For the 2012 -2013 year, I will be an intern at the Albany Free School. I found out about the Free School through AERO, the Alternative Education Resource Organization, back in the days when I first began learning about democratic schools. I decided to join their internship program as my own form of alternative learning. I’m a self design major in the “Progressive Program” at my school. Having been founded upon the core beliefs of progressive educator John Dewey, I’ve been afforded the freedom to craft my own hands-on educational experiences in this program. With the support of my advisors at Green Mountain College, I will be learning about democratic education and other interests, such art and urban sustainability, by teaching at AFS and doing independent projects and programs on the side. My orientation starts tomorrow, and I am really excited to meet all of the staff. I’ll be documenting my experience in a variety of formats and keeping folks updated about my experiences and adventures here at the school and in the city.
I live in downtown Albany, and it’s nothing like what I had heard of it to be – a drab and dreary wasteland with nothing to do. Quite the contrary, Albany is a vibrant little city that’s very community oriented and diverse. There are tons of local unique business, cafes, and stores. It has an atmosphere that’s very modern while still maintaining its colonial roots through architecture and historical landmarks. The neighborhood I live in is pretty friendly for the most part, and has an abundance of urban agriculture which I heard is a product of 1960’s counter culture. The local area is very politically oriented, with a fair amount of activist groups, collectives, and community centers. Really awesome stuff! Albany is not perfect, and there are poor neighborhoods and people who are far from friendly, as unfortunately to be expected in any urban metropolitan area. All things considered, it feels nice to be in a city again, which, as an SoCal native, I’d been missing quite a lot.
I must also admit that while this internship is an alternative “gap year”, I’m nervous about “failing to deliver” on the independent study credits I tacked on to it. I made the projects pass/fail with grading my evaluation, because my goal is to unlearn much of the traditional school habits I’ve accumulated over the years. I really hope to treat this “school year” as a chance to explore my interests while helping young people to do the same at AFS. I view myself as someone who is “helping people learn” as opposed to someone who is “teaching people”. Teaching isn’t some sort of profanity, but I try not to rely on the term because of its usual authoritarian connotations. I hope to be more of a guide and leaning partner with the students and avoid the top down paradigm of teaching students as if I have all the answers, because I don’t.
This is my hello to all of those interested in exploring and understanding education, and answering the question of what schools are for.
Update, September 4, 2012: I’ve been putting more thought recently into the word “teacher”, and I don’t feel as put off about it as I did when I made this post. Being a teacher is valuable title. I believe I was fusing the word “authority” with the word “teacher”, because that is how many of my teachers carried themselves in the past. The thing always was, “Do what your teacher tells you to do, no questions asked”. But currently, when I hear about teachers and their goals, I continue to hear the hope to help students achieve and be their best rather than to make the kids do what they want them to do. I hope that this year I discover that it is possible to teach without assuming and non-stop authoritarian relationship with students.