Friday, February 22, 2013

The Fault In Our Stars

by Bryan

A couple of weeks ago I looked over Aidan's shoulder while he was reading The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. He read it in about three days, I think. Not long after that his sister Maddy was reading it, and Aidan had moved on to another book by the same author. And then a third. Always curious, I leafed through one of them, looking as I always do for some indication about whether the book was worth my time. I admit, I am hard to impress (others might say, a snob), and often when I do this with books, a tell-tale cliché will send me away shaking my head. But this time -- I kept reading, until Aidan noticed me looking in the middle of the book and said something like, Careful, if you read too far you'll spoil the plot. About a week later I asked them both, So which book by this John Green guy should I read first? The Fault In Our Stars, they said together. The next Monday, Aidan put it into my hand.

I'm not going to ruin the plot, but it's fair to tell you that this is a book about sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds living (or not) with cancer. When a book starts out with a teenage cancer support group, you know it's going to be a hard slog. By the first night I was a third of the way in, and had to force myself to go to bed. The second day, I exclaimed, "Reading this book is like watching Jaws! Something bad is going to happen." They just looked at me and smiled -- a little sadly, I thought -- but said not a word. No spoilers from them. 

Well, not from me either. But I can recommend this book in terms of its art: the relationships Green draws, among the teens, and between them and adults, all ring true (though they don't all come off well). In the starkest of terms, here's the set-up: Hazel, Isaac, and Augustus meet at the support group, and feel their way forward into a friendships complicated by the fact that each of them is -- so far, anyway -- a cancer survivor.  Hazel and Augustus bond over a the experience of reading an experimental novel, a novel that ends with the apparent death of the main character from cancer, leaving a number of plot threads hanging. They hatch a plot to have a private audience with the author, by a reclusive ex-patriot now living in Amsterdam, in which he'll tie up the loose ends. 

The Fault In Our Stars is a story is about coming to terms with loose ends; about getting used to the idea that life will disappoint you; about being grateful anyway; about the way a book can matter to you, even in someways more than a person; about how we deal with the ultimate spoiler of the story of our lives, the one we all live under, the only part we all know ahead of time: each one of us is going to die. 

And how to live in the meantime? What standards do we use to evaluate our lives? This is where the book intersects most obviously with Clearwater. I don't want to wrest The Fault In Our Stars into a commercial for Sudbury education, but this theme resonates strongly with what I observe at the school: students are given the room to find for themselves the criteria they will judge themselves. The usual criteria in our society has to do with accomplishment, with how much we do, and this tends to crowd out other considerations. One character says it very well:
The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.
There is a lot of noticing that goes on in this book -- one poignant scene rings the changes on William Carlos Williams' famous poem about the red wheelbarrow, saying over and over how "So much depends upon" one usually-neglected detail after another. There are a many, many beautiful lines. It is funny, and sad, and extremely thought-provoking, without once pointing out to you how thought-provoking it is. I'm grateful to it not just for making more reflective about my own life, but for the conversations it's sparked with students. I know I shouldn't be that surprised -- it's a New York Times best seller, after all -- but it caught me off-guard when, as I got on the bus last Friday, Kallisti looked at the book in my hand and exclaimed, "The Fault In Our Stars! That's such a good book!" 

 At some point about halfway through, I texted Maddy: "It's weird. I care about these people who are only marks on paper, and I want them to be happy." 

She texted back: "That's exactly how I felt."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Reluctant to Enthusiastic: A Clearwater Parents' Forum

You are invited to attend this upcoming event. Please invite friends, neighbors and coworkers to attend.

Parents who enroll their children at the Clearwater School in Bothell grapple with thorny issues by choosing a democratic school. Providing their children with the freedom to be responsible for their own learning can be a daunting endeavor. Parents will discuss issues such as unlimited gaming, learning the fundamentals, how their kids are doing at Clearwater vs. traditional school, and how they themselves handle their difficulties with giving young people control of their lives.

In a radical ...departure from traditional schooling, Clearwater considers students responsible for their own education. Students choose what they want to do, when they want to do it and with whom and in ways that ...serve them best.

Given the freedom to pursue their passions and the infrastructure to take responsibility for their lives, Clearwater students become confident, articulate adults with the skills they need to succeed. They graduate, get jobs, attend college, all without GPAs, transcripts or other stamps of approval that more traditional schools require.

Presentation is FREE and open to the public. Parents, students, community members, educators and journalists are welcome.

At Lake City Branch, Seattle Public Library
12501 28th Ave. N.E.
Seattle, WA 98125

Monday, February 11, 2013

Clearwater Students Work for Salmon

by Bryan Carr

Clearwater's Salmon Restoration Marathon is underway!

Clearwater staff and students are working hard on a marathon of weeding, grounds-clearing, and landscape restoration.

 Gabriel and Leo weeding and mulching

Every day we go out armed with clippers and shovels (and protected by gloves!) to the big field behind the school, to pull and flatten grasses around saplings so that mulch can be piled up, or to pull out invasive scotch broom, blackberry, and thistle.

Bryan, Jacy & Meghan chopping blackberry for composting
Jesse, Stephen and Rain digging out Scotch Broom
There is a lot of work to do, but we've already made a big dent. A number of trees that were planted last year have been rescued from being covered by the surrounding grasses.

Liberated Shore Pine bent over from weight of tall dead grass
Thad weeding

This effort is part of Clearwater's ongoing partnership with Snohomish County in an ecological restoration of the North Creek for salmon and other wildlife. The native trees and shrubs will provide wildlife habitat, and their root systems will prevent erosion and sendiment in the creek bed, so that salmon habitat is preserved.

Samadhi and Leo weeding and mulching

 Matt and Johnna weeding and mulching
It is also a fund-raiser: using a similar concept to a walk-a-thon, but substituting hours worked instead of miles walked, we are asking for sponsors of students' work as they yank weeds, haul heavy wheelbarrows, and shovel mulch. (Every contribution is tax-deductible!)

Jackie and Tarka pull weeds and mulch
JR and Max dig out thistles
If you know a Clearwater student, ask them about sponsoring them. And if you don't, you can always contribute via PayPal on Clearwater's home page.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Final Preparations for the Winter Cafe

At The Clearwater School today students and staff were making final preparations for tomorrow's Winter Cafe (Saturday, February 2, 2013). Everyone was full of excitement and nervousness during the dress rehearsal, and lots of kinks were identified and worked out for the staging.

More work, time and attention has gone into this student performance event than ever before. There is much to be proud of and much to enjoy.

Enjoy these pre-performance photos. There are more after the jump.

The Winter Cafe is preceded by a Clearwater community potluck at 12:30, and the Winter Cafe program begins at 2:00 PM. A $5 donation is suggested.
The Winter Cafe, also marks the official kick-off of a Clearwater effort to raise funds for our grounds upkeep and development. Staff and students will be working hard on a marathon of weeding, grounds-clearing, and landscape restoration. In a concept similar to a walk-a-thon, we'll ask for people to support us by the hour. Students and staff have each pledged to work ten hours pulling up blackberry roots and reed canary grass, and tending the native trees and shrubs planted more than a year ago. Parents, friends and relatives are welcome to join in the work and to sponsor a student's work with a pledge. All proceeds will be directed towards enhancing our campus.