4 Questions – Scott Nine, The Village Free SchoolPosted: November 23, 2009
As I have been sick all week, I have been amiss on taking care of this site. But in the interim, Scott Nine, of The Village Free School in Portland, Oregon, came through with the answers to my 4 questions, which I had sent out a few months ago. I have been after the BFS teachers for some time, but they are so over run at school, so I had let the subject drop. Thanks Scott for taking time for this.
a) Knowing that you are already engaged in the process of change in education, how do you see your role in the Democratic Free School movement?
I see my role as one that is emerging. I think I’ve gathered a lot of insight from attending conferences and talking with folks who have started schools, work in schools, and want to start schools over the last seven years. I think I can be an effective ambassador, critical friend, and leader in a democratic school movement that is willing to embrace the challenges of social inequality and social justice. What I mean by this is that we need to move beyond the “they’ll learn to read when they are ready” bit and engage in the complex realities that we want kids to learn hard skills and meet the world and the “codes of power” (Delpit) inherent in it while simultaneously standing up for the dignity of kids, for the need to honor their eyes and voices, etc. We simply cannot have one “right” way of being with you or educating them and the more nuance, depth, dancing, “getting messy”, the better. It keeps our ideas real, practical, and grounded to what is needed for youth and their families in a variety of contexts.
b) How has your involvement affected you? Give examples?
I’ve grown tremendously. I’ve become clearer, more direct. I’ve become more comfortable knowing things (or letting myself think I do) and also not knowing things (beginner’s mind). I’ve found a depth of passion that I didn’t know I had when this part of my journey began. Surprisingly, perhaps, I’ve become more pragmatic and less tolerant of empty platitudes. I’ve found joy in talking about things like budgets and fundraising and outreach —because these are the hard skills I, and I think others need to have to create substantive and sustainable schools. Finally, I’ve become more comfortable with my own natural authority. If I was naturally a bit authoritarian — I was significantly overly permissive too. Working at the VFS, being a part of this conversation, parenting with my lovely partner Hollie, I continue to move closer to a more centered honest place that is much less taxing or draining. I have felt and continue to feel that shift and it is one I cherish.
c) Can you give an example where you have witnessed a real confirmation that you were on the right path?
Two weeks ago I was talking with a family interested in attending our school. I was able to hear their concerns about their son or daughter being able to learn to read and write from an entirely different place than I would have seven years ago. Their eyes and response tells the best story. I didn’t comfort them or solve anything for them, but I didn’t mitigate their concerns either. Reading is important and powerful. No kids needs to be scared to read. High-stakes standardized tests are completely inadequate and inappropriate to move a kid to read. But so is standing by and saying nothing. They could share with their child why they want them to read. They could put them in environments that support them to emerge as literate beings. Our school could support that conversation all the while honoring their son and daughter as well. No one has to be made wrong and we don’t have to pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist either. The confirmation was in their eyes and response and in my gut, mind, and heart.
d) Can you suggest how we can further a dialogue amongst us that will foster a national conversation on how we feel about education?
I think we need to have dialogue, for sure. But, I think the key is acting on our ideas and providing real and tangible proof that these ideas and approaches have substance, depth, nuance, and credibility. We don’t have to play by the same assessment rules or measure ourselves how traditional schools are measured, but I’m confident that we can’t ignore meeting some tests of credibility. I think Yacoov Hecht and IDE has done the best job of making the conversation about violence and sustainability for our planet and then showing how democratic education creates meaningful changes in the lives of individuals, families, and communities. I think IDEA (democraticeducation.org) can go a long way to help fuel something significant to happen. But, a national conversation will become robust and real when we move past our ideas and further into real, pragmatic, and effective actions.