Down the hill on Bates Road, off Liberty Road in the suburban farmland south of Salem, Oregon, you will find the former site of Rosedale Elementary School. The Rosedale building, along with a row of portable classrooms behind it, is now occupied by Abiqua Academy’s pre-K to Grade 8 students and teachers. West of the old school is a gravel parking lot, and behind it a new concrete path leads up to the unassuming, pre-fabricated square building where a remarkable new program opened its doors in the fall of 2015.
This is Abiqua Academy’s High School. No athletic teams. No pep assemblies. No cheerleaders. No long hallways lined with a double stack of metal lockers. No noisy cafeteria. No bells announcing the beginning and end of each lesson. No fixed daily schedule of classes. No assemblies in which the vice principal admonishes students about the importance of adhering to the school’s dress code. No sessions with the school counselor about what to do when you are bullied, or see someone else being bullied.
Inside the front doors, you see a small lounge area with sofas and a coffee table, a larger table for lunch or discussions, and a kitchenette in the corner. In the opposite corner, a photocopier sits next to the usual supplies of staplers, paperclips, sticky-notes, etc. Beyond this entrance area, a screen blocks from view the rows of study carrels that fill the remainder of the central space. Along the left-hand wall are the science lab, two restrooms, the janitor’s closet, and a mathematics classroom. Along the right-hand wall are two more classrooms, the office of Lily Driskill, our Academic Director, and a small meeting room. The two full-time teachers, Jo French (mathematics and sociology) and I (English and history), have our desks in the main area with the students’ study carrels.
In this inaugural year, we have just four students: two freshmen, one sophomore, and one junior. They follow highly personalized programs designed to meet their immediate needs and help them to achieve their future goals. Some of their coursework is completed online. Often the online curriculum is modified or supplemented by Abiqua teachers. For PE, three of the four go to a local fitness center twice a week to exercise under the supervision of a personal trainer; the fourth attends a CrossFit class on his own time. Two of them study Spanish, both online and with Abiqua’s Spanish teacher. The other two study German and Latin, following online courses supplemented with biweekly lessons with tutors. A part-time teacher comes in for lessons in biology. One student studies Anatomy & Physiology with the help of a senior at Willamette University. Another WU student visits twice a week to tutor one of the freshman in creative writing.
Anyone who works with teenagers knows that, as a rule, nothing is more important to them than friends. As we prepared for the start of school, I wondered how our four students would cope with the social isolation they were bound to find at Abiqua. I kept thinking of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit, in which Hell is imagined as four people locked in a room together. In December the students were interviewed, without their teachers being present. They loved the program, the teachers, the flexibility . . . they loved everything, in fact, about their experience so far, with one major exception: they wanted more students!
Now as we near the end of January, I see so many signs of growth. The students who lacked confidence are gaining it as they see that they can, in fact, be successful in areas where they had given up on themselves. Those who had learned to see teachers as the enemy and to regard schoolwork as drudgery imposed on them, have learned to trust their Abiqua teachers and are beginning to take ownership of their own education. And these four young people, so different in ages, personalities, interests, and backgrounds, have grown to trust and tolerate each other to a degree that I find remarkable. Their mutual kindness achieved a peak moment just a week ago when one of them, without the slightest prompting by any adult, offered to help another with his writing. I held my breath when they moved into the small meeting room for their first session, waited apprehensively, and then had no words when they emerged smiling and happy after forty minutes.
So here is my first-semester report card for Abiqua Academy’s High School program:
Comment: A great beginning, with the promise of much more to come. Bravo!
All right, folks, settle down there. I want to welcome you all to Human Rights Camp. You will all say that you are not here by your own choice, but we know that’s not true. Each of you has chosen to commit gross violations of human rights, despite repeated complaints, criticisms, and remonstrations from all over the world. So let’s start by owning what we’ve done. Russia, you go first., and then we’ll go around the circle clockwise.
Why me first?
Because you always want to be #1.
Oh. Well, in that case . . . I’ve been murdering journalists and opposition politicians who criticize Mr. Putin. And committing other crimes in the Ukraine.
Our women have very limited rights. We execute anyone who criticizes us. And then there’s Yemen . . .
We are squeezing the Palestinians on the West Bank, keeping them virtual prisoners in Gaza, beating and arresting any of them who protest, shooting any of them who we think are trying to attack us . . . shall I go on?
No, Israel, that’s enough for now.
Well, there’s the torture, and the illegal invasions, and the secret CIA prisons in foreign countries, and the drone bombs killing innocent bystanders, and at home our police shoot brown people for no good reason on a fairly regular basis.
You remember our response to the mass protests a while back, right? We haven’t had much trouble since then.
Anyone who criticizes the Party or agitates for more freedom just disappears.
How much time do we have here?
Not enough, Syria. We’ll get into the details in tomorrow morning’s session.
Where’s North Korea? They’re much worse than we are.
I agree! And what about Cuba?
As you can see, we have limited facilities here. Those countries you mention, along with several others, are scheduled for the next session.
Well, that was a good beginning. It seems you all have gotten past the denial stage and are ready to work on changing your behavior. I have to warn you, this is going to be a tough two weeks. At the end of it, though, you’ll be able to walk out of here with a new sense of self-respect, and a set of practical strategies that will help you to stop yourself from falling back into old habits. And of course, we will always be available for crisis intervention, should you ever need our support. We are here for you.
The cafeteria staff tell me that supper is ready, so let’s go eat. After the meal we’ll watch some Amnesty International videos, and then we’ll have an early “lights out” tonight, because tomorrow is going to be a long, hard day.
Let’s imagine that, somehow, Americans reached agreement that universal, single-payer health care is the way to go. How could it be implemented? Clearly, the transition would have to be managed in stages. It might seem logical to gradually lower the eligibility age for Medicare—say, five years of eligibility every twelve months. In the first year, 60-year-olds would be eligible; in the second year, 55-year-olds; and so on.
It makes more sense, however, to start with the children. Shouldn’t the health of our children be our first priority? And aren’t families with young children the people most in need of affordable health care? The problem, however, is that taking the youngest people out of the private health insurance pool would make it impossible to cover the expenses of older Americans without enormous premium increases.
The solution, it seems to me, is to move people into Medicare from both ends of the age spectrum, so that the balance of people left in the private system—younger, healthier people and older people with more medical expenses—remains about where it is now. In that way we could both give children first priority, and avoid a huge spike in insurance premiums for those still in the private system.
Imagine a transition something like this:
||Medicare for everyone ages . . .
In the first year, families with young children would immediately benefit. Those who already had health insurance would save money by removing their children from their policies, and those without insurance, or whose insurance included high deductibles and co-pays, would be able to take their children to the doctor without worrying about what it would cost. Both the finances and the health of working families would improve dramatically.
In the second year, people ages 60-64 would become eligible for Medicare. Every year thereafter, another group would be added, alternating between younger and older. Making the transition in this gradually like this would allow all the legal and bureaucratic and financial changes time to take place in an orderly way, and would give the private insurance companies time to move into other products. With experience, better arrangements would be discovered, and adjustments made. Companies providing insurance to their employees would have time to plan and implement the transition to the day when everyone would be covered by Medicare.
If the process began in 2020, then by 2030 every American would be covered by Medicare, and the United States would finally have caught up to the rest of the developed nations by providing health care to every citizen, with the costs borne by everyone through an equitable system of taxation—a non-profit, universal health insurance system that would benefit all of us, instead of filling the accounts of behemoth insurance companies with billions in profits, while leaving ordinary people scraping to pay medical bills, putting off medical care to save money, and fearing financial ruin should we suffer a major illness or injury.
I say, let’s do it.
Use a water flosser. I hate using dental floss. My hands are too big to fit into my mouth, the floss keeps getting stuck between my teeth, and in the end I just don’t do it. The water flosser, on the other hand, is quick and easy and it’s right there by the sink […]
As a lifelong baseball fan I have concluded that continuing the current system of voting players into the Hall of Fame has become such a fiasco that it should be discontinued.
Instead, the Hall should be a museum of baseball history, full stop. Everyone in, no one out. Fans will always debate whether this player […]
In the summer of 1989 my bride-to-be and I drove my battered Renault 5 through France. We chose the smaller roads, and stayed in municipal campgrounds, preferring to spend the little money we had on food instead of lodging. On arrival at one such campground I parked the car near the entrance and walked over […]
This wonderful brief video on Facebook shows clearly how printing presses worked in the days of hand-set type, and how the pages were then turned into books.
A few key points are missing, however.
Notice how the letters must be placed backwards in the press. Notice why the printing press was called a “press.” The […]
If you ask Chinese people to compare traditional Chinese medicine with Western medicine, they will say that Western medicine is very strong and works quickly, while Chinese medicine is gentle and works slowly. Western medicine works quickly, but it only treats symptoms; Chinese medicine aims to restore health to the body by addressing the weakness […]
1. Think about where you want to go. West Coast? East Coast? Midwest? South? Canada? Overseas?
2. Think about how big a school you want.
3. Do you prefer to live in a small town, a medium-sized city, or a large urban area?
4. Strongly consider a small, liberal arts college. Such schools exist only […]
I’ll begin with a story.
One of my former university professors came to see me years ago for advice about starting a garden in his back yard. As we talked, I realized that he had no interest in gardening: he only wanted giant broccoli and giant strawberries. So I said to him, “Find a really […]
Another nice little essay by Paul Graham. As always, he is interested in what typically goes unnoticed. This one may help you—if you are young enough—think about what sort of career would suit you.
For years teachers have been told, with great assurance, about “learning styles”. Daniel Willingham provides a welcome splash of cold water on these ideas. Have a look at his “Learning Styles FAQ”.
Reading history reminds us how briefly we appear on the stage of life. The king of a great nation who reigns for thirty years and lives more than twice that long seems a minuscule blip in the stream of time. How much less are we, leading our quiet lives in peaceful obscurity.
I am delighted to announce that beginning in the fall of 2015 I will be teaching in the new high school program of Abiqua Academy in Salem, Oregon.
I began my teaching career in 1980 at South Salem High School, but the opportunity to return to Salem 35 years later has come as a complete […]
Students doing research for an Extended Essay, or in preparation for an IB English Interactive Oral, or for any other research project, need to use credible sources.
But what exactly is a credible source?
Basically you are looking for information written by someone who has some special training or expertise in the subject you are […]
UPDATE, October 30th: great news! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I will be leaving China this coming summer and moving on to a new job beginning in August 2015. Under Chinese law, I cannot be issued a work visa if I would turn 65 during the upcoming year. Since I will celebrate my […]
In the summer of 2011 came an email message from one of the first students I taught, way back in 1983 in a suburban public high school. Kathy had found me through a classmate’s Facebook page, and wanted to let me know what she had been doing for the past quarter-century.
Honestly, I remembered very […]
From the National Council of Teachers of English, November 2004.
Everyone has the capacity to write, writing can be taught, and teachers can help students become better writers. People learn to write by writing. Writing is a process. Writing is a tool for thinking. Writing grows out of many different purposes Conventions of finished and […]
Evidence is mounting that sitting for long stretches of time — in a car, at a desk, or on the couch — is bad for our health. A sedentary way of life and spending hours sitting down seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. . . . Research by Dr. […]
I have a little project for you—a chance to do some real good in the world.
I teach high-school English. I know that my students need to read as much as possible, but I also know that reading alone will not give them the high-end vocabulary they will need for maximum success in school—for that, […]
1. Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice to Writers
2. George Orwell’s Five Rules for Effective Writing
3. William Strunk’s Elements of Style (Chapter III is the most important)
That’s a good start.
Composing and editing are two distinct processes. Students staring at blank screens or blank sheets of paper are usually trying to compose and edit at the same time. It doesn’t work.
Composing is the messy, chaotic process of figuring out what you want to say. It’s like being sent to the attic to find something. […]
Originally published in International Schools magazine and aimed at teachers considering a move to China.
The classical gardens, first. Master of the Nets is my favourite: small, but it has all the elements. Not gardens in the Western sense, but homes for the well-to-do, built around a central pond. In a classical garden, art […]
Ten years ago I heard of the passing of Anne Osman, my friend and colleague from Casablanca American School, where I worked from 1986-89. Today I came across this piece that I wrote about Anne. It was published on an earlier version of this web site but was somehow lost in the move. This seems […]
A letter to Maury Wills. For those who don’t know, Maury Wills played shortstop on the great Dodgers baseball teams that featured Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the 1960s. In 1962 Wills stole 104 bases, breaking Ty Cobb’s 1915 record for steals in a single season.
I was following reports about […]
First: we can never know what the author intended. Even if we ask the author in person, we cannot know whether the answer we hear is sincere, or truthful. It gets worse: the author himself cannot know with certainty what impelled him to write this or that. Why did I eat oatmeal for breakfast? […]
I’ve always thought the public schools needed to study the best literature. I always taught Oedipus Rex to all kinds of what they used to call remedial or development classes. The reason those kids are in those classes is that they’re bored to death; so you can’t give them boring things. You have to give […]
Q: What portion of the human body consists of human cells? A: About the amount from the knee of one leg down to the foot. The rest is bacteria.
This reminds me of commercial television. We commonly regard TV as a medium of art and communication financed by advertising. Actually, however, it is an advertising […]
Some of my students were devastated to discover that Hamlet dies at the end of the play, so I have obliged their tender sensibilities with this additional scene. —etm
Scene: Wittenberg. A room in an inn.
HORATIO But how is this possible?!
HAMLET ‘Season your admiration’, good friend. In short, by a hair’s breadth […]
What’s the difference between social and societal? Not much, but enough that you may become the victim of social stigma if you ignore subtle societal signals.
Societal is the pedantic alternative to social. . . .
I couldn’t agree more, having read hundreds of teeth-grating essays filled with “societal” this and “societal” […]
In 1968 millions of people were outraged when anti-war activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya announced that a dog would be burned alive on the UC Berkeley campus to protest the use of napalm (jellied gasoline, for you youngsters out there) in Vietnam. No dog was harmed: Kuromiya’s point was that Americans were less concerned about the Vietnamese […]
“How Shakespeare Changes Us”, at lit-hum.org. The first comment is worth a look, too.
“Good Advice About Bad Writing”, from DailyWritingTips.com.
Brief, clear, and to the point.
From The Atlantic, a piece worth reading by Maura Kelly. Here’s a taste:
Why the emphasis on literature? By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories […]
Anyone interested in writing, anyone interested in science fiction, anyone interested in Ray Bradbury who just died at the age of 91, anyone interested in much of anything will find lots to think about in this wonderful interview with Bradbury from the late 1970s, rediscovered and printed in the Paris Review in 2010. Among other […]
Everything is—not perfect, but cosy When suddenly there’s a big lurch That you can’t explain Or control.
At first you think, no worries, We’ll be back on course in a moment. But we aren’t.
Then more lurches, some big Some small And long stretches in between.
Thinking, can’t we just go back To where […]
A very useful article on the Mac Observer points aspiring writers to an iTunes U lecture series, a podcast, and an app.
UPDATE, September 2014
Some e-books do now show page numbers, and when you copy a quotation from iBooks a limited bibliographical citation is included automatically. Tim Parks, writing in the New York Review of Books, adds usefully to the conversation.
How to take notes—that’s the problem.
With a Kindle book, forget it. The best […]