out of those buildings into the actual building), we have done a whole lot of purging. Our yard sale, in July, was a smashing success, and we were able to donate what was left over to another non-profit having a yard sale the following weekend. Basically, we are lighter, cleaner, and the 'stuff' we have left is needed, in good condition, and useful.

Maybe I just got into a purging streak, but I decided recently to clean out a ton of computer files as well. Our office computer has been dragging lately, and it felt like deleting files would be a good idea. One of the things I did was to make sure we had a printed copy of all of our old newsletters, and delete the electronic files. 396 files, to be precise, some of which were copies of the articles that went into the articles, six years of monthly newsletters, PDF copies of said newsletters etc. The printed ones are all available to be read on campus at any time, and the computer seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as I emptied the recycle bin.

While it was a ton of fun to see pictures of the Sego kids looking so young and adorable, the thing that struck me the most was how much writing - and generally really GOOD writing - the staff has done over the years. We have addressed issues such as how the Judicial Committee works, the difficulties of transitioning to Sego Lily School, and the lessons learned in a working democracy. We have tackled politics (especially the politics that surrounded the school vouchers issue in Utah), current events, and world social issues. We have also written interesting, witty pieces on the happenings around school.

 Flashback Photos: Santa, Fireknight, and Ebag in 2008.

In an effort to honor the work that was done, I plan to re-blog an article a week until I run out of articles. Not the ones that describe how great our Spaghetti Dinner was, but the ones that really get to the heart of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. I hope you will all enjoy this little walk down memory lane, and we would love to hear your comments on these articles! I'm starting with an oldie, from 2004. The four year old who is mentioned is now 15, and while he has pursued many activities at Sego Lily School, I don't think he has yet learned how to taste the clouds.

By Jen Schwartz, PhD, founder, Sego Lily School

Ever since we decided to start Sego Lily School, and in fact even before we knew that it would be called Sego Lily School, I have been interviewing children about the concept.  I ask them all the same basic question: “If you went to a school in which you could decided what to do all day, what would you choose to do?”

Now first of all, adults tend to have some pretty definite opinions about how children will answer this question.  They particularly have opinions about how their own children will answer.  Adults seem to think that children will do “nothing”, or that they will “waste all of their time.”  After a lifetime of an education that was directed for them, they can’t see any possibility of children actually wanting to learn anything.  Much more could be said on this point, but I will save that for a separate article.

Children, of course, have very different responses.  And while the response of every child has been unique, there are some common threads. The lines of age seem to divide the responses into general categories and determine the level of freedom the children are willing to embrace.

The oldest children, around high school age, give a very limited and yet opinionated answer to my question.  After many years of traditional education, there is a box in which their answers must fall.  One teenage girl, for example, said, “I would stop taking so many math classes, and focus instead on my writing classes.”  Another teenage boy responded, “I would take shop classes for most of the day, and make all of my other classes shorter with no homework.”  The paradigm of school, classes, and traditional educational structure limits what they see as freedom of choice. Many teens have specific likes and dislikes that they are very willing to express, and yet it is difficult for them to understand that there may be an entirely different way in which to obtain an education.  Schools like Sego Lily School can be especially beneficial for older children, however.  The time and support to identify and pursue specific interests allows for these children to begin to listen to and follow their dreams.

The middle group of children, which I identify as from about third grade through junior high school age, also tend to have definite opinions about what they like and don’t like about school, and their answers reflect this.  One 11 year old told me he would spend his time “reading, working on geometry, swimming, and probably playing games like baseball and football.”  There is a reflection in this answer of the subjects the child enjoys in school, as well as the activities he wishes to pursue.  Another student of about the same age asked me if he could learn to fly airplanes.  When I told him yes, he asked me if it was legal.  We discussed this at some length, looking at what parts of flying an airplane he could learn while in school (studying flight manuals, learning the necessary math and science), and what parts would have to be done outside of the regular school structure (taking flying lessons).  His response to me was brilliant – “For that, I would take math classes all day long!”  I found this to be a wonderful expression of how learning with a purpose motivates people.  His mother had a stunned look on her face. “I thought you hated math?” she asked.  “I do,” he said, “but I never had any real reason to learn it before.”

“Little kids” have the best responses to my interview question.  With no constrictions of what school is “supposed” to be like, or even restrictions about what is physically possible in the universe, they have amazing and creative answers when I ask them what they would choose to do.  Some of the younger children have said they would play house and paint pictures all day, others have wanted to participate in games and learn to use the computer.  Still others have really let their imaginations run wild.  A five year old girl responded that she wanted to spend her days, “Drawing pictures, voting on good rules so that everyone is happy, and going on field trips, like to the mountains.”  My own son, four years old at the time, told me that he wanted to “Do some homework, learn to read, and figure out how to taste the clouds.”  Sure, I’m biased, but don’t you think that’s the most creative thing you’ve ever heard a child say?

Even though there is a distinct difference in the age groups and how far outside the paradigm of traditional education they felt free to look, there is one common thread in every response I have heard.  Not a single child, from age four through eighteen, wanted to do “nothing.”  Human beings are innately curious creatures.  None of us can stand to be bored for very long – we will search out things that interest us, that stimulate us, and that connect us to others.  That is one of the beauties of Sego Lily School.  We provide a space in which people can be fully self expressed while following their hearts.  THAT is why we decided to start Sego Lily School for our own children, and it is why we say that our school and others like it will transform the way children in our culture will relate to the world and to each other.