Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cooking Class with Young Students

Robert and Braden, who have spent a lot of time under Mat's tutelage in the Clearwater kitchen, are doing their cooking and eating in Denmark for the next month and a half. (For their ongoing posts, look for the "Denmark" tag.) Meanwhile, cooking at Clearwater continues even in their absence.

Last week, I loved watching Mat work with a group of nine- and ten-year-olds, who wanted to make sushi and teriyaki to eat. These students don't have the expertise some of our older student cooks have, but they are learning more skills almost effortlessly thanks to Mat's ability to work with students at their particular skill level. They prepared ingredients, rolled rice balls, cleaned, and had a great time. Plus, the food they made was delicious.

Peeling carrots and cutting cucumbers

Mat purchased some whole squid and the four students cleaned them: removing heads, innards and skin. They were simultaneously fascinated and mildly repelled by the task. They all know a lot more about squid anatomy than they did before.

Cleaning whole squid

While they were all rolling rice balls, a six-year-old student wandered in to watch and eventually rolled her own rice ball. Watching her watch her older peers so intently reminded me again of the incalculable advantages of a school where all ages share all the spaces throughout the day. The learning and rich interactions that happen daily because everyone has access to each other all the time are sometimes obvious (as in this cooking class) and and other times more difficult to discern.

Rolling rice balls

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Batch of completed rice balls

The younger girl watched the others roll rice balls, stood on a chair to see Mat fry up the squid, then watched him improvise rolled sushi after discovering that the package of nori in the cupboard had disappeared. I later realized she also paid attention when I took photos of a couple of the students' rice-covered hands.

Fashioning sushi rolls without nori

Rice-covered hands

The six-year-old asked to roll a rice ball and found out that before she could begin, she had to wash her hands with soap, which surprised her. Perhaps she didn't intially see the difference between rice-messy and mud-messy hands. She also discovered that rolling a rice ball was not a slam dunk. She found she had to use quite a lot of pressure to fashion a ball that would stick together.

Rice ball with carrot and fried squid

Although the six-year-old girl may have wandered into cooking classes with the teenage students, I don't remember seeing her spend a lot of time watching much older students cook. I suspect what held her interest last week was the fact that the group was only three to four years older than her and what they were doing seemed therefore more accessible and possible.

I can guess but don't really know what of her experience that day seemed important to her, what new thoughts will bubble up, or what will ultimately stick with her. It doesn't matter whether I know. What matters is that she was able to be a part of a complex and rich experience that she chose and had meaning for her.

After she was done making her rice ball she came over to me and asked me to take a picture of her rice-covered hands. In addition to whatever she took away from the experience, as a bonus she got to share the experience of having and showing off messy hands.

Proud of rice-covered hands

End of post.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


The new house we are staying at is great. They have a guitar and a piano, so I have been practicing with both of those. Herbie's mom is a fantastic cook, so its been good eating really good food. On Saturday, it's their cousin's birthday and my birthday, so I'm going to go to their birthday party. I'm excited to be having my birthday in another country.

Sadly, I just got over being sick which was kind of lame, but I kept pushing on and having fun. It's a blast here! I can't wait to come back here when I can.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New Host

Braden and I are staying at a new house for the week. It's a boy, Hebie's house. He is American, so it's cool to be staying at a house where people speak English well.

There is only one problem--I can't send emails out from his house. I dont know why, but I can't. So if I have been emailing you, sorry, it will be a bit before I can email anyone again.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cooking in Denmark

Braden and I had a cooking class today with a staff member's girlfriend. It was a lot of fun. I have missed cooking a lot and learning how to cook new things, so this was a great experience. We made a Swiss tarter; it was really good and I wanted to share it with you all.

Swiss tarter
2 cups of flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 and a half tablespoons butter
7 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vinegar

Mix salt and flour together. Cut the butter into the flour mix. Crumb the dough.
Add the water and vinegar work it into dough. Let sit 15-30 minutes.
Roll dough out and put into a pie pan; shape edges with the back of a butter knife.

3 spoons of bread crumbs
3 shallots (small onion)
Put the bread crumbs on top of the dough and onion on top of the breadcrumbs.

3 cups of milk
2 eggs
300 grams grated white cheddar or Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon of flour
1 pinch of nutmeg
Put mix on top of the onions. Slice up little tomatoes and lay them on top.

Bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown and top layer of cheese is crispy.
Let cool for 10 minutes so it can harden, then slice and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but the past couple days have been fun and I have been very tired at the end of the day. I am finally getting used to this atmosphere. People here are very anti-social, so its been hard to meet people. But I have been going to the shopping street everyday and people are starting to notice me around, so its only a matter of time before they start opening up. I am making a fire poi video soon; I just need to buy more fuel. I have been looking for cool places to spin.

Its been very sunny over here; I am loving it. I also realized that I have been eating too many sweets and pastries, so I'm having to cut back. Ahahahaha.

Friday, April 9, 2010


This is the Parliament in Copenhagen.

This is our school. The two middle top widows are ours.

Me. That's the opera house behind me.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Corrupting the Youth

[Note: Bryan volunteers at Clearwater one day a week, and he is the parent of a Clearwater student. I've interspersed photos of Clearwater students and scenes into his post. --Shawna]

(This is cross-posted from my blog Speculum Criticum Traditionis, where I address a lot of philosophical issues. This explains the name-dropping of philosophers here, and why I explain Sudbury education a little more in depth—my original audience did not necessarily have the familiarity.)

So in my day job, I'm a teacher. I work with students, grades k-5, at an after-school program. Sometimes this is more or less glorified daycare. Sometimes it is homework club, or basketball coaching, or any of a dozen or so improvised activities, mainly initiated by the kids I work with. I've worked in the schools, first as an AmeriCorps volunteer, then as a district employee, then at the after-school program, for ten years, and I have a fair idea, not especially nuanced but I think realistic and informed, of some of the realities in an elementary or middle school in my city. I've broken up fights between students as big as or bigger than me, administered tests, tried to help struggling kids catch up, and seen more than one go from non-reader to reader. I've seen things that would make you cringe, and "successes" by some standards that could bring a tear to your eye. Most of the time I find the work exciting, sometimes exhausting, always deeply rewarding. It is certainly the happiest I've ever been at a job.

I do have occasion to talk philosophy to the kids I work with. I stumped a number of them (and myself) with Heidegger's question "What is a Thing?" (the rule was, they couldn't use the word "thing" in the definition), and walked one or two through Cartesian doubt up to the cogito. One time I had four or five laughing a bit too loud at the back of the bus over the Euthyphro, which at least one thought was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. But for the most part, I don't really try out the canonical stuff on them; it's musty and smells of footnotes, and the last thing most kids want after school is more school.

We do, though, talk a fair amount about education itself, and its relationship with freedom, and power. Because I am constantly taking mental notes on how to be a better teacher, I pay a lot of attention to when I hear kids complain or enthuse about something they are doing in school. I listen to their accounts of what makes a teacher "nice" or "mean," fair or unfair; what makes something interesting or engaging for them, or bores them to tears. I get a lot of practical, hands-on tips from these conversations (I once had a ten-year-old boy confide to me, in real big-brother, lemme-tell-you-'bout-us-kids fashion, that "It's okay to be a little mean"); but what I want to focus on here is the more general impression I get of their impression of school. Not all kids are articulate or reflective enough to intentionally paint a picture of this, but every one of them knows very well that they aren't in school because they choose to be. They regard it the way most adults regard work: a necessary evil, the lesser-of-two perhaps, and often the devil they know. They each sense on some level that they are being made to do things, which they would never, ever decide to do themselves. What is heartbreaking to me is the way they internalize the notion that this is somehow a good thing.

Let me be clear; we aren't talking about the them's-the-breaks of life, or the tough-luck unfairness of circumstance, or rolling with the punches and playing the hand that's dealt you. No one likes to have to adjust their life to the realities imposed upon them by happenstance, but ten-year-old children know very well the difference between happenstance and a decision, and they know the difference between a considered decision and an arbitrary one.

Whenever a new activity is announced in my class, the first question I get is always "Is it mandatory?" This is quite striking considering that the answer is almost always "no." The things kids have to do in my class in the course of a year can probably be numbered on the fingers of one hand. Their reaction thus indicates to me that they are so beset by "things to do" [read: things adults want them to do] that at the first sign of another one, they brace themselves.

And yet. Though they know very well the feeling of being put upon, the kids I work with have all more or less accepted that this is for their own good; or at the very least, that it's Just The Way Things Are.

I also volunteer one day a week at The Clearwater School. Clearwater is a Sudbury school; it's run using an "alternative" model of education, based on (and named for) the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts. It's a radically student-centered mode of education in which children never. ever. take. classes. unless. they. want. to. There are no grades, and no age divisions (the five-year-olds and the fifteen-year-olds aren't kept rigorously separated or together); above all there are no rules that haven't actually been agreed upon by those who live by them.

These absences (no classes, no grade levels, no transcripts) are the things that stand out in people's minds when Sudbury education is explained to them, but the actual content of the model tends to pass them by. Sudbury education is radically participatory, radically democratic, and radically organic. Far from being little lord-of-the-flies centers where mere anarchy is loosed, Sudbury schools are communities that are run by the students, for the students. There are plenty of rules, but they are neither arbitrarily imposed from on high, nor artificially "decided on," as I've seen far too often in a traditional classroom, by a sham one-time meeting at the beginning of the school year when kids are manipulated into automatically mouthing and "agreeing to" the same rules they've lived with last year and the year before and the year before that. Above all, every student and teacher can vote on every issue affecting the school. This includes buying a new computer, refurbishing the music room, changing the rules about who can go off campus when, or hiring and firing of staff (teachers are re-elected to their posts every year).

The first day I volunteered there, I played a game of four square. I was never a big sports player in my own school days, and now that I'm at least a little more coordinated (and a little less invested in looking cool), I can finally enjoy this staple of the American playground. On the day in question, it took me a while to register that there was something different about the game. I couldn't put my finger on it. I was getting out with about the same frequency; I was playing no better or worse than usual. What was it?

Finally it dawned on me. It had nothing to do with how I was playing; it was that playing was all I was doing. I wasn't the ref.

At the public school where I work, if a dispute breaks out between kids over who is out, the immediate next step is to call my name. Whether or not I'm playing the game, whether or not I even saw the play, whether or not I know the kids involved, it's my job to make the call, as if by virtue of how tall I am. Have an argument? Where's the grown-up? But at this Sudbury school, though there had been a dozen or so close calls and disputes, not one kid had looked at me to resolve anything. Not even when one kid stormed off in anger did anyone so much as look at me as anything but another player. I should add that I knew all these kids already; they weren't unsure about me as a newcomer; it simply had never occurred to them that the adult in the group was the default decision-maker.

No kid asks if they can go to the bathroom. No kid raises their hand before they get a drink of water. The notion that they ought to "wait till the bell" before eating the lunch they brought would be met with incomprehension. Bell? You mean, like Pavlov's dogs?

When adults hear about Sudbury schools, their initial question is likely to be "how do they learn anything?" In fact, it is not difficult to learn the rudiments of any educational competence. It takes approximately 100 hours for a motivated student to learn how to read, for instance; the real issue is waiting patiently for that motivation. (In fact, Sudbury Valley School maintains that in over 30 years no student there has failed to learn to read). What the question really reveals is a fear that the motivation will never arise; that left to themselves, children won't want to learn anything. It'll be too easy to just float. It doesn't matter that this is a surreally counterfactual fear. We've accustomed ourselves to not trust our kids. And they have met our expectations.

When kids first hear about Sudbury, their first reaction tends to be "Whoah." But it's not an unambiguously enthusiastic "whoah." Almost without exception, the public school kids I have talked to about Sudbury education have said, "that sounds really hard." And they're right.

At the school where I volunteer, there have been (among other things) music classes, French classes, cooking classes; kids pursuing Aikido, computer programming, film-making; writing and producing a play; caring for livestock. And yes, reading. Some learning to read; plenty of just plain reading. There are also lots of games. Computer games, board games, team sports, weird improvised invented mash-ups of basketball and softball and soccer, strung-together make-believe role-playing games that are really just long conversations.

What all these activities have in common is that they were all initiated by some student. At some point a child or a teenager approached a staff member and said, "I want to learn French" or "Will you teach me to play drums?" or "We should put on a play."

When the kids I work with say "That sounds really hard," this is what they are talking about. Every step of their education is up to them. It is hard. It is also, in my experience, indisputably more rewarding. Because everything a student formally learns is something they have decided to learn, what they internalize is far more than a degree of mastery over a "subject." They have learned that they can explore and that their exploration has real meaning and concrete results.

And the teachers? Aside from no-brainers like keeping kids safe (a task made markedly simpler by the Sudbury model's real high expectations of student responsibility), the teachers are there to pay attention to kids, to cultivate real relationships with them, a close real attention attuned to the actual interests of each one; to really be open to every request, and to make it happen when it's asked for. This might seem to multiply beyond control what a teacher needs to attend to--instead of teaching 5th grade math to 30 kids, I'm supposed to notice that he's interested in geology, she's into origami, they're asking about the civil rights movement, and that kid off at the other side of the playground is doing acrobatics? But in fact, working as a Sudbury teacher is far easier than teaching in a mainstream school. Aside from the absence of meaningless paperwork, every teaching encounter is fresh because it arises out of the actual relationship one has with the child. And, I ought also to mention, the lack of age distinctions means that children wind up teaching each other.

In contemporary mainstream American culture this model is so deeply counter to the widespread assumptions of our age, that it is not uncommon for people to refuse to consider a Sudbury school a school at all. I would submit that this critique might be better made of the enormous, and financially teetering, holding pens that our taxes fund primarily to free parents to work (so as to pay taxes), and to accustom children to surveillance and boredom.

Boredom. Ah, yes. Kids go through a lot of boredom at Sudbury schools-- particularly students who have come from a more structured school environment. It is constantly mentioned in the literature. The responsibility for one's own education is really just a subset of being responsible for one's life. There are big stretches of time when kids ask themselves what they feel like doing and come up blank. Of course this happens in a public school too, but there the boredom is rarely given much chance to last very long because the bell is always about to ring or the next subject is about to be taught. In fact, the very thing that cuts off boredom also cuts off interest--because you can't invest enough time to really get involved in anything when you've got to cover seven subjects in one day.

At an after-school program like mine, though, kids can get bored. The difference here is otherwise. I hear between two and ten complaints of boredom a week, I'd guess. I hear none at a Sudbury school. Kids get bored, to be sure--but not one of them assumes it is anyone's job but theirs to decide what to do about it.

I know that the picture I have painted could be disputed: too romantic, too Rousseauian, too naive. An excuse for lazy adults to do permissive teaching and spare-the-rod. Spare me. I'm a Platonist, but I'm an empiricist too, and I speak from experience. The kids I work with at the after-school program aren't miserable. They haven't had their love of life stamped out of them, or their creativity. This isn't because I've imported as many Sudbury-esque features into my class as I can adapt, but because the kids come from families who love them to go to a school run by teachers who care, and because, well, they're kids. But little by little I see them accommodating themselves to a world whose guiding axiom--despite the loving parents, despite the caring teachers--is that they do not matter. This axiom is not foisted upon parents or teachers by evil men in a smoke-filled room; it's a function of the model of education as mass-production we've come to accept.

This long post on education is not an interloper or guest on my mostly-philosophy blog. I acknowledged an interest in contentious issues, and I know of little more likely to rile people than strong opinions about how to raise kids. But I'm not really trying to bait anyone here. My interest is philosophical. Philosophy has been about pedagogy from the very beginning, ever since Socrates got his famous double charge of not honoring the gods of the city and of corrupting the youth. From Plato's doctrine of anamnesis to Heidegger's remark that real teaching is letting-learn, education is the very essence of what philosophers do. Dewey remarked that "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." The examined life, I would add. And given the contrast between sitting in rows for six hours a day, and roaming around exploring the world however your fancy strikes you, I can't help but reflect further that, as Alphonso Lingis writes, the unlived life is not worth examining.
--Bryan Carr

so i feel pretty cool. today at school one of the staff members Stephen was talking to me about jc and we got really into the whole thing he actually started taking notes on the whole thing and when we where done he said wow well you just reshaped our whole jc. so today i got to make there jc better =D

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Today was school meeting it was interesting to see how they ran it. One of there items was whether or not parents should be able to come into school meeting or not. The reason for this is they had a kid they had to expel a kid for violence and there parents came in with out telling them and where being part of the meeting. so they asked Braden and i what our school did about parents being part of the meeting and i told them that we don't allow them to be part of the meeting unless we vote for them to be part of it and they cant vote because its the kids who make the choices not the parents. and they liked that so they used it and it got voted for. I was very happy to help them out with there rules. I am looking at there school and i see how clearwater used to be they are still in the process of getting the school started in about 3 years they are going to be a very good school they are on the right track and i am glad i am here to make sure that they stay on it. I want to see another school like clearwater especially in another country succeed.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

today was are first day of school. its only two rooms in a big building it seems alot like how clearwater is so i feel right at home. they have 16 students and a new one coming in tomorrow.
and of course on out first day Braden and i got written up....
but only beaculse i didint want to make ninna walk to the store by herself to get food for me so i broke the rule of not having off campus and braden came with me so are first day went great =D

Monday, April 5, 2010

OK so the way that they eat here in Denmark really appeals to me. they eat bread with cheese spreads and jams in the morning witch gets you filled up its bread. for lunch they eat snacks like carrots and chips so your not full but not hungry. then for dinner they have big meals like stuffed peppers, baggel sandwitches, chicken wings and ribs, and its all so good. they really enjoy there candy here to so thats a plus. i am really enjoying all of the new cooking ideas i am getting here. I am thinking of holding a banquet when Braden and i get back so we can tell you all about our trip and show you some of the new food we have discoverd.


When i arrived here in Denmark there was always something that kept bugging me. while Rikke the founder of the school lives just a few blocks away from the school many students live as far away as copenhagen. thats even farther than my west seattle to bothell commute how do they do it. The answer a series of high speed trains averaging at about 150 miles an hour! Screw Amtrack . . . no seriously why does Denmark a country 1/100 the size of ours get these trains. Dont you thing it would be advantageous for a country as large as ours to have trains this fast. Someone show me a commuter train in the U.S. that goes faster than 60.

End of post.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

hey so dinner went great last night they really liked it. its easter over here and its a really big holiday for them so happy easter everyone!!!

A Poet Strikes Again

Just a few days ago, this blog published some song lyrics written by Mara. As I copied down the lyrics on the bus ride home from school, several students on the bus were curious about Mara's song and asked to hear the lyrics. I always enjoy how tuned in students are to each other's creativity.

One of those students was reminded of some poetry he composed recently, and asked me to copy it down and reproduce it here for your reading pleasure. You may remember that in November, this blog
also published a poem by Arlo about Clearwater's new rain garden.

Herewith are three more poetry compositions by Arlo.


"Goodbye," she said, as she passed away
I did not hear what she did not say
But the rhythm definitely gave it away
She obviously sent a bidding.

Stupid Forest

The stupid forest is an awesome place.
You'll go through it once and you'll leave no trace.
You'll come back through again and you'll say,
"Hooray for today, 'cause I am smart again."

Hollywood Man

He's a Hollywood man
He puts signs on his door step
He's a jolly good man
He makes friends on every corner
He's a jolly good man so everyone's a fan
He's a jolly good, Hollywood man that's tan

End of post.
Here is the beginning of my post. hey its robert. we are cooking dinner for our host family tonight it will be fun.

End of post.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Here is the beginning of my post. Braden here just wanted to let you know Robert and i took a tour of the capital Copenhagen. I was really taken aback by the beautiful architecture. After observing the royal palace and Grand opera house I couldnt help but think thats something we really lose sight of in America With our modern mundane office buildings and lack of epic dragon statues is the beauty, style and fact that every building is built with not just the purpose of getting things done as efficiently and effectively as possible but conveying a message and adding to the atmosphere culture that keeps places like these so unique.

End of post.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Here is the beginning of my post. Braden here i just wanted to let you all know i have developed a sweet tooth out of necessity. also i bought some chapstick

End of post.

Guitar Student Builds Electric Guitar

Musicmaking is a huge draw at Clearwater right now, and the Music Room is a very popular place. Many students of different ages are learning instruments and singing, and three students have formed a band. Cass, who is 14 years old, is studying guitar with Matt, a staff member and musician. Cass plans to design and build his own electric guitar from scratch, but is putting together a guitar kit first thanks to a guitar builder's recommendation.

Cass just got the Fender Strat guitar kit below.

The guitar is in pieces, and needs sanding and painting. Cass has primed the body and will paint the body of the guitar white, but has not yet settled on what design he will paint on top of the white.

After Cass showed off the pieces of his new guitar, Matt and interested students pulled other electric guitars out of the Music Room to compare the shapes of the guitar heads. In the photo above, you can see the kit head, which has not been shaped. Cass has designed a shape and has identified an Assembly member with tools to cut out the design.

He hopes that completing the kit will give him some of the experience he needs to design and build his own guitar.

End of post.


Here is the beginning of my post. we are still alive and getting over jet lag. DENMARK IS BADASS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
End of post.