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Michael Kline: 00:00:01 Okay. Today is November 5. I'm Michael Kline, and I'm here with Carrie Kline at the—in the Trustee's Room of the Concord Free Public Library. Another gorgeous fall day outside—unbelievable weather. And this is--. Like Thoreau used to measure his surroundings a little bit and keep an environmental record of what was going on, so I'm just—
Court Booth: Absolutely.
MK: —discussing what a great day it is. And would you introduce yourself, please? Say "my name is"—
CB: Yes, certainly.
MK: I'll hold this, thanks.
CB: My name is Court Booth. I'm—
MK: And your date of birth please.
CB: Is July 1, 1951.
MK: Fifty-one. Okay. And if you would, just tell us about your people and where you were raised—
CB: Sure. Yeah.
MK: Let's start with that.
CB: Yeah. I was raised in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and have three siblings. My father was a salesman in New York City. He sold windows in New York City. The nice thing about selling windows in New York City is you don't sell one at a time. You sell quite a few at a time, so we had a comfortable life. And I left Connecticut in 1969 to come to high school in Massachusetts. I went to Tabor Academy. My father and I didn't get along during my teen years, and he said, "As long as you pay for it, you can go to any school you want, but it won't be one around here." So off I went to Massachusetts. And we've reconciled very nicely since then, but that brought me to Massachusetts, and I never left. Went to Tufts University and then went on to Boston State College, which doesn't exist anymore. That got absorbed by the University of Massachusetts system. But I went to graduate school there because—we'll get to this, I suppose, in our conversation—Boston State College was one of the very few universities that had a Master's Degree in Community Education—adult learning and community service, which was something that appealed to me greatly. So those early years as a student led me very much to where I am today. So that's a bit about—a bit about my background.
MK: 00:02:40 And why did that appeal to you so much?
CB: I went to Tufts University and didn't know what I wanted to study, so I studied Sociology, because I figured that would be broadly applicable. And I did find that how people in groups behave was rather fascinating. I worked with a criminologist in my—in my sophomore year, a gentleman who, in our research and our travels, took me to the Boston public schools. This was, I believe, 1970. And we were studying the Urban Renewal efforts of the st—of the '70s and studying also the—the idea that the—the settlement house of old was getting reborn as the community school of that era. And—
MK: The settlement house?
CB: This idea—yeah, the settlement house—I'm no great historian, but the idea of a settlement house was it was a place where immigrants could acclimatize to their new—new environment and, ultimately, become full-fledged citizens by virtue of understanding how to—how to operate in a—in a new world. And the community education, or community school movement that I was introduced to in the early '70s was—was really an outgrowth of the settlement house idea of prior—prior decades. And also the lyceum movement, which has part of its roots right here in Concord, the idea of adult learning societies.
Carrie Kline: Spelled—?
CB: The lyceum—l-y-c-e-u-m. There was a Concord Lyceum. There was a Harvard Mass. Lyceum. There were lyceums in certain parts of New York, certain parts of New Hampshire, and—
MK: A learning center or an approach to adult learning or—?
CB: Well, it was—this was in the—the Colonial days, and if you finished your day and weren't going to have your hands on the plow anymore, you'd clean up and head off to usually the local church, because that was the center of community life. And you'd find on a given evening someone who was presenting a lecture. The ones we—we remember here are people of the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who would give a presentation, and one or two hundred people would—would show up in a—in a small town. It was—it was a big deal. And this was how people, number one, socialized but, number two, stayed very intellectually engaged. So, when we look at the—the more modern idea of community education, which I've invested myself in here in Concord for a long time now, we see its roots way back in this lyceum idea of people gathering voluntarily to simply expand their knowledge, stay in tune, and, and also connect with each other. The path that led me here was, again, this idea of studying Urban Renewal in Boston. And I came across one particular school—this was my sort of epiphany about all of this—in a pretty rough environment in Boston undergoing a lot of change—one of the parts of Boston that was really suffering at the time—but it was seeing a lot of federal Urban Renewal money come in. And some of that was going toward public education, and some, in particular, was going toward this idea of community and adult learning—a simple idea that said schools don't have to operate six hours a day. They don't have to operate thirty-nine weeks a year. They don't have to be islands or, some people say, ghettos for young people where they have to gather by day. These instead can be public facilities that have a pretty broad mandate that can stay open twelve hours, eighteen hours, twenty-four hours a day in some cases. They can house education for young people by daylight, but they can also be pretty—what?—wide-ranging centers for community activity and community service when the kids aren't using them.
MK: 00:07:36 Who's—who was the guru of that—of that whole movement—
MK: —or gurus?
CB: Okay. So—Well, the person who was presiding over the renewal and all of these community schools in Boston was the then-mayor, Kevin White. But when we look to the community education movement that so appealed to me, it really goes back—its present form goes back to the 1930s in Flint, Michigan, another urban area that was struggling. And here's the story of Flint, Michigan. There was a physical education teacher in Flint, Michigan—I think it was 1933 as the story has it—and he was the last one to leave the school each day. And one day at around dusk he was carefully locking up the fence that gated and protected the school, to keep everybody out until the following morning. And he looked down the way and noticed—as he's locking the gate, he's noticing a bunch of young people climbing over the fence to get into the school. And that was his eye opener because, as the story has it, he thought, here I am going to great effort to keep people out because it's dusk. But by dawn tomorrow, we're going to start worrying about whether we can get them to come in. And so why do we have this conflicting idea about this public resource called school? If we so want them here in the morning, why are we going to such great effort to keep them out by night?
If they're not here, where are they going to be? This might be the most wholesome, safe, productive place they could possibly be. Well, Stewart Mott, a philanthropist, and his Mott Foundation caught wind of this and started to put money behind it, this idea that shutting down schools—shutting down this most valuable real estate that any community ever has—shutting them down every afternoon is a pretty silly idea. We're squandering a pretty valuable resource. If we can simply keep those doors open and those lights on at negligible cost, we can do great community will, community goodwill and also, they thought back then, economic development too. This would better a community, and ultimately, it would better the economic vibrancy of any community if people were happier, people were healthier, people were better educated, people maintained skills throughout their life, all of which a public school could support at—
MK: Experience collaborations?
CB: Exactly. All of that. So we started in the '30s in this nation to see some schools—some innovative schools—do traditional education by day, but in the afternoon, it was a health center. By evening, it was a place where you could earn your high school equivalency. It was where you could learn English. It was where you could learn citizenship skills and take a citizenship test back when it was a more difficult process to gain US citizenship. You could take trade skills that you couldn't afford perhaps elsewhere and stay gainfully employed.
00:11:30 So, this was the idea in the '30s that gave birth to the modern-day community education movement that excited me years later in 1970 when I was a very young man in school. I visited a particular new school in Boston—again, a tough section of town—and here we were in a neighborhood that was undergoing a lot of change, that clearly was suffering. And here was a brand new, literally gleaming school—just beautiful. And there was lots of glass, big curtain wall windows, that was very modern. And I sat in the principal's office with my professor, and we interviewed the principal. And in the course of the interview, I had to digress and say, "Principal, you have to explain to me, how is it that you're sitting here next to an eight-foot wall of glass in a beautiful school, but when we look out that window, we see a pretty rough neighborhood. We see burned-out cars next to your school. We see rock-strewn streets, because the streets are in great disrepair. We see broken windows everywhere. We see obvious poverty and people struggling, and yet, you sit here comfortably in a brand new school. How is it this school stays in such fine shape when the neighborhood is looking so bleak?"
MK: Good question.
CB: Because it was. It was really a stark contrast. It was a very stark contrast, all the more so to a kid like me. I didn't understand it. She said, "It's very simple." She said, "This is not a traditional school. This is a community school. We are open by 6:00 a.m., and we don't close until well after midnight, and this is the center of community life for this neighborhood. This is where you come if you want to get your physical, because we bring in a clinic every afternoon. It's where you will have your child stay for daycare if you don't have other resources, because we'll have a daycare center here. It's where you'll come for your GED if you don't have a high school diploma. It's where you'll have your community meeting. We have no end of community activities under this roof as soon as the kids are done with their school day."
MK: And this was located where?
CB: This was in South Boston. In particular, it was on Talbot Ave. in Boston. And it was a time of great change and, again, lots of federal money—anti-poverty money—that was pouring into urban America at this time. And this was a small offshoot of this larger effort—this idea of trying to transform public education and make them engines for community development. It appealed to me a great deal. I just thought this was pretty cool, and I was somebody who, like many people who came of age in the 1960s, I was pretty altruistic, thought that I could be quite idealistic and still survive, but didn't really want to head out to the commune. So I thought perhaps I could satisfy some of my desires to contribute by staying in the mainstream in public education, but also push what mainstream means by trying to join this idea of redefining public education—redefining it to see that schools were centers for community life. Schools were centers for adult learning. Schools were centers for innovation that went beyond a K-12 audience.
So that was what excited me, and that turned me toward education. I trained myself—or became trained—as a teacher and got my teaching license, but I've never, ever in four decades of public education, I've never been a regular, full-time teacher. I've always been in this somewhat more unusual position of community educator. People, even in this town who have known me for years, wonder what I do, because it is such a mixed bag. It's very much a mixed bag.
MK: 00:16:44 But it would be inaccurate, for example, to call it the fringe, because it's—because the whole drive is to get it into the mainstream of community life.
CB: Precisely. And it operates under the governmental structure of any city or town, because it's part of the public school enterprise. So it's very visible. It's very public. It's got all kinds of, shall we say, controls built in, because it's a subdivision of government. But it's one that is not a cost factor for any city or town. So you won't find us in the budget. Instead, you'll find us in the fabric of community life, and you'll find us in the school if you visit the school. But you won't find us in the budget in any significant way, or in Concord and Carlisle, you won't find us in the budget at all, because we survive basically because of the goodwill and the small fees that people chip in when they do all of these activities I just described.
MK: And that's enough to sustain your vision?
CB: Barely but, yes. Yeah. I wake up every morning and say, "Gosh, I think we can turn on the lights again, and cover the postage expense, and pay my salary and that of several hundred part-timers who come through here to make all of this happen." It literally happens that way. It sounds rather simple. I mean, there's a lot of moving parts to it, but that is the way community education works. It's all fee-based in most cities and towns. There was a kinder, gentler day when there were state monies behind this, and there were local monies behind this, but now, as with so many things, user fees really pick up the slack. This is true for so many public-sector activities. There was a day you and I can remember where you could walk into a state park or a federal national park, and now you're going to stop at a gate and throw some money at it. We've privatized much of what—or partially privatized—much of what was in the public good through a shared public budget in an earlier day. This is something that I think historians will say was largely something that came about during the Reagan era, and we live with the consequences—some good, some not good—today.
MK: But you figured out how to make it—and other people—figured out how to make this sustainable.
CB: We have figured out how to make it sustainable. Yes, exactly.
MK: That's incredible and exciting.
CB: And it is exciting. I'll trace my story quickly here in Concord. I was, again, enthusiastic enough about this idea to finish my undergraduate work and then go on to get my Master's Degree in Education, specializing in this very—this very subspecialty called Community Education. And I, at the very same time, started to take a look around Tufts University to see how I could augment my academics with community work. And I read a little ad. I started to get the local paper—the Medford Daily Mercury it was called—because I wanted to reach out a little bit beyond the campus, because I saw many people who looked and sounded just like me on campus. And I wanted to tap into a more diverse community that I knew Medford offered.
00:20:43 So I started to get the local paper, and one day, I came across an ad that said, "The Police Athletic League is looking for an arts and crafts teacher. Pay five dollars an hour." Now, five dollars an hour was a decent amount of money back then, and I wanted to stop working in the dish room and see a little more of life around me. So I hopped on my bicycle, went down to the Police Athletic League, and was promptly told it was a misprint. It was fifty cents an hour—that the decimal point was in the wrong place, and it was fifty cents an hour. I took the job, and I became an arts and crafts teacher at the Police Athletic League in Medford. By the time we were done there a few years later, it was no longer a Police Athletic League; it was a community center. By then, it had a daycare center. We ran a summer camp. We started to transform it into a different kind of institution. So this was when I got excited with the idea that you can transform institutions. You can have a vision of what they can become, and lo and behold, you can actually build it if you bring in other people who have some similar vision of what's possible.
I went from the local community center then to Medford High School and worked in their community education program and spent a decade at Medford High School, a large high school in a—this community just a few miles outside of Boston. And it was, I think, a quintessential example of what a community school can be. It had the evening school for adults. It had GED equivalency for people who needed a high school diploma. You could learn English if you recently reached these shores and didn't have the second language necessary to get a job.
CB: Exactly—English as a second language, or—what do we call it now? English language learner, ELL, is the new acronym, but I'm an ESL guy as you are. And you could take many a noncredit class simply to satisfy your curiosity. If you wanted to learn how to do—oh back then, very rudimentary computing, you could do it. If you wanted to learn keyboarding—we don't offer that anymore, but typing, became keyboarding, became computing—you could certainly do that. If you wanted to learn how to draw or paint, you could do that, or work on a lathe or work with—work in the woodshop, because all of these were resources that schools had invested hugely in, and to say that after six hours of daytime use for kids their useful life was done was a silly idea. So what we would do was simply open up the doors at night and put a small tariff at the door—the fees were discussed—and see that that school looked and felt very different and served an entirely different population.
MK: But there was more to this process clearly than just opening the doors. How do you draw a community out about its—what it wants to learn?
CB: Well, I think—let me—let me turn to Concord, and I'll try to answer that. I'd been in Medford for ten years and got a phone call saying that the director in the Concord-Carlisle program was retiring and would I be interested in applying. And I thought, sure. This will be a good test of my commitment to this whole enterprise—this whole idea—because I thought Concord, a much more secure community in some ways than Medford, might find this more of an optional thing, because they have many other resources available, whereas some folks in Medford—this was an essential and only resource they had for some important life goals. So I thought, let me see if I can make this work in Concord and still be as committed to it as I am here in Medford.
And so there were ninety applicants looking for the Concord job. And after several interviews, I was told I was the guy. I asked the then-superintendent, "What was it? You know, what was it that suggested I might serve this community well?" And I'll never forget his answer. He said, "Well in all the interviews, you were the only one who debated with me. You were the only one who didn't agree with all of my ideas, and I want other opinions." I thought, well this is very interesting. I wonder if it's really true or whether that's just some very pleasant rhetoric. Well, it turned out to be true. This was a very unusual fellow. His name was Irwin Blumer—went on to teach education at Boston College. He was an exemplary leader who did, in fact, actively seek divergent ideas, more so than perhaps any educator I've known before or since. And so—
MK: 00:26:35 What a tribute.
CB: Well, yeah. Yeah. My—I thought, this guy is so stellar I hope he sticks around for a little while, because I'm sure a lot of organizations want to poach him from Concord. He's that unusual. Well, it was very true. He almost became Commissioner of Education, but instead went off to BC. He did get poached rather quickly after I arrived here, but I did have the pleasure of working with him for several years. And so, to your question, how do we draw people in, the—there are many answers. One is we listen to what it is people want and need. We don't have a mandate to offer this, that, or the other thing. Our mandate is to listen. Our mandate is to listen and respond.
MK: In a visioning meeting, or—what's your process?
CB: Well, there are several. One is rather formal, and that is we have an Advisory Committee appointed by the School Committee. And their job is to network, to be tentacles out into the community, to ask, and to seek ideas, and identify needs that we can address, to be very responsive, and bring those ideas back to the schools and to me, as an agent in the schools, to try to effect change based on what we hear.
So that's one of the formal mechanisms. The informal one is perhaps much more powerful. It happens in the form of people who simply say, "I need," or "I want." And this could be somebody who says, for example, "I'm returning to work after a hiatus in my career, and I need to be trained in certain skills to do that. I need to be expert at Microsoft Office," or "I need to be good with video," or "I need to be very skillful at business writing if I'm going to reenter my field after this hiatus." And so that's an incentive to, for us to say, "Okay, who's out there? Who can teach a course, run a workshop, do some meaningful education that will address what we're hearing from people?"
Perhaps even more than prospective students generating ideas, in a town like Concord and Carlisle—in a district like this—ideas come from the community educators themselves. They come forth, and they say, "I have"—and it happens every day, literally every day—people will reach me and say, "I have a special interest in, I have a special talent in, or perhaps I have expert knowledge in, and I'd like to teach a course, conduct a workshop." And then it's our job to scrutinize what it is, and do we think that we, as matchmakers, can put together—can match that educator with his or her course or program or workshop with a—an interested audience that's out there. And this takes all kinds of forms. What's a recent one? A fellow who reached us and said, "I teach stone carving. Why? Because I love stone." Well, frankly, I don't know how many people in Carlisle and Concord want to learn stone carving. But I'm in that office, and it doesn't cost me a lot of ink to put the word out that stone carving is available if you want it.
00:30:36 Now, it's my job to scrutinize the presenter, make sure they're credible, to look at the course design, the curriculum, to see if it is likely to be a sensible one, and I'm charged with that responsibility. But if it does look like it's a credible person with a credible educational enterprise we can bring to the community, I'm—obligated is a strong word, but I guess that's appropriate—I'm obligated to say to the citizens of Concord and Carlisle, "Here's another potential for you by way of noncredit continuing education."
Stone carving is doing rather nicely right now, in fact. The first time we offered it, nobody signed up, but we thought, okay, it's early. We haven't offered it yet. So we offered it a second time. Two people registered. And the third time it filled. Now, a year from now, if we offer it every semester in a little school district like this, pretty soon the interest will wane again. These things go up and down and up and down. But I said earlier we do quite a mixed bag of educational offerings, and it is. It's quite varied. You're going to always find that the public schools in this town and the Community Education program will offer the traditionals. You're going to find a course in Spanish. You're going to find a course in French. You're going to find a course in oil painting. You're going to find a course in quilting. You'll also find, however, some very unusual ones. We had a college president and ex-attorney, now retired, who taught a course in the Supreme Court, and we thought, well, who's interested in the Supreme Court? We don't know. Well, the first twenty-four people signed up in about thirty-six hours, and it was filled. And there's a waiting list for next year's course, if he comes back.
So this whole enterprise is an ongoing experiment to see what is it that appeals to people right now? How can we satisfy their intellectual curiosity, their desire for social connections? That's truly what Community Education is. When we look at who comes forth for these classes and programs we do—and we do them twelve months a year—seven days a week there's something going on—the data says people who seek out this kind of continuing education are people who are already undergoing some transition in their lives. That notion that change begets change, there's something to it.
We will find that—if we ask people, "What brought you out? Why are you up here tonight taking the course?" It's never as simple as, "I want to take the course." That's one of the answers, but the other—well, what are examples? The person who takes stone carving says, "I want to better my relationship with my teenage son, so he and I are doing it together as a shared thing." Okay. Well, gosh, there's another motive. Or the person who takes the town history course says, "You know, I want to start volunteering and doing some tours for visitors to this town. I want to work in the local visitor booth," for example. All right, so they wanted to take the course, but they had this other motive. Or somebody who's taking oil painting might say, "You know, I just retired, and I downsized. I moved to Concord, and I don't know a soul. And I think this is a good way to meet people."
MK: Professional and social development.
CB: Yeah. As an aside, I will confess that, had I been wiser, I would have started my list forty-some years ago when I started my work as a community educator—a list of all the marriages that have resulted from people meeting in night school. It's true. It happens. Now, we contribute to some marriage dissolution too, because we offer divorce workshops, this world being what it is, but I think we've made more lasting connections than dissolutions over the years. In fact, that's probably an understatement.
00:35:30 But no kidding, there have been more than a few people who have met and had long-lasting relationships and, in more than a few cases, very happy marriages because, again, they were undergoing some transition. And one of the ways they responded was to head out at night and come to a class, and see if there was anybody else who had a similar interest. I remember a fellow I read some years ago. I think his name was Townsend. I may not have this right, but he said something like, "Shared interests enhance intimacy," a very grand way of saying, if you and I find something that we both enjoy, we might enjoy each other also. Well, that sounds rather simple on the face of it, but it's also, one can say, rather deep, because it does really suggest how our lives do unfold, why you know the people you know, and why you love the people you love, and why you don't know the people you don't know because there's—what's the number? Are we at seven billion on the planet yet? But you and I are only going to know how many closely? Not too many. And if you and I can enhance relationships by saying public schools can be different if we simply are creative, have a neat idea about how to use public schools, then I think we've done rather well for ourselves in any community.
Speaking of any community, people will often ask me if Community Education or continuing education in the public schools in Concord and Carlisle is like the other program they knew in town X, or town Y, or town Z. And the answer is yes and no. Yes, in terms of the concept, this striving idea. Let's use this public space in creative ways. But it's also no—the answer is no because no two communities do it exactly the same way. My sister lives in a small farming community in upstate Vermont. And if you would like to offer a workshop in the local school, you tell the gym teacher that you'd like him to leave the key to the school under the mat. And when he leaves tonight, he'll leave the key under the mat, and you can open up the school later tonight, bring your friends in, and teach your workshop.
And if we go to Concord or Carlisle, we'll say, "We have a couple of gateways to do this, because we're bigger and have to be a little more organized simply by virtue of a need to be fair to everybody. We can't be giving out keys at random, but we have to make certain that everybody has access." And if we went to another community, it'd be done another way. Some communities say, "No, we don't have adult learning, but we'll rent you the space. What would you like to do? Go help yourself." So in some way, shape, or form, every city and town in this country sees that community schools contribute in some way toward community life, because citizens will always demand that their schools be used after hours in some way. But some are very modest, very limited, and some are very expansive. And I would say Concord is a little more toward the latter, because we have a formal Community Education program.
I came here, as I say, under the tenure of Irwin Blumer, the then-superintendent. That was 1985. And it was a different community in some ways, but in some ways we've retained our character in an exceptional way. And I think we take pride in trying to maintain some of Concord and Carlisle's character. Other people can speak more wisely to that, but I think the evidence is pretty abundant. You're sitting in the Trustee's Room today here at the Public Library, and this is unchanged, except we have a few new Concord authors on the shelves here. But we're still leaning on a desk that—or table here that was in Lincoln's office at one point. I'm not sure you knew that, but this was on the side of Abraham Lincoln's office at one point, this very table. And you and I live in Concord, so we can put our elbows on it too, because it's part of the artifacts that we cherish in this town. When I got to Concord in '85, we were largely transitioning from the program that had been established in the late '60s, and it was taking a much more contemporary look and feel. Because what was happening when I got here in the 1980s—Well you and I know the middle of the '80s was when the personal computer became the personal computer, and that drove considerable change.
00:41:03 But to back up a little bit and share Concord's story, and then I'll bring us up to '85 and beyond, the Concord School Committee, in 1954, received from twelve citizens an appeal to start an evening program. And the idea was not unlike the one I expressed today: There's my public school. I'd like to use it. And those twelve citizens, a mere twelve, launched this idea, and the School Committee accepted the idea. And back then you could come, and for a dollar, or sometimes as much as five dollars for the very, very ambitious classes, you could take an evening class. And it evolved over the years. It was very small and homegrown until about 1969. And then it became formally established as the Adult Homemaking and Crafts Evening School.
So that was the name. It was homemaking and crafts. And the centerpieces were cooking, fabric crafts, folk art, and some shop. There were some business classes on the side. One could learn bookkeeping, or typing, and a smattering of foreign languages, and certainly the essential ESL classes, the GED classes, and so on. And that homemaking and crafts school then ultimately became the Adult & Community Education Program. And the Adult & Community Education Program, as we know it now, originated here when it was the Concord Public Schools. But when the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District came into being, when the grades nine through twelve merged and the two towns shared the responsibility, the Community Education Program then fell under its purview. So we are not a Concord program but rather a Concord-Carlisle regional program.
When I got here in 1985, I followed on the heels of Evelyn Zuk—Z-U-K. She was truly an institution. She had been here from 1969 until her retirement in 1985. Her husband, Larry Zuk— Z-U-K again—was a very accomplished fellow. He was a—by avocation—a jazz musician and also a world-class canoer. He traveled thousands of miles with his homemade canoes for competitions, and displays, and demonstrations. They were both very gifted people.
Evelyn Zuk was a true champion of social change. She was at the vanguard of the, shall we say, women's movement—that's what we called it back then—trying to establish equal rights for women in employment, among other areas. And she was very, very committed to human rights and was one of the founders—a principal founder actually—of the Concord-Carlisle Human Rights Commission—excuse me, Human Rights Committee. I'm sorry, Committee. That's a community group. It's not a governmental institution, but it's a community group that has been active for some, oh gosh, thirty-five years or so. It had a—
MK: They've been active?
CB: Very active in the town promoting human rights, and trying to address particular issues or complaints that might come up that fall under a human rights kind of perspective. The Human Rights Council had an unfortunate genesis in what was then called a race riot at our high school. And it was an ugly situation. Would one characterize it as a riot? I don't know; I wasn't there. But this was in some of the earlier days of our METCO program when we were bringing urban students to Concord and Carlisle in our effort to diversify and see a suburban/urban mix in our schools. It's a program we were proud of initially. It's a program we're proud of today. We are a very committed school district in terms of our METCO program. We refer to the students who are with us, not as METCO students, but we refer to them quite simply as our Boston students, because they come from the Boston area. And so we now have Concord, and Carlisle, and Boston students in our public schools. And it's a mix that has worked beautifully for everyone involved for many, many years. But in the early years—
MK: 00:46:45 How so?
CB: Well. How does it work? In the early years, there were tensions that we didn't know perhaps how to deal with as effectively, I hope, as we know today. But some problems, I think we would say, do persist today. Why does it work? How does it work? Well, I think if we look at it from the perspective of a Boston student who has elected to come to the suburbs at great cost to them—up at dawn, and a long day here, and a tough bus ride and so on—they would, I think, tell you that they have opportunities in a suburban high school that are not available to them in their neighborhood school, because when they compare the resources, the facts are pretty indisputable.
There are greater educational resources at Concord-Carlisle High School than there are in some other school districts. And if we looked at this from a—the perspective of a student who lives in Concord—I could use either one of my children as examples—they would say, "I understand more about the world, by understanding people who have other perspectives, other backgrounds than me and the kids in my neighborhood. I now know kids from other neighborhoods. I know kids who have other backgrounds, other races, other religions, other heritages, and that benefits me." In fact, they're going to be very, very direct and forthright and sincere about saying things just like that. They know the benefits are very real. Or, they might keep it simpler and say, "I have more friends as a result of a greater mix of kids in my school." And that's why they like participating in the METCO program.
But again, it was the difficult times in the '70s when there were racial tensions that we perhaps didn't understand so well then that led to some ugly incidents at our high school, that led to a great community outpouring of support for racial harmony and support for students who were here from other communities. And one of the responses was the Human Rights Council that Evelyn was such a part of. And I mention that because I think it's one of the contributions she made that was quite exceptional. And the other one was, of course, in my opinion, the development of the Community Education Program. She truly made it an institution in this town, part of the fabric of community life, by virtue of what she did as the leader of community education in Concord for so many years. So, I was humbled and pleased to be able to follow in her footsteps. Her feet might have been rather small—she was a very diminutive woman—but her footprints that she left behind were rather large. So we're all in her debt.
So I came in '85 and followed her, and over the intervening years, we've seen the Community Education Program change in many ways. Some of it is proactive in ways I described before. We have an Advisory Committee that is seeding us with ideas and looking for resources all the time. We have would-be educators who come to us with ideas for classes and workshops. We have citizens who ask us for certain programs and services. There's another big driver in shaping what we do, and that is when we look at what the public schools can budget and can produce and what they can't. I'll give you a couple of examples. A major part of afterschool and evening education in our high school and in the school in Carlisle is a music program. This is a very music-oriented community. The high school musicians bring home gold medals every year, and they are well earned. They're superb. And for many years, the music department would sponsor individual afterschool lessons for budding musicians, with the idea that the orchestra or the band was good practice, but a truly aspiring musician needed individual attention as well. And so the music department would provide for afterschool individual teachers to work with students.
00:52:22 But there came a day when the music department could no longer fund this. This was an afterschool activity, and all the monies that were available had to get poured into the regular school day and the regular curriculum. So the question was quite simple: Should we abandon it, or should we save it in some way? And that way was Community Education, because we're the folks that do the after-school, fee-based, off-budget, non-mandated, noncredit education. So we absorbed that about—Gosh—a decade ago, and in fact, it's grown over the years. We have, in a given year, three hundred students, ten or twelve thousand lessons over the course of a year. And each one of these students then brings that greater skill back to their band program, back to their orchestra program at their school—the high school, or the middle school, or even the elementary school. This is an example of what I will sometimes refer to as community education's capacity to pick up the otherwise orphan programs in this town, because that was a program that was orphaned. It couldn't be part of the music department anymore, and it was either going to disappear, or it was going to be transformed in some way so it could sustain itself.
MK: Has the Mass. Council on the Humanities or Arts played any role in this?
CB: A little bit. Our—
MK: Because they're for the out-of-school adults, aren't they?
CB: Yes, however, many of the funding agencies, or the would-be funding agencies, are devoted to nonprofits—501(c)(3)'s—educational nonprofits, charitable nonprofits—and we're not an educational nonprofit. We're a subdivision of government, because we are part of the public schools. So many foundations that routinely would wish to give resources to an activity like ours find that their guidelines say they can't give money to an organization like ours, because they don't routinely give to government. And even though we're unfunded, we're still a political subdivision, as the terminology goes, such that we're not eligible for some of these funds.
Another example of where and how we've changed was with young people learning to drive. Before the taxpayers' revolt of 1980 called Prop 2 1/2, Driver Education was something that you and I would do as part of our high school day. Perhaps you did. It was available to me as part of my high school day, because every young person was going to need to have some measure of independence and probably a car someday, thus a license. But in 1980, that got lopped out of the budget, and we brought in commercial schools in this town, as did many other towns, and this was how we were going to train our sixteen-year-olds to be safe drivers. We, over the course of many years with commercial schools, decided that perhaps it was time to bring it back in-house, that we could be more responsible, more cost effective, keep kids safer if we did it ourselves. But, of course, there was no money for this, because money is very much devoted to mandated programs now—programs mandated by the state.
So, again, Community Education was looked at as a potential way to address this unfunded need. And so—we're quite good at creating things. We created a Driver Education School, so now we have, at any given point, three hundred kids in town learning how to drive right at the school, once again. Or we might say learning how to drive, learning how to be responsible, learning emotional intelligence, learning cooperation, learning how to analyze risk, learning lots of pretty essential life skills. They think they're learning how to drive, but we actually think they're learning some pretty essential things that they're learning experientially. So we think we greatly augment some of the classroom work that these young people are experiencing where they're supposedly learning these very same life skills. So that's another example of what we're doing that we couldn't have envisioned a few years before it happened, but a need emerged, and we filled a void.
00:57:27 We've done a few other things that are similar over the years that we're pleased with, but very few people understand that our fingerprints are on it, because more than a few of the resources that we've helped develop over the years have gone off independently on their own after we've created them. Some simple examples that a few people in town will remember dearly and clearly: One is the Center for Parents and Teachers in this town. It's a very robust 501(c)(3)—a nonprofit organization—but it actually was a Community Education program way back when. We simply sought some start-up grant money and started a program to bring teachers and parents together. And it was so successful that they incorporated and headed off on their own.
Another interesting one for us arose in the year 1999. What was happening then? Well, one of the things was a great concern, even fear, about what was going to happen when the clock turned to the year 2000. We called it—what?—the Y2K concern, where some people were convinced that technology as we know it couldn't reset clocks for a hundred-year, or a millennial event, and that we were going to see all kinds of chaos ensue. It's hard to believe now, but the fear was very genuine back then. And so what did Community Education do? Well, we're uniquely capable of responding to these oddball events, because we don't have a budget, so we can't say it's not in our budget. We don't have a specific mandate. We have rather this general big idea about what we're here for. So when a few people in town got concerned about this and brought us in, we said, "Sure. We'll be happy to talk with you." And much of the talk happened in local living rooms. "What's this community going to do if the lights go out?" And I mean that literally. There was concern that lights were going to go out, and that gas wasn't going to get pumped, and computers weren't going to operate, and so on.
People who don't remember this should go take a look at what the media was saying back then, because some of the warnings were dire. And a few things happened as a result of that. One was we started up our radio station, which is a very robust community resource today. Another one was we started a very neat organization called the Concord Neighborhood Network. The idea was, what if there was some catastrophic event, and you and I could no longer reach out to our normal public safety resources? What would we do? Would it be everybody for themselves? Would it be chaos? Or could neighborhoods turn inward and help each other for a short period of time and get through a problem, get through a calamity, get through a disaster? And that's exactly what happened.
We organized neighborhoods in the town so that there was an informal network. And if your lights went out, literally or figuratively, or there was some ice storm or terrorist event even, and you couldn't call 911 anymore, which is not an impossible prospect, you would know who to call in your neighborhood to band together, to hunker down together, to share resources, and ride through the storm. We thought this was Community Education in its finest form, where it was being driven right down to very local communities. You would know, on your street, who you could call and who you could trust. And your neighbors would know what you could offer up, and you would know what they could offer up. And you and I had an option if we couldn't call 911. And the option wasn't panic; it was turn to your neighbors, and you've already got some semblance of organization to ride through the storm. So these are the kinds of offshoots of this idea of Community Education that happen that never take place in the school, but happen because we're receptive to pooling together resources to address community needs.
MK: 1:02:35 Now, what you just described resonates a little bit with frontier government, doesn't it, some of the—?
CB: In a sense, because what we're describing is what if Concord, with all of its infrastructure, suddenly became temporarily a frontier? Because we've seen this happen, haven't we? The severe ice storm, for example, where you and a thousand of your neighbors don't have power for four days, and you can't get out of the house. That's a certain kind of frontier. Another frontier was going to be when your lights didn't go on, and your computer didn't start, and infrastructure as we know it shut down as a result. So, yes, I suppose so.
What's another example of an idea that started as a problem, started as a need, tapped into this idea called Community Education and got resolved? We can point to the Thoreau Farm Trust. The Town of Concord has many an iconic figure. We have our Nobel laureates, and we have our college presidents. And we have our senior government officials that have come through this town. And we have dignitaries of all kinds that have pilgrim—made a pilgrimage to Concord. We have authors and political figures in abundance. But we don't have too many, quote unquote, native sons. Many of these people weren't born here—these people that are Concord icons.
But the one that the world knows well, Thoreau, was born here—Henry David Thoreau. And we, some twenty years ago now, found that the house in which he was born was going to be sold by the estate of the then-owner who had deceased. And the house, up on Virginia Road—what we call the East Quarter in Concord—was going to be available probably for development, because it was a working farm that had twenty acres, and there's a lot of development pressures in this town. And so there were twenty acres, and there was a house that Henry Thoreau was born in. And what are we going to do? Are we going to see this go toward development? Are we going to see this decrepit house torn down, or is there going to be an effort to save?
And so the idea really took place as a Community Education venture initially, and we tapped into the Educational Collaborative of Greater Boston, an educational organization that assists with enterprises that go across school districts. And we had an incentive from the Town of Concord to do something in the form of a grant from the state. And so a group of citizens came together. We worked out of the Community Education office. And we established a nonprofit corporation for purposes of taking on the house—saving the house—and ultimately, through the wisdom of the citizens of the town, through several town meetings, through the leadership of the town government here, we were able to raise a million dollars to—or just shy of a million dollars—to buy the property, put it in the hands of the Town, and then have the house saved and operated by an independent nonprofit. So it wouldn't be a cost burden to the Town but would be saved in perpetuity.
And so that organization that now administers the house and keeps it available as a treasure forever is the Thoreau Farm Trust. It is an example of how an idea that doesn't have a home can often get a temporary home at the Community Education Program, because it falls under our large mandate of, how can we be creative, how can we use public resources, how can we use them toward education and community development? It is easy to fit an idea like twenty acres that might be saved and might be used as an educational resource for the Town—it's easy to fit that under a Community Education concept. And so right now we've got a beautiful house run by an independent organization, surrounded by property that's saved by the town, and has remained in agricultural use. And otherwise, we would have seen, I think the plan was, six palatial homes that would have cost this town quite a bit, because we would not have seen the tax revenues from six large homes offset the costs of putting them there. So every citizen in town benefitted from the financial savings, but more importantly, every person who admires or reveres Thoreau can now come to Concord and actually sit in the room where he was born.
01:08:37 Someday you'll be interviewing for part of this project, I'm sure, people who are instrumental in the administration of the house and know the history well, because it's a Concord story worth telling. We almost didn't make it to the National Registry of Historic Places because there's a guideline that says if it's in the National Registry you can't move it. Well, this house was moved. In fact, houses were routinely moved in Colonial America. You'd wait for some ice on the ground, and you'd drag the thing down the road. Well, this thing got dragged down the road—rolled on logs, I imagine—and it's three hundred feet away from where it used to be, and that was going to render it ineligible. But the fact is, it's got too much heritage and is very deserving of its status.
So people wouldn't necessarily think that a radio station or a historical house would have anything to do with Community Education. And it doesn't anymore. But back in its genesis, we were a forum for the conversation. And that's what Community Education is too, a forum for these kinds of conversations, because all of this is born out of what? Shared concerns enhance intimacy. People got together around an idea and solved some problem, and that, I think writ large, is what we do every night at the high school. And then it takes these unusual forms once in a while, like saving a house or inspiring a radio station, or, our local TV station is another example.
MK: But you mentioned Renee too in the previous oral—
CB: Sure. Yeah.
MK: — history project. Was that another example of a place needing a home outside of the library?
CB: Well, we worked very closely with Renee Garelick in the form—and she was the founder of Concord's oral history efforts some years ago. And she, I think, worked under a different grant in a different era, and she was an accomplished author as well as an oral historian. We supported her in the form of hosting her classes and workshops. So she would be one of a series of presenters in some of the history programs that we would do. So that was her connection with us, among others. But you would find, if you wanted access to Renee and what she could teach you, one of the venues was the local school, but certainly not the only one, because she was certainly connected with the library as well.
The TV station is a story worth telling quickly, because so many of these things that we do aren't necessarily born of a grand vision of what we want to see in town five, and ten, and twenty years hence. Sometimes they're more born of an immediate problem, and that's how we see the opportunity. Some years ago—I guess it was around 1996—the Town Manager called us and said, "We have a problem. Comcast, the large provider—the internet and TV and cable provider is pulling out of Concord in terms of its managing the local TV station. They'll still put cable over our heads and bring telecommunications to our homes, but they're not going to run the local TV station, and the local TV station is a very important community resource. It's one way to connect citizen with citizen, connect town boards with their constituencies, one way to enhance cultural life here. We don't want to see the studio go dark. And—is there anything that can be done?"
01:13:12 Well, we looked at various ideas, and none of them bore fruit. We tried to see if we could tie it in with this organization or that organization and find a home for it and couldn't, so we simply built our own home. We started a—another corporation—another nonprofit corporation—and years later—what?—we're now a decade later—we've got a robust resource called CCTV, Concord Carlisle Television, that operates three channels. And any citizen can walk into the studio and tape a program and share it with the community.
So it means that the Council on Aging can get their message out. It means that the Concord Orchestra can get their message out. It means the Concord Free Public Library can get their message out. Because it's Public Access TV, it means anybody can get their message out actually, because those are the rather broad guidelines that Public Access television falls under. As one of our early volunteers said, "Do you mean that, if I film my child's birthday party in the backyard, and I insist that you televise it, you have to do it?"—to which the answer is yes. If you're a community volunteer and you produce something, and it's not in violation of any law, the Constitution says you get to communicate it. And we don't follow FCC guidelines. We follow constitutional guidelines when it comes to public access television, interestingly enough.
So it really means that it's a great connector, that people can get their message out in this very important way through community television. But again, way back when, when it was a problem that didn't have a home, Community Education could be a temporary home for it until it got—what's the expression?—got its own legs under it and got established.
So I imagine that that's the story that we'll see with Community Education in the years to come. That we will be involved with various community needs and issues, various educational needs and issues that initially don't have a home, that don't look welcome anywhere. And once they see some resolution underway, some solutions in hand, then Community Education can step out and go look at something else that's an interesting problem that falls under our broad mandate.
MK: Does Massachusetts have an Extension Service through the university system?
CB: We do have an Extension Service. We—interesting that you mention that. Back in my early days here, if you wanted the Extension Service, this was something that fell under—what?—The United States Department of Agriculture. If you wanted to look at what the mold was on the bush in your front yard, or if you wanted to test your soil, or grow a new crop, your local resource was a gentleman named Thurston Handley. And he operated in the basement of a public building on Everett Street, just a couple of streets away from here. And you'd look in the phone book, you'd call on your rotary phone, and—you'd need only four digits—and you'd reach Thurston. And he would test your soil, test for the fungus, or advise on the seeds, and so on.
And with so much—what?—consolidation, centralization, cost reductions, you and I are going to have to probably call an eight hundred line to Amherst, to the University of Massachusetts now to get the same service. And we're going to have to put our soil sample in the mail now. So there still is a 4-H program. There still is a Department of Agriculture program. But again, these are largely housed in major univer—state universities right now, and they don't have the local network that they once did. But back then, what was our connection with Thurston? He would come to Community Education and say, "I need to do my workshop. If I do it in concert with you, we will reach more people." And so this speaks very much to the idea of Community Education too. Thurston has an expert skill. He has a need for outreach. And we can tap an audience for him and give him a venue called a public school. So it's a beautiful marriage. It's very easy. Thurston gets to share his expert knowledge, and the community gets to know about it and have public access that's quite easy, because they know where their public school is. And off they go and take their workshop on what? On fruit-bearing trees perhaps, or on a healthy lawn perhaps.
CB: Question was about these—this service. You didn't say 4-H. You didn't say Department of Agriculture. Tell me—tell me again. You said—
MK: Extension service.
CB: Extension Service, yeah. Sorry, I blanked on that. Extension Service. And it's an example of how Community Education has no formal connection with the Extension Service whatsoever, and yet, by virtue of shared need, we came together. And that's the story that gets told over, and over, and over, and over, and over again with Community Education. And so one of, I think, the necessary parts of this idea of Community Education is to make certain that the people who provide these services and the organizations who provide these services—Extension Service, for example—don't get subsumed by the public schools. When you're the Extension Service, you're still the Extension Service, even if you're providing a program in our local school. You don't become subordinate to the public school. You're still the Extension Service, and we simply become, if you will, a landlord. And I think that's an important part of the trust that we've tried to generate over the years.
We want people and institutions to know that if they work in concert with the public schools, we're not going to run away with the money, and we're not going to run away with the credit. It's still that person or that organization that's providing the service, and we are simply an agent helping them do the good work that they're doing. So the extent to which we can have the spotlight on them and not reflected back on us is important to us. We think it means that trust that is built over time makes organizations happy to do cooperative work with us, because we know we can't do it alone. We've got no end of partnerships that make all of this happen in this community.
We couldn't offer boating classes unless the Coast Guard worked with us. We couldn't operate Driver Education unless the Registry of Motor Vehicles worked with us. We couldn't operate the music classes unless the music department worked with us. We couldn't do our video production unless the TV station worked with us, and so on. So these partnerships abound, not just with individuals, but with—(dog barking) I was certain I put that on stun. Oh well. Forgive me.
MK: Let the dog bark. (laughs)
CK: It was stunning. (laughs)
CB: (laughs) And so that's an important part of our approach too is to build partnerships with the idea—and again I'm repeating myself—we're the institution that citizens have paid dearly for. It's a public school, and if we, by opening the doors, can see not one but five, not five but ten, not ten but twenty different people and organizations come in and provide a resource for others in town, then we've become pretty cost effective. We've made good use of that building. So at the end of the day, all it is, is an idea. All it is, is an unfunded idea that says, "Come hither. Use your schools in creative ways." You'll have a resource in the form of one person called community educator—that's me. I'm surrounded by a lot of part-time people and volunteers, and they do all of the work that makes this happen. I'm a little bit of glue that gets thrown into the mix.
MK: Good glue.
MK: Fascinating. That's—
CB: Well, I'm—
MK: —absolutely fascinating.
CB: It is interesting, and to take a long view, we remember it came forth because people needed to share resources. Nobody could do it alone, back in the settlement house era. Or in the lyceum era, it got dark in your farmhouse at night, and you wanted to come out and share a lamp with somebody else and share some ideas with somebody else. And then we go to Flint, Michigan, and we realized maybe we shouldn't be denying people their public schools when we, in fact, want them to benefit from their public schools. And then you come to Concord and Carlisle that's really made a rich use of this idea that we can come together.
I will say that in years past we were, shall we say, the only game in town. Twenty, thirty, forty years ago there wasn't much to do here at night. There was a Woolworths where you could get a bowl of soup by day, but you couldn't go there at night. There wasn't much going on for nightlife. And now there is a lot going on for nightlife and a lot going on for extended day and continuing education. We have a hospital that offers continuing ed now. That's relatively new. We have—
MK: Relative to nursing and—
CB: Oh, and—Oh, no. You can—
CB: You can probably find a course in belly dancing there probably these days. There's certainly a class in yoga and so on and stress reduction and things that relate quite generally to health. Churches offer continuing education programs, and storefronts offer them. So we have quite a few educational resources now that we didn't have in years past. So we find we're in the mix with many, many other organizations that are invested in continuing education. I think we are unique in one respect, however. Most other organizations do it voluntarily. We also do it—operative word also—we also do it because we have to. We're a public school. We have an obligation. We have an obligation to keep public buildings available to citizens to use in smart, creative ways.
And when I arrived here, we were largely the only game in town, and if you wanted to sign up for a course, you had several nights a year you could do that. Now you can sign up twenty-four hours a day for anything. Life being what it is, you hop on our website, and you look up the course you want. And if it's available, you sign up for it, and a week later you arrive. But back then, it was a different age, and you'd have several nights a year to consider the courses you wanted. And then one would come to the high school cafeteria and get in a long line. And it was a fun time, because people saw each other, and they hadn't seen each other perhaps in weeks or months. And you'd wait in the long line, and ultimately, you'd get up to the table, and you'd fill out longhand a 3 x 5 card, and put down your vitals, and list the course you were going to take, part with five dollars—every course was five dollars—and then off you would go. And it was a big night. Hundreds of people would show up for this on a given night. And the courses were a little more—oh, what should we say?—a little more formula-driven. You could choose between an eight-week or a ten-week course. You could choose between a ninety-minute and a two-hour course. And now there's no limitation on—on what's happening.
There are classes that meet once and only once, a two-hour workshop. There are classes that meet for thirty-two weeks in a row. There are programs that people will be involved in for one day and other programs that people will be involved in for one and two years at a time. There are courses that meet before school, courses that meet during the school day, courses that meet after school, courses that meet in the evening, courses that meet on Sundays, courses that meet in the summer. It's very much—I won't say a 24/7 world, but it's approaching that, because people's lives are a little different than they once were.
We have many people in town, for example, who will only take a course in the daytime, many people in town who will only take a course in the evening, many people who say, "Sunday afternoons work for me." People live rather busy, noisy lives right now, and it's hard to carve out time and make these commitments, but they do so. But we have to adapt with the changing lifestyles that we're finding.
CK: Isn't there sort of a fixed operation during daytimes in your particular building, which is a public school?
CB: Yes. Yeah, very much so. So if we wanted to offer a course in the Supreme Court and the important cases that are underway right now—one of the successful ones with Bill Cotter that we just offered—his audience wanted it during the daytime. He wanted to teach during the daytime, and public schools are simply not available, because we are overwhelmed with kids. There is no space—absolutely no space. Come to our high school, and you'll see. It's a vibrant place. Everybody loves being there, but it's not uncrowded. It's tight. It's busy, and it's tight. And so we can't have adults coming in during the daytime, unfortunately, or at least during the school day.
So we're fortunate to have a number of community venues that we can use. This being a very educationally-oriented school district, we can borrow space from the Council on Aging in either town or the libraries in both towns. We even have classes at the Police Station. We have classes at the Light Plant. We will rent space from churches if we have to. We will occasionally be in private homes and studios. Where else? And some of our classes are outdoors. So it's simply a problem that we can solve in a creative way. It was Thoreau—to channel Thoreau again—who said what? "We want to make our villages universities," which I translate loosely to mean we want to make this an educative community. We want any place people come together with shared interests where they want to learn and grow—we want to make that an educational enterprise. Call it what it is. It's education, and it's Community Education.
And so today, where will you find classes? Well, you'll probably find one here at this main branch of the library, there'll be a Community Education class. By this afternoon, schools become available again, so we'll migrate back to the schools. But we had to leave by 9:00 this morning—vacate. We had classes before school this morning, but by 9:00 o'clock at our elementary schools, we will vacate. We won't be back until late afternoon. So it's a very fluid kind of enterprise.
CK: 00:12:18 What about wear and tear on the school facility and equipment?
CB: Ah, interesting. Yeah. Well, it's pretty minimal for this reason.
CK: What is?
MK: What—what's pretty minimal?
CB: So the question is, what about the wear and tear? What about the cost to the schools to extend the day like this, extend the use, and expand the audience like this? And there's a few answers. One is that adults who are voluntarily coming to school for a class don't use and abuse very much. They walk with a pretty light footstep. And secondly, we only use schools that are lit anyway and heated anyway. So we take great pains not to see that core costs change because of our presence after the, quote unquote, regular hours.
So if we had to open up a building, turn on a boiler, and higher a custodian, that would be a nonstarter for us. We just can't do it. So instead we will look to public facilities around town and say, "What is already lit? What is already heated? Where can we use residual heat in an otherwise empty classroom without interfering with the after-hours cleaning and maintenance?" And that's where you're going to find these classes. So, it requires that degree of attentiveness and care to find these locations where we can offer classes.
CK: Such as?
CB: Well, such as, tonight we'll be in a dozen classrooms at the high school. But we'll be in a wing that is lit anyway because it's got to be cleaned. It's open anyway, because the custodians are there doing their duties. It's there because the high school cheerleaders might be practicing there anyway. So we're not opening a building and adding to the costs of that facility by virtue of being there. Now, I'll add more to this. Some time several years ago when we were experiencing some real fiscal pressures, as we do periodically where they get—they ebb and flow, these fiscal pressures that public education experiences—I was asked would we save money were we to simply close down the schools at four o'clock. Any my answer was yes, but I don't think you can. There'll always be some special constituency that has rights to use that school. So once you use it for one group—for example, would you deny the high school students and teachers who had a necessary afternoon program? No, you'd let them in. It's their school. So once you let one group in, we might as well let ten and twenty in, because you then get greater cost effectiveness out of the whole thing. So if we find that we can't really close the schools, because there'll always be an essential constituency needing it—typically the kids themselves who do some after school things and rightfully so—then we might as well let the larger community in too to get more out of our investment.
The—there was a question once, well, what is the actual cost for adults using the school at night? And I think you can't quite quantify it because, yeah, we do open the doors a few times, and so I imagine that affects what the boiler does to keep the place at sixty-eight degrees. But there's a counter question, which I posed once. I asked a then-principal, "If there were no adults in here in the evening and just a few groups of students, because you have chosen not to deny them—if there were no adults here at night, how many weeks would go by before you'd hire security guards?—because right now the adults, the parents in this town, are the de facto security. They're making sure this place is calm, and orderly, and safe." And this principal thought about it for a few seconds and said, "I wouldn't wait weeks. It'd take about three days. I would have to hire adults to be in here. But right now, we have adult citizens who are here voluntarily who care deeply about their public schools."
It's like that school I visited in South Boston. Local citizens aren't going to let their schools get hurt. They're going to protect them. So, is there wear and tear? Yes, there's wear and tear, but is it hugely offset by the benefits? Yes. Yes, it is. And the physical wear and tear is minimal. There's another piece to this that your question prompts me to mention, and that is—and again it's an unquantifiable, but I'll suggest that it might be real—and that is we're trying to instill learning habits for kids. That's one of the things we do in public education.
MK: Learning habits?
CB: Learning habits. The idea that we not only want to acquire knowledge, but we also want to acquire the ability to continue learning, because people are going to have to be self-motivated, continuous learners in today's world. Things aren't slowing down for us. All right? The pace of change is increasing. And people are going to have to work harder to stay current than they once did. And if we want to help instill this love of learning and this understanding that learning is going to be a lifelong continuous process and commitment, one of the ways I believe we get to do this is by bringing voluntary learners into our schools, and what I mean is adults who take continuing education courses.
And so if a young person, when they leave the school at 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, happened to see an adult entering the school at the same time to take a class, I think that sends a very special message about the school. It says, these are not places for involuntary learners—because the kids do have to come, don't they, by law? Yes, they do. This is a—learning is a voluntary enterprise. There are people who do this, because they want to do this. And that sends a very powerful message. What about the kid who isn't necessarily keen on school, and mom says, "You're doing the dishes tonight, because I'm going to school tonight. I'm going back to the school you just left, and I'm going to take a class tonight?"
I think that's a condition that really changes how kids conceive of school—that school must be something different if mom actually wants to go there, and she's taking a course too, and she's not kicking and screaming about it. In fact, she wants to do some homework. So I again can't quantify the value of this. And so I would simply put the question out to everyone who wants to consider it. What does it do to public education when young people, who have no choice but to be there, understand that many people make the choice to be there? Does it, in fact, change perceptions, change attitudes about what it means to go to school, what it means to try to learn?
I guess a follow-up then is, are there multigenerational classes where the kid and the mom are in school together in the evenings?
CB: Excellent idea. And the answer is yes—fewer than we would like but, yes. I'll cite one example that I think will prompt a good story about how Community Education often works. About two and a half years ago, a fellow came to my office and—his name is Yuval Erlich. He—
CB: E-R-L-I-C-H. First name Yuval, Y-U-V-A-L. And he said, "I have recently moved to town. And one of the reasons that I chose this town for my wife and my two boys is that I understand it is really steeped in history and has a great commitment to education. And I want good schools, and that's why my two boys are here. That's why I'm here. And when I looked around at what was available, I was rather shocked to find a dearth of chess. There's not much chess happening here, and I'm a big fan of chess. I believe it has all kinds of benefits, and I want my children to have a good opportunity to learn and play chess."
He said, "I went off to the local community center where the Council on Aging is to ask if there were any chess masters around or whether they would host a class, and they said, 'Why don't you go talk to the folks at Community Education.' So here I am," says Yuval. And I said to Yuval what I've said to many people over the years, and it went like this. I said, "Mr. Erlich, I think it's a lovely idea. I have no resources for it. However, you and I can perhaps create some resources by simply putting the word out and seeing if we can draw together enough people to give this enough critical mass, enough critical energy, enough participation, and a few bucks if people throw some money into the pot, so that we could create something."
Many times when I say, "Thank you for the idea," that's the last I hear of the person. But once in a while, when I say to a fellow like Yuval, "If you stick with me, I'll stick with you,"—if he sticks with me, things happen, because I can bring to bear the resources of the public schools, the after-hours, unfunded resources, but they are real resources nonetheless. So Yuval said, "Count me in." Well, for two and a half years now, Yuval and I have spent our Sunday afternoons at the Concord- Carlisle Chess Club. Now, we can't do it in a school. Schools are too expensive on weekends, so we use a town facility. they are all town facilities, but the way we operate schools is different than the way we operate non-schools. So we're at the local community center, the Harvey Wheeler Community Center, and it's a genuine intergenerational activity.
There's the chess master, of course. He comes in. There's Yuval as a parent who spawned this idea, who's committed, who's there to greet people, and see that the tables get set up, the chessboards get hauled out, the chest clocks have batteries, and so on. There's a handful of parents who stick around to watch. There's a handful of parents who register and are full-fledged members of the chess club. There are senior citizens who come in for free halfway through the afternoon and play. We say, "If you just want to come play, come and play. But if you want the full-blown chess master experience and the formal class, then we want you to register and contribute toward the costs."
So it's this great mix of parent volunteers, a paid expert, participants who register and pay, and drop-in community people who want to get out of the house on a Sunday afternoon and play chess with somebody who's sixty years younger than they are, because they're the person who lives in the elder housing complex two blocks away, and this is a wonderful way to get out of the house. So, the chess club, I think, is a great example of many things, one, to your question, intergenerational experiences—and this is a genuinely beautiful one—but secondly, it gives me the opportunity to tell you how things so often happen. It started with a need. "I need a chess activity for my kids." And it ended up with Yuval gets tagged with the responsibility, but in such a way that it's tolerable or in such a way that it's workable. And what will the next example be? I don't know yet. You and I don't know yet, but there'll be another one.
A probably prime example of this very same kind of story is something that we now call the Village University. I mentioned Thoreau's quote. There's a program that we conduct with other other folks and organizations in town called the Village University, started in a similar way. Here's the story. A retired Raytheon engineer, Elliot Ring, R-I-N-G, is sitting in Brandeis University—he's retired. He's at Brandeis University. He's taking a class in the LIR program, the Learning In Retirement program. It was an offshoot of the Elderhostel folks.
He looks around the room. He's in Brandeis in Waltham. He looks around the room and says, "Oh, there's a guy from Concord. There's a guy from Concord. There's a woman from Carlisle. There's a neighbor from Concord. Why do we all come over here to Waltham? Why don't we do this in Concord? Why don't we do this—have these courses for elders in Concord? I really don't want the lighter recreational activities offered to elders in this town. I want something that's got some real intellectual meat on the bone, shall we say. I want something that looks and feels like a graduate school class that really demands of me a great deal."
And so he floated the idea around town and ended up in my office. And he said something like what Yuval said, "I've got this great idea," or, if you will, "I've got this need that I want somebody to respond to." And as you know, I said to Elliott, "Great idea. I have lots of great ideas too. This one's great also. I can't do it alone. You probably can't do it alone. But maybe we can do something together, and I can put the resources, such as they are, of Community Education behind this." Well, that was 2003. We have an exceedingly successful Village University program right now that is a series of courses every fall, another series of courses every winter that only meet in the mornings, because that's the desirable time for many people who are in their later years, and many of them don't prefer to travel at night. And we wanted what Elliot wanted, and that is a very rigorous, if you will, high-level educational experience.
And we think, well, there's lots of talent around Concord, but how do we get it? We have no money. We have no money. How do we get all this talent? We have no end of retired professors, well-regarded authors, historians, researchers, company executives, and people with lots and lots of expertise to share, lots and lots of energy to share, but we have no resources with which to bring these people on board. How do we do it?
Well, we didn't know how to do it. So we decided on a very old-fashioned idea. We would simply ask people to volunteer. We would simply say something along the lines of, "Would you care to give back?" or "Would you care to give forward? You, in our opinion, are a stellar educator. Would you teach a class for your fellow citizens five, six, ten weeks in length in a course—in a subject of your choosing. And if you will, we'll provide the venue, and we know if we just scratch a little bit and tap the audience out there, that audience will come hither."
And it was that very simple idea that bore fruit. We have a series of courses, as I said, every fall and every winter. We keep them very limited, only four courses—no more, no less. And they fill up every single semester now. They fill up. And who teaches them? Volunteers. Every single one of the teachers is a volunteer, and every single one has a resume that is more than impressive. And they've got plenty of things to do with their time, but they've responded to this request, "Would you please donate to your town in the form of your teaching talent and do it for this thing we call the Village University?" And we don't charge for these classes. We ask for a donation, because we do have real costs, but we don't, quote unquote, charge for them, because we don't think that's appropriate. If we're asking volunteers to teach and we don't compensate them, we're not going to demand money of participants. And this is another secret, I think, to the success of this thing.
But this is an enterprise that was started by one guy with one idea, and hundreds of people every year participate. Is it a fun, pleasant experience for some people? Yes. But like many things with continuing education, it's more than an enjoyment. For some people, it's truly life-changing. For some people, this is their connection with the larger world. Not everybody is necessarily as mobile as you might be or I might be, and this could be the absolute centerpiece of a person's week. Think about how important that is to, again, find people with like interests and have people pay attention to you, and you pay attention to them, because some people in their later years do find life closes down, and that's not an easy experience. And if we can slow that process for people who want to stay fully engaged, then we've done a good thing.
So, in telling the story, I hope that whoever listens to this has the next great idea and says, "You know what? I can't do it alone, but maybe if I tap into the resources of the public schools, because if we're smart, if we're creative, there are some unbudgeted resources—they're very real—in the public schools that we can use to make community life better around here and make individual lives better around here."
It's also the story of what I mentioned a few minutes ago, transitions. When you and I are in our later years, we're retired, we're not gainfully employed, we're not certain when we wake up in the morning how we're going to put purpose in our lives, that means we're in a time of transition, in a time of change. And so the Village University is yet another example of how continuing education really responds to human beings in times of transition and times of change when they're adapting to new circumstances. So much of what we do is responding to people who are adapting to new circumstances, or wanting to create new circumstances for themselves, who want to invent their future. This is one way that people can do it without leaving their town and without breaking their pocketbook.
They can reinvent themselves. They can learn to draw. They can learn to paint. They can learn to write. They can learn to master the computer. They can learn to be a tour guide in town. They can learn about their natural world. All of those things fall under the large umbrella of Community Education. And, we talk about all these benefits to students; we should also think about the benefits to teachers—how much enrichment, how much personal satisfaction is derived from the art of teaching. Well for some people, it is what they live for. They love doing it, they're very good at it, and it gives their life great meaning by sharing what they know with others. So. For some people, they sit at one side of the desk and find this is a good way to use their time in a valuable way. For other people, they sit on the other side of the desk and find it's their valuable way of using their time. The statement that we used to have on some of our literature we borrowed from the Mott Foundation that pioneered so much of this work in continuing ed. It's quite simple: Everybody teaches, everybody learns, which is a—it's a statement of our philosophy that, in effect, says whichever side of the desk you're sitting on, you are contributing to the learning process, because it's an interactive process. It's a social process. And so when adults do this and they illustrate for kids how it can work, I think we've benefitted those adults, and I think we benefitted the kids that get to witness what's happening when they leave their regular school day and head home. To have adults flocking in to do something is pretty neat.
This is phenomenal. This is absolutely phenomenal. When I think of the absence of so many of the things you're talking about in West Virginia where people are so pressed, pressed to the bone by conditions that, if I described them, you probably would have difficulty believing them. But Concord is mag—to say it's magical is kind of a cop-out, I think. But it certainly has those qualities combined with all of the resources you've described.
MK: I mean this is just a social model that, for me, goes back to the Highlander Folk School under Myles Horton, where I worked for several years, and the teachings of Don West at the Appalachian Folklife Center and the Danish folk school model, and all those things resonate with what you're talking about. I just think it's—
CB: With all of our resources here in Concord and Carlisle, this idea better work here. Shame on us if it doesn't work here. But the very same idea, as you're suggesting, does work elsewhere and is, in fact, even more necessary elsewhere, because needs are greater and needs are more acute. I think we appeal to people's social and intellectual desires here. But in other communities, what we do, this very same idea, is the underpinning of health. It's the underpinning of mental health. It's the underpinning of economic development. People in Concord and Carlisle are going to be well people, with or without Community Education. They're just going to be better for it we hope. But people in other communities, this might be the only resource they have, whereas here we've got many to pick and choose from. As I said earlier, one of the reasons I wanted to come to Concord to see if, with all of the blessings of this place, this idea worked over here. Or was it simply an unnecessary extra extravagance? Well it's not an unnecessary extravagance. But it does appeal to a slightly different set of needs that aren't as acutely felt as they would be in some of the communities you talk about. But the philosophy, the concept remains the same. How can we make something out of nothing, tapping into shared resources that we already have?
MK: I think it's a—I think it's a beautiful, beautiful model, and I'm anxious to circulate this interview around some places in West Virginia.
CB: Well, send—
MK: To show what's possible.
CB: Well, and it certainly is. And I wouldn't even say we are the best example or the only example. We're always looking for the wonderful examples elsewhere in the nation that—where there is genuine commitment to this concept. And there are places still in America that you'll find real money put behind this idea too—real public money. Although in Concord and Carlisle, we don't anymore. Thankfully we don't have to. Thankfully, participant money—a few bucks here and a few bucks there as people come in the door for their class—can hold this whole thing together.
MK: Any concluding thoughts or questions?
CK: No. I'm inspired.
CB: Well, it's an—It's a very inspiring idea. I have the best job in town. There's no question—
MK: You do.
CB: Oh, I do. Absolutely, I do. Yeah. And, you know, I said at the outset of our interview, people who have known me for years still ask me, "What is it exactly you do?" And I think I've shed some light on why that's not a simple answer, because, in part, the answer is, you tell me. You're helping me decide where I put my time and energy. I'm simply somebody who's trying to be an enabler, connecting some resources that, unconnected, wouldn't have necessarily the synergy that they can have.
MK: Okay. Are you an artist yourself in terms of traditional thoughts about art? Are you a painter or a writer or a poet or—
CB: No. No, I'm not. I'm a—I'm a would-be sketcher. I would love to do more with pen and pencil than I do. My—
MK: Well, stick with me, and we can make this happen.
CB: (laughs) Okay. No, my mother was an art teacher. My brother is an art teacher. Both accomplished, but no, I didn't have the gift, no. (laughs)
MK: Well, thank you very much.
CB: Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
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