My cell was without three Learners on Wednesday. One is still out of state helping his grandparents move, and two were at home resting after being out in the sun all day (with one also going on a fairly strenuous hike) at Abrome on Tuesday. When the other Learners arrived we held our morning meeting in a clearing surrounded by tall trees that provided us enough shade to remain cool in the surprisingly muggy morning air. The meeting did not start off great as a young Learner wanted to sit off about 30 feet from the rest of the group. That Learner in particular has been over-the-moon excited to be back at Abrome, and has expressed unmitigated joy about his daily Abrome experience to his parents. At the same time, he has also found joy in joking around with me by insulting me and saying that he hates me (he does not hate me), as well as finding ways to try to make things difficult on me by doing the opposite of things I would like to do. This encourages and has been encouraged by another young Learner, and it has gotten to the point where it is disrupting our meetings. And while the older Learners recognize that it is the younger Learners’ way of trying to play with someone that they see as an authority figure (and maybe trying to bring down my level of self-importance), it is also challenging the notion that we are a safe space where people do not assess, ridicule, or judge others. So that morning I reviewed the Abrome principles and agreements with all the Learners.

Our principles are very simple:

  • Take care of ourselves

  • Take care of others

  • Take care of the space

And these are our agreements:

  • Honor Abrome Principles

  • Honor community awarenesses and assist in culture creation

  • Meaningfully participate in morning & afternoon meetings, Set-the-Week, Check-in, and all called community meetings

  • Clean up after myself and participate in end of the day community cleanup

  • Authentically share work and play with the community

  • Commit to anti-oppressive language and behavior

The principles should guide everything we do and the agreements are what each member agrees to in order to participate in the community. While we believe in autonomy for children we do not believe that that creates an excuse for behavior that harms others or that undermines the community. As A.S. Neill said, freedom does not mean license. I’ve tried to respond to the younger Learners’ joking around by laughing it off, or playing up that what they’re really saying when they insult me is that they love me. I’ve developed a standard response that they’re on a “[name]-a-roll” and then follow up with the words “how rude!” It hasn’t worked. And I hoped that by discussing the principles and agreements it would help us return to a state where interactions are enjoyable and supportive.

Trying to help tadpoles survive

Trying to help tadpoles survive

We ended the morning meeting with a get-to-know-you activity and then we debated hiking to the top of a hill, hiking uphill to a restful spot next to a stream, or heading back to the lakeshore. We decided on the lakeshore and when we arrived some of us immediately went to check in on the tadpoles we had been trying to keep alive. I finished drinking a can of coffee and a Learner finished off his can of Monster, we rinsed them out, and then we used them to slowly refill the puddles with some water from the lake.

Nothing beats the heat for us better than jumping in the cold waters of Lake Austin

Nothing beats the heat for us better than jumping in the cold waters of Lake Austin

At 11 a.m., I jumped on Zoom for the check-in for the remote Learners and then Facilitator Lauren and two Learners went on a hike to investigate a portion of the park that none of us had been to yet. By the time they returned everyone was feeling the heat and I offered to walk back to the meet up area with anyone who wanted to come with me to refill our water bottles. None of them wanted to make the hike so I went alone. And by the time I got back I was ready to jump in the water, as were two others. Lauren and I have been modeling getting in the water to cool down, hoping that other Learners would also jump in. And on day seven one of them finally did! And after she got out of the water another Learner pointed out that her foot was bleeding. One of her toes must have scraped against a rock when she was climbing out of the water, so Facilitator Lauren got out a first aid kit and cleaned the scratch and put a bandaid on it. Then we contacted Facilitator Jennifer and let them know that their cell wasn’t the only cell where people were getting injured!

We loved meeting this friendly guy

We loved meeting this friendly guy

While we were sitting around talking to each other we noticed a woman walking toward the lake with a toddler in one arm and a parrot on the other. This slowly drew out the Abrome Learners and Facilitators one by one as if they were a shining orb of light that we just could not turn away from. When we had gathered around her, the woman kindly told us about her African Grey Parrot. That she got it as a rescue when she was a tween and that it would live for 80 years! That avocados are deadly to the parrot. And she shared some interesting facts about why parrots were valued shipmates on pirate ships and a plan to use them to spy on Nazis in WWII. She let us hold the parrot and let it sit on our shoulders, all the while some of the younger Abrome Learners played with her toddler.

At the end of the day we once again held our afternoon roundup on the dock, and we reflected on our day with rose-bud-thorn. I had to be honest that my thorn was that the younger Learners were still being joking around with me by way of insults throughout the day. The Learners seemed to reflect on that for a moment. I said my bud was talking with a Learner about the possibility of him bringing a guitar and learning how to play it while I learn to play the ukulele. And my rose was getting to meet the parrot. After we walked back to the pickup location and the Learners went home, Lauren and I discussed the challenge of the younger Learners continuing to joke around through insults. We don’t punish Learners, and we don’t threaten them with removal from the community. We want to treat them as we hope that they will treat others. So we will remind them of our principles, agreements, awarenesses, and practices. We decided that joking around in a dismissive manner was not working, and that instead we would be more pointed in articulating how such jokes are not funny or supportive. And by doing so we hope that we can help reaffirm that our principles are not just words, but that they are central to the culture of the Abrome community that we all clearly love.