At Open School, you took your brain and ran with it.

At Open School, you took your brain and ran with it

I came to Saint Paul Open School after Saint Gregory’s Catholic School in Highland Park. My parents had swung from being right-wing religious to becoming active in the formation of Open School. My mother was a schoolteacher and she taught an alternative method of education which I think made her open to new concepts. My dad was always kind of a dogmatic zealot. And I believe he swing from one extreme to another. They were threatening me with military school before they suddenly switched directions.

 

Of course I loved Open School. I flourished personally and academically. I found a bunch of upper-middle-class, liberal, educated friends my age that welcomed me without knowing much about me except that I lived on Summit Boulevard. I wish that I was still in contact with that clique. I would still be friends with them today if I could. Although I am ranked as a moderate liberal, I am anti-religion and anti-Trump, so it’s been hard to maintain my college friendships since then. And a lot of Reich-wing religious family and friends dropped me.

 

But what could I say about Open School? There’s so much to tell. I have a dozen stories for every floor of the building! It was a wonderful experience. Every school should have a humanistic, open, caring, loving and exploratory approach to learning and life.

One of the courses I took was a sociology course with a teacher, Joe Nathan.

I’m not really sure what the reading assignments were for that course. I don’t think I remember any of them. I’m not really sure what the other lessons of that course were. I don’t think I remember any of them. But I do remember one experience. Joe didn’t just teach us how to purchase a fish, although consumer shopping was a component of our graduation requirements. I am still an economical shopper to this day, But Joe did have a bunch of teenagers put on a mock trial. And I was the judge in that trial. What started off as a small experiment that was only going to last over a few days or a few weeks, morphed as they often do in real life, to a year-long experiment.

We had a mock trial about the controversial thalidomide drug, and it’s terrible debilitating birth defects! Normally such a trial should be an excruciatingly boring drill about the dangers of rampant unfettered capitalism and rushed drug testing. The United States was caught horribly by that global tragedy. But our trial exploded. One side after another called more and more witnesses. They weren’t allowed to fabricate evidence. But they did call other students and I think sometimes teachers and parents as experts to testify.

Across the street from me on Summit Boulevard, our neighbor was a local municipal judge, Raul Faricy. He even let us use his courtroom for a day. And he sat in on the case. He gave us the highest compliment by saying it looks just like the real thing.

Just like the real thing, I had an enormous conflict of interest as a judge. Both of the teenage women that I was smitten with, and I was smitten with all of them, were on both sides of this controversial trial. I’m afraid in the interest of jurisprudence, I found that the plaintiffs did NOT prove that it was actually thalidomide that damaged the poor child. There was plenty of evidence presented by the defense that it could have been over doses of Aspirin or possibly even a combination with Aspirin that may have caused the birth defects. If I had to do it all over again, I’m NOT sure that I would rule any differently given the evidence that was presented at that trial.

But talk about teaching a man to fish! This is an example of how Open School can let students and teachers take the ball and run with it. We chased down education and learning as if it was something that might get away from us instead of something that had to be forced down our throats. We could not get enough of it. In fact, I did a shadow study, internship and later, a campaign with George Latimer, whose beautiful daughter Faith was part of my clique and mock trial group. Latimer later became Mayor of Saint Paul for almost two decades. On a permanent partial injury case, George’s main piece of evidence were large eight-by-ten glossy photos of the damage that was done to a worker when a concrete block fell on his face! I also did a shadow study with a neighbor, Phil Bryne, who was a city prosecutor. As a teenager, I sat in on pornography cases in which Mr. Bryne’s only piece of evidence was the horribly graphic magazines that were purchased at the local stores that the city was trying to shut down. All this in high school! And then I went to work for Latimer in the Mayor’s Office after I graduated from Hamline University.

Education isn’t just about the military drill. It’s not just about turning out soldiers and workers. There are many white collar, middle-class professions that require creativity and thinking. By letting children grab the ball and run with it in the direction that they want to go, as fast and as hard as they can, by encouraging them to sprint and NOT just sit, suffering through hours of mindless droning, Open School education prepared them for making choices that lead to happiness, creativity and in the end, better productivity for society. It’s almost a little economics lesson, isn’t it? As if multiple vendors with multiple products and multiple consumers is actually better for the economy than just a forced communist-controlled one product-one solution for everybody; like the old fashioned Factory Model of Education. Humans aren’t animatronics. We excel best when we are treated more like wild animals than dumb machines.

 

 

Open School opened my mind to the possibility of education. It was no longer a rote, meaningless and boring drill. Every day was exciting. When the school closed at 5, the janitors had to chase kids out and often many kids stayed working on projects or something until 9 at night. Sometimes we just hung around in the front hall, talking. There was a big carpeted platform that the kids sat on. In fact, we would sit there during the day if we were catching a tour of the school.

I know that that is NOT what adults think education should be about, but education for middle aged and teenagers is very much about socialization. It’s very much about finding out likes, dislikes, values and ethics. Most teenagers make some very life for firming value decisions during their teenage years. We often decide on a lot of the big issues of our times. It’s where we form our hard core values. And a lot of that is done by comparison to our peers. So socialization is very much a part of Education. It’s not all Ps and Qs. This was particularly important for me because as a Canadian family, we moved around almost every year, so most of my elementary and middle school years I was always considered a newbie and outsider. Once I got to Open School in my final years of high school, I was part of a clique, and I was no longer an outsider.

 

The school had such an amazing impact that educators came from all over the world to visit. We had a community service component as part of our graduation requirements. One of the things I did was to give tours of Open School. This was really wonderful as we guided people through the schools and sections and bragged about the different components of the multifaceted education.

One of the fundamental core concepts of this amazing experiment was that the students would be allowed to study whatever it was that they were interested in! This was kind of a bait and hook strategy.

So if you were in fourth grade and you had already read all of the fourth-grade books on the subject you love, say astronomy for example, you could take a sixth grade astronomy course, if the school offered it. If the school didn’t offer it, all you had to do was find another half-dozen students that were interested in the same subject. The school would find a teacher or a parent or an outside volunteer who would come in and teach that class course. Strangely enough there were many adults who are willing to volunteer their time. There’s something rejuvenating about teaching the Next Generation. It energizes your soul. I wasn’t interested in astronomy. But I did know that my friend Priscilla Young was interested in Russian because of the Romantic novels that she was reading at the time so she and a number of other teenage girls had a class in Russian. The hook of the strategy was that to advance in any subject you need to have learned the basics of Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmetic. And that was the hook part of the strategy. Sure you could take a sixth-grade astronomy course if you qualified for the prerequisites, but you had to be able to do 6 grade level reading and writing. So in conference with the parents and an assigned teacher/counselor, many students found that the core educational skills were still being taught, except by choice rather than by force. The students were swimming in knowledge rather than having it waterboarded down their throat.

Of course, for many students, the Simple Solution to advancing in the subject matter of their choice was to take classes at other schools in the district, or in my case towards my final years, I started taking college courses. In fact I had about a year of college credits accumulated by the time I graduated. And I graduated early. But I know that I did not want to take basic math with the young students at open school, so I took basic math at the University of Minnesota. Where I sat in a huge auditorium and never spoke to my teachers once! I still got a C and I don’t even remember doing any of the homework.

Somewhere around that time I read a book. “The Bankers” by Martin P Mayer. Which was really NOT just an expose of America’s financial system, but also kind of an explanation of how monetary economics works. I wrote about some of the things I read in the school newspaper. I was the editor of Open Other End, the school newspaper, and I had a column on anything. I wrote about economics. My counselors recommended me to a National Science Foundation Economics Institute at Saint Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. This basically was 4 years of college economics crammed into 5 1/2 days a week during a 7 week long semester in the summertime. Whereas Open School had only one desk size computer terminal in the math department on the first floor, Saint Olaf College had an entire computer laboratory devoted to dozens and dozens of computer terminals, hard wired to a mini computer. I got more computer time on the papers that I wrote during the summer Econ Institute, than I did in four years of college economics at Hamline University. In fact, although economics at Hamline was basically an expensive repeat, mainly because I had already done it at Saint Olaf during the Economics Institute.

Over the years, I was computer sales mostly after college, Bond Broker, Commodities Trader and office manager, then a technical writer and now PT retired and a PT boat captain!  I was married for about 14 years and had two teenage step-kids, but none of my own. I live with my girlfriend and our Poppet puppy, an Australian Shepherd, and a marshmallow and marmalade Princess of Palmetto, the Skitty Kitty, Savannah, in Tampa Bay area, Florida! I wrote four dozen aquarium articles and eight dozen stereo equipment reviews.

 

I had pancreatic Cancer, Whipple operation, chemo and radiation. Operated on Halloween, out in time for election day, 2016.

Open School didn’t have much of a sports program. We had a gym up on the third floor. And people could play basketball, but the backyard was a parking lot. And the neighbors were warehouses. There was a park with a pond of sorts across the street. but it was a busy avenue and the kids didn’t cross it very often. In a traditional school, you can take the ball and run with the sports program.

At Open School, you took your brain and ran with it.

 

A. Colin Flood

USCG Captain

RT Technical Writer/Trader/Broker/Manager