a brief professional biography
1964 – 1968 Gorham, ME — High school was unremarkable. Indeed I was pretty much unremarkable myself. Then I went off to college. College was remarkable. I discovered all the joys that college life in the mid 60s could provide. I began to awake to a world of great possibility. I suspect I drew a remark or two.I continued to work with kids by augmenting my summer camp job back home with a variety of part time jobs during the school year away. I entered my student teaching experience relaxed and with great confidence. By that time I had already been working with kids for seven years. Although I did fine with it, I began to realize that teaching in a school was considerably more constrained than teaching in the real world.
1968 – 1969 Plaistow, NH — I accepted my first full time job teaching high school math. I would have rather taught English, but since math had been my major, that is what I taught. The year went well. I actually learned the math I thought I had learned in college. I also began to learn about computers. I joined an educational consulting firm and by year’s end decided to resign from my teaching job to go full time with them. The draft board, however, had a different idea. Given the choice, teach or fight, I decided to teach.
1969 – 1970 Danville, NH — It was too late to go back to my high school math job, so I accepted a position teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th grade math and 6th grade reading in a tiny elementary school in the same district. Here I learned that my ideas about what is good and healthy for kids are not ideas generally held by other teachers. I also learned that my ideas about what it means to be a professional differed from those held by other teachers. And I learned that the politics of the peace movement did not sit well with a small town authoritarian principal. The 1969 – 1970 school year did not end gracefully.
1970 – 1971 Gorham, ME (again!) — Since I had already begun work on my Master’s degree, and since I was now unemployed, I decided this would be a good time to go back to school. During the next year I continued to deal with the draft board, finished my Master’s degree (in educational administration! What was I thinking?), became much more radical, and decided that public schooling was a colossal failure. Notably, I lived during that year in a large house with a group of friends who had come with me from New Hampshire. This experience in communal living soon became important professionally.
1971 – 1972 Freeport, ME — Having read Summerhill and being deeply interested in open education, I jumped at the chance to teach the 10 – 13 year old group at a private residential “free school” in Freeport Maine. There, seeing free, open, community oriented education in action, my radicalization became firmly set. Having seen the power of a school community (even one that had some definite problems), I could never again give allegiance to a compulsory, authoritarian approach. Having lived and worked in open education, having seen it work, I could speak with the authority of experience. This is a highly significant piece of my professional life.
1972 – 1977 Portland, ME In the spring of 1972 I joined resources with a close friend and purchased a huge house in Portland. Unlike the communal living during my Masters work, we came into this situation with much greater awareness and intention She and I had both seen the power of community in our personal and professional lives, and we wanted to establish an arena of our own in which to continue to learn. Although we were not the oldest in the group, through our ownership of the property and our prior experience with community, we became the nominal elders of the group. At the height of the adventure the household had 13 residents ranging in age from 8 to 35. My participation ended in the late 70’s when I sold out my interest in the property and invested in another building. Although we lived mostly from hand to mouth, doing substitute work and taking small community oriented part time jobs, I include this experience as part of my professional biography because it was so powerfully formative in the development of my knowledge, skills, and beliefs about working in and with cooperative communities and groups.
1973 – 1977 Westbrook, ME — Still living with my Portland community, I took part time work tutoring in a dropout prevention program directed by a friend I had worked with doing Upward Bound in the summer of 1972. I respected his competence as an administrator, and as we began to talk and to work in this setting a certain sense of possibility took hold. Over the next few years we developed the program into a full time alternative school for high school dropouts. Of course the elements of community and open education played central roles in our curriculum. This was a chance to apply all I had learned to date to create a “school” as we thought it ought to be. Ironically, the success of the program brought about its demise. School officials were not amused when students began dropping out of regular high school so they could attend our dropout prevention program. Oh well.
1978 – 1983 South Portland, ME (Redbank) — My next adventure also centered around community. Funded by a delinquency prevention grant and by United Way money channeled through Camp Fire (Girls and Boys!), my charge was to develop and implement an after school program for 4th, 5th, and 6th grade kids in Redbank, a well-bounded and somewhat notorious neighborhood in South Portland, Maine. By the time I left the program in 1983 we had grown into a full fledged community development program. Along with the after school program which now went all the way through high school, we had morning child care, evening clubs for adults, occasional plays and variety shows, monthly dances, and biweekly BINGO (from which I think I may never fully recover).
During my years at Redbank many of the kids we attracted to our after school program were wonderfully bright and so I became increasingly interested in gifted education. Eventually I started to tinker with the idea of going back to school. It was a seemingly off hand remark by my dad that finally precipitated my decision to do it. His sentiment was that since I was now in my mid 30’s, and my life patterns were becoming more stable and routine, if I didn’t make a change now, it was unlikely that I ever would. I decided he was absolutely right.
The process of leaving Redbank, however, was not easy for me. Indeed, it was the single most wonderfully painful experience of my life. I found that I had become more deeply emerged in the lives of the kids, their parents, and the community than I would have believed possible. Community is not only a powerful medium for learning and growth, it simultaneously exerts great holding power. Certainly, love lifts us up, but also, I think, it can hold us in place.
1983 – 1987 Tampa, FL — At any rate, I left Maine and spent the next four years as a doctoral student at the University of South Florida. The exquisite luxury of being a full time student was only exceeded by the exquisite luxury of living in a warm climate.
1987 – 1988 Morgantown, WV — Despite my vow never to go north again, I took my first post-doctoral teaching job at the University of West Virginia. And, despite the beauty of the terrain, I immediately began looking for a position that would bring me south again. Through the grace of the Muses and the Fates, by summer I was headed for New Orleans.
1988 – 2006 New Orleans, LA — When I coordinated the Gifted program at the University of New Orleans, I consciously embedded and framed the standard elements of gifted education within the context of the theories and practices of community and alternative education. I worked with adult graduate students during the week, and I worked with children in our SPARKLE program on weekends and during the summer.
2006 – 2012 New Orleans, LA — Although I was a tenured faculty member with 17 years of service, during the 2006 – 2007 academic year I was placed on furlough as part of the post-Katrina declaration of financial exigency at UNO. After a year of personal negotiation, and considerable behind-the-scenes work from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which resulted in UNO being nationally censured for violations of academic freedom and tenure, I gained reappointment to my former position. I returned to find the past 17 years of my work pretty much destroyed.
During this six year post-Katrina period I taught undergraduate courses in the College of Education. This experience with “teacher training” reinforced my distaste for government-mandated schooling, and the ethical poverty that underlies it.
In the Fall of 2012, I retired from UNO.
2012 – Present, New Orleans, LA — Life Without School has my full attention. Life is good!
2014 – Present, New Orleans, LA — Turtle Spring Studios extends what I/we have been doing with Life Without School. Turtle Spring Studios is an intentional community with the purpose of nurturing and supporting artists, makers, and scholars who hold common values about community life, creative life, and inner life. This is a return to the communal living I so much enjoyed in the 1970s, but decidedly more focused, more purposeful. All is well.