I am sitting in the hallway of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albany, NY, early morning of the last day of the AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) Conference, up early with my brain reorganized after my late night, wake up with images of the Talent Show last night, of my son juggling in the back yard on Friday surrounded by day care kids, my son and all the kids smiling, him so easy in his skin, a new thing to me, one I attribute in part to his year on another path at the Sudbury Valley School, and I think back over my day yesterday, of listening to the older generation describe Education and Democracy in the 1960’s: The Continuing Legacy of the Free School Movement, most still involved today, and the challenges they have faced over their careers and see now, and of the first session I attended yesterday, promoting an idea I at first found off-putting, Education for Human Greatness–A Higher Vision of Teaching, Thinking, and Learning, and I think that Democracy and Freedom and Human Greatness are really at the core of this weekend, of this alternative schools movement and idea that pulls me in and pulls me along throughout my life.

I had a lot of conversations with people yesterday. Mostly I listened and watched and that felt good. So often in places where I go to learn about education or children, I talk too much, try very hard to engage and change the dialogue with my thoughts. Yesterday, I was content to be in the audience, except in one session on Curricular Considerations for Democratic Education, where I felt my role creep back, explained my experience as a teacher and a parent with media, setting limits, stepping back, watching our kids grow, growing with them.

The theme of the day that emerged for me while I dreamed last night was Human Greatness, termed by Lynn Stoddard, a soft-spoken, articulate, understated Mormon father of twelve, grandfather and greatgrandfather of many, former teacher, principal, now writer and activist and hoper for the future. When I read the program I had thought Human Greatness was a funny way to describe my goals for children and education, when I was done listening to him, I thought it was apt. Lynn Stoddard, who I expected from the program to be a woman, was in fact a tall, white haired man, who in his suit was possibly the only person in the AERO conference who could have been mistaken for a downtown businessman or professor or senator. He got this term from his work as a principal of a public elementary school in Colorado, where his teachers tired of presenting their ideas for what was to happen during the school year in a back to school night for families each fall. Instead, these teachers wanted to meet with each child’s family to see what that family wished for their child. From this shift, the teachers learned that three themes emerged, three things which all families wanted for their children. For these qualities, Lynn uses the words Identity, Inquiry, and Interaction. Lynn Stoddard has made a series of handouts, pamphlets, booklets and a book, the book sadly not in publication due to the closure of the small publisher who published it. He had nine copies to sell when the session I attended began. After his presentation, which included one woman from the audience who stood up and gave her overwhelmingly positive attachment to the book, there were none. I tried twice to get one of the nine copies and failed. I got the booklet for one fifty, which I began to read last night. Makes total sense, written in plain English, describes the work of one principal, many teachers, students, and families, in ways that feel practical, useful, doable, right. Lynn Stoddard is gathering folks to support the sharing of his ideas for changing education today with the concepts of Human Greatness at the core. Deborah Meier, who will speak today on Democracy and Education, has leant her support, as has Alfie Kohn. I have added my name, address, and e-mail to Lynn’s contact list, hope to be helpful in some way.

But for today, he has been helpful to me, as were the folks who sang and played the ukelele last night, who wrote poems from their experience , one young black man from an urban school in Indiana, who wowed a session he led in the morning with his human greatness, including Liana, who was moved by this young man and his ideas, enthusiasm, leadership, experience, poem–another  a middle aged white man from the midwest who told a truck and farm joke in the am to a modest response and who performed a fabulous poem at the Talent Show, My Asprin on Wheels, this one about a man and his hard-knock life and pumped up car which made the young black man from Indianapolis and a group of young dread black men I had not yet met smile and laugh hard behind me, made the young black man and I each walk around after the Talent Show repeating the Asprin on Wheels lines out loud and smile. I loved the Human Greatness on display at the Talent Show last night, four more elements added to the original list on the cover of the booklet on the hotel carpet here beside me, Imangination, Initiative, Intuition, Integrity, added to the original elements, Identity, Inquiry, Interaction, arranged on the cover in a Venn Diagram which shows some ways these dimensions are related.

I thought at first in my session with Lynn that his school’s idea for developing Identity  by means of a Talent Show was a little off. As he described it, though, and over the course of the weekend, I have come to appreciate his wisdom, to see how his term, PHD, or positive human diversity, could be lived through a Talent Show, or how each kid or person could see school, or their life as a Talent Show, how each of us at the conference, which had another theme of how small the alternative education movement is, how much it wants to grow, often does not know how, is hopeful that it is growing again after years of shrinking, is growing some small unique talent, or some big giant talent with each one of use who is here, not only at the conference, but around the world, doing our bits in our own ways. The Talent Show last night and my conversations on the walk there and back with quiet woman my age or older, white women who work with gifted kids, with homeschoolers, in family day care, reminded me of all the ways we seek to bring our talents to kids, of the potential in an alternative school environment for each of us to bring our gifts, adults and kids alike. What pervaded the Talent Show for me last night, and the whole conference, really, is the pleasure a life on the edge can bring, the focus on joy and humor and making others and yourself happy not at the edge of this group at all, or of their/our way of being in the world, but right there out front, at the core, the very reason for life, and education. As the keynote speaker yesterday morning, so far away now, Kalif Williams, proponent of Humane Education put it, up on the screeen in powerpoint, the whole point is Joy. How we get there is not so easy, but what a goal to live for, and to spend your life creating for the world.

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