Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Don't Panic!

Dear Friends,

We're writing to let you know about some exciting news: a part of the Katuah Crew is moving to Belize (!!!) and starting a school there, which will be open to local kids this Fall. We'll begin accepting applications for our Semesters Abroad program in June of 2011 for our first semester beginning Januray 15th, 2012. The school is located on the ocean and will have access to a diving facility, as well as a holistic retreat center. Please email Kristin Harling for more information kristinharling@

For all of you staying in the states, a new endeavor is opening June 1st, called Free Range Katuah, which keeps the basic premise of the Sudbury model, with kids being free to choose their own experiences, and all decisions being made democratically. Some of the ways in which this is different from Sudbury schools is that it doesn't wait for kids to ask to offer learning experiences and so there will be a full roster of local learning experiences available to the students. There will also be a school currency that will allow more flexibilty for families and is a way to value the full range of resources, not just the financial ones. There will be shared meals and clean up. For more information on this new endeavor, please email Mary Ellen at maryellenphillips@

Please join us for a Transitional Celebration on Saturday, May 8th at 3pm. The Monkey Town River Face Children's Band will be performing their Psychic Rat Cabaret. There will be face painting and swimming for the kids. Please bring a dish or drink to share. You'll have an opportunity to say good bye to the Belize Crew and to meet up the new Free Range Katuah Crew and learn lots more about it and sign up for summer or fall session. Call 828-505-4080 for directions.

So long and thanks for all the fish,

The Katuah Crew

Friday, February 26, 2010


Every night, just as Francesca switches off her lamp, she hollers goodnight! up and down the stairs where I sleep on the floor below her and her 13 year old sister sleeps on the floor above her. Then she pauses, I love you both! I always return the sentiment. Her sister never does. This year, only Franscesca wanted to go trick or treating. As she went from house to house, she selected those pieces that she'd give to her sister, Oh, Sissy loves dark chocolate. Sissy's going to love this. I'd been waiting for one of two things to happen, either Persephone to start reciprocating her sister's loving gestures or for Francesca to stop doing them. Neither happened.

Then I remembered one of Abraham's quotes that we love people because it feels so good to love them, to have that feeling of love flowing through us. They give us an opportunity to feel awesome, to have all our gates wide open as we stand appreciating them, savoring them. Francesca knows this. I ask her on Halloween night if she thought it was fair to give her sister candy when her sister had opted to stay home on the computer rather than going out and working for her loot, or something like that. She blinked at me, not even really hearing the question with all it's hobbled underlying beliefs. Mom, I love loving Sissy.

End of story. I love loving sissy. I love the feeling of love flowing through me towards another. I love doing things for her and admiring her and believing in her. Francesca loving her sister so openly without even being able to conceive of reciprocation keeps her own vibration tuned to true. I think of how stingy I've been in my life with my I love you's doling them out sparingly, terrified of what would happen if I gave them too freely. Would he/she think I was going to do something for them, commit to be there, in other words, what freedom was I giving up by telling someone I loved them? What power would they have over me?

I compare my own choked ability to express the love I so often feel for people with my daughters and I'm glad she hasn't learned much from me and certainly not how to love. As usual she gets that it's not about the others, it's about her. And loving the world makes her feel right, authentic. It's the most natural gesture in her world.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Happy Work

Yesterday as Tobin was assembling a magnet alphabet on our refrigerator, she stumbled upon a wire basket attached to the side of the multi-purpose household appliance. The little, metal receptacle holds important papers, business cards, paper clips and other writing utensils the likes of which hadn't made contact with the humans of the house in years.

In the basket she also found a small, red, spiral-bound notebook which was placed there with the intention of being convenient but sadly forgotten, forlorn and waiting for this moment.

Clutching the notebook to her chest, Tobin asked me if she could have it. I said yes and removed several pages of shopping lists and notes about credit cards and monthly budgets before handing it over.

In her excitement, Tobin turned to her brother, pen in hand, and said, "Come on, Dax. Want to come with me while I do my Happy Work?"

She then clarified, "That's homework for my school."


No, really, I am. Working with all these unfettered and free as lamb's butt kids I end up admiring their hutzpah, grace and wide openness and lamenting my own broken adult stupid/borningness, like, why can't I spend all day in a cloud of blissful immersion, churning out endless tisse paper snowflakes? What's wrong with me?

It's not like I don't think that, for the most part, kids really are clearer, happier and more connected to the good juju than a huge percentage of adults, I do, but I don't think they can help it: they've been around less, had less time on earth to be hammered with weirdy ideas and, the big kicker, especially for lots of kids who get to go to a Sudbury/Free School, they've got parents who aren't trying to shoehorn them into becoming Mini-Me's. These lucky ducky kids got seeker parents, those whose contrast in their own childhoods caused them to send out rockets of desire to become truly great, allowing parents. These folks (often become teachers at Sudbury/Free Schools) all lost their way, got talked off their horses a thousand times, had to build the bridge while others kept blowing it up, until they finally discovered bridges that were inherently sound and could not be destroyed, ones built of truth, understanding and love, and so they learned to walk their own genuine life paths even when no one else thought that was even a little bit cool, and became capable of allowing others even when they don't agree or understand it. I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from the Revolutionary War when freedom was really in the news, I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will die for your right to say it. Okay, melodrama, I know, but I love the genuinely free space created with this melodramatic gesture.

And there's another piece. Life has caused me to become more, not more than a snowflake maker, just more. I've spent time on earth, deeply and wildly immersed in many many play places and have evolved my preferences accordingly, so while Hhannah hits snowflake making for the first time and cannot stop, each time she opens one, she's opening a magic, I'm at a different place with snowflakes. She still can't believe that a cut here or there has such exponential power. She must have made two hundred snowflakes, snip, snip, fold and unfold, her sense of revelation and wonder enormous. And while I'm still surprised and pleased, my joyful focus is a little different. I love watching the kids unfold in the making; on Thursday, Hhannah was my snowflake. I love being alone for a moment with scissors and paper and infinite possibility. I loved being part of a team hellbent on turning the school into a wonderland.

Abe says it best:
The nonphysical part of you has become that expanded Being living that better experience. It is neither necessary nor possible for you to backtrack to a former physical perspective. Life has caused you to move on. And, most important, that expanded version of you is calling you; and if you will listen, a well-lighted and easy-to-navigate path will appear before you. (p.131 The Vortex)

I love how the school is often a portal through which I glimpse pieces of that well-lighted path. There are days, as a staff and parent, that I'm a bit uneasy when I notice how far off the beaten path of education (whatever that is) we free schools are. It's usually when I see a parent or new teacher trying to make sense of the situation, desperately struggling to quantify this journey, and feeling like seeing a kid do fractions would help them calm down. They can feel, intrinsically, that there is great value to a space that allows children to naturally wend their way through life on their own terms, yet they struggle to stay in that feeling good place because it requires so much trust in the process, and trust in the inherent nature of humans, which is to keep growing.

And so, while I will always be a bit jealous of children, with their verve, ladybug obsessions, clarity of vision, willingness and ability to play at the drop of a hat, I also have to admire a group of people who have intentionally chosen this, who are able, despite great pressure from mainstream culture, to so fully trust each human's innate capacity to know what they need and to line up with it. So our work as teachers is often to remain clear and available for the kind of trusting that faciliates a truly free environment where learning occurs, as well as connection, and breathing, and unraveling and insight-discovering and laughing and dreaming and thanking. Which reminds me, thank you Free Teacher People, not just for being big (enough to allow the children you work with genuine freedom), but for first remembering how to allow YOU, and for speaking in the language of freedom, your native tongue.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Music and Life and Sudbury Schools


Check out this animated short with spoken word by Alan Watts. Animation by Chris Brion and Todd Benson, produced by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame - sure do love those guys!).

Here is the link to the video on YouTube

I came across this video when I was first learning about Sudbury model schools. My daughter, Tobin, was almost 5 years old and had not quite arrived at the kindergarten cut-off according to the city when she asked me, "Can I please go to school now, Mommy?"

I jumped (more like tentatively sqeaked) feet (no, big toes) first into searching for options for my not-quite-school-ager. I began to notice a protective feeling churning in my belly. As it began to bubble up, so did the petri dish of emotions and memories I had apparently repressed since I was in school. Fear, doubt, insecurity, pressure, boredom, judgments, comparisons, college, SAT's, No. 2 pencils, impossible standards, imposed morality, dress codes and permission slips.

Not for my little girl, I insisted.

Then I saw this video which was posted on Katuah Sudbury School's website at the time. I felt for the first time since beginning my search for Tobin's school that I could breathe a little easier. They get it, I thought. The "let down," the "hoax," exactly as Alan Watts had described, was exactly what I instinctively wanted to protect my daughter from (Watch the video to see what I'm talking about).

I was put to even greater ease on the day of our interview. Tobin, usually shy and quite clingy, waltzed right in as if she had been there a dozen times before, and began playing with some students her age.

To this day, Tobin continues to ask me, "Can I please go to school now, Mommy?" and you wouldn't believe it, but actually protests when I arrive to pick her up at the end of a school day at Katuah Sudbury.