A Day at School

Every once in a while I have the opportunity to spend a day at school. On these days, I usually bring along a box of quills, pencils, pens and ink bottles. I do not make a formal announcement about what I am doing. I merely set up shop in the main room, where the light is good, and I begin to draw. Usually I have a piece that has been worked on in this environment before. My main task is to demonstrate the base technique that I employ, namely crosshatching.

As I sit and draw, it may be that I am left alone for a time. But then gradually one student or another will begin to venture over to see what I am doing. “What are you doing?”

My answer, “I don’t know.”

My reply is sincere. It has taken me years to cultivate the act of not knowing what I am doing. But it certainly looks cool. Eventually one or two children will ask if they can draw with me. This is where it gets challenging. Working with ink is an unforgiving process. If you drip, or spill, it is a mess. I have spilled ink on myself, on my work. (A recent incident resulted in my taking my ink stained pants off, soaking them in OxyClean, and forgetting my cell phone was in the pocket) Dripping is the most common problem working with young boys and girls. Now my attention needs to be on them, and not on my own work. Now I am in damage control mode.

Also, the points I work with are of a specific design. I tend to buy slightly pricier Japanese pen points commonly used for Anime. I like the fine smooth line they give me. They lend themselves to a fast but accurate rendered stroke. Of course this is not really appreciated by a 7 year old and they tend to press too hard on the paper with the ink. But I suck it up and try to give advice as it is needed. Hopefully I get out of this with nothing being ruined, and a small mess to clean up.

Ken at work with pen and ink.

By 10:45 am it was time to stop and move on to the democratic meeting. It has been some time since I attended one of these, and I was unaware of a slight change in the process. Every other week, the school divides into upper and lower (under 12 and over 12). I went with the younger ones in the basement. Three children are nominated by others to chair the meeting. It is then voted on, and the vote winner, chairs, second becomes co-chair. It is very interesting seeing how this acts as a very acute teaching tool. The student has to step into a leadership role, and oversee a meeting. All the children at one time or another, will get to serve in this capacity. It is the one thing that evens the playing field. Everyone is accepted as part of the community and everyone has equal say. Both student, teacher and volunteer.

Democratic Meeting of the lower school.

The agenda items focused on eating in the basement and the chewing of gum at school. If a child is unruly at the meeting, he is asked to stop. If they continue, they are asked to leave the meeting. Only one had to be removed.

After the meeting is lunch and since it was bring your own lunch, it had the usual lunchtime madness, I staked out a small place for myself to eat what I had prepared for the day. After lunch, an all school mandatory meeting was called to address the issue of people taking or messing with other people’s stuff. I am sure this is standard Free School fare that has been brought to agenda for decades. The meeting was chaired by one of the oldest students and co chaired by a younger one. In this case the call to order came with more authority.

I was able to slip out and get myself a coffee.  Once I returned, I was no longer in volunteer mode, but needed to retreat into my own world. I took up finishing the drawing I had started. I always give the teachers credit for their ability to pace themselves, because I leave the day exhausted. I do this because I am deeply interested in this unique process of learning at a democratic free school. I am continually amazed at the development that I see taking place. Students stay engaged throughout the day in one activity or anther, without coercion. Out of this, in my opinion, develops deeper thinking individuals.


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