Ron Heacock, his wife, Karen Walasek, and her loyal service dog, Finn, split their time between the farm, HillHouse Writer’s Retreat, and their home in Portland, Oregon. Ron spent years as a performing songwriter and has shared the stage with notable artists like Alan Ginsberg and Pete Seeger. His work is published in Connotation, PaperTape, LIMN Literary & Arts Journal, Elohi Gadugi Journal, Far Enough East, Cease Cows, and The Pitkin Review. He is completing his MFA at the Goddard College.
I was a crappy student. I can’t remember how many times I was called an underachiever, but it was a lot. My time in grammar school and high school was very damaging. I saw the world differently – and I learned in my own way.
When we had our first son, we decided to homeschool. It was back before there was a home school movement, so it was a risky thing to try. Our parents pressured us for years and even called children’s services on us once. But we persisted. We learned the laws, we formed groups, we gave our kids the space to learn in their own way, at their own pace.
The main reason for not sending our kids to public schools was protection. Being a highly creative person, I was confronted daily with the society’s biases about what being a good student, a smart boy, a correct member of society was.
There is always a dominant story when it comes to education:
- Kids are empty vessels which need to be filled.
- You can create a properly educated person by what you fill them with.
- The way to make sure they have learned something is to create a test for it.
- There are just too many people and it is just too expensive to give them all personal attention, so we have to use an industrial model.
- Because we have to use the industrial model, we have to treat everyone the same way.And finally, the worse part of the dominant story:
- The survival of the institution is more important than the individual because without the institution there would be no education.
I have known in my heart from a young age that this is not my story. Conformity would have only killed the spark.
The dominant story is only one way to view the situation, and with all the people that this question touches (which is just about everyone), you would think that we could recognize that there is more than one way to see it – there are several stories. And as Chimamanda Adichie says, there is a grave danger in the single story.
See this TED talk for more information:http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
Safe Space is the key to developing the skills that are required to perform any creative act. Confidence in you own abilities cannot be replaced by any other skill or mental posture. In other words, there is no substitute for a protected learning environment.
Of course there is good writing and bad writing, but the ability to put understandable strings of words on paper is not the hardest part of learning to write well. I believe in helping students find the next step in their education. But I believe that the selection of that step is ultimately up to the student. My job is simply to provide the setting and to allow the right decision to emerge.
Risk is the single most important element to originality.
The best ideas I have ever had were the result of my mistakes – and so, I encourage my students to take risks, to fail. It dovetails nicely with safe space – because if you feel safe, you are more apt to take risks. I work hard to create the setting within which the student will take risks without fear of failure. I am pleased to bring my philosophy to The HillHouse Writer’s Retreat Series; A Movable Feast.