Monday, February 28, 2011

Land School Loppet Great Gathering

by Martha

Mother Natures melt the week before the event left the Land School landscape with a hard layer of ice more fit for ice skating than cross country skiing. But that didn't stop this group. There is plenty to do at the Land School in the winter!

The bird blind was the highlight of the trip for many. The hike out there was filled with wonderful windblown areas of snow - perfect for "penguin sliding" on your belly! Once there, we were all surprised to see so much action at the feeders! We saw: Chickadees, American Goldfinches, White Breasted Nuthatches, Flickers, and Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers!  Mary was quiet enough to spot 16 Morning Doves fly in to feed!

A group of volunteers fed the Llamas as Andy was away in California. We snowshoed and went sledding, and we studied the winter moon with the telescope!  

Indoors the group had fun getting to know each other and playing card games, the E2 boys tackled a box of over 10,000 legos an built a variety of huge vehicles, the JH team trained us all on the kitchen rules and mealtime rituals & Andrew and Arianna entertained the group with beautiful piano solos. 

And of course we cooked up a storm in the well outfitted kitchen - and we ate and ate & ATE! We made stews for 32, a 4 lb cookie, 32 cupcakes, 50 pancakes & 20 lbs of hash browns!

The snow started to fall by noon on Sunday, all were tempted to call in for a snow day and stay a couple more days as we were all having so much fun!  

Huge thanks to Katy for sharing her weekend with our group as the LS staff member on duty!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why do we have a farm? Part 2

by Andy

Life is funny. I never thought I would be farmer nor did I ever envision myself as an educator. Together with the question of “why do we have a farm?” I might also ask myself: “why am I here on this farm at this time?” It is not because I was a true Montessori believer and wanted to take the next step, nor is it because I was raised on a farm. If pushed, I might say that it was a deep desire to live a life of meaning in the service of others that led me to this place and time. The sense of individual and collective purpose that I feel is also the indirect aim of a Montessori Adolescent education for our young people. Although I got there without ever going to a Montessori farm school, I am starting to see why a farm school might be the ideal environment to foster that kind of maturity.

I am not a Montessori insider, and as a person who was recruited into Montessori education, I will always have a little bit of a skeptical outsider’s view. I developed my own sense of purpose and love of learning in good old regular public school. So my questions are: what is the problem with regular school? And specifically what about a Montessori farm school fixes the problem?

I recently attended a workshop in Long Beach California called The Sixth Adolescent Colloquium. The organizers brought together many of the foremost thinkers and practitioners in the relatively new Montessori Adolescent movement. The workshop was a long look at something called the “Educational Syllabus,” which was part of Maria Montessori’s “Erdkinder” essay on adolescent education. Each of the speakers took on a different part of the syllabus. The speakers kept reminding us that the Educational Syllabus in the Erdkinder essay does not resemble a syllabus as we normally think of it. We normally think of a syllabus a prescription for what to teach, or (from the student’s perspective) as a chronological list of the information that will be coming in the class. The Montessori syllabus is something completely different. Rather than a list to be checked off, it is a framework for looking at education in general, a sort of lens which brings elements into focus. As with most Montessori insights, the Syllabus completely sidesteps the assumptions behind “regular” school.

The essence of the Montessori framework is not in the “what?” of education, but rather it is in the “why?” The idea is to replace a mechanistic model of education, where knowledge is thought of as little bits that need to be added to the student as he or she moves along the assembly line. In the mechanistic model, the nature of the little bits is very important, because the acquisition of the correct bits is how we test the efficacy of the education. A cynic might say that the perfect outcome for modern education would be for the student to remember and recapitulate all of the bits in return for an external reward. To look at the Montessori Educational Syllabus is to realize that she is not making a list of bits to be inserted into the student’s brain, but rather she is thinking about what kind of education will meet the needs of the student and the planet. This is the “why?” part.

The specific needs of the adolescence can all be framed in terms of social life. This is a time when the young person is seeking answers to the questions like: “who am I?”, “How do I fit in?”, and “what is my great work, my contribution to society?” The Montessori Educational Syllabus seeks to define a plan of study in an environment that helps the young person experience intentional social life as an initiation into adult society. The plan is divided into three sections:

  1. Self Expression. – music, language and art
  2. Psychic Development – moral education, mathematics, language
  3. Preparation for Adult Life –
    1. study of the earth and living things,
    2. the study of human progress and the building up of civilization,
    3. and the study of the history of humanity.

Our presenters noted that the above can look like a list of bits to be learned, but it is much more than that; it is a way of thinking about maturity.

In looking at Self-Expression we think of maturity as coming to know oneself. One of our presenters, Laurie Ewert-Krocker, described the process of writing a poem as having to make a deliberate choice of words from the thousands of possibilities, and then putting them together in a deliberate way from the thousands of possible ways. She said that in the very act of choosing during a creative act, the young person is also indirectly choosing who they are and who they will be in the world. The creative act of painting or writing is also an act of self-construction and self-discovery. Self-Expression provides a structure and space for something that is inside of the young person to come out and develop.

In the section on Psychic Development, we are reminded that in Montessori’s vernacular, she is talking about character formation and moral development. Our organizer, David Kahn, noted that if we think of Self-Expression as something inside wanting to come out, then Psychic Development is something that is outside that wants to come in. The morals necessary to make a contribution in society cannot be learned vicariously. The social self and the moral self must tangle with real issues in a real forum called a “just community.” Let’s look at a few quotes to get the flavor.

“This is the time, the sensitive period when there should develop the most noble characteristics that would prepare a man to be social, that is to say, a sense of justice and a sense of personal dignity.” From Childhood to Adolescence, Maria Montessori.

“For success in life depends in every case on self-confidence, and the knowledge of one’s own capacity and many sided powers of adaptation. The consciousness of knowing how to make oneself useful, how to help mankind in many ways, fills the soul with noble confidence, with almost religious dignity.” From Childhood to Adolescence

“Today, however, it is not by philosophizing, not by discussing metaphysical conceptions that the morals of mankind can be developed: it is by activity, by experience, and by action” From Childhood to Adolescence

Now if we also look at Mathematics and Language from the point of view of morality and character development, they both take on a new significance. It is about being literate in the way information is presented in the world in order to understand things enough to know the degree to which some action is just or noble. One of our presenters, Pat Luddick, noted that interaction with real life and literacy in math and language brings us to a non-dualistic sense of morality, which takes things as they come in all their nuances.

As the conference moved into the third part of the Syllabus, we were prepared to view the section on Preparation for Adult Life through the Montessori lens of character formation. We could see that the Study of the Earth and Living Things is not to gain bits of information, but rather to inform real life decisions. An example was teacher Jacqui Miller's curriculum on the study of a watershed near her Atlanta school. The scientific discoveries of the students spurred them to pursue changes in their school and in their lives. If you do not know your specific place, then you will not make informed choices in the “just community,” wherever you live.

Linda Davis made a strong case for the specific place to encounter nature to be a farm. She said it is because the farm is both nature and “supernature,” built from nature by humans. Supernature is foundation of the civilization we live in today, and the farm embodies this tension between the natural world and the constructed world. If you walk on a farm that is ill kept, it is an in-your-face reminder of what happens when humans do not care and take responsibility. You can’t cheat on the farm, because the results are right there. The farm forces us to face our responsibility to the natural world. In examining The Study of Human Progress and the Building Up of Civilization, our presenters often referred to Montessori’s concept of Supernature. We need to be literate in our scientific progress just as much as in the natural world, but in order to build character and morals, both literacies are to be rooted in real life decisions and choices in a real place.

In the section of the Syllabus on the Study of the History of Humanity, the nature and supernature are joined in the experience of the human connection between the two. Our presenter, Gina Englefried, challenged us to present something called experiential history. Adolescence is a self-centered stage of life (for better or for worse), and to come alive history must in some way help the young person locate him or herself in a specific time and place. The child is the maker of the man, and formation of the identity is not boring. It is through meaningful experience, community and work that identity is formed. The experience of history is to come into contact with heroes. These people are the way-showers and our presenter described how self-empowerment in the young person comes in reflection and transference. Again, the study of history is a stimulus to action and character formation, just like the study of nature and the study of technology. Just like nature and supernature, the human connection is best realized in the interaction with real life.

Here’s the rub: in order for us as a planet to experience peace and harmony with each other and the environment, we need heroic individuals, each with a strong moral compass and a sense of his or her own almost limitless abilities. That moral compass and consciousness of one’s capacity is best attained through real experiences of social life. According to Montessori, “One cannot awaken the conscience by talking about it.” The farm in this context is a laboratory to experience real social life away from the family. It is a place to come to a sense of one’s abilities through real meaningful work. It is a place to experience the consequences of one’s actions on a literal field which acts a mirror for the self. It is a place to connect viscerally with nature and with the ways that humans have used science and technology to create a layer on top of nature. The farm is a physical place to connect with and influence the history of one specific place, which will lead to a connection with the whole of human history. More than that, it is a specific place to love and value, and through that love of one place, to expand to love and value all places.

In the end our organizer stated emphatically that you do not need a farm to have a Montessori Adolescent program. He said that a program can be true to the Syllabus without a farm, but also that the farm does offer much that is built-in that works the Practical Considerations of the Syllabus. There are many pathways to maturity and moral development, and a farm school is a good one.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Why do we have a farm? Part 1

by Andy

Why do we have a farm?

This is a perplexing question for me because to have an adolescent program on a farm is exactly to the opposite of my experience of secondary education. I sometimes have a hard time remembering why Lake Country makes such an effort to incorporate the Land School into the center of the school. The prevailing culture marginalizes rural life and separates people from nature and the sources of their food. In the face of that marginalization, I struggle to remember my own importance and convey to the students just how important their experience on the land is. To get a sense of the importance of the work, it is useful for me to return occasionally to the well of Maria Montessori’s work for inspiration.

Recently I attended an adolescent Montessori teachers’ conference in California. It was a big conference with hundreds of teachers from all over the country and the world, most of whom who come from adolescent programs with some sort of farm component. We welcomed the renowned researcher on the optimal state of "flow," Mihaly Czikzentmihalyi, who gave a keynote address. Then we received a series of lectures from experts in the field, who developed a picture of the “Educational Syllabus” as defined in the Appendices of From Childhood to Adolescence, Montessori’s seminal work where she specifically refers to the adolescent as an “Erdkinder” – a child of the soil. At the end of the experience I understood more about why we have a Land School, but I could also see that the experience of the land is just one of the elements of a Montessori education that is completely different and I would also say quite subversive. Montessori envisioned a world-wide unity with peace and progress wedded together, and she believed that to change society in this revolutionary way, we first need a revolutionary change in the education of adolescents.

Mihaly Czikzentmihalyi began by defining adolescence for us as a time for an individual to acquire the skills, knowledge and values necessary to function in society. He noted that adolescence is unnoticeable in most mammals, but in mammals with more complex social arrangements it is a problematic time, because the social skills, knowledge and values are not genetic, but rather have to be learned. There needs to be a mechanism to bring adolescents into society. Czikzentmihalyi said that throughout human evolution the family and the tribe/village served to initiate the young person into society, but now we have mostly entrusted our schools with that job. And modern schools are not doing a very good job of it. His research with thousands of young people has revealed that in school compared to other times adolescents are sadder, more irritable, more bored, have a harder time concentrating, are more often confused, are more self-conscious, feel more constrained, and most often do not want to be there.

Czikzentmihalyi talked about research that says that the way we feel and act as young people is a very good predictor of how we are as adults. He looked backward by referring to research about six general characteristics of elderly adult well-being: physical health and fitness, a vital mind, a continuous vocation, close relationships, involvement in the community, and wisdom. His point was that if those are the hallmarks of a happy adult, then we should have an education that starts that way from the beginning. Instead we have adolescent education that deviates from each of those six criteria. He spoke of the physical and mental passivity of vicarious entertainment and education, the lack of purpose, the isolation and the lack of involvement typical of today’s teenagers, and he specifically mentioned the prevailing cynicism that is consciously and unconsciously transmitted to young people in our schools.

Based on his research, Czikzentmihalyi recommends three things for adolescent education:

1. Allowing for autonomy and initiative – that leads to innovation.
2. Developing responsibility – for the planet and humanity.
3. Fostering collaboration – to develop teamwork and foster community.

In his explanation, he talked about how each of these elements was present throughout human history. In our hunter gatherer and rural agrarian past, young people had real responsibility for sustenance and care of the family. Their actions on the land had life or death consequences. They were depended upon and they depended on others. There was teamwork inherent in farm and tribal life. However, in the development of modern education the basic models were the Prussian army and the assembly line. Both of these models discourage autonomy and encourage dependence, and collaboration is not nearly as important as compliance.

So if I am to believe Mihaly Czikzentmihalyi, the problems faced by society are complex and require adults who are fully confident, inspired, capable and socialized to confront those problems. Except for about 5% of students, our modern schools actively, if unintentionally, function to discourage these traits in students. The farm is a place where young adults can work in an environment that demands responsibility, encourages initiative, and fosters teamwork. Although he did not specifically prescribe a farm, his discussion of a rural life endorsed it as a viable avenue to maturity.

It is interesting that Czikzentmihalyi indicted modern education in the way he did and prescribed his three recommendations, because his indictment and prescription mirror almost exactly what Maria Montessori saw and prescribed over fifty years ago. In the remainder of the conference, we were treated to an exposition of Montessori’s “Educational Syllabus,” which is also divided into 3 sections: Self-Expression (developing a unique interior self), Psychic Development (discovering one’s responsibility in relation to society), and Preparation for Adult Life (learning of nature, supernature, and the connections between the two throughout history). I plan to blog further about the exposition as I continue to riddle the question of why we have a farm.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dense Fog

As the snow is melting the moisture in the air is hanging thick over the Land School in a dense fog. I can barely see out from the Homestead to the Athletic field. We are looking forward to the Land School Loppet this weekend, and I am sure there will still be snow. A friend was telling me that in the morning hours yesterday her husband went out skate-skiing and could go anywhere because there was a crust on top of the snow pac. It seems that the skiers this weekend can probably choose their snow conditions by the time of day, since overnight temperatures will be well below freezing and daytime temps climbing above.

Today Jen and I went to Stillwater for errands. As we drove across the bridge, the fog got even thicker and we could not see the city at all. Later, as we were heading home, we could see the bridge from the shore, just floating on a cloud of fog, like in a movie or something. Usually a fog like this will cook off after a few hours or at least by midday. Not today. One thing we can look forward to is the hoarfrost that will come when the fog does start to freeze. It could be just perfect for the Loppet.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spring is Here!

My snowshoes were stuck vertical in the snow and so much snow melted that they fell over.

The melting snow reveals a lot. Like pumpkins from last year's Fall Festival. And dog poop too!

As the snow melts on metal roofs, it slides in a big sheet and sometimes hangs over quite far.

Two days ago our roof was covered with snow and foot tall ice dams. Today, almost gone!

Bags of popcorn hanging in the greenhouse. Yesterday I had 100% pop from the ear I tried in the air popper.
At least it feels like Spring is here. If you had asked me two days ago when winter would end, I would have said probably mid-April. There was so much snow and it felt so cold, that I would not have been able to conceive of a non-winter day. Today if you asked me, I’d have to say the snow could all be gone by next week. What a difference. The entire landscape has changed in a few short hours. It felt like that moment in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia where the snow melts all at once.

I think more melting happened today than in all of the rest of the winter combined. The hard-packed snow paths that criss-cross the farmstead have all changed consistency and we are now breaking through soft mush. If we wanted to make snowballs, the snow has become perfect packing snow. The snow that has been on top of the greenhouse all winter magically went away. The guinea fowl, which have spent the bulk of the winter within 50 feet of the chicken coop, were on the road today, yakking away. For the first time in months, I walked outside without a winter hat on.

Yesterday I spent a couple hours using boiling hot water to carve channels in the ice dams on the farmhouse roof. Today all the snow that melted on the roof had an exit path and instead of entering the house, it came off in a steady stream. So much snow melted off the roof that huge areas are visible and dry now and the ice dams of yesterday are half as big. Victory is sweet.

By Andy

Friday, February 11, 2011

Student Photos from October 2010

Thanks to LCS students from Farm Stay 1 for taking these gorgeous pictures last October. 

LLarry (white) and Precious (Brown)

Big Brown (darker) and Lily (more greyish)

Hidatsa Squash (grown from saved seed by Class G in the Three Sisters Garden)

The trail to the Farmstead.

Rouge V'Etampes pumpkin AKA Cinderella.

"Pampas Grass" in front of the farmhouse.

Sugar Maple Gold.

The climbing branch at the Tree House.

Antique Potato Planter in the the Red Barn. Idle ever since Class F took over planting the potatoes every year.

Golden Rod near the orchard.

The assembled bounty before the harvest fest.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hoar Frost Hike on Saturday February 5th

Notice the Guinea Fowl 

The birch really caught our attention.

This Hawthorne looks like a bonsai.

The treehouse.

 That is some deep snow! Almost up to the birdhouse.

Perfect time for snowshoes.


Our bathroom window this morning.

Monday, February 7, 2011

E1 Third Years Visit the Land School

On Thursday and Friday of last week the E1 third years came out for an overnight visit to the Land School with their teachers. It was very exciting for us, because we generally have few elementary visits in the winter. Donna and I were eager for them to have a great time out here. And they did!

On Thursday they arrived in the early afternoon and we welcomed them with a brief orientation. We could keep it short because everyone had already been to the Land School several times. We went right into our first activity period. The students divided into groups and one group went to the bird blind, another went to Strawberry Hill to go sledding and a third group went to the Farmstead to do animal work. My group was animal work and we fed the sheep and llamas and brought the chickens their food too. This group spent some time observing the sheep by climbing on the big bales of hay in the pasture and watching the sheep from there. Everyone worked hard and they also enjoyed hanging out with Pippa, the farm puppy. The bird blind group saw a multitude of birds, and the sledding group had fun and tired themselves out in the deep snow.

That evening we had tacos for supper and then our friend Nancy Frank came over and gave a presentation about llamas. Nancy has a farm called Opportunity Llamas and at one time she had 43 llamas and took llamas to national shows. She is a fountain of information and the students had great attention for her.

On Friday for breakfast we had pancakes, sausage and blueberries and for lunch we had chili. All the meals were cooked by LCS parent Teresa S., who had everything on time and delicious. Teresa had the innovation to serve family style instead of buffet style. The advantage for a large group like this one is that with family style everyone starts eating at the same time. This helps us avoid the situation where some students are done eating and other are just starting. There are more dishes to wash, but in general we like the family style for big groups. Thanks for all your hard work Teresa!

On Friday, we had two different activity periods, so each of the three groups could get to do each of the activities. The animal work groups helped to clean out the llama pen, which consisted of piling bedding on a tarp and dragging it to the compost pile. We were all tired after that work! The birders saw a plethora of bird species and even saw over 30 goldfinches at one time. The sledding crew returned each time with good stories, rosy cheeks and no major injuries.

There was plenty of free time for play on the snow piles in front of the Homestead. In their free time the students also could be found inside playing foosball and board games, playing with Sabine, playing the piano and drums, and interviewing classmates for a game they played in their closing community meeting. Connections were made across the level and a good time was had by all.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this a great event!

Junior High LS Visit with Mexican Exchange Students

 Thanks to Martha Archer for the great photos

by Andy (and Martha  and Yonci)
On Saturday January 29th, a whole collection of Junior High students and parent chaperones descended upon the Land School. Donna and I have been on vacation for the month of January, and this was a great way to welcome us back into the swing of things. All of the Mexican exchange students came, along with their hosts from the Junior High and many of the host parents. It was a lovely time.

After a long string of cold weather, that Saturday was actually warm, which was good because we would be outside all day. The students arrived in the morning and got settled in and had lunch. After lunch we took the students out for Stewardship Work. Some cleaned out the llama pen and some worked on the Chicken Coop. Others stayed at the Homestead and did projects there. My groups were working on the coop and the pen. The problem was that the snow was too deep to run the wheel barrows back and forth to the compost piles. Never fear! By piling the bedding on tarps and dragging the tarps across the snow, we were able to clear a significant amount of poo. The improvement of the animals’ environments was noticeable, and there was general feeling of accomplishment. After work, the students divided up for outdoor activities. Some brave students went to the sledding hill. Others stayed close to the Homestead and played football and a game simply known as “tackle.” These games relied heavily on the massive cushion that the deep snow provided.

It was fun to be here with the Mexican students during the winter. They don’t have snow in Cuernavaca and the exchange students seemed to take incredible delight in the snow. We all know that this winter is special and we have not had this much snow in many years, but for them to arrive during this period of waist-deep snow was just perfect timing. Sort of like us going to Central America and seeing a dormant volcano go off.

After outdoor play, everyone piled into the homestead to play foosball, ping pong, and board games. Dinner was a homemade pizza party, hosted by the Tofflers in honor Jacob’s birthday. Good stuff. The evening brought a movie and a sauna and lots of good social time. Sunday morning we had a pancake feast and cleaned up the Homestead in time for everyone to leave before noon. Thanks everyone!

An additional note from Martha Archer:

Thanks to all the chaperones, Andy & Donna for carving out time in their vacations to host us, the Tofflers for a great party Saturday night, Katy for leading the lights-out campaign & all who assisted with carpools & donated food! 

It was a great weekend. The kids worked hard, played hard & slept well! I enjoyed spending the weekend with all of your wonderful kids. I especially took delight in seeing our kids doing farm and kitchen chores with such pride and as one child said 'a sense of duty!' We are so fortunate to have this wonderful place for our kids to live, work and play, and such a wonderful team of guides and role models in Andy, Donna and Katy! Thank you!!

Additional Note by Yonci;

Operation Bienvenidos

And then there were many: Kids, parents, and our guests from Cuernavaca, Mexico. We were here to celebrate our guests, and give them a taste of farm life. Our day started with a great lunch of chili, squash soup, and various sandwich items. We all had a great time learning new words in Spanish, and conversing with one another. Then we started on the work. A group of us went to clean out the sauna, which we would later use that night. Another group helped to prep the kitchen for dinner, and the rest of us went on to do the dirty work. We split in half, so one group piled llama poop onto a tarp and pulled it to the compost and back, while the other piled chicken bedding, and did the same thing. This lasted at least two hours, with various complaints about “my aching back” and such. When the last tarp of llama feces and chicken bedding was pulled, we headed back for fun and games, but not before a hot cup of cocoa. We enjoyed a game called “Tackle.” Basically, you just tackle people at your own leisure. (Note that this is a good way to get revenge without actually hurting someone). We then came in to the homestead and enjoyed homemade pizza and some red-pepper salad. After that, the first group of girls started to go to the sauna. Boy, were we in for a surprise! When we got there, a few of us decided to roll in the snow right when we got there. And, then, when we got into the sauna, we realized that it was colder than the homestead itself! We trudged home in bikinis, disappointed and cold. But, we got it fixed up pretty soon, so when the boys were done, we got to have another go. We settled down, with a Happy Birthday to our dear friend Jacob, who was turning fourteen, and then snuggled into a well-earned rest.