When we turned into the driveway and saw the big expanse of rolling green fields, Joshua and Jimmy jumped out of the car and rushed to join the kids playing football. Even though they were much smaller than the others, the two didn’t feel there was any difference as if they blended seamlessly. I walked to a group of people under a tree and introduced our family as travelers driving from San Francisco to New York while researching alternative forms of education. How many times have I repeated that line? How many times have I brought out my ratty, tattered, beaten-almost-to-a-pulp print-out of a map showing our route like a red mountain range to show as proof of our adventure as if our white pick-up truck topped with four bikes was not enough? It’s time to print a new map and have it laminated but with less than a month to go, maybe it’s not necessary.
Hearing the yearnings of my heart, the universe arranged it so we lived in a friend’s house one minute away from Macomber Center, one of the non-traditional places of learning that I had on my list to visit. Were it not for Peter Gray’s suggestion, I wouldn’t have run across Macomber in my endless google searches and researches. Getting excited reading their website and then seeing it in the flesh was a dream actualized. This was not a school but a hang-out place for homeschoolers who wanted to be part of a community.
Because it was so near, Joshua and Jimmy were able to join Macomber for two days while I sat, working on my laptop, blogging, absorbing the relaxed atmosphere and inspired to think of what could be in the future. Ben Draper, the director of Macomber welcomed me while Dan Dick described the Macomber as “a community of responsible adults helping kids learn how to make choices and decisions.”
We opened the Macomber Center in 2012 as a resource center for self-directed learners. Most of us had come from a democratic school background so naturally some people assumed that we were taking the first steps towards creating a democratic school. What started to interest us, however, was not the potential to move towards something familiar, but the opportunity to explore something new. We wanted to remain open-minded and flexible about what we were doing and how we might evolve. There are plenty of alternative schools out there; we wanted to provide a genuine alternative to school.
From the very beginning, we rejected the idea of school. We had no interest in having to enforce an attendance policy, which all schools — even democratic schools– have to do. We wanted kids to be able to come and go freely. We wanted the center to be used only as needed and not to hold kids back from pursuing other interests out in the larger community. We were not interested in handing out diplomas either. We didn’t feel that kids should need our stamp of approval to move on in the world. Instead, we felt that they should be the ones to determine when and how they were going to make the transition into adult life.
As a resource center, we provide an environment where the natural curiosity of kids is given free reign. They are surrounded by acres of natural space and are given the time and freedom to explore. They have access to the essential tools of learning: computers, books, art supplies, musical instruments, and science equipment. They also have access to knowledgeable, helpful adults.
On the first day of my visit, I joined the workshop on slam poetry requested by one of the Macomber members. A group of five teenagers listened to Amy Mevorach perform her beautiful poems like this one about the fear of performing.
Dorothy Bernard said ‘Courage is the fear that has said its prayers’
I believe fear is just wings that don’t know they can fly
One of the students shared a recording she made of her poem. I got encouraged by Amy who told us how different it is to perform poems versus keeping them silent in print. I browsed my blog on my phone and read aloud my poem, something I haven’t done for many, many years.
My photos don’t do Macomber Center justice as I hesitate to take pictures with the students’ faces plus the weather wasn’t good on the second day we hung out there. Joshua, along with other kids got drenched in the rain. I wish I can show you the vibrance of Denise’s photo albums that document their weekly activities but again, you can also check out their website.
Past five in the afternoon, while waiting for Jason to pick us up, one of the dads offered us a ride home. We started chatting while our kids continued playing. I told him about my interest in alternative education and he told me that he also considered Sudbury Valley School but he didn’t like that parents seemed discouraged from being involved in the school. He, his wife and two kids are all happy with Macomber so much so that they are thinking of starting something like it where they live. My friend, Laksmi and I are also doing something like Macomber for homeschoolers and unschoolers in the Philippines.
The more dots we connect in this network of self-directed learners, the better for all of us.