Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Letter to My Parents: 1972

I was 21 years old and working at a Quaker Boarding School in the Black Mountains of western North Carolina. It was the work part of the work/study program Antioch College so brilliantly envisioned. I mostly worked at alternative schools and this one, The Arthur Morgan School (still going strong today) was the last of five places where I taught. I stayed there six months, working with some 30 Middle School students and trying out my fledgling music teacher wings. 


Those were the days when people still wrote letters and I recently unearthed one I wrote to my parents. I’ve ceased to be surprised that my thoughts about education at the beginning are pretty close to my thoughts at the end, but it’s still always interesting to find tangible proof of it. And so here is that letter:


Dear Mom and Dad,


It occurred to me that during most of the different work experiences I’ve had the past few years, you haven’t really had a clear idea about what I’m doing. On one hand, I think it’s good that you have enough trust in me to know that I’m doing okay, but I also think it would be helpful for you to understand what kinds of things I’ve been doing and what’s important to me.


The kind of schools I’ve been teaching at are nothing like the traditional education of most public and private schools. Besides being much smaller and more personal, they’re the kind of places where learning is fun and people can study and pursue the kind of things that interest them. So much of my time in school was spent memorizing things that were not important to me and that I’ve completely forgotten. Even though everyone supposedly “learned” it in school, how many people remember what a logarithm is or can explain the nitrogen cycle? At schools like this, students pursue their interests while simultaneously being exposed to a great variety of subjects and skills. Most importantly, they learn how to think for themselves and to use their time well. 

These schools are relaxed and informal. Teachers are your friends as well as adults and there is a great deal of love generated in this type of atmosphere. It’s exciting for me to be in places like this, helping and watching kids grow up. 


As for this particular job, it has really been excellent. I give two music classes a week in which we sing, play instruments and play musical games. 20 out of 30 students here are in that class and I’m also giving piano lessons to 15 kids. Besides which I’m co-teaching an English class and a Spanish class. I’m also co-directing a version of West Side Story, which is a major project. We will perform it at Thanksgiving when the parents come to visit.


As you can see, I’m keeping very busy and really contributing a lot to the school as well as having a good time. In fact, I’m considering coming back here next year after I graduate. The pay is good, the school and facilities excellent and I don’t think I’d have any problem getting the job. But who knows what will happen between now and then. 


Hopefully, this has helped you to understand a little better what I’m up to. I love you both very much and as always, appreciate everything you’ve done and are doing for me.


                                                                        Your loving son,



PS  What “happened between now and then” was that I joined forces with half the teachers to suggest that the head of school be removed (it later turned out that he had abused some of the boys) and the Board eventually agreed, but was wary of re-hiring such “troublemakers.” So after graduating college, I did not get the job that would have had me living a life in rural North Carolina and instead, went to San Francisco and found my way to the San Francisco School and my life as an urban Californian. Needless to say, no regrets. 

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