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Mine has been a life of unbridled naiveté. If I seem clownishly ignorant, I can only defend myself by saying that it's always been true. I offer the excuse that I somewhat made up for lack of intelligence with a surfeit of ardor. In the period of time covered in this section, 1969-73, I also offer the excuse that there were many others, perhaps an entire generation of Americans, gripped in the same passionate lack of understanding.
Lille Skole was a school named in 1970, but the germs of the idea began for me around 1965. I was a clear failure, at 25, in vocation, love, physical fitness, philosophy and life in general. I wore boots, rode a motorcycle, had affairs, and made clever remarks to hide my shortcomings. Like legions of losers at that time, I was in therapy.
The epiphany that redirected my entire life occurred when I asked my therapist if people, like cows, had some kind of herd instinct to protect and care for one another. I think it added to the credibility of his answer that he didn't see any importance in the question. He replied in the affirmative and then went on with whatever he had expected to do in my 50 minutes.
I don't think I even heard him after that "yes." Nothing else has had such an effect. Looking back, I find it hard to remember that it wasn't a thunderclap, a parting of the heavens, or some kind of miraculous opera with choirs of angels. It was just a "yes."
Soon after that "yes," I began plotting a new life. I would give up my career in accounting and chuck my fanatical devotion to financial success. I would seek my nature, and work to fulfill it.
The quick version of what happened next was that I left Dow Chemical and took a dramatic pay cut to begin teaching in Houston. High-school teaching, I learned in one semester, is frustrating ineffective if one's goal is to help students. Elementary teaching, even elementary teaching in one of the most modern and forward-thinking schools in the nation, is a boxed-in, frustrating, exasperating, straight-jacketed experience. Statistics prove that nearly all the progressive and enthusiastic school teachers either quit or become devotees of the status quo within 3 years.
In 1969, there was a general clamp-down in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. All of the progressive teachers who had been hired by the innovator, Assistant Superintendent Kyle Killough, were fired or driven out within a year of his departure. The new principal at Holbrook Elementary called me on the carpet for my inventive teaching methods. She particularly blamed me for having allowed parents to participate in my classes. She asked, "Do you think you can manage to stay until Spring?" Heartbroken and terrified, I quit in December.
By that time, I was halfway through graduate school in Education. I had read the many popular books on innovative education, and had also discovered Tolstoy's work on the subject and the entire hidden, secret, period of American history dominated by the Progressive Education Association. I had typed up a speech against "coercive methods" by my therapist, Dr Leland Johnson of Houston, that brought cool clarity to the entire subject of adult-child relations.
A quick word about, A.S. Neill's book, "Summerhill." It was the most influential book among parents and teachers who wanted a revolution in teaching. But in it, Neill stated clearly that other people should not try to emulate his country school. Particularly, he said, it shouldn't be tried in America. I admired the book, but I agreed with him. I didn't even want to emulate Summerhill. What I was calling the "Someday School" in early 1970, had a feature that Neill and almost none of the utopian writers bothered with. It had to be replicable.
"Replicable" began to dominate my thinking and my vocabulary. I don't think other people understood or appreciated that I meant that whatever ideas were put into action, they had to be re-creatable on a mass scale in the public education system. I had no interest in exceptional schools for exceptional children, niche schools for particular interests, and, especially, in enriched schools for enrichened parents.
If I had wanted to accept the restrictions of other private schools, I might have been "successful" in a financial or conventional sense. Lille Skole might be still in existence, with smug alumni and smug parents, with solid proof of teaching excellence, or with a long anecdotal record of interesting experiments and successes, like Neill, like Summerhill, or like Harvard.
The Someday School that had become my passion had to be replicable. It had to have the clear potential to replace the public schools. It could not be in a remote place, it could not be a live-in school, and it could not restrict admission on any basis. Not money, not ability, not disposition, not parental cooperation, not any criterion not used by the public schools.
Of all the guidelines for the Someday School, it was this iron-firm dedication
to replicability that set it apart. A few parents eventually subscribed to the
school, a few children eventually joined it, a few newspersons applauded it,
and a few education experts cooperated with it, but nobody ever agreed with
me that it had to be replicable. It was the school's most noble feature and,
of course, its eventual downfall.
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