Blog, Breaking News, and Discussion Board

Stuart Grauer, Ed.D releases his new book, Fearless Teaching

No stranger to the field of progressive education, Head of School and Founder of The Grauer School and the Small Schools Coalition, Stuart Grauer has just published Fearless Teaching: Collected Stories (AERO press) leveraging his broad experiences and Fearless Teaching, Stuart Grauer insights on the cultures of teaching and learning in our society today. The book has become the fastest selling new release in AERO’s history.

At a time of national concern and frustration surrounding matters of centralized controls and standardized stipulations in core education requirements, be it a concern for public funding or chasing the proverbial tail of test scores, conversations about education must be had. Grauer, who has founded two independent secondary schools, consulted with/evaluated many schools worldwide, taught graduate education courses, and been awarded with a Fulbright Administrative Exchange writes Fearless Teaching from the standpoint of planting seeds for thought in the field of education

Fearless Teaching is a stirring and audacious jaunt around the world that peeks into places readers are highly unlikely to see on their own—some are disappearing. Travel to the Swiss Alps, Korea, Navajo, an abandoned factory in Missouri, the Holy Land, the Great Rift Valley, the schools of Cuba, the ocean waves, and the human subconscious and find colorful stories for the encouragement, inspiration, and courage needed by all educators and parents. Fearless Teaching is also an appeal and rationale for educators to stay in their work at a time when many are leaving the field.

Joe Brooks, Executive Director of Community Works Institute, says of Fearless Teaching, “Stuart Grauer is rapidly becoming one of America’s most important and popular educational story-tellers. With Fearless Teaching, Grauer makes an invaluable contribution.”

Fearless Teaching’s cover shot was donated by iconic photographer Steve McCurry, whose photos have made more National Geographic covers than anyone in history, and a percentage of the book’s proceeds go to McCurry’s nonprofit, Imagine Asia, bringing educational opportunities to Afghanistani youth.

As a leader in the emergent small schools model of education, Stuart Grauer’s work has been covered by Discovery ChannelThe New York TimesIndependent SchoolInternational Education Review Hechinger Report among many others.

The book is now on sale at and For more info on the book or the author, go to

Fearless Teacher Interview on San Diego Living

Fearless Teacher Interview on San Diego Living


Small Classes, Small Schools: the Time is Now

Patricia A. Wasley

in Educational Leadership

February 2002 | Volume 59 | Number 5
Class Size, School Size Pages 6-10

Small Classes, Small Schools: the Time is Now asks why class and school size are important. It looks at the standardized tests movement and points out that the tests merely emphasize academic inequalities without fixing the problems. The article points out that concerns about standardization have risen because researchers now believe that all students can learn equally, not that some students will always be unteachable. The article argues that research shows that smaller schools consistently out perform larger schools because of the individual attention students receive from teachers. There are a myriad ways to learn, and thus teachers must have the time to adjust their teaching strategies per pupil. They cannot do this when they have forty students in one classroom. Finally, the author shares findings about a study she and her colleagues did comparing small schools-within-schools versus large schools in Chicago where the small school students consistently out-performed their peers.

Access the article here.


Small Schools Coalition April Newsletter


April 2014

The Small Schools Coalition is Growing!

Please help us continue to expand!

We now have 159 followers onFaceBook, 144 listserv members, and 70 new Twitter listeners. We have a new Tumbler blog and a newspaper. You can now subscribe to our website via its new RSS feed link at the bottom of the page. Use it to get continuous updates to our research library, blog, and events. Please connect with us and share the Small Schools Coalition with your educators, administrators, other institutes. The more of us who band together, the stronger we all are!

Recent Additions to the Library

  • “Would You Send Your Kids to a School Where the Students Make the Rules?” by Mark Oppenheimer
  • “An Interview with Zoe Weil” by Isaac Graves and Zoe Weil
  • “Small Schools Operating Costs: Reversing Assumptions About Economies of Scale. A Report of the Public Education Association”

Help Students Opt Out of Standardized Tests

Please join the AERO opt-out school list if you haven’t already. Most schools that issue standardized tests allow students to visit opt-out schools on test days for an excused absence.

Go to to sign your school up.

Exciting Summer Conferences


June 26-29th: AERO’s (Alternative Education Resource Organization) 25th conferenceat LIU/Post, near New York City!

Keynote speakers: Zoë Neill Readhead, Lenore Skenazy, and Jerry Mintz.

Register online now!

Community Works Institute

Register early through April 19th.

July 14-18 at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont

July 28-August 1st at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.

Another great review of Real Teachers!

Check out renowned author and educator’s glowing review of Dr. Stuart Graur’s book Real Teachers at Here’s a sneak peek:

“This uncomplicated fact makes Stuart Grauer’s book Real Teachers: True Stories of Renegade Educators a must read for all educators, regardless of their educational philosophy. What immediately drew me to the book was how little space the author spends discussing philosophy, even though he started, and still directs, a highly successful school with an unconventional approach to learning. His focus instead remains on the essential elements of, as he likes to put it, ‘real teaching.'” ~Chris Mercogliano

Let’s share what’s going on in the Small Schools Community!

Please send your events, news, photos, and other updates to so she can include it in social media and newsletter updates. Don’t forget to connect with us through the social media links below and Share directly with everyone! We want to hear from you!

Copyright © 2014 Small Schools Coalition, All rights reserved.



Democratic Learning: Pete Seeger, A Real Teacher

In Tribute to An American Folk Legend, 1919 to 2014


“Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.” ~Pete Seeger

In high school the world seemed filled with cliques and hang-ups, and I hoped that college was where you could get rid them. I don’t remember many of my teachers. I didn’t learn much in college, either. At least not in the first two years; I hardly read a book that I can still recall. So I had no prospects and might as well drop out, I thought at the time. That summer though, I stumbled upon a book that changed everything, not only making me a student, but ultimately making me a teacher. It was called How to Play the 5-String Banjo. It was by Pete Seeger. Self-published. Somehow, to me, it looked like the first real book I’d ever seen.

I didn’t have a banjo, but in the back of that book were some references on how to make your own, so I ran around New York and New England gathering parts. I loosely followed Pete’s instructions on banjo making and it somehow felt like the first real thing I’d ever done. And I hardly knew how to play but, on the back of the book there was a quote from a 1800s banjo picker, “Can I read notes? Hell, there are no notes to a banjo, you just play it.” And of course I did that.

Sounds simple but there was something profound that actually reached me when I saw this book. Because at college–with its learned professors and its A students—no matter what you wanted to study, there were other students who dwarfed my skills and knowledge. In the giant university halls of academia, learning seemed like an in-game and I admit I often downshifted, low in confidence. What college appeared to be teaching me and arguably at least one-third of all who start out in the university life was that we probably wouldn’t be particularly, distinguishingly good at anything they had to offer. I was living in a world of experts. But the way Pete presented it, learning was something for everyone, and it had nothing to do with being compliant or getting a grade. Suddenly, making things seemed like it was for everyone, and music was something for everyone. The introduction to Seeger’s manual says just, “Get together with others who like to sing,” and it goes on from there.

Suddenly, there was Pete, finding the same thing in music I had found at university. He had been to England and France and found that music had become an in-game for the classicists who felt anything done by the common people was something “less.” But for Pete, music-making was not just for concert hall and recording artists, it was for front porches and school assemblies. What Pete was saying in publishing his book was that you didn’t need to be a formal, classically trained musician to get full access to music. Music comes from us, we need only to allow and embrace it, and is not an activity reserved for the elite.

Luckily, as time went on, quite a few other people also remembered that music was for front porches and campfires and town squares, and that we could all have lovely partnerships even if we could not play at Lincoln Center or in the big time. “I think the world can be saved by millions of small things. Too many things can go wrong with things get big,” he once said. We’re all musicians if we’re willing. With this approach, despite massive cuts to arts education, it would be impossible to keep music out of almost any classroom. Music of Spheres for math, national anthems for history, beta beats for physical education, soft baroque for concentration in any class, there’s music for every teacher. Almost any sound you could make on any street corner in the country is not far from folk music. If you get chased off the corner making that sound, its even more folk music…and I admit I’ve been chased off street corners with students, as I’m sure Pete was scores of times.

Pete Seeger lived to be very old. At some point every American who calls himself educated is going to have to know the life of this amazing individual who spread freedom and simple, necessary folk wisdom all over our country. The kind of wisdom that is now in our national DNA even for those of us who don’t know where it came from.

Here is a short list of Pete Seeger songs, either written, co-written, or introduced to national audiences by him:

We Shall Overcome
This Land is Your Land
Where have All the Flower’s Gone
Turn, Turn, Turn
Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
Kisses, Sweeter than Wine
Wimoweh (Lion Sleeps Tonight)
She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain
Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd
Sloop John B
The Midnight Special
On Top of Old Smokey

These fill in an indispensable mid-twentieth century American songbook for our students and younger teachers and also created an indelible link between the social change and music of the twentieth century, or of any era. At least as important, they are songs that every one of our students can sing and play with their own hands and voices.

With arguably fewer traditional folksingers in the country these days, I wonder if many of our students know what a folksinger’s true role is. As a folksinger, Seeger was motivated by concerns for social justice, cross-cultural communication, and international peace, and so he performed songs from diverse sources to any “folks” who’d listen, in order to advance these concerns. I’d like to think a great school has some folkteachers, willing to risk it all for some lessons that really reach students. A folk teacher would be one who was willing to step off the standards and testing train now and then, to risk his/her very job just to insist on having great conversations with students, or to honor the natural wisdom that students bring to the class.

I read that in February 2009, the San Diego School District officially extended an apology to Seeger for trying to ban Seeger’s earlier performances. At any rate, to many of us Seeger stands for some issues like freedom and honoring people who work hard and I don’t know where we’d be without him, not that we’re all that far along. In addition, some of these songs such as “Wimoweh,” “Follow the Drinkin Gourd,” “Turn Turn Turn,” are deep and hauntingly beautiful. Others are just good solid folk. We can keep them alive and they can be done in almost any style.

Most don’t realize that Pete was in World War II and fought for this country. Nevertheless, he was blacklisted from employment during the McCarthy era and almost starved playing for kids at schools and such, when he could hardly get work. One really cool thing to read is Pete’s testimony before the U.S. Congress’s House Un-American Activities Committee, McCarthy’s bunch. This testimony, hysterically funny for its attitude, landed Pete in jail. Right here in America. Here is a bit of it.

The committee tries to get him to say his sings his songs for communists, and that he’s Unamerican:

Pete: “I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody.”

The McCarthy prosecutor, citing a newspaper ad: “Tonight—Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming.” “May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?” the prosecutor asks.

Pete: “Sir, I refuse to answer that question, whether it was a quote from the New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.”

McCarthy’s cross-examiner: “My question was whether or not you sang at these functions of the Communist Party. You have answered it inferentially, and if I understand your answer, you are saying you did.”

Pete, in a classic sting: “I know many beautiful songs from your home county, Carbon, and Monroe, and I hitchhiked through there and stayed in the homes of miners.”

This strategy was considered to be contempt of Congress. For almost 20 years, no major TV network would allow Pete on the air.

On YouTube you can see him singing and strumming a handmade, fretless banjo, “What did you learn in school today,” and get the sense of how provocative he could be. Of course, when someone has enough insight, many others pretty much always find him to be provocative. Try this:

As America developed mass food, mass culture and mass education, and problems got bigger, Pete kept things on a human scale, valuing the kind of learning you can only get when you use your hands. One exciting movement in education is called “The Maker Movement.” This movement brings back the original do-it-yourself culture to our country, and is re-engaging people across the country in making things like metalwork, woodwork, and traditional arts and crafts. Things that work. This is also reflected in the campus gardens that are popping up on campuses across the country, and the habitats like local riverbeds and habitat corridors so many schools are adopting.

As if anticipating all this, in 1969, Seeger and others purchased a large, 106-foot sloop and started sailing it up and down the Hudson River until people understood the need to keep toxins out of the river and he taught virtually every person in the nation who was sane that rivers should not catch on fire, and he spent literally years going up and down that river on his boat, with his banjo. Pete is credited with the passage of one of the most landmark bills in US history: The Clear Water Act.

Into his 90s, Pete protested every week outside his Hudson River house in Beacon, NY, and people would pass by and say “Alright Pete!” Pete Seeger died tonight at 94. They said he was out chopping wood just a few days ago.

If I had to list my favorite Americans, it would be very hard from me to top Pete Seeger on that list.

Reposted from Community Works Institute

An Interview with Zoe Weil

Reposted from


An Interview with Zoe Weil

The following interview is shared with you by both Zoe Weil and Isaac Graves. To learn about this interview series and reproduction, citation, and copyright information, please click here. To find out more about Zoe Weil, click here and visit her organization’s website here.

Zoe Weil

Zoe WeilIsaac Graves: What does community mean to you?

Zoe Weil: Community has several meanings to me. The first revolves around where I live. I’m part of a specific locality in rural Maine where I know and interact with many people because we share this region, depend upon one another in various ways, and come together for both celebration and fun and support and sorrow. I did not experience this sense of local community growing up. I was raised in Manhattan, sharing the equivalent amount of space I now share with barely 1,000 people with several million. Outside of family and friends, relationships with my “community” in New York were primarily transactional. Just a few years after living in my chosen community in Maine, which had ten years earlier created an alternative, Waldorf-inspired school my son attended, the 18-year-old daughter of my son’s Kindergarten teacher was in a terrible car crash, paralyzing her. Our local community raised tens of thousands of dollars for her and came together to make their home suitable for life in a wheelchair. This was a revelation to me. It was possible to not only have a community of friends and family who would come to one’s aid, but also a community based specifically upon locality. But I still hold another, important definition of community that is not based on proximal relationships. I am part of a large and dispersed community of social justice, environmental, animal protection, and educational changemakers and I consider this far-flung community to be core to my life and sense of belonging. Finally, as someone who has never found love of country to be more powerful than love of planet, I feel an overarching sense of community with the intricate and entwined and interdependent web of life on Earth.

IG: How does community play out in your life?

ZW: My son’s elementary school was a key factor in my developing sense of local community. The school exists as much through parent and community volunteerism as through tuition. Ours is a vibrant community of engaged citizens, artists, and neighbors. We have a community steel drum band that plays free street concerts (requesting donations in support of local charities and schools) every Monday night all summer long. We have a couple of thriving and ongoing open mic nights where community members gather regularly to share their talents. We have a Last Night celebration every Dec. 31, which I know is growing more commonplace, but ours is quite a big event for such a small community with two schools, two churches, a fire station, a Town Hall, a Grange, and a Legion Hall packed with people listening to storytellers and musicians, watching theater and magic, and dancing to bands. Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary) plays to a packed Congo Church when he’s in town on New Year’s Eve, and when he does, I think we all feel something rather extraordinary singing Puff the Magic Dragon out loud with a musical icon who happens to be our neighbor. Every year just before Christmas, almost two hundred people gather to sing Handel’s Messiah, brought to us through the leadership of the late Irving Forbes and the Bagaduce Lending Library, which furnishes each participant with the music. And everywhere there are people coming together to help, whether through our many volunteer fire departments, building and repairing homes, helping clear and burn brush, or digging out of the snow. Community means all this and more to me.

IG: What do you find most meaningful about community?

ZW: Everything I mentioned makes life where I live so rich and meaningful and connected, but maybe the most valuable piece is one I haven’t had to rely on to any large degree… yet, and that is this: I know that if I were ever in need, there would be people at my door eager to help. I also so appreciate that our community protects our gorgeous landscape. Between Acadia National Park (cared for in large part by the non-profit Friends of Acadia) and our local Blue Hill Heritage Trust, we have miles and miles of trails through some of the most beautiful land in the Northeast.

IG: What’s missing in community?

ZW: I would like a thriving alternative high school. We did have a democratic high school for several years that served the needs of many kids for whom the local high school wasn’t a great fit, and we currently have a very small project-based alternative high school, but it’s got fewer than 20 students enrolled. I would love to see our local high school offer a couple of “schools within a school” to meet the needs and desires of students who would prefer a less traditional high school education.

I would also like safer and larger shoulders for bicycling. The downside of our rural community is that we have to drive a lot. I would bike more if it were safer, but living on a road where the speed limit is 50 mph and with no bike lanes in our towns, biking doesn’t feel like a viable transportation option.

IG: What is an ideal community to you?

ZW: Where I live is pretty close to the ideal. When we were looking for a place to raise our son we had four primary criteria: 1) a progressive, artistic, and engaged rural community 2) an alternative school that was aligned with our educational values for our son 3) a good food coop, and 4) a good library. We found all of that and so much more. I think that it’s difficult to create community in mega-cities filled with highrises, but communities can and do thrive in city neighborhoods.

IG: What does a democratic education mean to you?

ZW: When I think of “Democratic Education” I generally think specifically of Summerhill, Sudbury Valley and other schools that do not have set or compulsory curricula and in which all decision-making is democratic with each student, administrator, and faculty member receiving a vote. But I think that democratic education does not need to be confined to only these specific examples of free schools. I can imagine democracy playing out in other ways that meld different progressive educational approaches.

IG: How does education play out in your life?

ZW: For almost 25 years, I have been a humane educator – someone who teaches about the interconnected global issues of human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection in an effort to provide students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a better world. I co-founded the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) in 1996 in order to advance the comprehensive humane education movement and train people to be humane educators. At IHE we believe that we need to embrace a much bigger goal for schooling than our current national iteration (to produce verbally, mathematically, scientifically, and technologically literate graduates who can “compete in the global economy”), and that this goal should be to graduate solutionaries ready and eager to play a role in transforming unhealthy, unjust, and unsustainable systems into ones that are restorative, peaceful and humane through whatever professions they pursue. I believe that education is the key to solving all our interconnected problems, and I have dedicated my life toward creating not only a vision for a new kind of schooling, but also in putting legs on that vision by providing the resources and training for people to bring humane education into their classrooms, communities, and range of educational venues.

IG: What do you find most meaningful about education?

ZW: I’m an avid reader. I read about 100 books a year and I read lots of news and information online as well. I’m also a big fan of TED/TEDx and other talks which are now so readily accessible on the Internet. These talks often lead me to books and articles and websites and changemakers so that I’m constantly learning, constantly invited to make connections. It’s very exciting. The ways in which my learning was so compartmentalized in school, through subjects that didn’t interrelate in any obvious way, have given way to a whole new way of learning now, where information from one source provides links to another and to another and to another so learning is a web of interconnections. I love this!

IG: What is an ideal education to you?

ZW: I like to distinguish ‘education’ from ‘schooling.’ Education happens everywhere and is a lifelong process. We humans are learners, and so we are always being educated. Some pursue learning avidly while others may find their world view solidifying in such a way that they avoid learning anything new, but wherever we are on this spectrum of educational pursuits, we are always learning. Much of the time when we talk about education, we are really talking about a specific kind of education – schooling – in which we are consciously imparting certain information and skills for the next generation. Even homeschoolers and unschoolers and free schoolers are still talking about a specific period of life in which the young are provided with collective wisdom and knowledge to prepare them for healthy, engaged, and prosperous adulthood. So I will answer a slightly different question: “What would ideal schooling be to you?”

I do not think there is an ideal school, although I do think that in today’s world, all schools ought to embrace the goal I previously articulated: to educate a generation of solutionaries who have the knowledge, tools, and motivation to contribution positively to the creation of a more humane and healthy world through whatever professions they pursue. Once such a goal is embraced wholeheartedly, I trust that a variety of approaches and curricula will follow. I am opposed to a one size fits all approach to schooling because I do not think any one approach – no matter how good it might seem – would meet every child’s needs, style of learning, or personal ambitions. Nor do I think there is one set curriculum every child must learn. I do believe there is core knowledge every child must have in order to become a true solutionary, and these include what we refer to as “the basics” plus a couple of others. I think every child needs to learn how to:

  • read and write proficiently
  • compute
  • be technologically literate
  • think critically
  • think creatively
  • work collaboratively

I believe that there are important factors that come into play in creating “ideal” schools, including the following:

We need creative and useful assessment strategies to ensure that students are receiving the “basics” I described above, strategies that differ from the current NCLB national, standardized, multiple choice tests.
Teaching must become the high status, highly creative, well-paying, sought-after job it should be and that it is in other countries where students are often better educated.

In addition to embracing a bigger goal for schooling described above, there are some things that I can say would be ideal for all schools, including:

An atmosphere of excitement and passion for learning (rather than fear of failure or pursuit of reward)
Healthy, ecologically friendly school buildings and humane, healthy, and sustainably produced food (eliminating from every school fast food franchises and junk food vending machines)
An atmosphere of respect and a commitment on everyone’s part for personal responsibility for their actions (and zero tolerance for bullying and disrespectful behaviors whether by students, teachers, or administrators)

At the Institute for Humane Education we are working to open a Solutionary School in New York City in 2015 which will put all these ideas into practice for the first time. It’s very exciting!

Watch Zoe Weil’s TEDx Talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach” here:

The Moon in a Jar

Reposted from Dr. Stuart’s Blog.

(Thoughts on Reading Jay Griffiths)

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
― W.B. Yeats

This is part of the answer to the riddle of childhood unhappiness: their minds need, and deserve, a whole world of utterly unfenceable freedom where everything has othering, everything is radiant with the possibilities of elseness.—from Kith: the Riddle of Childscape, by Jay Griffiths


1809: Enclosure Act divides English countryside into strict fence-lines

1830: President Jackson prompts U.S. Congress to pass the Removal Act, forcing Native Americans to their land and settle in the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River

1867: The first patent in the United States for barbed wire was issued to Lucien B. Smith of Kent, Ohio

1956: Construction starts replacing the Manhasset (Long Island) village woods with a 220,000 square foot “premiere” section of the Miracle Mile

1964: Chairman Mao denounces gardens and grassy fields as “bourgeois”

1965: The original AstroTurf brand product is invented and installed in The Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island

2013: African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights calls for the forced relocation of Kalahari Bushmen and tribal people in Ethiopia to be halted


My earliest memories are in nature. Behind my childhood home in Manhasset, Long Island, was a thick woods. I remember filling my pockets with eye-catching stones—stones for gathering and arranging, throwing and hunting. I remember running renegade through the narrow, leaf covered paths. I read that fireflies are hard to find these days, but not back then. On summer nights, we illuminated glass jars with fireflies we caught from around the low hanging trees and set them free the next night. A moon of my own in a jar. Back then, we were free to roam, to take, to lie, to shapeshift and to run to our escape as far as our legs would take us and never be caught.

On my sixth birthday, we all sensed something in the works, as landmovers made their first clearance into my childscape. “Maybe they are putting in a park,” I remember saying to my dad with visions of green. He didn’t know. I was too young to experience hate, and I hope I always will be, but by my seventh birthday, I strapped on my gun belt, unholstered my six shooters and, peering through the chained link fence, snapped off a few rounds of caps off towards B. Altmans, JJ Newberry’s 5 & 10, and Davega’s jumbo sporting goods and appliance store.

I became masterful at hopping the fence, even though the chain links terminated in barbs at the top. Eventually, with a hack saw, I simply cut a series of links from about one foot high, up to the top of the fence, so that it formed a vee we could just slip right through like passing into twilight. I could run through the cars spread across the vast, black, macadam lot where, for centuries, squirrels, rabbits, robins and spiders had coexisted in the landscape, now gone forever. I could disappear for mornings or afternoons into the alleys and doorways of the shops and enter into the new, florescent micro-climate with no sense of the forest expiry, too young to weep for the weight of history, the loss of fertile brown soil, the death of a squirrel beneath a skip loader.

The great scholar Joseph Campbell has documented how, across cultures and ecosystems, humans live in accordance with common mythologies. There, in small packs of two or three, we roamed, weaving in and out of stores, learning the best aisles and stairways like passages to elves’ grottos or caves. Our total prior experience on this land had been in the wooded wilds. Now, here was a new kind of wild, and our instinct to play was unabated as we looked subconsciously for new species. We were indigenous and collected all that was alluring, lining our pockets with trinkets.  One day, a candy bar. Another day, a pencil or pencil charm… a pack of gum. Gathering in the wild became the game and we became unwitting, masterful, light-fingered thieves. “Let’s go on a hocking spree,” one of my brothers suggested one day, and from then on our activity was branded, innocent and subversive at once, a paradox accessible only to children. We slipped though the charmed, chain link passage into a netherworld of linoleum and aluminum aisles and glaring lights, and there we roamed and chased, universal pastimes. The Miracle Mile.

Amor Locijillian s becca s kitchen

I could draw its map by heart,

showing its contours,

strata and vegetation

name every height,

small burn and lonely sheiling …

– WH Auden

Oh, miracles! Stalking a Rawlings genuine leather hardball in Davega’s—tantalizing and sensual—stuffing it into our clothing, then making our cunning escape, endorphins bursting forth. Only humans can lie, and only a human child can lie purely.

Like all who lose their lands, we became poachers and smugglers. What other choice had we? And how could a child be responsible for what they do in dreams? I don’t recall having much guilt about all this until at last, at around age 10, my mother asked, “You don’t have any money–where did you get that baseball scorebook?” and at that point the truth sunk in and some essential dream ended for me. No longer was I a fearless adventurer, nor was I, in the truest sense, a child.

I forgot about this dark past for at least 40 years and through a teaching career while I attempted, with varying measures of success, to conform to the asphalt world, the weatherless world of desks in rows where everything had rules and time periods, but all the while held on to my youth in unpredictable ways. Somehow, nature stayed a part of me, snowed inside of me, dropped leaves in me, washed upon my shores and then, one evening, surveying the raw, future site of The Grauer School, my dark past possessed my spirit again. We stood at the highest place and contemplated what we might do with five acres of coastal sage and maritime chaparral, and I at last could see the terribly good, desperately good deed that hocking had been, what it meant. The shopping mall had separated me from my natural world, attempted to exile me from my childhood, but I had never fully let go. Hocking was restitution.

We built our school, leaving behind it a two-acre, sloped corridor for native habitat and wildlife. It includes sage, wild radish and pepper grass, wild cucumber,morning glory and wild honeysuckle. Making their living off of this commons are lizards, hummingbirds, owls, and wrens and endangered gnatcatchers and four different kinds of sparrows and more birds; and squirrels and woodrats and snakes, and 24 kinds of butterflies. Restoration of this hillside to its pristine condition was a part of our development plan. And so, we preserved these wilds and shall forever be short of parking.

Amy and Rory F.

This corridor of nature is home to science teachers, teens dreaming of a first kiss, and students looking for a quiet wander. Artists sketching. Writing poems beneath the Mexican elderberry.  I hope there will be history students there, too, some time. Perhaps they can draw the timeline from here all the way back to the Act of Enclosure of Victorian England, the cruel act by which the vulnerable, commons was fenced off for the profit of the privileged few, essentially exiling the country folk from the land. In her gorgeous book, Kith, the Enclosures serve as Jay Griffiths’ extended metaphor for so much of the unhappiness in schools today and for what Richard Louv coined as “nature deficit disorder.” Today’s exiles are our kids in fenced off schools, left on weekends to roam the malls or play games where adults make all the rules and time is kept to the nearest second, hardly grounded to real earth for days on end. How can they even know what wilds once lay on the other side, before the Fence was there?  Thankfully and at last, I can now walk the two, green acres behind our schoolyard in peace and play, although there are no fireflies west of the Rockies. Maybe there can be some restitution here.

SSC November 2013 Newsletter

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Congratulations, Dr. Grauer!

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Stuart Grauer—founder of the Small Schools Coalition and head of The Grauer School—for being selected by the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) to receive the 2014 Author Hughes Career Achievement Award given annually to an outstanding graduate.

Stuart will be honored next Spring with a program held in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theater on campus.  He will be being filmed for a video to be shown at the awards dinner soon.

We agree with Paula Cordeiro, the Dean of SOLES, who writes, “We are proud to have you as our honoree.  Your accomplishments set a fine example for our students and our alumni.  Congratulations!”

~Principal Dana Abplanalp-Diggs of The Grauer School

Member News

Sundance Montessori School will be celebrating its 25-year anniversary with their current and alumni families.  The school first opened in 1989 as an in-home Montessori program for children 3-6 years. Our founder, Kathy Mason, was a Montessori teacher who decided to open her own program after teaching several years in a local Montessori school.  Her program was a huge success in the community and continued to grow each year through family referrals.  Her daughter, Robin Saia, took over the school in 1999 and has been the Head of School since then.
Today, Sundance Montessori School has two campuses: one in Folsom, CA and a second in El Dorado Hills.  The program now serves children ages 18 months to 11 years.  Sundance has an outstanding reputation in the Folsom/El Dorado Hills and surrounding areas, and still receives most of it’s enrollment from happy families sharing their experiences, and recommending our school to their friends.

A new, rave review on Dr. Stuart Grauer’s book Real Teachers has come out: A must read, and with haste, before the educational system wears you into their decided groove. For both new and veteran teachers this book will restore faith in what you know is “real teaching” over the consistent drone of data driven instruction and assessments that dominates most school led professional dialogue. It is a book for all stakeholders invested in education including parents, administration and even students. See more at: / learn more l purchase

New Small School Research Finds

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The Old Deluder Satan Act

by Dr. Stuart Grauer on November 26, 2013 Reposted from Dr. Stuart Grauer’s Blog.

“Let your life be counterfriction to stop the machine.”
–Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

The way to spot a great teacher is easy: his/her students are teaching each other. This is because great teaching is not about control, it is about self-direction. At first, that might sound paradoxical, hence this important history lesson: A Short, Entertaining History of Self-Direction in Education in Western Civilization (In 1000 Words).

The thread of student self-direction is one of the most longstanding, contested, promising facets of schooling. Public education in the United States at its earliest was merely a way to get everyone able to read the Bible so they might resist Satan. Ignorance was considered satanic; therefore, The Old Deluder Satan Act was passed in 1647 in Massachusetts to rid our youths of this ignorance.  Hence, even our first education, as indoctrinating and authoritarian as it might appear by today’s values, was at least intended to address empowerment and independence.

The cause for self-directed learning has been hard fought and often misunderstood and set back in western civilization. Large government institutions and programs, even the more enlightened ones, tend to set limits rather than remove them. However, there are some noble trends through history and still today, and I’d like to send out some remembrance of them.

The Hall-Dennis report was released by the Ontario Government in 1968. This milestone put students’ needs and dignity at the center of education, stating, “The lock-step structure of past times must give way… [The student’s] natural curiosity and initiative must be recognized and developed.” The report was commissioned by Ontario Minister of Education Bill Davis in 1965, delivered to him three years later as the Vietnam protest era reached a fever pitch. Like a lot of other protest from this era, Hall-Davis took aim at the over-regimentation and inflexibility of large, public education systems.

Far more important than what Hall-Davis took aim against is what it took aim for: students. This was one of the hallmarks of the movement called “student-centered education,” and I think we can conclude the movement has floundered, though not foundered.  Says Canadian school founder, Carol Nash:

What compelled me to take action and co-found a self-directed public school was the injustice I felt as a child for how I and my fellow pupils were treated in being required to comply with the unpredictable wishes of an authority figure just because she (and in my case, it was always a she) said so.  If I could have I would have taken action as a child.  I tried, but all that it got me was detentions and hours standing in the corner. … At 19, I vowed to find a way to move Ontario’s system of education back to valuing self-direction in its young people. From that point on, I began the steps to accomplish that goal.[1]

Within a few years, the 60s were history, and by 1976, teacher’s strikes forced the old, authoritarian model back onto Ontario Schools. This regression also characterized U.S. trends. What happened to those 60s reformers? I know at least some of them bypassed teaching careers for investment banking and real estate,Einstein Fish Climbing Tree but surely not all. A force of educators engaged in democratic, progressive, independent, and free education remains strong, and their schools normally have waiting lists.

One famous, unlikely hero in this movement to give voice to our students is John Taylor Gatto. No sooner was he named the Teacher of the Year in both New York City and New York State, than he quit the profession saying he no longer wished to “hurt kids to make a living.” His books include manifestos with names like Dumbing Us Down and Weapons of Mass Instruction. I always wondered if New York regretted giving him those honors, or considered him a turncoat.

I don’t know how well-known history’s educational heroes are to the layman. However, the ones you are most likely to have heard of— Socrates, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Booker T. Washington, Anne Sullivan (teacher of Helen Keller), John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Albert Einstein, John Holt—shared a simple thing: They viewed and promoted education as a liberating force rather than a limiting one.  In this spirit, the courageous Grace Llewellyn wrote a book in 1991 with an auspicious title, The Teenage Liberation Handbook, that helped launch many free schools and that surely would have been viewed as satanic back in the far less “liberated” days of 1647.  And recall the penchant of Harry Potter’s headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, for testing the boundaries of traditional schooling and for advocating exceptionally dangerous sporting! Who can deny that great teachers are axiomatically liberators?

The yearning for freedom in education runs strong and deep. When I wrote a blog called simply, “Play!” ( for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (a professional organization with 140,000 members) it became one the association’s most popular reads of the year within a few days. This same search for liberation was the sole purpose of my book of stories, Real Teachers. Of course, the Grauer School is hardly a free school. And yet, we are constantly on the lookout for pockets of democracy and self-advocacy that we can promote. The Grauer School approaches student freedom and empowerment by finding space for natural learning, play, outdoor and expeditionary education, Socratic seminars, student proposals, student-led assemblies and clubs, and experiential education.  And yet, at every school, educational choice for the family and freedom for the student still meets with constant counter friction.

In the end, beyond all the politics and externals, there is still the individual. Student choice comes down to the student’s developing ability to choose–not just because of choices we provide them with, but the inner ableness to make choices (half the learning) and handle their consequences (the other half).

Stuart with Deborah Meier 2013Self-directed learning has everything in common with emerging thinking on leadership. As the Center for Creative Leadership notes:

People develop fastest when they feel responsible for their own progress. The current model encourages people to believe that someone else is responsible for their development—human resources, their manager, or trainers. We will need to help people out of the passenger seat and into the driver’s seat of their own development.[2]

As parents, teachers and legislators, its pretty easy to want to control our kids, rescue them from Satan or a C on a test, or a mean kid, or learning differences, or an unfair teacher, or this or that, and manage their lives as though they are incompetent or dangerously errant—they are running off cliffs and we must catch them! These natural forces are in an unending match with forces for freedom, in a constant balancing act. What a good thing that balance is! There can be no greater role in our labors as educators than giving students their own voices. Insisting that our students self-advocate, rely upon their own resourcefulness, and learn by discovery, are prerequisites for leadership roles in a free, democratic—not to mention unpredictable—society.

Above: Stuart with mentor Deborah Meier. Deborah is considered by many as a founder of the small schools movement. She won the MacArthur Genius Award and is a faculty member of NYU School of Education. She has been awarded honorary degrees from many universities around the world. She consults with Dr. Grauer routinely on small school and progressive education.

[1]  Personal email, Sunday, November 24, 2013 11:06:40 AM,