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February 01, 2007

Alternative School

This morning I found myself reminiscing about the alternative school I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade. It was the Santa Monica Alternative School House, affectionately known as SMASH. When I started kindergarten in 1984, SMASH was a K-12 public school, designated as alternative because it followed a "progressive curriculum." We called all of our teachers by their first names, and classrooms combined multiple grade levels. Many of our teachers played the guitar, so singing was a regular part of the school day, and instead of playing with blocks, we used "manipulatives." I loved my kindergarten and first grade teacher, Jim, who later became a principal at SMASH. He played the electric guitar and had an amplifier named "pig nose." Our teachers didn't grade us, but instead sent home extensive written evaluations.

SMASH was a kind of paradise, an educational oasis that seemed to be totally outside of reality, as I learned when I switched to the regular middle school in the sixth grade. Few of my middle school teachers were interested in actually teaching, and were on perpetual power trips, using their authority to instill fear in the students. Calling teachers by their last names seemed stupid to me -- after all, they were people just like everyone else -- and their grading seemed totally arbitrary when they weren't teaching us anything anyway. Granted, my middle school, John Adams, was a particularly bad school -- as I learned when I entered high school and found that the honors classes were almost entirely populated by students who had gone to the other middle school -- but no other school could have lived up to the experience I had at SMASH.

SMASH probably didn't prepare me very well for the real world, where we do often have to submit to arbitrary and idiotic authority (think, for example, of our country's current presidential administration), but as a kid, going to school there was a fantastic experience.

Posted by eklanche at February 1, 2007 07:38 AM


I still have a lot of trouble with arbitrary and idiotic authority (you may already have noticed this about me). Partly it's my own personality, and my family - we're all the same way. In fact, my dad always liked to cook, but wouldn't use a recipe until after he retired, because he had enough of being told what to do at work. At Quaker school and at the alternative high school I went to, we called teachers by their first name; I've never been at all comfortable calling people with a title and last name when they don't address me in the same way. That's why I love my doctor; she invariably uses my title and last name.

Posted by: esik at February 1, 2007 12:02 PM

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