What influenced my thinking the most probably is growing up in Berkeley and going to UC Berkeley in and out from 1950 to 1960. I was always interested in politics and how decisions were made, so I took part in politics at Berkeley, and was a member of Slate, the campus political party, which laid the groundwork for the Free Speech Movement. We were interested in civil rights and anti war. We saw education as a possible solution to problems.
When I left the service I went to Inverness and then the Valley around 1964. In 1966 I met Phil Drath at a political organizing meeting at Dickson Ranch. He was one of the first anti-war candidates in the Bay Area. Working on his campaign I met many anti-war activists and politicians in Marin County–Jack Felson, Ken HowardWhen Phil tried again in 1968, I was selected as his campaign manager. I had just recently left the probation dept where I had developed an interest in adolescent behavior, so while working on the Drath campaign I spent time organizing students at College Of Marin. During these years much time was spent considering education as providing answers to some of society’s questions.
My activities caused me to wind up in articles in the newspaper on several occasions. By 1968, Sandra Dorward had seen my name in the newspaper. She invited me to help organize a small peace march in the valley. Sandy and her husband Jack put together a group of people, among them Jim and Niz Brown, Jane and Jim Rawlinson, Bud and Marty Meade, Lee and Jean Berensmeir, Judy and Stan Voets–many of whom, among others, eventually became involved in the Open Classroom. During discussions around the march people talked about upcoming school politics. Eventually this led to Sandy asking me to run for the school board. Coming up this way further developed my interest in decision making, and who made decisions.
The school at the time was dominated by long time teachers who seemed to make all the decisions. It was our desire to open it up so that the community could be more involved. My first run was in 1970. That time we didn’t get enough votes. 9 months later a school board member resigned, and for the special election I had Lindy Graham as my campaign manager. She mobilized a whole new group of Valley residents, some with children and some without. Many were part of an influx of folks from what would be called counter-culture backgrounds today. Lindy registered everyone–communes, people living in teepees at the top of Tamal…it was a huge registration drive. Lindy had 3 children in the school. Her son Chris was in Sandys class. Lindy organized people who wanted to extend what Sandy was doing. Because I won the election in 1971, we were able to make a compromise and create the Open Classroom. It was an active compromise where we said you can have your program if we can have ours. This brought the community together because everyone got what they wanted. We came to understand that not all people view education the same way so it was important that options be offered.
As we were forming the Open Class we spent enormous amounts of time talking about how to organize parents and teachers to make decisions. We argued about how to make the consensus method work. While the children were being involved in decision making during the day, we were trying to figure out how the parent body with the teachers would meet and make decisions about the education of their children, recognizing it was important for parents to be involved.
As a student I had read Dewey. Piaget and Vigotsly. Having read Dewey but not seen it in practise, it was exciting to see Sandy and others put these principles into practice and that they worked. Children being involved in decisions, making choices.
Children arrive at school at the beginning full of curiosity and desire and motivation to learn and explore ideas and explore concepts. They are filled with wonder. It has always been one of my major themes that children leave school still filled with curiosity and the same love of learning that they have when they start
One of the challenges of having a program that gave such a different emphasis, was that others thought academics would not get enough emphasis. My daughter Liza was teased by children in another program that she didnt know how to read. She came home in tears and told me that. When something interesting came up on the television I suggested that we look it up in the encyclopedia. She pulled down the Encyclopedia Britannica and read the paragraph in the encyclopedia on her own. I asked her What did you just do?” She had an incredible look on her face recognizing what she had just done.
As a contractor Ive always enjoyed building, Ive always been fascinated by the community coming together to build a barn like the Amish do, and wanted to put that into practice. I was just a carpenter on the lunch shelter when we built that, but I organized the building of the bridge between the two campuses. Building the playground just seemed the natural thing to do. In 1972 I organized the first playground we built with Jay Beckwith. Jay went around to schools and offered to help build play structures. Ours was the first time the community actually did it. When the law changed, school boards and administrators said volunteers wont be able to meet the complicated standards. So I went and got the Certified Playground Inspector certificate and that allowed us to ensure that the standards were being met. Ive worked on all sorts of community building projects, not just at the school. Each of the playgrounds I have helped the community build at the school has allowed me to integrate my love of New England covered bridges, Victorian decorative elements, as well as barn raising. Working together builds community at the same time as it builds playgrounds.