A heart shaped rock

A heart shaped rock

On Thursday I decided to leave Cuddle Buddies Ivan and Ingrid at Abrome because of the warm temperatures. As I arrived I checked in with Katie and we continued some the conversations we have been having during the week about Self-Directed Education, adolescents, and society. Slowly the Learners began to trickle in in much the normal way, except for the one who brought large bag that was half her size. It was an inflatable kayak. As we waited for the morning meeting to start a particularly shy Learner engaged another Learner in a conversation by asking her some questions. Then, as I was walking around, talking to Katie, I stumbled upon a rock that was shaped like a heart. I picked it up and decided that I’d share it with the Learners at the morning meeting. I had the sense that it might be a good day.

The Learners decided that we should hold the morning meeting near the lake, and the Learner with the kayak, and a backpack and guitar, asked for some assistance getting it to the lake. Another Learner and Katie jumped in to help with the process, and they traded off some of the items during the five minute walk to the lake. The Learner who offered to help moving the kayak and other equipment to the lake then offered to be the game master and facilitator for the meeting. At the meeting each of us shared our intentions, what we wanted to accomplish, and whether we thought we would successfully accomplish it by the end of the day. The responses, ranging from the serious to the not so serious, included: swimming, work on a comic, breathe, write, read, play guitar, eat, hike, kayak, and don’t die.

A game of fire keeper

A game of fire keeper

I also said that I wanted to have a chance to sit down with all six Learners, separately, by the end of the week, so I wanted to speak to three Learners that day. Three Learners volunteered to meet with me at some point. After the announcements I asked the Learners if they wanted to play a game or have a conversation about something that they found interesting and timely. They chose to play a game and one of the Learners recommended that we play fire keeper, a game that he really enjoyed playing in the first cycle. The game was fun, as four Learners really dove into it, with me on the periphery playing it a little, while Katie and another Learner went to the bathroom. After about four rounds of the game interest waned and we decided to break. I then noticed a very sharp, broken off branch that was at about eye level for someone who might be just shy of five feet tall, and I asked if anyone wanted to use my Leatherman to saw it off to prevent an unfortunate accident. Two of the Learners volunteered to care of that, and when they finished they headed to the dock while I settled down on a plot of ant-free dirt.

I shouted out to one of the Learners on the dock to see if she wanted to go ahead and have the meeting with me and she said yes. This Learner had not been in my cell the prior cycle, so this week was the first time we got to be around each other since early March. And while we have been around each other this week, she had been so engaged with the other Learners and in her projects that we did not yet have an opportunity to sit down face to face to have a conversation free of distraction. During the meeting we talked about the joy she was having being back at Abrome, and the challenges of smaller cells for adolescents who crave social interaction. We also talked about future schooling options she was considering and what her hopes for Abrome this year would look like. It was great to be able to have a longer, more serious, non-Zoom, non-Discord conversation with her for the first time in over seven months.

I was surprised that the other Learners queued themselves up at a distance to also have conversation with me. Next I spoke to the oldest Learner who shared with me a poem she wrote to let me see into what was going on in her world. We had a great conversation about her place in the world and how she hopes to be treated by the world. She shared three wishes that she had for herself this year and we talked about doing more deliberate exercises such as the mission statement exercise we did a couple of days ago. The final Learner I check in with is the one I have spoken to the most since the year started, as he was in my cell last cycle. We talked about who he was feeling here, his general goals for how he would spend his time here, and about the differences between this cycle and last, for him. He also told me that he keeps a notebook in his pocket to write down ideas, which I loved.

By the time I had finished with the meetings it was already lunch time, so I dove in. Katie had spent some of her morning reading Peter Gray’s Free to Learn, and then got into a long conversation with one of the Learners I had a meeting with. Afterward she sat down and we had a conversation while each of us ate lunch.


The lizard must have enjoyed the music

Three of the Learners relocated from the dock and positioned themselves under a tree, one practicing playing her guitar, and the two others listening in. All of a sudden the music stopped and it turns out that a little green lizard was drawn in by the music and then crawled onto the Learner who was strumming her guitar. She set the guitar down and they all just admired the gumption and ease of the lizard, until the Learner decided to touch its tail and it jumped off her arm and onto a tree that it then scurried up.

At about the same time one of the Learners changed into swimming clothes and then let us know that she was going to wade into the water. While watching the Learner who went into the water, I relocated to the dock which had largely been abandoned. Slowly, the Learners came back to the the dock and before long they had set up a portable speaker and were playing music and one Learner pulled out her kayak and started to pump it up with air and assemble it. It was not long until the kayak was ready to go and the Learner had pushed off into an inlet near the dock. In the morning we talked about safety considerations, and one of the issues we discussed was what to do if the kayak capsizes. After she had paddled out to the dock area she demonstrated what it would look like to capsize, as well as how to get back into the kayak after capsizing.

With the kayaking Learner fully wet, and the wading Learner still waist deep in the lake, and with temperatures rising, another Learner decided to take the plunge. It was the Learner’s first time jumping into the lake this cycle, although she had jumped in during the previous cycle. I decided it was time for me to jump in, as well. With music still playing it was just a joyous afternoon for everyone in the cell.

Snake skin

Snake skin

I kept checking in with the Learners to see if anyone needed to refill their water bottles, and around 2 p.m. a Learner said she needed to. So with Katie watching the Learners who remained in the water, the Learner and I made the trek back to the meet up point to refill our bottles and then returned. On the way back we discovered a snake skin that was shed by a fairly small snake. I picked it up to share with the Learners who had stayed back. When we returned the Learner jumped back into the lake, and my eyes ventured up and I found the most curious branch of a tree that had multiple bobbers and fishing lures hanging off of it. I told the others about it, that it looked like a Christmas tree, but that did not warrant their attention.

Instead, they were trying to figure out a safe and relatively easy way to scale up onto the top of the covering of the deck. I, forgetting that I am 43 and not in the climbing shape I used to be in, was drawn into their scheming, and came up with a way to pull myself up. It wasn’t the easiest approach, and it was a fairly painful approach. But when I got to the top I had to get down, so I did what we have seen others do, and I jumped into the lake. Although it does not look like much of a jump, it was scary enough. I later went up and jumped down into the lake a second time. The Learners continued to consider different ways of scaling to the top, but opted out as the day was coming to a close. I would not be surprised if they ended up finishing the task on day twenty-one.

With about 15 minutes left before the afternoon roundup, I asked the kayaking Learner if it made sense to put it up. She enlisted the help of other Learners to bring it back to the dock where she disassembled, deflated, and packed it back in its bag. Another Learner changed out of her wet clothes, while a couple of the Learners continued to bob their heads to the music they were playing on the portable speakers. I noticed another Learner writing in a small journal, and I asked her if she had been journaling. She told me that she had spent much of the day journaling. I also found that after our mission statement exercise and prior conversations we had about jobs and college, that she had been writing out goals in the journal. I found the speed at which she got to doing so to be pretty remarkable, considering past experiences at conventional schools.

Self-Directed Education is beautiful, liberating, and invigorating in theory, and sometimes in practice. But freedom is also sometimes confusing, difficult, and scary. We live in a schooled society that tells us that children need to be controlled and told what to learn, and tested on it, and told how to act in the hopes that it will place them at the head of a race that will guarantee them financial security many years in the future. That schooled society judges us, and we too often judge ourselves, when children have the freedom to choose how to use their time, and they use that freedom in ways that do not mimic the focus on efficiency and production in service of academic success that the so-called best students in the most rigorous schools drown themselves in. And when children get to practice freedom, and they say their intention for the day is to breathe, or they are learning to navigate conflict with others, or they feel bored and seem to (in the eyes of others) waste the day away, it is too easy to second guess our trust in children. But then there are days like this one, when the benefits are so glaringly obvious that there is no way we would ever want to force children to waste their days away performing for adults in the entirely pointless game of school.