Friday, April 9th was the last in-person day of cycle 8, meaning it was the last day of our social justice oriented Flying Squad, and it was day 120 of the pandacademic year.

As the Learners came into the space before the morning meeting, I noticed four of the Learners all turned in toward each other, with one of the shadowers about 20 feet away just watching them. Over the prior few days of the week I had pointed out different ways in which they seemed to be excluding shadowers, or at best, not being welcoming to them. One of the things about Abrome is that many Learners come here to escape schooling. Abrome serves as a way to reclaim a sense of belonging, a sense that they matter after being in a system that saw them only as test scores or tuition payments. Abrome is a place where they are free from the competition and ranking and hierarchies that spur so much of the anti-social and toxic behaviors of schooling. But when they find a home where they finally feel safe, sometimes they get so invested in their relationships with others that they do not do a great job of welcoming others. And sometimes, they are so damaged from schooling that they hold onto comfortable relationships and are slow to welcome in others.

Which is a shame, because we are too small right now from a sustainability perspective, and our limited size limits the magic of what Emancipated Learning can be. Each new person brings in their own unique mix of interests, experiences, and ways of being. In a Self-Directed Education environment, where the learning happens as much from one another as it does from any formal medium, the benefits of additional Learners accrue not linearly, but exponentially. Additionally, social proof is extremely important for growing the community, as parents and guardians want to know that other families have trusted their children to be free, and prospective Learners want to know that other Learners like them have chosen to come to Abrome. In fact, we are suffering from a shortage of girls and young women at Abrome in part because when they’ve looked at Abrome they did not see enough people who looked like them.

Although I had planned to address my disappointment at the ways in which we were not being super welcoming to the shadowers in the morning meeting, I could not hold off when I saw the Learners turned in toward each other that morning. I walked up to them and said, “y’all are being a bunch of assholes.” Then I said, “no, you’re acting like a bunch of assholes.” I told them that while no one is forced to like or spend time with others at Abrome, that their discomfort at welcoming in new people is not nearly as uncomfortable as being the new person in the group, and they should know that considering all of them had previously been welcomed into Abrome. I said, that they had the right to ignore people, but “that’s a shitty way to live life.”

It was the second time that week that I had given some pretty raw feedback. They then awkwardly oriented their bodies toward the shadower to make him feel more welcome. Shortly thereafter I checked in with the mom of the other shadower, and she told me that her daughter felt so alone the day prior that she couldn’t get out of the car. The prospective Learner was not up for trying again that day, especially after the years of bad experiences she had at a variety of public and private schools. I was devastated. A lack of awareness or intention by our group to make the prospective Learner feel welcome resulted in her passing up what would have most likely been the best possible environment for her to finish out her adolescent years.

We then went into the morning meeting. The Learners could tell that I was upset, but they probably thought it was over what I said to them that morning. But what I was most upset by was that the Learners do care, but they have not yet been able to couple that concern with intention and action.

After the morning meeting we moved into the Check-in and Change-up. We ended up taking two awareness off the Community Awareness Board because we felt good about them becoming norms within our community, and four new awarenesses were proposed. We only had room for two so the two that we decided not to focus on that morning were: (1) we grow as people when we think about the feedback we get from others, and we grow more when we commit to change; and (2) it does not feel good when Learners treat Facilitators like parents or teachers and defer their thinking and decision making to them.

The first new awareness we added was proposed by Facilitator Ariel: the days are less frustrating when people are actively engaged in meetings. He began the discussion by saying that the prompts we come up with are purposeful but that the answers are quickly forgotten. We also acknowledged that simply repeating what someone else said did not typically indicate that one was really thinking about the prompt. We eventually agreed to three new practices for the awareness. The first was that if people were not engaged we would say “let’s focus” and then we would all recenter. The second was that we would look at person speaking, although if anyone felt uncomfortable looking others in the face they could simply look in their direction. The third practice was that we were not going to repeat what someone else said without an explanation.

The second new awareness we added was proposed by two of the adolescent Learners, and clearly sprang from my earlier words to them: some people aren’t making others feel welcome. This led to a longer conversation about the ways in which we welcome others is not only valuable because of how each Learner benefits, or how the community benefits, but because of the impact it has on the shadower. It’s about being decent human beings. We come up with three practices to try to address the awareness. First, each morning there would be a Learners only planning meeting for the day, that would necessitate bringing in everyone to engage with one another. The second was that we would invite people in. And the third was to use more welcoming body language.

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It was a long meeting, and the Learners were eager to move on with the day after some pretty challenging and uncomfortable conversation. We did not get very far before the youngest broke down. His parents were allotting him a certain amount of money to spend on food each day, and that became his primary focus. We had agreed that we would stop at the corner store on the way back to the pickup spot at the end of the day to get food, but he wanted to get the food right then and there. Facilitator Ariel went to chat with him and one of the adolescent Learners said that he would take lead to talk to him, and he soon got the young Learner back on track.

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Part of the plan they all came up with that morning was to stop at Fresa’s for drinks and food. I had never been there before so I did not know what a big deal it was. Facilitator Ariel and I were continuing to step back as much as possible to make space for the Learners to take charge. One of the Learners came up to me and bragged about getting his drink for free. I asked how, and he said that when he went to pay he was actually a few cents short. The lady at the window told him not to worry about it and let him have it for free. I remarked how incredibly generous she was and asked if he left a tip. He said that he did not. I said there was a tip jar at the window, and that if he got the drink for free it seemed to me that it would be quite appropriate to use some of the money he had for a tip. He asked how much, and I said I’d probably leave a dollar. He looked at the money in his hand, and drifted off. I watched him as he uncomfortably debated putting money in the jar or just joining the other Learners. He chose not to put the money in the jar.

As we were walking away I asked him why he chose not to tip. He said that he wanted to keep the money so he could spend it on something else. I asked him if he thought that was what was fair. He then told me that my questions were making him feel guilty. I asked him why he felt guilty, but he did not reply. I then asked him if he knew how the people who work at restaurants typically get paid. He said the company pays them. I said not always, that many service workers are paid below minimum wage with the belief that tips will more than make up for the low pay. And that by not leaving a tip, he took up her time without compensating her for it. I then pointed out that minimum wage in Texas is $7.25, but that servers often get paid barely over $2.00 an hour. I asked if he was willing to work full days for $7.25 an hour, or $2.13 an hour plus tips, and he said he would not. I suggested that he consider how fortunate he is, and to remember that the next time he has a chance to tip a worker.

The social justice focus for the day was to exist as young people in public, making adults uncomfortable about it along the way. They planned to hang out at the upper level of Whole Foods for this mission, but it was pretty clear to me that the real learning that day would be talking about being inclusive, and discussing minimum wage and tips.

I was pleased to see that so many Learners were drinking water that day. It was a warmer day and I encouraged them to drink early and often, and they were. By the time we got to Whole Foods the Learners were ready to spend some of their money. All of the adolescent Learners and the lone shadower went into the store. It seemed to be a big deal for the newest of the Learners to be trusted to go off by himself. The learning curve he is experiencing in terms of learning who he is, what his responsibilities are to others, and what it means to be free is pretty remarkable.


The youngest Learner asked to go into the grocery store with me (his money was sent to me via Venmo so he needed me to buy his food). I reminded him that the agreement we made was to get something at the corner store on the way back. He said he did not want candy, but that he wanted a fruit or vegetable. He totally tricked me, because I said okay. Once we got into the store he changed his mind and decided that he wanted to buy some sort of snack. We settled on a healthy snack with the understanding that we would not stop at the corner store on the way back, and that he would wait until we got back to eat it so that we made it in time. He said okay, and although he asked me numerous times to eat it early, he stuck to that latest agreement. Although the Learner had really struggled that cycle by ruminating on food and letting it take over large chunks of his days, he had come a long way in regulating himself.

The Learners ended up playing tag and associated games on the roof of Whole Foods, as well as just sitting around and chatting with each other. Two of the Learners and Facilitator Ariel made plans to play Call of Duty during our off week. And during the discussion I was told that two of the Learners had plans to get the Covid-19 vaccine that weekend! We ended the day/week strong with a review of practices, reflections on what each of us learned regarding social justice that week, and what we feel we need to do to become better human beings toward others. Then we finished off our week with gratitudes. What a challenging but tremendously powerful week of learning how to be supportive to others it was for each of us, and for our community.

The other cell finished off there week in a much more relaxed manner: