Should we celebrate mask mandates in school? Yes and no.

In Texas the current debate about school reopenings revolves almost entirely around one issue—whether to mandate mask wearing or not. The problem with this hyperfocus on mask mandates is that it allows schools to remain sites of infection during this delta wave of the pandemic even if the side who is concerned about the spread of disease wins out over the side who is unconcerned about it. Masking is a necessary intervention, so yes we should celebrate mask mandates in schools. But it is only one of multiple interventions that can reduce the spread of disease, and it is not the most effective, particularly now.

The most effective intervention is to stay home during periods of uncontrolled spread. For schools, that means shutting down all in-person operations. But none of the school districts in the state or political parties in Texas seem to be considering not reopening covid infection sites for their majority unvaccinated populations.

Other interventions that are as important as masks include ventilation and vaccines.

Ventilation: if one must (and schooling is not a must) come together during periods of uncontrolled spread then a must includes excellent ventilation—quickly filtering inside air or replacing inside air with outside air. The minimum standard should be six air changes per hour, which most schools are incapable of achieving. So the best ventilation option is to go outdoors once spread is not wildly out of control. But, because spread is wildly out of control schools shouldn’t even be reopening now.

Vaccines: vaccines greatly reduce the chances of serious illness or death relative to being unvaccinated, and they also significantly shorten the infectious period for breakthrough infections. The chances of serious illness or death from Covid-19 are magnitudes of order greater than the chances of vaccine injury, and the negative outcomes of Covid-19 dwarf the negative outcomes of vaccine injury. Everyone should get vaccinated if they can as it will help protect them and ultimately help protect everyone around them. But, because spread is wildly out of control schools shouldn’t even be reopening now, especially since almost every K-12 school in Texas has a majority unvaccinated population.

So celebrate mask mandates in school, yes, but demand that schools shut down in-person learning during this delta wave of the pandemic. And if the schools refuse to close, then parents should refuse to send their kids to school, students should refuse to show up to school, and teachers and staff should refuse to show up for work. Public health requires collective action. Mask mandates are not sufficient in this moment.

There are better alternatives for schools. Educators and decisions makers are encouraged to read and copy our plan at http://www.abrome.com/covid-19

Illustration by Rose Wong published in the NYT, adapted from Ian M. Mackay and James T. Reason.

Our values shape our pandemic response

Abrome is an education option for young people and a liberation project. We believe in youth liberation and in the liberation of all peoples, and that our liberation is bound up together. In order to help co-create a better world, we must actively work against the many forms of injustice that exist within our society, to include the oppression of young people. Abrome is a safe space for young people to practice freedom in a community that values consent, practices consensus, and centers the needs of those most impacted by our decisions and actions. 

The wellbeing of the young people at Abrome is a precondition—we will not come together in-person if it puts Abrome Learners needlessly at risk. While we recognize that social interaction, particularly in Self-Directed Education settings, is greatly preferred over remote ones, we reject the privileged narrative that “school closures harm children.” That narrative ignores the many ways in which schooling causes harm to so many children. And so-called learning loss or lack of socialization does not hurt a young person nearly as much as losing someone in their family, household, or community to Covid-19, much less knowing that they were the source of infection. As of July 2021, the children who were hurt the most during the pandemic were the 119,000 who lost a primary caregiver to Covid-19, or the more than 140,000 who experienced the death of a primary or secondary caregiver, defined as co-residing grandparents or kin. Though children remain largely “unlikely to die from Covid-19,” death is not the only bad outcome. Infected adolescents and children continue to be hospitalized, admitted to the ICU, and intubated. They may also develop multi-system inflammatory syndrome or myocarditis. And many will suffer from Long Covid symptoms that can last for months, maybe even years, after they recover from Covid-19. Further, while many vaccinated adults have chosen to “return to normal” because they are largely immune to the worst outcomes of the disease, none of the young people under age 12 are eligible for vaccination, and some age 12 and up are unable to get vaccinated for various reasons. Ignoring the welfare of children should not be normal.

What we choose to do at Abrome does not stay within our immediate community. We are all interconnected. Even if we could ensure that none of the members of the Abrome community would be seriously affected by Covid-19, we would still view it as our responsibility to not carelessly risk spreading the disease to others. The elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are at the greatest risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19, and they have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Other groups that have been disproportionately affected include Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous people; low income people; and people in congregate settings (e.g., long-term care facilities, prisons, shelters, meat processing facilities). Those who fall into more than one of the aforementioned groups are particularly vulnerable. These groups, and other under-resourced, marginalized, and oppressed groups have also disproportionately suffered in terms of financial security and mental health during the pandemic. We cannot in good conscience enter into this new academic year without continuing to make the welfare of the most impacted central to our pandemic response.

At Abrome we often say that we are concerned about two worlds. There is the world that we live in, that we need to learn how to navigate. And there is the world that we want to live in, and we choose to live prefiguratively in order to help bring that world into being. The world we live in is eager to “return to normal,” letting those most at risk suffer the consequences. The world we want to live in is not risk free, but it rejects the notion of transferring risk from those with resources and power to those without. We acknowledge that each additional Covid-19 infection can lead to more infections, and each new infection has the potential to seed a superspreader event or a new variant of the virus. By greatly reducing the likelihood of infection or spread of the disease at Abrome, we will help minimize the harm to those in our communities and outside of them, and we will provide an example to others of what community care can look like. 

Do adults really have children’s best interests in mind?

Mind of their own.png

Please, stop thinking you have children’s best interests in mind if you don’t care about them having a mind of their own.

The focus in parenting and schooling is too often (usually) to shape and manipulate children so that they turn out to be somebody (the adult wants): a Harvard or Stanford admit, a successful professional, the owner of a large home in the right neighborhood, a wealthy entrepreneur, a parent who will in turn make sure their kids also turn out to be somebodies, too. In the pursuit of trying to turn kids into somebodies, they demand control over their minds and bodies, dictating to them what should be important, and bribing, shaming, or punishing them into behaviors that are meant to put adults at ease as much as it is to make sure the kids are headed for so-called success. They focus on academic priorities and add-on activities that they believe will help the children navigate academic, professional, and social hierarchies. They steal time from children, preventing children from being able to seriously consider what they want out of life, and they (intentionally or not) prioritize performance over all else, inhibiting the ethical and moral development that can equip the child to become an adult who improves the human condition.

Days 137, 138, & 139 of AY20-21: wrapping up cycle 9

May 7th, 10th, and 11th were the final three days of cycle 9 at Abrome. May 7th was a Friday and was the last scheduled in-person day of the cycle, and the 10th and 11th were our scheduled remote days prior to changing up the cell compositions for cycle 10.

Cycle 9 ended with a whimper in many ways. The three inclement weather days coupled with lower turnout on the in-person days led to decreasing attendance as Learners often opted to stay home if a bit tired or wary of the weather knowing that their friends might not show up, either. This seemed like an inevitable place to end up as the pandacademic year chugged along, but there was hope on the horizon in that it seemed inevitable that we would be dropping down to risk stage level 2, soon, which meant that we would be able to come back together in larger cells, giving Learners more motivation to show up, despite what would certainly be rising temperatures. On Friday, though, the low attendance gave the Learners the opportunity to really connect with other Learners and Facilitators in a bunch of one-on-one interactions.

Good spot for a nap

Good spot for a nap

My cell chose to be walk to the waterfall in the morning, which was nice, and then walk back to the lake in the afternoon. During the walk to the waterfall I played music requests from the Learners, and at the waterfall I got into an extended conversation about rap music history with one of them. We are truly of different generations, yet we still found common ground on our taste for music from both eras.

When we got to the lake, I spent some time chatting with the youngest Learner before he decided that the day would be a lot of observing others and taking some naps. The oldest Learner, meanwhile, spent her time talking with another young lady who she had met at the park prior.

I spent a most of my time that day interacting with an adolescent Learner who prefers to spend his time interacting with other adolescents when possible, while the other two Learners chose to spend much of their time away doing their own thing.
Earlier in the year we spent a lot of time and effort trying to save tadpoles in a puddle that kept drying up, and we succeeded in bringing many of them along to adolescents, themselves. On this day we noticed that the puddle was once again filled with tadpoles, but that large numbers of them were stuck in the mud, as their portion of the puddle dried up. The Learner and I went searching for some discarded bottles or cans to use to try to save them, and the Learner ended up cutting open a can to serve as a water transport tool and a shovel.
We thought that the operation would be pretty simple, as the previously stranded tadpoles seemingly came back to life as soon as they had enough water, but on this day it appears we arrived too late, and many of them perished. Nonetheless, we persisted and we were able to relocate enough of the ones that were still clinging to life to the water, and it was fabulous to see them swimming free, again. We hoped that our effort may have allowed them to eventually grow into viable mosquito eating adults.
Although I had no plans to jump in the water that day, the Learner then convinced me to jump in the water. We considered doing a backflip off the top of the overhang to the dock, but we failed to overcome our fear on that day.
At the other cell Facilitator Lauren spent a good amount of time connecting with a Learner who has really struggled with connecting with others since he joined Abrome in January, but was not able to show up in-person until March due to the Covid-19 surge and then the Texas Freeze. But on this day, given a smaller number of people, he made what seemed to be large strides.

At one point, the Learner asked Facilitator Lauren if he could show her a clip from a movie while she was trying to eat. She said he could but would appreciate it if he could wait until later so she could finish her lunch. He then responded that sometimes people say later without given a set amount of time, and that leads him to keep asking, which becomes annoying. Facilitator Lauren acknowledged the awareness, thanked him for raising it, and told him that she needed 20 minutes. He then set off to explore, during which time he caught a toad. Later, she asked him if he wanted to share the clip, and he did. They then continued to talk for a long time.

Later in the day Facilitator Lauren went on a 45-minute walk with another adolescent Learner, connecting with him in a meaningful way for the first time in many months as due to them not being in the same cells or him choosing to be remote for multiple cycles.

There was also ample hammock time, with Facilitator Ariel, and Learners getting their turns relaxing in the great weather before departing for the weekend.

When we returned virtually on Monday we braced ourselves for low turnout yet again, but some combination of missing each other and anticipation for dropping to risk stage level 2 for the first time all year seemed to have gotten a decent number of Learners out of bed for the morning meeting.

As with many morning meetings, we shared announcements and then a prompt. The most exciting announcement was two of the older Learners saying they got their second Covid-19 vaccination shot over the weekend. Later, one of the older Learners dropped off call as soon as she responded to the prompt. I jumped on Discord and asked if she was okay, and she said she was, so I asked why she dropped off. She said she shared her prompt and was done. I explained that being there to listen to others is often more valuable than sharing, as it allows others to know that what they have to say is valued. She then jumped back on for the remainder of the call.

Next, we shared the calendar for the two remote days and went through an abbreviated Set-the-Week meeting. One Learner wanted to have everyone join him in gaming, and Facilitator Ariel encouraged him to formally hot the offering so folks would show up. We also threw in some water chugging to get folks hydrated, but it turned out that only Facilitators showed up for that. The hydration struggle continues.

Later, I had a nice conversation with the mom of an unschooling family that was considering enrolling, but they felt that 1 hour and 15 minute commute was probably too much (and I agreed with them). Then they surprised me with, “I so appreciate your calling out Chris Hyde and your emphasis on diversity and justice.” She was referring to the difficult letter I wrote pointing out how incompatible any form of bigotry or dehumanization of groups of people, in this case the houseless, was with any form of liberatory education work. Because we both exist in a world that values (or at least markets to) unschooling families, I could not allow an anti-houseless narrative to go unchallenged.

In better enrollment news, on Tuesday I walked a prospective family through the Family Financial Worksheet and confirmed a shadow for their child the next cycle. We had delayed asking for enrollment agreements from families until the summer as we wanted to give them maximum flexibility considering our lack of clarity over what our pandemic plan would be for the next year. We did not feel comfortable asking for commitments in the first few months of 2021. We knew most families would probably re-enroll, but we could not be sure without enrollment documents in hand. But having a family commit to shadow, with others also lining up to shadow over the final two cycles, made me feel a bit more secure.

The other highlights of Tuesday included one of the Learners turning on his video to show us his haircut, and Facilitator Lauren and a young Learner watching old cartoons and talking about them together. They chose to watch ThunderCats and The Croods.

After the afternoon roundup the Facilitators did our final After Action Review of the cycle. We felt exhausted from Zoom, surprise, surprise, and couldn’t wait to be back together in-person, hopefully in larger numbers, when cycle 10 was set to begin in six days.

Liberation means liberation for all

Self-Directed Education communities can be magical places where young people and adults come together to build relationships and find meaning through shared experiences and endeavors. But there are challenges that most SDE communities face, and if they are not addressed they can undermine the well-being of the community. One challenge is that Self-Directed Education communities are too often place based (e.g., in a building, within property lines), walling their members off from broader society. Another is that SDE communities often acknowledge the necessity of youth liberation, but do not take seriously liberation projects for other historically marginalized and oppressed populations.

We are proud to be a part of the Flying Squads network because it actively takes on both of the aforementioned challenges. As a practice, Flying Squads do not confine themselves to physical, private structures. We deliberately take up public space as an act of defiance against an adultist society that expects young people to be confined to schoolish settings. And the Flying Squads network recognizes that not embracing the liberation efforts of other people, particularly those who are most marginalized and oppressed, would merely reinforce the dominant sentiment that education is a tool to be used to help certain students position themselves to rise to the top of a hierarchical society, instead of helping to create an inclusive and just society.

By addressing these two concerns in tandem, Flying Squads promotes bringing young people into the world, and extending the concept of community outward, to include everyone, including those that society wants to wall out or wall in.

The why of pulling kids out of conventional schools

Abrome is a member of the Agile Learning Centers network because of a shared commitment to liberatory ideals. We believe that in order to help co-create a better world, we must actively work against the many forms of injustice that exist within our society, to include the oppression of young people. Abrome is a place for young people to practice freedom in a community that values consent, practices consensus, and centers the needs of those most impacted by our decisions and actions. We seek to provide an alternative to conventional schooling and dominant culture.

From the outside, the struggle to emancipate young people from conventional schooling environments may sometimes seem to put us on the same side as people who are not seeking liberation for kids, but are instead trying to maintain their privilege or to hack the game of schooling. Some want to protect young people from the indoctrination of schooling to shield them off from society so that they can indoctrinate them at home. Some are okay with hierarchy and domination so long as their children benefit. We are no more interested in lifting up the voices or allying with such groups than we are of doing so for those who want to “improve” or “fix” schooling, which will also, by design, perpetuate the harms of the status quo.

Days 135 & 136 of AY20-21: what should we do when we see harm?

Wednesday, May 5th was our 135th day of the pandacademic year. On this day, I facilitated the morning meeting for the cell I was a part of. I prepared three prompts for the meeting that I had hoped would spark an interesting conversation for our group that ranged from the youngest to the oldest Learners at Abrome. The prompts were: (1) When society is doing something harmful, what should you do about it? (2) What is society doing now that is hurtful (locally, state, nation, world)? (3) What should you do about it? The meeting stretched on as everyone took the prompts seriously, with each sharing their thoughts. One of the adolescent Learners who is normally quite reserved opened up in surprising ways during the conversation.

Relaxing in the water

Relaxing in the water

Some of the ways that the group felt they should respond to society doing something harmful included helping someone who is affected by it; protest and rally to change the minds of leaders; introspect, talk about it, and participate in communities that are supporting people; help create alternatives that can undermine systems of harm; and “if you see something say something.”

What they felt society was doing now that is hurtful included racism; police abuse of power; removing and destroying homeless settlements; discrimination against AAPI and LGBTQ communities; devaluing and destroying the natural world; and the criminalization of people who are already hurting.

What they felt they should do about it included supporting the impacted communities, and donating or joining relevant organizations; filming the police; connecting people with nature, especially young people to reestablish connection with nature; supporting organizations that help people recover from the impacts of criminalization; and making books or movies about racism.

Great spot for sun

Great spot for sun

The day was going to be short for some of us, as one Learner was going to leave early for some skin art, I was going to drop some books off with a prospective family and schedule a call with another prospective family, and another Learner would end up going home because of an unfortunate run-in with a bunch of bugs. After the uncharacteristically long morning meeting, we walked to the river so that the Learner who had planned to depart early could enjoy some time there. After 45 minutes we walked back to the pickup spot together and then hung out on some large rocks talking about life while waiting for her ride.

After the Learner had left, I drove out to the home of four prospective Learners to drop off some books, and got to say hello to the 12-year-old girl member of the crew. I then returned to Abrome and scheduled a call with the family of four more prospective Learners for the next day, as well as trying to organize shadows for other prospective Learners who said they wanted to shadow with us before the end of the academic year.

Enjoying the temporary stream

Enjoying the temporary stream

Meanwhile, back at the cell, the Learners broke out the inflatable paddle board until one of the Learners who was on shore had a run in with a bunch of insects. The bites were nothing serious but he was ready to go home. On his walk back to the pickup spot they spotted a bunch of eggs that were located at the base of a tree and relayed that information back to the group still at the lake.

The rest of the crew did their best to enjoy themselves on the water but on this day a large number of local high school kids showed up for what would quickly turn into a very loud party, complete with fermented drinks and funny smelling cigarettes, if you know what I mean. Facilitator Lauren raised the desire to cede the space to the kids who seemed to have been let out of school early, as their presence (density, noise, smells) coupled with the increasing intensity of the heat seemed overwhelming. The other Learners agreed and they decided to take a walk to the first waterfall for the short remainder of the day. On their way they kept their eyes open for the eggs (later determined to be chicken eggs that someone had inexplicably placed there). It was a short stay at the waterfall, where they had their afternoon roundup. The discussed what was enjoyable about the day, what they had wanted to do but did not do, and what they wanted to do the next day.

Gaming in nature I guess

Gaming in nature I guess

At the other cell, a Learner returned from his day off for his Star Wars birthday (May the Fourth be with you). Facilitator Ariel handed him the birthday card that all the Facilitators signed for him, and then the crew decided to walk to the location they dubbed “the cave” for their morning meeting. There, one of the adolescent Learners volunteered to lead the morning meeting.

While the walk was long, the Learners largely stayed in one place the entire day, enjoying the water and each other. Two of the Learners really focused on taking in all that nature had to offer them that day, soaking up the rays of the sun, appreciating the sounds of the water flowing by, and getting their feet wet and appreciating all that was happening on the bed of the temporary stream. Two of the Learners meanwhile spent much of their time playing video games on a phone. Not how I would spend my day but it worked for them. One of them did take some time to check out the water, and both seemed to appreciate the hike to and from the cave. At the end of the day another Learner led the afternoon roundup. He asked what everyone was excited about and consensus was that they were excited about the shadowers who would be joining us in the coming cycle. On the long walk back, Facilitator Ariel was able to have a deep conversation with one of the adolescents who is working through a lot in their life.

A great place to relax

A great place to relax

Water fight!

Water fight!

On Thursday, May 6th, I was fully remote, focusing on administrative tasks. On the day I had a great 71-minute call with a family looking to shadow with us, and I communicated with other families, as well, to include one that may be moving from Mexico to join us! I was also compelled to write a blog post distancing ourselves from a nature educator in the area who has been vocal in his support of actively harming the houseless population as a means of ‘cleaning up’ the city. I also wanted to raise the awareness that educators have been complicit in the criminalization of the houseless. Too often many on the political left believe that if only we school more we will have a more tolerant, more peaceful society, but they ignore that the people run and are employed by the school come from our current society, and they ignore the explicit aims of schooling.

At the cell that I would have otherwise been at that day, many other Learners were also out. This left only one Learner and Facilitator Lauren. The Learner was given the option of staying home by his mom, but he chose to stay for the day and spend it one-on-one with Facilitator Lauren. But with flexibility in mind, they decided to relocate to another park for the day. The mom went home and picked up some water blasters and floaties, while Facilitator Lauren pulled out some water noodles.


At the park they went to, the young Learner thoroughly took in having Facilitator Lauren all to himself for the day. They got in a water blaster battle, played volleyball, sat in the sand, swam with noodles, and just enjoyed the green grass. It was a great day for both, and it would most certainly be the last time that only one Learner would be showing up for an Abrome day.

Meanwhile, at the other cell they had another hiking day. A long hike that gave the Learners plenty of opportunity to take in the beauty of the hill country in spring. When they finally settled down at a spot near the water, one of the Learners rested against a tree limb with his feet in the water. Nearby a toad was also appreciating the view, or maybe it was looking for food. The only thing that was not relaxing about the day for the other cell was that it was determined that there was a monster prowling in the water. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Do not let go of your time outdoors when the pandemic ends

When we went outdoors this year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were not sure how the Learners would respond to the heat, the cold, the rain, the bugs, and the physical activity. Because we are a Self-Directed Education community that elevates free play as a wonderful use of time and a fabulous end in and of itself, we figured that the Abrome Learners would better adapt than those who were only given a 30-minute recess in elementary school, and no recess in middle or high school, and often being stuck indoors even when at home because of homework or studying. While it has certainly been a challenge for some, others have really thrived.

Over the past pandacademic year, we have become much more comfortable with discomfort, we have found ways to find joy when sweaty and dirty, and many of us have rediscovered the endless miracles of nature. It seems likely that many of us will have the opportunity to go back indoors in September as cases will hopefully continue to fall as more people get vaccinated and people continue to avoid needlessly congregating indoors in large groups. However, we hope that what we gained this year in going outdoors is not lost when we have the opportunity to be shielded from the elements or when digital entertainment is easier to access.

Our society has been systematically deprived of the regenerative power of nature, and next to only those who have been incarcerated, children are the biggest victims of the institutional walls that seal us off from nature. It is educational malpractice for adults to tell children that they should forgo all of the benefits of nature in order to thoroughly school (in school and at home) in order to prepare themselves for the false promises of a supposedly successful life. Children’s lives include the present as well as that future, and more time in nature enriches both.

When this pandemic ends, whenever you consider it to be over, please do not let go of your time outdoors. And most importantly, do not force the kids back indoors.

Are my kids ruining their lives choosing trade school over college?

I received an email from a parent I did not know expressing fear over their kids opting out of college to pursue trade careers. This parent has two master’s degrees and their partner graduated from one of the top three law schools in the country. They value higher education and they chose one of the “best” (most affluent) public schools in the state to put their kids on the right path. The final paragraph of their letter read:

I am reaching out to you because I struggle with my fears regarding their choices. I viewed a couple videos posted by you, and I hoped that you might have some other resources for me. I am really afraid that they are ruining their futures by choosing trade school over college.

Below I share my response, with minor modifications to remove select identifying information or extraneous text.

There are many articles and analyses that highlight the benefits of seeking to develop trade skills over a college degree, and on the other side there are many articles and analyses that argue that a college degree is good investment in terms of lifetime earnings. People could throw those at you all day long and I don’t think that either would be able to address your anxieties.

At the end of the day there are countless unemployed and underemployed college graduates who have nothing to show for their four (or more) years at college. It didn’t help them get a better job and many are working jobs they could have easily gotten without the degrees (e.g., B.A.rtenders and B.A.ristas). That doesn’t necessarily prove that the college degree is not worth it, it just highlights that it is not worth it for many.

One of the big problems with most of the articles and analyses is that they look at large datasets and report generalized numbers that do not translate well into individual outcomes.

Generally, the more selective the university the higher the lifetime earnings. Generally, the more technical the degree the more employable and the higher starting salary out of the gate. Generally if one graduates from college they make more in their lifetime than if one does not. Generally.

For certain career fields certain degrees and certain university names matter. As your husband probably knows well, if one wants to be a SCOTUS clerk it really really helps to go to Yale, Harvard, or Stanford Law School. And if you don’t go to one of the top 14 law schools it is much harder to get a clerkship. And if one wanted to get into a select one or two private equity funds out of college they should go to Harvard or Wharton for undergrad. But these are very select examples. For most people and most career pathways it really does not matter much.

Another complication with all of those articles is that they do not often focus on the resources of the family. Many of the jobs people receive have more to do with family connections than university or degree. And lifetime opportunities often have more to do with connections (family or community) than anything a college provides. It often ignores that lower middle class families and students have to take on large amounts of debt, but affluent families foot the bill for their kids and they get to leave college free of debt. But all of that is so rarely discussed in the analysis of college. What is shocking when first seen however is how rich white kids with no college degree often do better than students of color with college degrees in terms of lifetime earnings. It’s a really complicated issue that touches upon race and class and society.

Also, it really depends what the person wants to do and how hard they may be willing to work for others to get what they want. Being able to work within large or powerful systems for a career can provide tremendous financial benefits (think working up to Partner at a top tier corporate law firm or investment bank). But of course the sacrifices to do that are great and the competition is fierce. It really is up to each person to decide for themselves if the effort is worth it.

As you’ve probably heard me say in the past, what matters most is leading a meaningful life. For me a meaningful life trumps financial security. Of course a meaningful life plus financial security trumps a meaningful life and poverty, but a college degree does not really guarantee a meaningful life or a financial security. What I know for most everyone is that a meaningful life is most often found when one has the autonomy to pursue what interests them, when they have the support of those they care about, and when they can build community with others. And that there are countless miserable people with college degrees that squandered their college years checking a box because they were told they needed to get a degree to be successful.

I don’t know your children’s personal goals or what brings them joy and meaning in life, but I would recommend that you support their chosen path and let go of trying to convince them not to throw away their futures. Someone who works in a trade and has a strong understanding of personal finance and lives within their means can easily do better than most of their peers that went to college just because it was what they thought was a good financial investment. Your children will likely never be able to charge $1000 per hour but most of the trappings of upper middle class success don’t bring happiness, and often just lock people into a high cost of living that necessitates continued work for the sake of affording that lifestyle. The last thing I’d say is that if you want to be able to influence your children moving forward you may want to reserve that for the more significant challenges of life such as how to deal with loss, how to navigate relationships, and how to raise healthy children. If the feeling they get from you is disappointment in their life choices then they may choose to simply stop engaging with you about their inner lives. Even if you could convince them to go to college and perform and then go into certain career fields and perform would it be worth it if they don’t let you in as they deal with the most personal matters?

It’s natural to feel anxiety in our schooled society. But many of the arguments of society surrounding school are without context or simply wrong. The question, I think, is how can you best support your children as they lead their own lives moving forward? In order to answer that question honestly you may have to let go of your own view of what success for them looks like and allow them to answer that for themselves.

I hope that by sharing my response here, that someone may find the words that they need to support their children in living their most meaningful life.


Image: Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

Days 133 & 134 of AY20-21: rain is a good thang

Monday, May 3rd was the beginning of the final full week of cycle 9. The small, physically distant cells were great for much of the year as it helped us greatly reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 for our community should someone get infected. But the challenge is that the Learners and Facilitators really want more than four to seven Learners showing up each day because each additional person added to a Self-Directed Education environment has an outsized impact on the community. On Monday, four Learners showed up for the small cell that I am part of for the cycle. But with pandemic numbers continuing to improve, we were preparing for the possibility of larger cells the next cycle, if the risk stage as determined by Austin Public Health were to drop to level 2.

On this day, most of us had the expectation and plan to spend much time on the paddle board. Shortly after our meeting and our walk to the lake, one of the teens to offer to pump up the paddle board so he and another teen Learner could get out on the water.

Some of the Learners have been on the paddle board before so they effortlessly pushed off and enjoyed their time on the surface of the lake. But two of us had never been on the paddle board, and each of us were able to overcome our fears and our shaky stabilizer muscles to get up on the board and enjoy the challenge of working against the current and waves of the lake.

Although I was on only briefly, as were Facilitator Lauren and a young Learner, two of the teen Learners spent a great deal of time on the paddle board individually and together. They then decided to head up the river (the lake in Austin is really just a river). And they stayed up the river for quite some time, without having shared with us the plan. When they came back we all had a conversation about what are reasonable safety boundaries and what are our communication needs. They also brought back a turtle with them that they then released back into the lake.

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All but one of us went in the water at some point during the day. But as the temperatures continue to rise I think that we will need to really encourage everyone to get in the water to help regulate their temperatures. Having pulled out the swimming noodles certainly made getting in the water a bit easier and more fun for Facilitator Lauren and a young Learner who navigated all around an inlet.

On this day I decided to do another polar bear plunge, as I think I will do many many days from here on out as the weather gets hotter and hotter. I planned to jump over the two teens who were on a paddle board together as a surprise, and I lucked out by a water plane landing nearby that took their attention.

When Facilitator Lauren and the youngest Learner were on the paddle board I broke out the drone so the teens could fly it.

As summer comes in and as more and more schools release their hold on kids, more and more will be coming into the green areas we have frequented for much of the year. One young lady who had been at the dock the week before had returned, and a couple of the Learners had separate conversations with her. They both said that they were really glad they got to know her a bit.

As the day was coming to a close one of the adolescent Learners asked if I wanted to jump back into the water from the roof over the dock, so we each climbed up and made a few leaps. Then we climbed higher, onto the roof of the building, and made the longer jump in. It was a blast.

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At the other cell the Learners got to see the greenbelt they visited filled with water! Usually the bed is dry, but the recent rains turned it into a lovely flowing body of water.

The water led multiple Learners to just sit and take it all in, while one Learner took some time for themself to help process a rough morning. Two Learners spent a lot of time together for the first time since that Learner enrolled in January, but because the January and February cells were completely remote, and because the other Learner only returned recently after becoming fully vaccinated, this cycle was their first chance to really get to know each other.

Meanwhile, the conversation of King Kong came up, again. Everyone was pulled into the conversation even though some did not care to be pulled in. The conversation revolved around the question of can something that was created with racist intent ever not be racist? Should we try to take racist messages and turn them into not-racist? One Learner suggested that we should just enjoy it and that we “don’t have to look in the past.” Another countered that it still influences the present and future, and pointed out that some people have the luxury of not looking in the past. The Learner who recently returned who had never participated in that conversation later thanked folks for the conversation and raising his awareness of the issue.

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On Tuesday morning I started the day with a great call with the parent of a prospective 10-year-old Learner. We talked about community and our focus on centering the needs of Learners, particularly as they relate to issues of race. Later I had another great call with the parent of four prospective Learners and set up a shadow for the first of them. Finally, I had a third call with the parents of yet another four prospective Learners. Our biggest concerns right now with enrollment are (1) do we have enough time left in the year to get every prospective Learner in for a shadow, (2) do we need a larger facility to accommodate them all next year, and (3) do we have enough Facilitator capacity to bring on everyone if they want to enroll? Not the worst problems to have.

At the cell that I would be with if it were not a Tuesday the crew was smaller than usual, as one of the Learners got a bad case of sunburn and needed to stay at home, as did his sibling. The adolescent Learner who showed up was going to have a short day because he needed to leave at 1:30 p.m. for an appointment. Knowing that it would only be Facilitator Lauren and a young Learner at the end of the day, Facilitator Lauren invited the Learner’s vaccinated mom to join them that afternoon.

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It was a beautiful day with amazing weather, so the crew decided it would be a good morning to hike to the bigger waterfall. They took a somewhat different path getting there by walking barefoot up the cold waters of the the stream. It was slippery at times, as they tried to keep their balance while walking over algae and moss covered rocks. During the meandering walk they took time for quiet breaks and rock skipping. During one of the breaks they came across a large patch of wild onions and began to chow down. It wasn’t the best tasting food they’d have that day, but it was probably the healthiest.

After the older Learner left for his appointment, Facilitator Lauren, the younger Learner, and that Learner’s mom spent time at the lake swimming with noodles, eating ice cream, and eating watermelon. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable day despite the low turnout.

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At the other cell, one of the Learners stayed home to celebrate his birthday. But all the other Learners showed up, and those who were not there the prior day made the most of the abundant water. Every one of the Learners got into the water at some point.

One of the Learners decided to go up and down the stream several times, while others just let the water flow over their bare feet. One of them splayed themselves face down on a rock in the middle of the stream in what looked like a potential crime scene photo, but it was much more relaxing than any crime scene could be.

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On this day, the crew decided to hike for 20 minutes, exploring the ways that the greenbelt have changed with the influx of water, before their morning meeting. They found a variety of things to do to include capturing a skink and enjoying observing its beauty before releasing it back to the wild, in addition to setting up the hammock and letting the sun fall on them.

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In addition to spending lots of time in and around the water, two of the Learners got sucked into a game on a Learner’s phone. Fortunately that did not prevent them from appreciating the beauty all around them or from going in the water.

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Final note: my previously declared daily’ blogging has now fully shifted to cluster-of-days blogging. It just makes sense to me to do so given the much more frequent thunderstorms that result in inclement weather days from March to June, and with me taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off-site for administrative duties while we have three Facilitators (one of them being an intern) to support the Learners. I’m also now a month behind on posting! I’m neck deep in trying to respond to the greater than usual interest in enrollment from prospective families while also supporting our current families in navigating their plans for the coming year with continued uncertainty about what the pandemic plan will look like. Will we be able to be indoors? Will indoors only be for fully vaccinated Learners? Will we continue to have dedicated outdoor cells? I do not know, and the Delta variant of Covid-19 seems to be throwing a wrinkle into the possibilities. The bad news is that schools everywhere had long ago given up on protecting the community from the spread of Covid-19, so whatever happens we will still likely be on the extreme end of prioritizing community over convenience. The good news is that vaccinations continue to inch up, including among Learners in our community. Anyway, I hope to really ramp up my posting again after mid-June!