I wrote this because a note about yet another ‘alternative school’, this one from my allies, came over my e mail, another try to school(verb). This, one of so many attempts to offer study different from the form we hate so hard – is, naturally, the same.
For my folks, Communist, Jewish, immigrants, getting along in America was desired – by mother, who walked from Eastern Europe to Chicago when she was 8 or so. Father’s father something similar – the same. So I went to the local schools, which included a Sunday school at a local ‘reform’ synagogue. The effort was for us to stay within the community, and to offer me the study our neighborhood expected. Our neighborhood went quiet on The Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Pesach, and some on Purim.
My grandfathers both were communist – in intent if not in Party membership. Nevertheless there was little conversation about this in my house – or, there was conversation about it and I didn’t realize that. So, I wasn’t able to talk about this with my grandparents. My mother’s mother thought she hated the komminis. My mother’s father had a subscription to The Farverts, The Forward. My father’s deeper commitment to communism was subdued by my mother encouraging convention. In a way she was right, CP not being able to be friendly; one problem being individuals’ while outwardly seeking the leveling necessary to building fairness, nevertheless following forbears’ model, sucking up to upper layers of people – professors, doctors, successful business people, people who had gained status in the Party. My folks were lower level. It took my mother a few years before she became sufficiently insulted to where she pushed and pulled my father away from the constant insult. They turned toward the conventional friends they’d met and a few family who were left after most drew away from my folks’ politics. My father was left cool and uncaring, afraid of caring, afraid of doing the wrong thing by caring.
I shouldn’t blame local cadre. If you get to ask people about these they’ll say that they too looked for friends within the organizations; but somehow, the climate was not conducive to reaching across the chairs and saying let’s get together. The one time they did turned out disastrously – well, badly. They bought a small apartment building together – 2 apartments – with people who wanted such things as to compost in the back yard. My mother was badly prepared for such an outrageous thing – I’m not sure how to describe how she felt about it. But eventually my folks bought these people out and took on renting the 2nd unit.
As for my studies, sadly, when the time came that my parents could offer me study that was significantly advanced and alternative from the standard, I was wrapped up in programs at my conventional secondary school.
Also sadly, we didn’t know that I should be guided to follow through on those programs, drama – writing as well as producing and acting, and the newspaper. If I’d at least – if we’d have known – gotten the guidance to follow through on these interests I’d have been in a happier position about studies. But who knew? We didn’t have mishpochah in the fields, …in the businesses – drama, newspapers. – For us, for my family, our status was too new to the riches of America. In sum, we felt put off. The heights were out of reach. And I was female.
The alternative school was the University of Chicago Lab(oratory) School. Although, there was equal schooling to be gotten at the nearby Hyde Park High School – public. But when my folks bought that building I was just completing my last semester at elementary school – for which I had to travel by public transportation some 3 miles – a significant distance. So I didn’t get to go to that high school, a pretty rich experience, I heard much later. Nor did we, especially I, know to opt for the U.C. junior school.
I’ll always wonder whether different schooling, better schooling – those two options would have made a difference to me – would have made me not blind to what was happening to me, as I was.
I look back and lament with people when we talk about it, that I didn’t learn how to read a map – having traveled by then throughout Chicago and the suburbs – well, the nearby suburbs, and locally – Kentucky, Wisconsin, and such, and to Europe, and to Israel – I only learned that I should read a map when I took a job in Roanoke, Virginia, from Chicago when I was 34! years old. I had been placing responsibility for getting us places on Jack, who wasn’t too convinced he needed to research a map in order to get someplace we wanted to go, either! Likely he felt he was supposed to just KNow how to go. So his map use was to beat it – as though into submission.
I guess we were so used to just knowing where to go, Chicago being 234 square miles of cross-hatch streets, 0 to about 7900 North, 0 to about 130th south, 0 to about 100th west – and some streets in between – you could always find your way just by going, maybe asking when you got there…
So you can see beating a map – that large, unruly piece of paper with those little words on it – in Florence, Italy, or Paris.
Elementary school for me was a cloudy experience. I can remember overall my schoolyard activities, recesses, lunch break, after school; I remember being top performer at gym. I can remember sitting very still in a classroom ruled by a teacher who had us using our ruler to rule sheets of plain paper to use under sheets of plain paper so we’d write our lessons neatly on those lines we could see underneath our plain sheet of paper, neatly, as we sat very still, definitely didn’t chew gum, or behave unacceptably – talk without permission, talk together, ignore lessons … in fact, that might’ve been the geography class –around 6th grade. I still remember her name!
Arithmetic was literally greek to me. I could NOT understand from the earliest lessons, how you could put 2+2 onto the board and get 4 or why or what that meant. As time went on and other operations with numbers became accomplished by rote I again had no sense of the use of this. I pretty much had that sense of all the studies, somehow. I learned to read when I was about 3, or 4. I had a lot of bad colds; my mother read to me a lot. I watched and learned the whole thing it seemed, without effort, including what’s called phonics. I could spell anything – for years.
I seem to have expected all learning to be that way – done without particular expenditure of effort; …that I was just able …because that’s how I was… There seems to have been an expectation that a path was spread before me and I just proceeded along it more or less thoughtlessly – alright, but without direction itself.
As I became aware of what had happened to me – maybe when I was about 35 or so, I identified knowing how to spell as the cause of my mental blindness for so long …revealed to me when I became active in The Women’s Movement. So I immediately forgot how to spell.
When I realized I needed a way to work to make some money, and could not forthelifeofme type well enough, I went to school at last to get a teaching degree called B.A. in Education. Learning how to teach math was an exquisitely lovely experience! I couldn’t believe! what I was thinking! as I became facile with 3rd, 4th, 5th and such grade arithmetic! I loved it! At this time I was 28years old.
The trick was to do arithmetic in different bases – base 2 – like the way the computer works, base 7, and so on; addition, subtraction, multiplication – and all, in different bases. I think that’s what explained it all to me. I briefly dated a math enthusiast in college – what a joy he was! He had no interest in what I had been trained in – liking Van Gogh and Beethoven and Bartok and – you know, the finer things. He did take the trouble to explain to me that the way he saw math was maybe like the way I saw art – a painting – except that over here on this side – (leaning leftwards) it’s all filled in – very colorful, many shapes, and then as you go out (leaning slowly right) there become spaces – and little by little there are more and more spaces, until there is only one empty space – that will become filled in sometime, little by little – or a lot…infinitely…
A very long time ago I had myself feel I was brilliant. For one thing, I met my husband, who actually WAS brilliant. I think it was a class thing that he loved me, and that I was very pretty. So he loved me lots and I couldn’t beLIEVE it he was so magnificent. I felt brilliant because he thought so well of me. And I did amazing things because I was so brilliant with him.
We emigrated to Israel! which I arranged because he came up with the idea and said let’s do that – in 1965. I cleaned the communal toilets, and taught English, and worked in the kitchen and the orchards. Jack worked in the orchards and did the kibbutz’ laundry – moaning over washing washed clothes that got thrown back into the laundry. We both worked in the packing rooms, packing those TASTY peaches and plums – like ones we haven’t had here in the states for 40 years. Jack also did guard duty, carried an uzi. He liked that. He also drove.
They did some errands, trying to convince the local people they should permit their enslavement to Israel, while eating Arab yogurt and drinking their coffee. The new, repressive government, under the guise of socialist, to a degree a haven – a feature literally capitalized on by Jewish leaders, could well use someone like Jack. So he was assigned work that was to make him feel respected soon after his stint in the laundry. Jack was a tall, beautiful, strong, brilliant person, but not Jewish it turned out – I mean, we well knew! he wasn’t Jewish, but we had no idea that he wouldn’t get citizenship; we certainly wouldn’t consider that he convert. That contradicted our ideas of what we were about altogether. That just topped the deal. While committed to building socialism, we nevertheless left.
And fought with maps through Greece and Italy and France, and them, back to The States, where you get on 80 from New York and get to Chicago, make a left on 103rd St, and get home, back to the usual jobs, the usual failures at understanding life. Yes, Jack too…
There was a reason, a very usual reason….
I did know that school was not advisable. I didn’t force my son to go. He was 10 when we got back in 1966. Feeling my way blindly other encounters began to illuminate the dark.
So, this, building a freedom school, is not a choice. I’ve had close encounters with them. The same structure, school, remains. These freedom schools, like public school, are all about the adults, not about the children. Again I site the example – child trips falls hurts themself; adult says oh don’t cry, that’s alright – that doesn’t hurt, does it? This reflection defines the acceptable behavior, squelching the child’s response. This can happen to a person of any age, – discouragement of recognition of feelings
They too, are why I call for integration, not segregation because of age.
School is a segregating institution – by age. Alternative school is still that. And mixing people 12 years old with people 6 years old is nice, but not the goal to save us from school.
School has just been a place to store people until there’s no choice but to let them get out and try to get income to survive.
The trouble with ‘public education’ [I absolutely!! want us to keep and expand our public services!] is school is different from health care, roads, housing, food, etc. Education is how we are formed, how we form ourselves.
As long as this structure, misleadingly called education, persists, we remain enslaved to our Owners here on THeir plantation. School is just the device to retain the present system. People who escape it find their education elsewhere.
The classroom needs to be an adjunct to our lives, rising everywhere as we engender them, from our living together, doing workplayrecreationcreation – all the matters of our lives. Remove those from the present buildings. End age segregation.
Then let us gather regardless of the divide and conquer mechanisms that drive us onto our Owners’ Procrustean couch.
Let us gather into our agoras to serve our natural tendencies to question answer study research as those arise in our living together. Think ‘no pay’, just enjoyment together. All ages together by interest, by taste.
All of us teachers and students all our lives. Plan for preparation to do a ‘work’ to occur on site.
These oppose our present alienation.
The alienation is housed in our Owners’ buildings, institutions… jobs, schools, huge stores and hospital campuses!!!, and by our constant service to these to benefit our Owners’ profiteering.
Our aim is a grocery store on every corner across the street from a health care clinic across the street from a community gathering place, across the street from a library, a theater, a concert hall, a farm and all – Where we can walk to these, visit with each other in passing, not worry our baby will be snatched by someone maddened through trying to live through capitalism – which is the structure for hatred of us, of ourselves and of others.
Help us celebrate the 8-week pilot program and build into the fall! A school grows in Brooklyn.
The Paul Robeson Freedom School is rounding out its first 8 weeks of life this week with a Graduation celebration + Benefit Show on Wednesday, Aug. 22nd. It’s been called everything from Liberation Camp to Free School to Camp Occupy (by the NY Times!), and this week it celebrates the summer of community-building and reaches into the future with plans to expand programming and establish a community center! Come out to celebrate with us!
Benefit Show for the Freedom School Featuring Stogie Kenyatta’s one-man show, “The World is my Home – The Life of Paul Robeson”, Wednesday, August 22nd 5:30pm Dinner (prepared by students!), 7pm Show Tickets start at $10 for students (Buy online)
RSVP on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/213998508727196/ All proceeds of the show go towards expanding our fall program and developing our community center. If you can’t attend, please consider sponsoring a Paul Robeson HS student to attend and learn about the rich history of his/her struggle,
http://stogiekenyatta.com/robeson/namesake! In Justin Wedes Editor, OurSchoolsNYC Co-Principal, Paul Robeson Freedom School
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