mad in pursuit :: green valley memoirs 

Susan Price, about 1970

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Green Valley :: Special Education

When I got to GVS the prevaling philosophy was that school got in the way of learning. Kids failed in school because schools sucked at education. Kids who had failed in school should have the classroom stress removed. Kids are natural learners, so they will rediscover learning on their own if you provide natural learning situations.

The angry can-do must- be- a -better -way energy of the Sixties had sputtered out...

There was a lot of ferment about schools and learning back in the Sixties. I'd read all the books and I easily bought into the GVS philosophy. However, I hadn't bothered to look into how to create and build on natural learning situations. I was clueless. And maybe the moment of the grand experiment had passed.

When I arrived in 1971, a musty decay had settled in over all the GVS libraries, labs, and shops. In Florida, Helen Lee Barclay's crafts shed was a mess. The art therapy program that Art W was going to start there never got off the ground. There was only t'ai chi.

At Buck Brook, the same dust and disarray had fallen over the library and science lab. Helen had a marvelous reincarnated art studio but no one (as I recall) was allowed to use it, as her interests had turned to gardening and bossing around little boys.

Paul S actually had a master's degree in Education. He encouraged me to clean up the library and science lab, which I did, but there was still something oppressive about them that I can't put my finger on. I gave a few basic science lessons to a group of younger boys and they wrote essays on their experiences, but then it fizzled out.

... and dumped us into the giant playpen of the Seventies.

I spent a lot of time making posters from the "Guiness Book of World Records" as a fun incentive for kids to read. Wow.

I did a little IQ testing with some standardized tests we sent for. By that time I think Paul had given me orders to make sure all the kids had academic records in their files because NYS had begun its saber-rattling and thought the kids should be bussed to the public school in Callicoon.

But in fact we didn't run a school. Kids were required to write 500-word essays or a bunch of haikus every day. In theory, they were supposed to get tired of writing strings of profanity and launch into some real expression. The naked truth is that we ran an easygoing farm program and we were training bright, talented children to be farm laborers. We were pleased with ourselves for putting youth back in touch with the earth... but other attempts at educational programming found no traction. Not in my day.

We staff all hussled and bustled — cooking, shopping, keeping books, handing out meds, arranging doctors' appointments, playing at being farmers — but it was 1971-72. The angry can-do must-be-a-better-way energy of the Sixties had sputtered out and dumped us into the giant playpen of the Seventies.

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