Wednesday, March 23, 2011


If you look at the ChipIn widget next to the blog, you will see that I have been able to reduce the cost for me to finish my research by 1000 dollars!! Now at 1500, down from 2500! This is all because of the generosity of the donation of frequent flier miles by Jean, of Tina and Joe's generosity to house me in Colorado, of Chris' kind offer to house me in New Hampshire, and my Mom's constant support helping me to get to Colorado and New York, not to mention those that have donated to the ChipIn as well!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you that have offered support financially and emotionally. I am truly grateful. I still hope I can reach the goal so I can finish the book, but right now the ability to lower my cost to finish is keeping me blissfully in the presence of this great moment.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


“I don’t know how you’re doing this, or how you are funding this, or what exactly you’re doing, but I gather you’re traveling to schools to write a book about them.”

I laughed. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m visiting schools that are doing things differently. Some of them are radically different and others may just be altering the way the students learn or how they run their school. I’m really seeing all sorts.”

“Well what are you going to do about the price tag that comes with these types of schools?”

My dad. The constant devil’s advocate. This is actually a good thing. You know when he starts grilling you if you have the chops to back up what you’re deciding to do. His questioning will cause the weak to falter and the strong to grow stronger by making them confirm their idea or their belief.

An example is the time my brother held a big screen showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” for our family during the holidays at the Wealthy Theatre where he worked. My dad leaned down the aisle and hollered to me referring to my guest, “So, Jeannie! What do you think you have a calling from the Lord to date everyone named Steve?!”

I glared down at him, really having nothing to say since, yes, this was the 4th Steve I had dated in a 10 year period. As I shot him those mortified daughter eyes, a head poked out from beside me. “Yes, but this time the Lord sent me.” That was Steve.
So, yes, I married this Steve.

Back to my dad’s Avalon where my bum was pleasantly warming on his heated seats on that 35 degree October morning.

“No, you’re right, some do come with a price tag. I’m also visiting progressive public and charter schools. You know though, even the private schools hold information that can be incorporated into any existing public system. Also, on the other hand, private works for some people, so I want to be sure to cover all of my bases.”

I began to bombard him with the stories of the democratic school I visited in Utah, sure to confirm again that no, this was not a school for the Democratic Party. My Rush Limbaugh listening father would have turned me off right then and there. I also began telling him about the opposite end of the spectrum and my visit to the Maharishi School.

“Well, Mike was in an open classroom at one point.”

If I could have fallen out of the car, I would have. What was this? My conservative parents put my eldest brother in an open school?!

“Yes, he was in 2nd or 3rd grade, I can’t quite remember. We had to pull him out because he didn’t do very well. It takes a special kid to be self disciplined. Most kids need structure. At least Mike did.”

Regardless of the fact that my dad was missing the point of the open classroom where the belief is that the kids will indeed direct themselves to learn what is needed after a time of detoxing from the public system, I was encouraged that the person that was the least likely to be open to progressive ideas or understand why I was doing this journey at all had actually been receptive to open classrooms! Slap my hand!

“I know other countries are so much more advanced than we are like Japan, and India and China.” Dad continued. “They churn out the engineers and scientists and I guess I don’t know, I’m just assuming here, but I think they are educated in a very structured environment.”

“Well, unfortunately I won’t get to include that. My original goal was for the book to be global, but when this really started happening, I realized that was impossible given my mommy and financial status. So, I’m sticking to this country for now. Maybe my future publisher will fund a sequel,” I joked.

“Who has your kids?”

“Steve and Mom split it up.”

“How can he take off work with a new job?”

“He only takes off 1 day a month. Most of the time I fly out on a Sunday, see a school Monday and then fly back that same night. They’re very short trips. Mom generously fills in when the trips are longer.”

Now I was on the mommy defense side. I wondered if people would think that I was shirking my responsibility as a mother by going on this journey, despite the fact that I was going on this journey in essence for them. I came to piece with myself when I was frank enough to realize that I end up spending four to six days away from home out of a 30 day month. This is what working parents spend away from their kids in just a weeks time minus the couple of hours they see their children before the chaos of bedtime begins.

I’ve stayed at home with my children for 3 1/2 years at this point and plan on doing so until I feel there is an educational system I can believe in in my area and when my kids are socially ready to leave the dependency of the nest, a very important aspect to their development. I guess I could be signing on for tenure here seeing as I am considering everything, even full time homeschooling. Regardless, I think 4-6 days per month out a nine month period is acceptable. And with Skype we have lots of fun every day talking and playing over cyberland.

“So aren’t there books out there already like this?”

“AHA! No!” I was excited now. “When I searched, I found only two - TWO - books that were a collection of information
about all the alternative educational theories out there. No one has ever done one narratively like I am where they visit actual schools and tell a story. This is my journey so it’s not just a dry informational book, well, I hope it won’t be. I even want the chapters to be short enough so that tired parents can get in 4 pages before bed. I just want to reach more people.”

“Sounds like you’re writing a book for the bathroom!”

I had to laugh. My dad is funny. Ask anyone.

“Yeah! Maybe I should call it The Bathroom Educational Reader.” I joked back.

“Or how about The Throne Book?”

“Good one, Dad.”


Once again, I am not finishing my social justice chapter in order to show you all the vast gamut of educational philosophies that I have had the immense opportunity to visit. Next stop: Phoenix.

Monday, March 14, 2011


“I got a carrot/I got a yam/I got a green bean fresh, not from a can/Got a potato as you can probably see/I also got a pea/I got a pea/I got a pea/Why is everyone laughing at me?/So if you find a little pea on the floor after I leave/I think it probably belongs to me.”

Kight, the 6th and 7th graders Humanities teacher, was trying something new today. “Hey guys! This is going to be our new way to transition between things here in class. Verses having me shout out the time left to find your seats, I will just play this song. It’s 2 minutes long and so when you hear this song, you’ll know that you have to be in your seats by the time it’s over.”

Kight continued, “Alright, today I want to continue and build on the discussion we had during KIVA this morning about First Amendment Rights. What I’d like you to do is watch this You Tube video I found. Now before I play it I want you all to know that you are going to see some words in this video and they are derogatory words that are used to describe a group of people. Remember how we talked last week about the “N” word and how this is not a word that we use to talk about African Americans unless you are an African American and in that case, it is up to you. Well, it is the same for these words that you will hear today. There will be a “F” word and a “D” word that will be used to describe a gay person. These are not words that we use to describe anyone that is L, B, G, T, Q, or Lesbian, BiSexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer, unless of course you are L, B, G, T, Q where again, it’s up to you. There will also be a word to describe a woman that starts with a “W” and the same goes here. Alright.”

The You Tube video began. “God Bless the USA” played in the background while images of military funerals flashed on the screen juxtaposed with images of the protestors and the signs that are held at these funerals, which was where the words that Kight warned the children about came up. “Thank God for 9-11” said one. “God Hates Gays” was another.

A woman appeared, a spokesperson for the protestors and she began to explain that the deaths of all of the military men and women were because God was punishing our country for being too lenient on what they say is such a clear defamation of God by allowing gays in the military. They believe that all of the natural disasters and terrorism attacks were happening for this reason as well. 9-11, Katrina, you name it.

Then Kight stopped the video, “Ok. I know that was hard to watch for some of you, but this is what I want you all to do. I want you all to think about what this woman said and I want you to pretend you are her. I want you to get out your journals and I want you to write one sentence from this woman’s point of view.”

Comments came flying from around the room. These kids were obviously dismayed at this woman. After all, it is a social justice school.

“I know this is going to be hard for some of you who disagree with her, but if you can’t write from her perspective, how can you have a debate? You can’t go on and believe things just because I say it, or just because your parents say it. You need to develop your own ideas and part of that is imaging why she thinks the way that she does. There are students here at this school that may agree with her. To debate her, you have to see her side.”

“I was born knowing gay rights were civil rights,” said a boy.

“Well, that’s great that you know that, but I can tell you when I was in 6th grade there wasn’t one, not one other student that believed gay rights were civil rights.”

The children gathered in groups of 4 and discussed different ways to say what the You Tube funeral protestor was saying. Then they all went around and read aloud what they thought this woman was saying.

“Ok, why are we doing this?” Kight asked. “Here are some numbers for you. 1 in 10 people are gay. Out of this ten, two thirds will try to commit suicide. Half of these attempts will succeed. Let’s do the math.” She wrote a succession of numbers on the board. “You can bet that one student in your school right now will be successful in their suicide because they are gay. You guys have the ability to change this statistic. If you find out that someone is gay, they need your support and acceptance more than they need your ridicule whether you agree with their lifestyle of not. You may save someones life. So again, why do this? Well, it’s way harder to see this woman’s side. It’s easier to just say I hate you. That won’t get us anywhere. We need to attempt to see both sides of an issue to accurately discuss it.”

I’m sure I looked like a deer in headlights. Kight was amazing. She was so fluid at getting these children to think and examine an issue that they will surely come up against at some point, probably many points, in their lives, and it would start right in high school when teens tend to start to examine this aspect of themselves. Kight, who was openly gay, was able to get these kids to see both sides of an issue without causing fear or anguish within the kids, just by simply making them think.

The next section for the day was about the Underground Railroad. There was a chart on the board full of sticky notes under the title, “What I Know About the Underground Railroad” that the students had put on the day previous. Today there was a new chart titled, “Questions about The Underground Railroad.”

“Ok. We’re breaking into groups again.” Kight gave the students a number 1 through 3. “1’s you go with Betsy.” Betsy was the Humanities assistant to Kight. “2’s you go with me. And 3’s you go with Jeannie.”

What? Me?! Somebody spotted my fly on the wall self and shooed me down! I sat on the ground with my 4 commrades, Jordan, Diedra, Dennis and Saul.

“Ok, so what do we still want to know about the Underground Railroad?” I asked.

“Ummm... Were there slaves that weren’t black?” This was from Jordan, a very eloquent and well spoken 7th grader.

“Was there actually a railroad involved?” asked Diedra.

“Did other southerners help the slaves beside the Quakers?”

“What kind of food did the slaves eat?”

“Yeah, and like, what kind of games did they play?”

“Did the slaves ever get to retire?”

I was writing frantically.

The students were asked to return to their seats at the same time I realized I had spent almost all of my allotted time for two class visits in this one class. I couldn’t help myself! I was so enjoying class! Kight is an amazing teacher! Although, when I passed the classroom later in the day, I saw the second half of the class that I had missed. The kids were all decked out on the floor with books, the same book. “Elijah of Buxton,” a book about a young black child during the days of the Underground Railroad. The children were following along as a book on tape played in the background.

I was left with a feeling of empowerment, with a euphoric fuzz in my brain. Social Justice should not just be in a school here and there, it should be mandatory within every school’s curriculum, of that is was suddenly convinced.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Man Speaks

At the request of my husband, I have decided to stop fudging publish dates and just have my most recent entry come up first.

If you are a first time reader - just start at the beginning which ironically is the end in blog land....

Sunday, February 20, 2011



Paulo Freire Freedom School is focused on social justice and environmental sustainability. They believe young people learn when the information they are learning can be connected to their own environment, the world they live in, and the situations they encounter and care about on a day to day basis. They do not shy away from discussing the social issues facing the world, quite the contrary, they want these issues to be breached and grounded in hope. They encourage their students to not only think about matters in a realistic way, but to also think about solutions. Let’s face it, this is not an easy world to live in. Perhaps the hope for the future lies in the stimulation of our younger generation’s minds to tap into the possibilities of a society free from oppression.

Later when I arrived home I would be scanning my bookshelf for Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto and I would see printed on the binding of a bright red book: Freire The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I laughed at my ignorance to make the connection when I first found the Paulo Freire School! Of course a social justice school would name themselves after Paulo Freire! He spent his life working to educate the masses by teaching literacy to the poor so that those in poverty could have a voice making the world a less oppressive place.

Paulo Freire was born in Racife, Brazil in 1921 in a middle class economic family. Yet, Freire's family would begin to know poverty and hunger as the 1929 Great Depression of America reached into Brazil sending the Freire's on their own personal downward spiral. Paulo began to play in different circles, in the circles of the poor children of Brazil, and became aware at a very young age of the role of class as the poor children viewed him as not poor, but just as one that accidentally landed into their turf. (pedagogy of the oppressed pg 13)

Richard Shaull writes in his introduction for Pedagogy of the Oppressed a commentary of how this experience was pivotal in Freire’s life path:

"His sharing of the life of the poor also led him to the discovery of what he describes as the “culture of silence” of the dispossessed. He came to realize that their ignorance and lethargy were the direct product of the whole situation of economic, social and political domination... And it became clear to him that the whole educational system was one of the major instruments for the maintenance of this culture of silence."

Paulo Freire wrote that during his hunger he was not able to learn or think, the hunger so encapsulated his mind and body. He wasn’t “dumb” or “unteachable,” he was hungry. At 11 years old he made the commitment to fight against the plight of hunger. Amazingly, after his family lifted themselves out of poverty and Paulo received his law degree from the University of Racife, the dedication to the trials of his younger years did not leave but continued to fuel his life’s purpose.

Freire began to see the current system of what he called “neutral” education as the cause for students not analyzing or asking questions about the oppressive actions of history. This lack of dialogue in the classroom created, as mentioned about, what he called ‘a culture of silence’ where the people submerged under low socio-economic status never get out. He also saw the education system as being set up not to allow the poor to release themselves from the stranglehold that is poverty. If the poor never ask questions or can’t read and write, then those on high will always have a power over others.

He wanted to be instrumental in the creation of conscientização, a critical consciousness, where people question their social situation, question the actions of history, and reflect and commence in dialogue with fellow students and teachers. The greatest obstacle to full conscientização was literacy. In the end Freire believed if the poor could become literate, they could participate in conscientização and the entire social construction of reality could be examined and altered. That is majorly powerful stuff. Imagine a whole section of society -even today- and imagine the huge section in Brazil in the 1940’s and 50’s, sitting down and looking at their own poverty and looking at the reasons why their poverty existed; what is their history, what is their present, where is the future headed and dialoguing with others in the same situation to jam out ideas as to how this road can fork! The whole problem of deeming the norm as inevitable, feeling so helpless as the machine gears and jerks on, feeling like spectators to our own existence, and looking down at our children and realizing they too are inevitably stuck in the cycle, in the circle that has gone all wrong for so many. Pretty powerful stuff indeed.

Freire devised a philosophy of education called Popular Education; a social theory that empowers and challenges students to examine world views in order to pursue critical social change and to ignite dialogue in learning. And that is what he did. Freire saw to it that the poor of Brazil became literate citizens. In 1962, Freire was involved in a project to teach reading to 300 farm workers which was successfully completed in an amazing 45 days! This sensational accomplishment won him great notice, in both a positive way, and a negative way. The 1964 military coup changed the Brazilian government and Paulo Freire was jailed for 70 days before being exiled from the country.

Amazingly, he began working in Chile fighting illiteracy of the poor in that nation fronting the accomplishment of Chile to
become one of the top five countries in the world to lift itself from illiteracy! The amount of things this man has done is a longer biography than I can site here, but Paulo Freire’s effort to not only educate but change the way in which people were being educated about oppressive elements of society is such a staggering feat that the fact that his history is not taught along next to other greats in the world is a little disconcerting. I had never heard of this man in school. I found him on my own after college. Such a shame. I’m going to guess that many of you had no idea who he was either. Did you know he worked as a consultant for Harvard’s school of Education? Me neither.

Saturday, February 19, 2011



I drove down Highway 10 from Phoenix to Tucson on an oddly cloudy Arizona October morning. My coffee was steaming in the drink holder of my friend Michelle Dill’s car and from my Ipod Jeff Buckley was telling me he can’t help from looking outside for a guarantee. I realized I was more screwed up than normal with the time zone switch. Arizona, I thought, was 2 hours behind eastern standard time. On the plane I was informed that Arizona does not participate in daylight savings time and is therefore 3 hours behind eastern standard time half of the year and then 2 hours behind the other half of the year. Who knew? Maybe McCain really IS a maverick!

I must concede and say I was wrong about the desert. The plant life is bizarrely wonderful and abundant and even amazingly colorful although very different from my hometown of Michigan. This place wasn’t just a bunch of sand and cactus plants after all! Desert wildflowers and crazy, wiry, scraggly plants with branches like long gnarled witches fingers were rather enthralling. Most of the plants seem to have some sort of thorn or needle as well. Others looked like zig zags on steroids. Anything to stay alive.

I was enjoying the desert landscape. This stretch of the highway had plants along the side of the road that were so wiry, so corkscrewed with that electric shock look they reminded me of 1970’s green afros mixed in with some 1980’s mall rat hair; boofy, big, fuzzy. But of course desert plants have to be survivors, unlike my lush Michigan foliage which drips of moisture. Sometimes survivors look a little mangled.

I admittedly began to notice the lack of roadkill. I know, an odd thing to detect, but in Michigan, it’s well, everywhere in almost every season; deer, raccoon, opossum, skunks, squirrels. Sorry for the visualization. Not being versed in desert knowhow, I figured that some of the desert creatures are better to meet in their post life instead of during their alive and well stage where my ankles could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had to admit I was looking forward to seeing a gila monster or maybe a scorpion the size of a small beaver.


“Clap if you can hear me. Clap twice if you can hear me. Clap three times if you can hear me.”

It was 8:30am. KIVA was beginning.

The school day begins with a 15 minute gathering of all the students. The kids all gathered around, some casually on the floor, some crashed out on pillows in the corners. JoAnn, the co-founder of the school, opened up the forum after a greeting of all the students.

“Good morning everyone. Did everyone enjoy the long weekend?”

Nods of approval, grunts of positivity.

“Before we get into our morning discussion, Jade*** has an announcement about her Learning Lab. Jade?”

Jade stood up and explained to the rest of the class that she was researching Henna, a flowering plant that is used to dye the skin and give somewhat of a temporary tattoo of traditionally beautiful spiraling patterns that adorn the hands, feet or arms. She had permission slips to hand out to any student that wanted to get Henna.

Learning Lab is a very unique aspect of the Paulo Freire Freedom School of Tucson Arizona. Learning lab is an independent project where the student can choose any subject that they are interested in. Under the guidance of a supervisor, the student develops their project during a specific time slot set aside two times a week during the regular class schedule. In an educational climate that is feeling the pressure to take away classes that are not the standard math, history, english and science, this was an innovative way for this public school to encourage students to research an area they have an affinity for or who may be gifted in areas other than the ones the government tests have expressed are important, High five Paulo.

Paulo Freire is a public school that opened its doors in 2005 to twenty two students. By the end of that year, they doubled that. They have a complete open door policy and will only turn away a student if the capacity of their building is reached, after which time they would conduct a lottery for all of the applicants. Of course at that time they would hope to find new facilities so that all children could have the opportunity to be a part of their school.

“Does anyone else have any announcements?” asked JoAnn.

“Well, this weekend, there was a whole mess on my street.” The voice of Damien in the back. “I guess some guy beat up his girlfriend and we had the cops there and then there were some shootings too.”

Despite the horrible nature of Damien’s announcement, I found his candidness refreshing and an example of the comfort that he felt amongst his peers and the school. Many studies are being conducted these days of the stress that kids are under and how they are having trouble knowing what to do with all of the pain and anguish they witness or hear about. By giving him a chance to express what was clearly bothersome enough to bring up 2 days later was to me an almost therapeutic outburst.

I found the encouragement of solutions a very striking difference from what our children, even us as adults, are bombarded with day after day. Mainstream media irresponsibly reports the negative, which in turn is making us a culture of scared patriots which just can not work in a world that is increasingly global. If you can hop a plane to Mumbi or teleconference Höfuðborgarsvæði, then we as a society need to rise above fear that is at times blown out of proportion.

Yet, I guess I can’t blame the media. They wouldn’t report devastation over devastation if everyone was like, “Oh, not this again, this is awful, I’m not watching this tripe!” But the TV stations get their ratings and they basically report what we tell them is interesting to us.

Who knows who should be the bigger person in this case. Should we the viewers turn off the talking heads or should the talking heads do a horror movie-esque spin and start telling us the amazing things that happen every day. I don’t know, but someone should make a move. That’s what you have to do to get to first base - in baseball, in the bedroom, or in change.

JoAnn expressed her empathy for what he had been through and moved on to her next point. “What I’d like to discuss for KIVA today is about the Supreme Court. We have had a historical event on our Supreme Court. This is the first time in history that we have three women on the highest court in our nation. As I was thinking about this, I was trying to name all of the other Justices - does anyone know how many Justices there are on the Supreme Court?”




“Yes, that’s right, 9. Now I was trying to name them all and I could only come up with 8. Can anyone here name a Justice
of the Supreme Court?”

After a small period of silence and girl raised her hand. “Judge Judy?”

JoAnn did not miss a beat. “No, Judge Judy is not on the Supreme Court. She is a judge though.” She calmly went on to explain how one gets on the Judge Judy court show on television and not once did she ridicule the girls answer or make her feel silly for thinking a TV personality was a Supreme Court Justice. She took the opportunity to discuss it and explain what the difference was.

Once all the Justices had been named, JoAnn went on with her morning thought.

“The Supreme Court is going to be deciding some major cases these days and I would like to discuss one of those cases. This one is about the First Amendment. There has been a group of people that have been protesting at the funerals of not only openly gay people, but also gay military servicemen and women that have died in action, as well as service men and women who in actuality were not gay. The defense that the protestors are using is that they are protected under the First Amendment right of free speech. What does everyone think about this? Do these people have the right to protest and hold up anti-gay signs at someone’s funeral?”

Hands flew up. Let me introduce the Paulo Freire students.

“My cousin died in the war, and while we didn’t have protestors there, when I think about it and I think of how my aunt and uncle were grieving, I can’t imagine them having to deal with that kind of thing at the same time.”

“Um, well, couldn’t it be an issue of disturbing the peace?”

“I understand that, like, they may be protected under the first amendment, but, like, I think it is an abuse of this right.”

“I’m sorry, but that is just disturbing that people would protest at someone’s funeral, no matter what they think about their life. It’s just not right.”

“You know, while I think it’s disgusting and immoral, I have to say that they are probably protected by the first amendment.”

Kight, one of the Paulo Freire staff also chimed in. “We should also think about the fact that these people have been protesting at the funerals of gay people long before they ever protested at the funeral of the military men and women, but that the media finally became interested in it after the fact.”

The children continued. “What about gay people’s rights? Aren’t these people infringing on gay’s rights to free speech, I mean, they came out as gay, right? That was their right without having to get abused by others for it.”

“Yeah, like people have the right to say what they want to say, like these funeral people, but people have a right to be gay too.”

These are 11, 12 and 13 year old kids.