Conflicting Communities

(Part 2 of 7)

In the early 1960s, I taught school and worked late into the nights converting the giant hayloft in the stable into an old western bar. I wrote the corporation for the Cherry Hills Saddle And Surrey Club. A fellow teacher and I started the Timberliners Ski Club and on weekends when there was snow on the peaks, we took busloads of students up into the Rockies to ski. Other weekends I took interested students out into the community to talk to old timers. It gave them a unique view of the history of our area and American history in general. On one of these adventures my students and I found the original Cherry Creek schoolhouse which was built in 1872, and sold at auction in about 1950. It was stored on a ranch about 15 miles away near Parker Colorado. I was Key Club sponsor (no girls in Key Club in those days) and worked with some amazing young people. We raised money and purchased the old schoolhouse. To the surprise of many (I knew that it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission) we had it moved to the center of the high school campus.

A week later, I left for a year studying educational systems in 22 countries. I was searching for educational programs that did more than fulfill industrial age needs for conformed workers. I was looking for communities that involved children in the processes necessary to build effective communities.

While I was traveling, the students restored the schoolhouse and it once again became the center of the Cherry Creek community. The project provided an opportunity for the Key Club and some of my American history students to build community through shared experiences. They had a lot of help from Shilly, who was no longer principal but still worked with the district. Rebuilding was building community.

In August of 1970, when I returned to the US, I put a sign on my classroom door that announced that I had moved back to 1872. After that, I held my classes in the old schoolhouse.

I was aware that I stretched myself into so many directions that it is a wonder I survived. At the grand opening of the old western bar a wealthy man came up to me, grabbed my arm and said, “Ed, I’ve got to have this place.” By January of 1968, my parents were able to retire and I became a full-time educator. I had evaluated my options and my dreams, and decided that I loved education more than the recreation business. We sold the business and moved on.

I focused, and took on educational issues that concerned me. The words of Maria Montessori who taught, “You cannot teach a child well that you don’t know well,” motivated me, but I knew that the way the current educational systems were structured a secondary school teacher with 150 students a day for 42 minutes of contact time is doing little more than entertaining and babysitting.

I tried to work within that system and concluded that it couldn’t be changed. However, I believed and proved that entrenched educational programs could be supplemented and enriched.

An educational disaster that really frustrated me was the fact that schools were attempting to teach children about our culture by removing them from the community. Our schools isolated children from the real world. They did not prepare kids to collaborate with adults to solve real problems. Almost everything I did as a teacher was an attempt to address these major concerns.

I worked with others to start a program in our high school called EPIC—Educational Participation in Communities. In the late 60s, the school board approved a graduation requirement that every student would have at least one quarter of volunteer service. Al Thompson, an outstanding science teacher, created a program called MAL—Mutually Aided Learning. High school students could meet the graduation requirement by being trained to work with elementary school teachers in their classrooms.

During the next year I supervised over 800 high school students who were leaving the campus and working with all types of community businesses, organizations, and government agencies.

In 1968, I created a summer course called Introduction to Community Service and Social Studies Field Techniques.

I had been searching for a small community where students could walk down the street and visit federal, state, local government, and community businesses focused on meeting human needs. I found Cortez, Colorado. Not far from town was a Native American community whose citizens weren’t accepted and were being told that they weren’t wanted.

The kids called it the Cortez Program. Cortez was 428 mountain miles from Denver. The school district loaned me a bus and provided a credit card for gas. For three weeks, a group of students lived, worked, and traveled as a community.

Cortez and the nearby towns of Dolores and Mancos were recovering from the bust cycle of a boom-and-bust economy. They were in the process of rebuilding community. They welcomed my students. For the next 20 years being part of those communities created a sense of worth, being needed, being appreciated, and being accepted and supported which created a richness in all of our lives. Over 5000 students, their teachers and those excited by hands-on, experiential learning participated in programs. They demonstrated that learning can be accelerated and much more effective. It all happened because we built community that was not competitive but rather, put energy into collaborative problem-solving behavior.

In 1972, I established a 501 (C)(3) not-for-profit corporation named I-S Educational Programs. (Interdisciplinary Supplemental Educational Programs.) Initially we were focused on research into how true learning takes place.

One of the first things we learned was that by pairing students with research scholars doing primary research in the area motivated students and accelerated their learning. University graduate students and our high school kids worked together to research the lifeways of what were then called the Anasazi. Amazing things happened for students. The archaeological program was directed by Dr. Art Rohn, a preeminent scholar who had recently conducted an archaeological investigation of Mug House, one of the most important cliff dwellings on Chapin Mesa in Mesa Verde National Park.

I added archaeological research to our reasons for existence. We attracted outstanding teachers like Dr. Ron Gould and Dr. Bruce Bradley, who proved our hypothesis that with motivation, multi-age pairing, and real-life problem solving, learning could be accelerated with in-depth learning being the result. Building communities based on our research opened flood gates of new insights into how effective teaching and learning takes place.

I already knew that teacher’s colleges seldom produced great teachers. From each group of students, I observed motivated learners who had the skills necessary to communicate with and teach others. I asked those remarkable students to come back as learning assistants. Highly effective students like Jo Hindlemann, who used her skills as a musician and as an outstanding educator to form the backbone of our community. Jo became codirector of Crow Canyon which became widely known as a model for experiential education. We married in 1976 and have worked together for 50 years to build unique communities.

For those who want more information about building communities, I recommend two books about Crow Canyon that are available for free in PDF format on the website.

(Continued in Part 3: