By Phillip Moore, Emergence Education, October 31, 2017, 0996928561

I didn’t finish this book. I read quite a bit, and learned a bit, too. I just got bored with the self-promotion and tedious autobiographical details (e.g. “While Karen and Nina were visiting a museum, I stepped inside a phone booth and called the publisher.”).

The book is a free school in Michigan called the Upland Hills Farm School. Phillip Moore was the school’s director for 40+ years. He put his heart and soul into the school and every child that went there. Great stuff but not a replicable model.

I got the basic idea in the introduction, and I agree with it: be patient, loving, adaptive, and structured. What I didn’t see is how you would scale it. Even Moore says that only five percent of the free schools survived the seventies. My kids experienced two small private schools with very loving staff, but both those schools went out of business. They were great but not economically sustainable.

[k136] Much in classical education tends to inhibit these and frequently causes nonverbal thinkers to feel inferior and begin a process of abandonment and failure that will last all their lives.

[k139] In many years of observation, I have never met a stupid child but I have met many self-righteously stupid and debilitating –and yes, even brain-damaging–systems of education.

[k226] My dad came home to find his new car ruined. He asked me why I did it, and I told him to make him happy. He smiled and said that it would have made him even happier if I had asked him first. At the time, I didn’t recognize how extraordinary that response was. I didn’t realize that most dads probably wouldn’t have responded to an innocent yet ill-conceived act of love with a loving response. Yet, he met love with love.

[k231] When I entered school the following year, however, I discovered very quickly that schools were not places of love or kindness like my home was, and that made me question them.

[k294] But the grandfather of them all was the test developed in France and Germany supposedly to measure intelligence, the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test. If your score on that test was average, the expectations for your future were limited to the assembly line or worse.

We wanted our school to be unlike the schools we had gone to: large, impersonal, top-down arrangements that demanded we sit in uncomfortable seats for most of the day, move when bells rang, obediently follow all directions, answer questions that always had right and wrong answers–all the while competing with our fellow classmates for the perfection of an all-A report card.

[k383] While there are no reliable statistics I can cite, the year Upland Hills School was founded–1971–may have been the year the free school movement peaked, when perhaps as many as two hundred of these schools emerged across the country. What we do know is that just a very small percentage of these schools survived the 1970s, perhaps fewer than 5 percent.

[k455] We have learned to listen for areas of concern, and we have also learned how to listen for inconsistency. It’s a red flag for us if the parents disagree often, for example. Or if the child described in the interview doesn’t “match” the child we see on visit day. We are concerned when a prospective parent makes demands or has lots of “conditions”; we are concerned if it seems like staff and parents are struggling to understand each other. We have learned to be vigilant during the interview and visit day, and also pay close attention during the first few weeks of the child’s enrollment.

[k475] What we’ve learned over time is that a great advantage of being an independent school is the ability to ask a student to leave. Our spectrum for children is wide indeed; for example, we have benefitted greatly by having a child with Down syndrome attend school with children who were headed eventually to the best universities in the United States. However, we know that we do not have the resources to work effectively with children who are severely emotionally impaired or developmentally challenged.

[k529] Walking to school on a wood-chip path transforms the word “commute” into “commune.”

[k573] The future of children depends on our being present with children.

[k579] When we recognize that children are our teachers, we cultivate the very humility that allows us to pay attention instead of pressing an agenda. We have identified seven qualities that children can help us bring out in ourselves and call forth in our children.

[k582] The qualities we focus on in this chapter are: Transcendence, Deep Listening, Patience, Trust, Courage, Acceptance, and, perhaps most importantly, Love.

[k599] In order for our species to continue, we must serve something far greater than our tiny selves, and we must trust beyond our reasoning mind.

[k607] I was teaching at our school and attempting to do something that had meaning and purpose. At school we were about to spend seventy percent of the teaching budget on a two-kilowatt wind generator to teach our kids that parents and teachers can take positive, meaningful actions on behalf of our Spaceship Earth, but Sasha’s birth had taken me into a new realm.

[k616] I was now given this life to hold and to care for, and the meaning of my life was so deeply enhanced that I felt the seed of an awakening. We were here not only to be Sasha’s parents; we were here to serve a higher purpose.

[k620] Many, many times since that day Sasha was born I have had to surrender to a transcendent power that clearly knew more than I did.

[k654] By the year’s end, Christine had transformed from a shy, somewhat hesitant child into a bright, socially advanced extrovert who cared for every one of us. This rapid development of her interpersonal intelligence emerged as soon as she felt safe.

[k709] I learned from watching Dad that because he had no expectations, that gave Joey room to discover new parts of himself. Patience is a practice that requires being led by the moment while suspending your agendas and need for control. Throughout our three-day trip I watched a new Joey emerge.

[k719] As if patience were a finite thing that we could run out of. My experience is that patience can be unlimited when we enter fully into the moment and take full responsibility for what is arising in our lives.

[k724] The focus in our information age has shifted so much to content that schools tend to neglect the all-important context to hold all that content.

[k737] Trust is an essential ingredient for drawing out hidden and latent potentials. Without trust, we use our cunning and energy just to survive. In a fear-based environment, not only is creativity stifled, it gets used for malignant purposes. Children teach us about trust by giving it to us without reservation. In a safe and loving setting children feel free to take your hand and to trust your kindness.

[k1035] When you find someone who can do what you are doing better than you, get out of the way.

[k1128] I am in the early phase of my “rewirement,” which I prefer to retirement. I chose this word to remind myself that I was not tired again; on the contrary I was about to enter and embody a new stage in my development. I have learned over time that selecting the right word is essential to actualizing it.

[k1159] After our wedding ceremony, I was fired from my summer stint as a camp counselor.

[k1161] Being fired from this cherished job was devastating to me at the time.

[k1336] Krishnamurti was very concerned about education. He felt that children and adults needed to break their conditioning and come to understand the true nature of conflict, which was fear.

[k1348] Still curious in his mid-eighties, he asked me what I thought was most important. I told him children needed to learn how to think for themselves. He agreed and cited the dangers of conformity and comparing one child against another.

[k1455] I cannot emphasize enough how powerful it was to immerse ourselves in Piaget’s insights and then watch them play out over the course of the week. This marriage of theory and practice is all too rare in the everyday operations of our schools.

[k1466] In order to fully understand and appreciate the breakthrough understandings of Piaget and his colleagues, I invited one of his researchers, Gilbert Voyat, to visit our school. Gilbert was a professor of psychology at City College in New York City, applying Piaget’s work via a tool he called “The Artists Carnival.” He stayed with us for one night and one day of school that began at 8 a.m. and ended with a parent group meeting at 9 p.m.

[k1471] He looked at his notes for several long minutes and then began by saying, I have never seen a school like this one. The children are so engaged in learning in all types of ways.

[k1491] Teachers who are in love with their lives, with their work, and with the children serve as the best role models, particularly when children and communities have to face life’s challenges that are not “part of the curriculum.”

[k1503] Kegan has identified two more stages after the socialized mind. What he calls the self-authoring mind is able to take a step back from its environment and develop an identity free of the judgment of others. Those who master this stage are self-directed and independent thinkers, and this trait can develop–and be cultivated–prior to adulthood.