Thursday, December 02, 1999

Dear Hop

Dear Hop,

You asked for a letter like the ones I used to send from Cate, so I'll see what I can do.  I'm
a little older now of course -- but I doubt my writing has improved much.  The environment is
certainly right for a Cate-like letter.  I came here to Maui to surf and do physics research,
and I find myself living at and helping to start a school.  Life is so strange that way.  I
suppose one can get locked into focus on certain goals, and dodge all distractions, but that
seems to me more like passing up opportunities.  So here I am, spending some time each day
playing with children and talking with the other staff, and trepidatious parents, about the
school we're trying to build.

It's a wild concept.  The basic idea is to trust the children.  The school is run as a
participatory democracy, with each student and staff having an equal vote at the weekly
school meeting, where school rules, policies, and disputes are created, discussed, and
resolved.  The students are free to pursue whatever interests they choose, whenever and
however they please, without any adult control, as long as it's within the minimal set of
rules that are set out.  The adults are around only to facilitate the students' learning and
to maintain the atmosphere.  So it's pretty much total chaos around here.  Fantastic!
Children jumping on the trampoline, painting themselves, reading, and today... today was
driver's ed.  Yikes.  Maybe it wasn't such a good thing that the property came with a car.
And I'm not sure what's going to happen when someone figures out how to get the bulldozer
fired up. (?!!?)

So it's "Lord of the Flies" around here to a certain extent, while the kids push the envelope
to find out that they are indeed in complete control of their activities -- and learn
self-responsibility.  They deal with boredom a lot, and there is the occasional fight that
breaks out between the little boys -- with the staff overstepping their bounds somewhat at
times to break it up and remind them of the rules.  A rule infraction is resolved via a
complaint and an investigation and resolution by the judicial council, which is a group of
students and staff chosen by lot.

As an experiment in education, it seems quite a gamble.  I have to wonder if the kids are
going to "learn" just by playing and pursuing their interests.  But then I think back and
consider that's the main way I learned.  And there is also the existing school that this one
is modeled after that has been successfully running for thirty years -- with kids going off
to good colleges, or choosing not to.

It's a wild situation to have fallen into.  I never would have chosen to be a teacher for
elementary through high school students, but being staff at this school is great. It's all
play.  And maybe I can set a good example, being a decent kid.  I told the lady I interviewed
with that I'd rather be a student here, but that I'd settle for staff.

Although I'm living here, and it's a big part of my life, I'm only putting about twelve hours
a week into what laughingly is called "working" at this school.  With the rest of my time
I've been surfing, pushing myself pretty hard learning how to windsurf,  doing a bit of
physics (though I feel like I should be doing more), reading, and a lot of just staring at
the horizon and thinking.

I still miss T.  I spend way too much time thinking about her, though I know there to
be no hope of reconciliation.  I think of the Goethe quote you gave me,  "That women are
like streetcars -- one shouldn't run after them, as there will be another along in a few
moments."  But these words can seem empty.

It's scary that I haven't done much physics.  I notice a correlation between when I've been
able to do really significant research and when I've had a good relationship with a woman.
It's not so much that I've drawn on their strength or support, usually it's the opposite, but
more that I've been able to put that part of my life aside as sated and get some actual work
done.  Perhaps I should just find a nice New Age earth mother here to play with...

I've been taking my romantic frustrations out on my body by learning how to windsurf.  The
conditions here are extreme -- large waves and high winds.  A week after I learned how to get
the board going I had a spectacular high-speed wipeout and launched my body through one of my
sail panels.  A week after that, with a new sail, I broke my mast in three places when I got
a little too friendly with some big waves.  It's been punishing, but it keeps my mind focused
on the balancing act of riding the forces of wind and water -- skipping across the wave tops.
Often I totally loose control, the board, sail, and body flailing violently into the ocean
when I make a mistake.  It's good fun.

So, I write this from my room at a school on a bluff overlooking trees and the ocean, speak
of the foolish thoughts in my head and what's going on in my life -- a suitable reproduction
of a letter from Cate, no?  Who says you can't go back.

I hope things are well with you.  I look forward to visiting you when I come back to the
mainland for a month in February.  Perhaps I may raid your library again.  I enjoyed
"Elective Affinities," though it did not reach me with the same strength as Werther.  I am
morbidly pleased that Goethe's romances end in death, it appeals to my aesthetic appreciation
of realism.



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