15 February 2013
Dear Vashon Parents:
Perhaps you are looking around this island for a good school for your child. I want to tell you about what we’re choosing for our daughter now and why. We just enrolled in Homestead Farm and Wilderness Learning Community, which is offering a Monday through Thursday (9:30-3) program. This is a school that starts each day with gratitude.
I think about our priorities, about that word, it’s root being prior which means existing or coming before. And I think about how the psyche draws deep conclusions from repetition, from paying attention to what comes first, to what comes first every day for years. What do I want first for my child—the pledge of allegiance? I want gratitude. And then a really good story. Around a fire. When we told India Blue that Homestead is an option for next year, she said, “Sign me up!”
It’s not entirely up to the child, of course. Her Baba (that’s me) pays deadly close attention to education. I am a math teacher. I teach Algebra through Advanced Calculus at a college-prep school. I have strong feelings about the foundation I want my students to have. I was a philosophy professor before that, a certified academic llwill keep teaching until I can’t hold chalk anymore. I want my daughter to love books. To love numbers and ideas and plants and ancient cultures and oh that particular way that DNA winds round. Where do I send her to school? (Not home. This kid needs a tribe, and mentors who are not her parents.) So.
We moved to this island when India was one, and at that time Homestead was in our backyard. Our family has watched this school in action over time, attending, as it were, a years-long open house. I have grown a gigantic happiness about Dana as a teacher. The respect with which she speaks to her students is unrivaled. I aspire to be like her. She brings to her mentoring a deep-rooted and contagious understanding of community, a genuine love for the Earth, mad skill, and solid passion. I’ve watched her stay up late researching and memorizing the next day’s story, just the right song. She thinks long and deep about her curriculum and looks around for how next to grow herself more. The children in her care are put to work. They build shelters, care for animals, make art, grow vegetables, collect and wash eggs, take care of each other. They learn to pay very close attention to frogs.
I am so excited for my kid I want to crawl into her pocket.
We send our children to school to prepare them for the future. We don’t know what the future holds. Will they need keyboarding skills? We do know that there won’t be much of a future unless we learn to steward this planet with love. And we will likely need each other. One of the things the savviest people I know have been doing is listening closely to indigenous cultures and trying to tune back into some of the basics. Oh, yeah. Cooperation. Interdependence. Caring for the soil, for the elders and the forests. These are values that animate Homestead. At the end of the year, each child creates for herself or himself, with the help of their mentor, a rite of passage that’s appropriate to their growth at the time.
I could say many more things. I love the deeply interdisciplinary nature of the school: the way each day's lessons are in the context of a story, the way reading and writing are learned through the creation of a beautiful book. The way art and building and care for the land are the way the children learn about history and science and shelter. The tracking and celebrating the seasons, the celebrations and the way the children learn to tell each other stories and to listen with care to each other, and to birdcalls. The genuinely global nature of the curriculum. The way the community there responds to what’s real and pays attention to the lessons available in the moment. When Starlight (the chick they’d raised) died, they made a giant mosaic (out of recycled materials, of course), and they circled to talk about death, honoring each person’s ideas about what it means.
I will stop talking. We’ve chosen this school because, as Yeats puts it, Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. I hope to gather a solid tribe around my kid. Check it out. Dana’s email is email@example.com.