An interview with Michael Goodwin


An interview with Michael Goodwin's class: Students in Rivers and Revolutions Class

Michael Goodwin

Interviewer: Michael Kline
Date: June 4, 2013
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library Staff Room
Transcriptionist: Rickye Poolt

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Audio file is in .mp3 format.

Michael GoodwinMichael Nobel Kline: This is Michael Kline. I'm here with Carrie Kline and we're in some of the staff space in the lower library. Today is June 4th, a pristine, beautiful morning. Could you say, "My name is, and then tell us your name?"

Michael Goodwin: Yeah. My name is Michael Goodwin.

MK: And your date of birth?

MG: July 15, 1976.

MK: Maybe you would start off, if you would, and tell us about your people and where you were raised.

MG: Yeah. Sure. So, I was born in Boston and then after a few months living in Lincoln, settled in Concord with my parents, Dick and Doris Goodwin and Richard Goodwin, Dick's son from a previous marriage. So we—. I really spent my early years growing up here in Concord. Shortly after I was born, my younger brother, Joey, was born 15 months later. So it was bang, bang. All my memories of childhood include being with both brothers, although my older brother is 10 years older than I am. So by the time I was coming into, you know, 7, 8 years old, he was heading off to college. A lot of my memories of being in Concord are memories of being either in the woods or in town.

We grew up in a remote part of town over in the Conantum area so I spent a lot of time really just cruising around the woods, and I think at that point began to really develop my love for being outside and being in nature, and it wasn't of course until I was a little older that I sort of learned that I had been unknowingly part of carrying on a much longer tradition of that here in Concord. I have very, very fond memories of town. When you're a little a kid, it appears like this huge place, and I have some vivid memories of going to what was then the penny candy store, which is now turned over to between a lot of different businesses. Saturday mornings came, and our parents would give us a dollar each, and we'd go and get a hundred little pieces of candy, put them in a paper bag, and bring them home. There are all these moments like that, or all these ritualistic elements of growing up here that really, that really have stuck with me and really were sort of formative about those years.

MK: Ritualistic elements?

MK: Yeah. Part of is it that my family is—. We have a lot of rituals in our own family culture, and I tend to—. My personality is such that I like having regular rituals. I mean, even to the point where I have a certain drinking vessel I like to use for certain beverages. It is also just the zany part of me and had nothing to do with Concord. But I think part of it is also about this place, and there is so much about it that is steeped in a lot of tradition and mythology, and even the way that Thoreau, whom I'm used to calling Hank now because we are in this course I teach now, we like to believe we have become intimate enough with him where he can call him Hank. I don't think he'd mind. He had a certain sort of set of almost rituals surrounding his walks, his sauntering, and that there's something about—I don't know. I guess for me there is something about this landscape and this place that sort of inspires a certain regularity of, that to me seems kind of ritualistic. So all these different things, whether it was Saturday going to the penny candy store, or you know, Thursday afternoons in the summer going swimming. I don't know, there's just some sort of a regularity to it. So again, I can't speak to how much that's sort of just my own family dynamic, and how much of it is this place. Yeah.

MK: Mmm-hmm. Where the boys have already been.

MG: Where the boys have already been. Yeah. Yeah, and now certainly. I mean, gosh, there's so much that I try to do with my students to try and really put everything that we're doing here, now, today, you know, in context of everything else that's happened, and trying to understand place. So you want an example of that to make it a little less abstract? We engage in an activity with our students where we go to the same spot in Henry David's journals where he wrote. And on the same day. So in other words, March 21, 1850, we go out on March 21, 2013, sit at the same spot and compare his journal entries to then our own journal entries that we create there. That's certainly a way for them to connect to place, but a place across time, too. As you probably know, there is a lot of work that has been done in recent years surrounding using his journals as evidence of climate change. There is actually an exhibit over in the Concord Museum now that deals with that. There is a phenology exhibit up, and there's been a lot of research on that in the last couple of years because of how detailed his records were.

MK: So by taking a class out to that very place on that very day, you also get to compare his notes, his observations then with what's actually happening on--.

MG: Sure.

MK: --on that particular—

MG: Right, right.

MK: Is that part of it, too?

MG: So that's part of it and that's been sort of the crux of the climate science that's been done with his journals, has been, you know—. So on May 21, he is reporting that a certain plant is blooming. Are we seeing that earlier or at the same time? And actually the trends have shown that we're seeing stuff happening a lot earlier due to climate change. When I do this with my students, that is only a piece of what we do, is sort of that comparison of flora and fauna. We're also very—. I'm—. The thing that I stress more, which interests me as much as this stuff, if not more, is thinking about, "Okay, so this particular time of the year, this particular day, right? So we went and did this at the vernal equinox. That was one of the times we went out this year. Is there something about the vernal equinox that inspires a certain type of thought and a certain way of thinking, a certain way of being in the world? So that's more that just about his, his sort of more scientific descriptions of what he's seeing and more about the philosophy and the contemplative and meditative aspects of his writing, and to try and think about, so how do our thoughts today compare to this? So a lot of those activities are really—. It's much more students sort of individually reflecting in their journals, but then coming together to sort of debrief and share how it, how it might compare and how it might not compare to what he was feeling. So, it's again it's a way of being, of getting rooted in place and in time, and of course part of that is bigger than just Concord then, because you know you are thinking about global phenomenon as well. It is a great way of just connecting with, of using Concord as sort of the micro to understand the world.

There's a great—. I don't know if you've come across the history by Scudder on Concord. It's one of the famous histories of the town. In the opening, he talks about how the Concord River becomes the Amazon, only smaller. So that a careful study of the Concord River might lead to an understanding of the river systems of the world. That is also part of what we're doing, I think, when we engage in some of those activities.

MK: Fascinating. Talk more about some of the class projects that students get into.

MG: Sure. Well, I guess it would probably be helpful to just describe the program as a whole and sort of where it's at now and there where I hope it's going to be. in a couple of years. Does that sound reasonable?

Carrie Kline: Including how you got to where it is now appears.

MG: Yeah. All right. Yeah, let's bring it back to that and--.

MK: Spend the whole (???) (inaudible) 0:08:30.7 here.

MG: All right. So let me—. I'll bring it back to sort of I guess the first incarnation of the program as it exists now. So, three summers ago, in the summer of 2010, I ran a two-week summer course, called Rivers and Revolutions. And it was a program that we had students coming out from between Fitchburg and Boston, and we used the commuter rails as our organizing principal. So in recruiting students, I went out to all the major high schools between Fitchburg and Boston. This was a tuition-free program. We ended up with students from Leominster High School, Acton-Boxborough, Concord-Carlisle, Randolph High School in Boston, and Boston Latin. So we got a nice spread, and I was very purposefully looking for a real diverse array of students to do this work. And so the concept of that program, which has now become the larger program that I'm running at the school, was through literature, history, mathematics, science, and the arts to look at rivers and to try and understand revolutions, and not just trying to understand the particulars of or understand every factor there is to know about rivers or revolutions, but there was sort of a more conceptual framework that tied it together. I think it's the simplest way to describe that as you know when you think about the trajectory of a river, one way to imagine it is that it sort of comes up through the surface up in the mountain as a little spring. Right? It's the start of the river, and it starts raging down the mountains, joining with other springs. Starts meandering in middle age and then in old age slows down and enters the ocean. And there's something about that trajectory that's sort of point A to point B. It starts here and it ends here, but of course, the whole time water is evaporating, feeding the atmosphere, coming back down, feeding those brooks, feeding those springs, and so there's also this very cyclical kind of thing going on there as well.

Revolutions. There's, I think, a similar phenomenon happening where one way to think about an armed revolution or political revolution, or even a geologic revolution, is you know, you're sort of moving along. There's this big upheaval, but then you keep going in the direction you're going in. But, of course, the revolution that we are much more intimate with is the revolution of the Earth around the Sun, which is something that looks a lot more like that hydrologic cycle of the river. There something about, as Abbie Hoffman once said, "Revolution is just embedded in the human spirit." That it's an ongoing part. Or as Thomas Jefferson said, "Every generation needs a new revolution." So you have in some ways—. The course was designed to look at "What's the relationship between a line and a circle? Where do we fit into that? How do we fit into that?" When we think about the trajectory of our own lives, is it a point A to point B kind of construction? Does it look something more like the hydrologic cycle, or does it look like something in between? And it's actually—. It's I don't think coincidental that the mathematical principal that tries to understand that relationship of a line and a circle, pi, trying to describe the relationship between circumference and diameter, is a number that has no end. I think on one level you could say that's a really abstract investigation, but the key is making it contextual to the lived experience of the students and having them think about all this in the context of their lives, their relationships with other people, their relationships with their surroundings. And of course, all of that really steeps us in a lot of the transcendental thought. Very much so. So it's a truly interdisciplinary experience. Also, it's very hands-on and experiential. We operate on a—. And now I'm sort of, I guess, I guess—.

Let me stick with just describing what the summer program was like and then talk about the new features of it at the school. Every morning we would be in the classrooms as the School of Philosophy where Bronson Alcott taught adults in the late 19th century—and he was very much into experiential education. One of the great unsung heroes of the transcendental movement. And I think many of those—many of that crew actually thought that he was the guy, but he doesn't get the same kind of credit. He's not looked at in the same way as someone like Thoreau or Emerson, clearly, or Margaret Fuller, although Margaret Fuller's unfortunately quite unsung, too, I think. We spend the mornings in the classroom there—and again—through literature, history, mathematics, and science, and the arts, studying rivers, studying revolutions. And then every afternoon, we would be out in the field. Of course here in Concord, there's no shortage of incredible fields sites to be going to, whether it's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Walden Pond, canoeing the Concord River, or the Concord Museum. We came here and did something with Leslie in the Special Collections. It was fully interdisciplinary--.

MK: What was the first on that list?

MG: The first one I saw—where was it—Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Is that the first one I said? Yeah. And now that we're up and running as a full semester, we've been to dozens of sites with the idea that really just tap into everything this place has to offer. You know, and one of the reasons for the construction of the program in the first place, was I had spent several years teaching at Concord-Carlisle High School. It's also where I went to school as a student and the lack of connection between the curriculum and between this place was shocking to me, and really—I mean—kind of a crime. Unbelievable, right? That you would not access everything that we have here. So many students go—. I know students who have gone to the high school who have never even been to the North Bridge. Right, and it seems, which is stunning to me. So this program really tried to not only offer a much more experiential learning style and program, but then also I think the interdisciplinary piece is really essential to creating context toward students who are learning. So, part of the drive for that came out of working in a lot of different high schools, both in Vermont as well as in Massachusetts, during my 15 years of teaching up until this point, and you know, the experience by and large is one that is defined by fragmentation. Right? So a student goes to their science class, the bell rings, they go to their math class, the bell rings. I'm talking particularly the high school level. Going to English, the bell rings. And there are no threads that tie that study together. Whatsoever. If it happens, it's accidental, or maybe a student is savvy at being able to see it, but—but a school is an incredibly fragmented place, and Concord-Carlisle High School is no exception. It's a very conservative, traditional academic program. Of course the other fragmentation that occurs is the lack of connection between the actual lived experience of the student and what he or she is learning. Right? So often students hear, "Well you'll need to know this for somewhere down the road, and I think students need to know why they need to learn it today, and what's the relevance of it? Research shows overwhelmingly that if students don't understand the relevance or the why of what their learning, that the investment drops, plummets dramatically. So the interdisciplinary piece is are very important. It is also very important, I think, in the goal of trying to engage every single student in the classroom, right? Because if I stand up and give a historical narrative of the ride of Prescott, Dawes, and Revere out to Concord, no matter how exciting I make that, and no matter how right I describe Prescott falling off his horse because he was drunk on the way to Concord, and then afterwards Ben Franklin referring to being drunk as being halfway to Concord, which is a phrase that was termed after that. No matter how exciting I make that, if I get up and I'm jumping around and—there are only so many students in the class that are going to connect to a historical narrative of events. Everyone learns differently and accesses material differently. Yet of course, we typically offer such a uniform way of delivering information. But if I then, after that narrative, if I put up Grant Wood's painting, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" this very odd kind of haunting image created during the Great Depression of that same event, all of a sudden there are two or three kids in the room that needed that visual in, right? And then once you're in, you're sort of in. And once you can see that, "Oh, I'm already interested in that thing from here, so maybe now the history is a way of further seeing this thing I'm already interested in." So in many ways, to me, it's about the goal of any of this is just to provide more access points. I think that really speaks to both the interdisciplinary and the experiential piece. So, I ran it as a two-week pilot program at that point and was moving toward opening my own school and was actually going to be, was going to be enrolling in a school leadership program at the graduate school at Harvard that Fall, and I was going to continue to teach part-time at the high school just to keep some money coming in. I've got a family to support and the rest of it and wasn't able to just go to school full-time.

CK: What Fall?

MG: This is Fall of '10, 2010. This is right after the summer pilot program. So my plan was going into the pilot program—okay I'm going to run the pilot program, and then in the Fall, I'm going to go to the school leadership program at Harvard, figure out how to turn it into a school, spend two years doing that. Meanwhile, work part-time and then open it. As soon as the pilot program came to an end, the district here, and by the district, I mean—umm—the administration, so the Superintendent Diana Rigby, and Principal Peter Badalamet, called me into a meeting and said, "We don't want you to open a school. Would you consider doing this as a school within a school?" So the general concept would be that--. Because my notion of the school in the first place was a semester-long experience. I think that in many ways the program that we're running is about sort of learning how to learn. More so than a particular body of content. My thought was you could have a really potent experience for a semester and then transition back, and that would offer it to more students as well. So they offered that concept of basically, okay, so it would be like a semester abroad program instead of costing a lot of money and kids going away, they just come to your part of the building, and they're with you all day, every day. You could have your team of teachers that can be fully interdisciplinary, you can do your field work and the rest of it.

When the offer was made, I was very ambivalent for a whole host of reasons. I think I was probably mostly concerned about any possible dilution of the vision. However, I was assured pretty early on, and I felt confident that they were interested in it for what it would offer to students and that they were willing to really give me free creative reign on the project. So for better and worse, and I think largely for better, I decided to accept the offer. So I ended up enrolling in Harvard, and I spent two years in that school leadership program as I was spending also in those two years bringing the program to scale, Rivers and Revolutions in Concord-Carlisle High School which opened up in the Fall. So we're now just at the tail end of finishing our first year of the program at the high school. And those two years were—. I mean this is sort of like a whole—. I could spend three hours on those two years. I mean that the key points—. I mean at least for me personally, being able to do the grad work simultaneously was hugely important. I mean unbelievable. I had access to some of the best professors in the country, to my colleagues I was working with were just fantastic. So I was able to really build this through my graduate work essentially. I mean, almost every assignment I had for grad school I would make about the program. So I had for an instructional leadership class, I had to write an assessment system. So I wrote the assessment system that we're now using, and so forth. So that was hugely helpful. The other way it was helpful was just having colleagues I was able to talk to almost in the form of therapy about some of the push-back that I was getting at the school. And what was interesting is the push-back wasn't coming—. Oftentimes people hear about the program and say, "How did you ever get that through? How did you convince the Principal to do that?" And there was open arms from the administration and from students from and the community. By and large, the push—. Most of the push-back came from other faculty members. And so it was a pretty rough--.

MK: Push-back?

MG: Yeah, so meaning that there was a host of teachers for different reasons and in different degrees who really didn't want to see this happen.

MK: Hmm.

MG: There's a lot of different reasons for different individuals for that. I think it's easy to say that people don't like change, in particular schools, and the research is overwhelming and on this front, too, which was very helpful to be exposed to during this time, that it's not a Concord-Carlisle issue. It's not a me issue. This is a systemic thing in schools nationwide. Schools are places that are very resistant to change. They've been operating on the same models for a long, long time, and the people who are running them typically experience that instructional model as students, so it's almost, when doing something really different, is almost turning your back not only on your professional life, but on sort of your own experiences as a student. I really got to see that in action in a big way and saw that it really revealed to me that the high school, in many ways, it fit that mold of being a very sort of conservative institution in which there was a sort of fear of—and again, not—so it's—umm—I think it's when change equals loss, is when people start to fear it, right? So it's not a change—not a change per se, I think, that people fear. I think it's when change is going to mean loss, and so what I mean by that is, I think one fear is, "What if this is really successful? What if students want to do this more? And what if there is no place for me in that new paradigm?" So, in other words, in that scenario, it's not just the change or just the new program, it's what are the implications of the new program on me, individually? Does it mean that I'm going to have to restructure what I do? Is it going to mean more work for me? What is—you know—umm—so, you know, there was—there was—it was—when it was first unveiled as, "Hey this is something that's going to happen," and I really had to work hard to try and get everyone's voices involved. I immediately reached out to the Union because the Union's very strong at Concord-Carlisle High School, and I knew that if the Union was not supportive, then it would be torpedoed likely. Luckily I had a good friend who is actually coming to teach the program next year who was president of the Union at the time. She was very helpful in collaborating. I ended up taking on a lot of the work that in some ways, you know, could have been handled by the leadership of the school. But it didn't happen. So—and what I mean by that is, that I sort of took on the role of going around to every department in the school and talking to them about—"So how do you feel about this? How is this going to impact you? What are your concerns? How can we take your concerns and actually fold them into the design of the programs so that when it opens it's as least disruptive as possible and that it reflects everyone's interests. I think the most frustrating part of that whole process is that I tried to be incredibly transparent the whole time and very open about the whole process, and then would hear that there's all these side conversations going on behind closed doors and like most schools, right, our school doesn't do a very good job of talking about what needs to be talked about at the meetings. You know, and a lot of what gets talked about gets talked about behind closed doors, and it creates a really toxic sort of atmosphere. In this whole time there were some people who really supported it. There were some people who were very against it, and then there were a lot of people who were just ambivalent about it. What interestingly happened is that, that ambivalence, I think, stemmed from, "Well it sounds like a cool idea. It sounds like it could be interesting for students to experience this for an entire semester, this interdisciplinary experiential program with all project-based assessment instead of you know, typical examinations and so forth." I think some could see that it could be interesting. But there were also some real disruptions it was going to cause to the school. When you remove 50 students out of the mainstream for a semester, and then plop them back in, it changes some of the course sequencing for other courses and so forth. So—so I think during those two years, the challenge was that there were all these complications with it, that it was causing both technically in terms of that scheduling stuff, but then also these—this larger challenges of, "What does this mean for where the school is going in terms of education and the philosophy of education?" But that couldn't be balanced out by any hard data about that it was working. Because it wasn't up yet. See what I'm saying, right? So during that whole two-year planning process, there were only concerns, but there was not yet anything to say, "Okay, yes, these concerns are real, but look what it's doing for students." It wasn't until this year when we started getting students into the program and many—. Almost all of our students, I am confident in saying, had profound life-changing experiences. So now, a year into the program, I think a lot of those people who were ambivalent are able to say now, "Well, you know, yeah, it might have been disruptive putting it in, but look at the impact it's having on our students." Now of course, I think there are some people who are most vocally critical of it who might be even more critical now seeing it be successful.

CK: So the impact—do you see the impact in terms of how they integrate into the more conventional classroom experience after?

MG: Yeah.

CK: That seems so hard to return.

MG: Yeah well, and it was interesting. We're now finishing up with our second session, right? So we don't have a lot of, a ton of data yet, but I'll say that certainly from our first semester students, when they went back in—. I mean some of them were ready to—. And went back and felt—. And the goal was that you should feel more empowered about your learning after being in this program where at its core, I feel like the program, yes, the interdisciplinary experiential pieces of it are really important. The project-based assessment is really important. Our stewardship program, which has students out in the field working with different organizations, local nonprofit organizations, which is a whole ‘nother feature of the program that ties to Concord, which I can talk more about. Those are all part of the learning, but I think at its core, it's really about empowering students in a different way and giving students more voice and giving them more choice and more control and really sharing control with students. One thing I love about what we do is that, you know, that we really create an environment in which all the students and teachers are doing it together and learning together. And that shift in the paradigm of the student-teacher relationship is I think what I've really learned this year, is: that is the core of what we're doing. Empowering students. The hope is that, of course, when they return their—. They've—. They've—.They understand who they are as learners better. They can access the curriculum better. However, of course, it's tough to then return to an environment in which you're being infantilized. So that's been—. So for different students, that was challenging to different degrees. And we have Juniors and Seniors, so it's a different proposition for a senior who only has to go back for a semester, or an hour as Seniors who are graduating versus—or Juniors who have to go back, you know, for two or three more semesters. So it's too early to really gauge the impact it's having on the institution as a whole, although I will say that there are some students who reported when they went back to their classes, that there were some teachers who were very interested in hearing more about what were doing and then altered some of their own programming to sort of make it a bit more responsive to what students were saying. That's exciting certainly. Program now has been running for a year. We're running it next year in a similar fashion where we're going to have 50 students each semester, and I've got a team of five teachers that I work with, including myself. And then I've begun the work of offering professional development. I'm sort of doing that this semester for teachers from around the state, and actually that was part of the discovery of—"Okay, so what's the foundation of what we're doing?" So it was interesting. So the Arts teacher and I, Tracey Dunn, we, we led a few professional development workshops and sort of billed it as, "Come experiment for a day with Designing Interdisciplinary Experiential Instruction." And we had students from our first session come and actually lead those teams of teachers. And at the end of the day, when we debriefed about, "Okay so what did you learn from today's professional development? What can you take with you? What might you take back with you to your practice?" Because the goal is never, "Okay, here's the manual for Rivers and Revolutions. Go plop it into your school." It's more, "What features of this program interest you? What is it that you could bring with you as you return into your own practice?"

CK: So you're teaching other teachers in other facilities?

MG: Yeah, so we actually used the space over at the court of the sculpture park in Lincoln where our students from first semester had created a show that was up for two months, an exhibit of student work. So we used that space for this work. We did this three times in the Spring. Three different days for three different sets of teachers. And the big—. What was fascinating to me is at the end of the day during that session of, "Okay what are you taking away?", I was sort of expecting that teachers would talk about, "Okay I'm psyched about—. You know I'm an art teacher, and I'm going to go collaborate with the math teacher because there's some really cool links we could do." Or, "I'm going to really try and take my students out into the field more." But the primary thing they were interested was in was, "Next time I plan a lesson, I want to talk to a student about it and help them—. Have them help me plan a lesson." I mean, so really, the, the takeaway for many was, "What happens when you actually involve students in the learning process more?" And when learning isn't something that's just done to students, but is done with students, which is a totally different proposition. And so—. And that takeaway came from having these students running the professional development. Right? And so that was—. At that point, I had already, sort of was developing the next phase of this, but that sort of helps solidify things, so now I'm working on the creation the Concord River Institute, which I'm hoping will launch two years from September. And the Concord River Institute essentially is going to be a school for schools. A school for administrators and for teachers from around the country, but built around this instructional model. So the design we're working on this summer, we're actually clarifying our design and starting to raise money for—for it this summer is to have two sessions, each to have 45 students, and the session model is a big piece of what we're doing. You know, we're with the same students all day, every day. It's really about that community of learners. We've had students report that for the first time they care about how they're classmates are doing, whereas in the typical mainstream, there's such a competitive atmosphere that sort of colors their whole experience and changes the way they way they think about learning collectively. So what I'm excited to do is to have 90 students in two sessions from students between Fitchburg and Boston. So going back to the original principle, tuition-free experience, a semester-long school for students where they can come and it can be students of the Concord River Institute, but then stay for a second semester if they choose and help run the institute. And helping to run the institute means running, and helping to run the professional development programs that are going to be offered to teachers and administrators from around the country. So in many ways, the Concord River Institute again will be a school for schools, but built around this instructional model and built around essentially using these cohorts as instructional laboratories. So that's the next—. So I've one more year, essentially, of running the program as it exists at the high school now and whether or not it passes on to someone else is yet to be determined. I'd love to see it stay there and will certainly work towards that next year. And some—. Finding—. Thinking about that succession is really important and something that I should have been thinking about a few months ago in greater detail. But—. And then ideally, we're hoping to raise enough money so we have salaries for three of us who are working on the project to be able to leave next June this time and spend a full year just developing and then opening the doors to the institute in 2015. I feel like that's where it's been going the whole time. I never could have seen that part of it three years ago or even a year ago really. But there's a lot of excitement and a lot of inertia behind it, and a lot of support for it here. And I think in part, part of the—to sort of take it back to you know, How does that connect to this place or ritual of this place, or Concord? I think part of the reason why it's so exciting for people is that it's part of the tradition, right? Part of the revolutionary tradition. Trying to redefine things. There's a lot of different phases of revolution that have happened here in town. I mean, sort of most clearly, the American Revolution and transcendentalism are sort of noted as Concord's two big revolutions. Some are saying that the bottled water band that we just did is maybe part of another wave. I'd love to think that in some small way, the Concord River Institute can really help continue some of that work. And it's very much, I think, and it's connected to these other revolutions, right? Sort of breaking away from an old establishment, making a direct connection to the world, rediscovering or redefining who we are in relationship to one another in the world. In this incarnation, or phase of it, and again, I don't mean to sound so pompous as to say, "This is the next big thing, you know." I'd like to think it's small part of it at least, of sort of this tradition in Concord of revolution. I'd love to see this place be part of a national discussion about how to really rethink what we're doing in schools, because I think in general what we're doing is pretty disastrous.

MK: Talk more about the tradition, classroom traditions of competitiveness that you touched on.

MG: Mmm-hmm.

MK: That—that seem to run counter to your notion of--.

MG: Yeah. Sure. So, I mean, I can give—. I mean I'll start with the micro. I'll start with a really clear example. I was talking to a student about joining the program and about sort of the session model and about the, the stress on, certainly on individual learning, but on group learning and the stress on stewardship and so forth. He said, "That's so funny, because I had a teacher, a science teacher, tell me last week that I should never help out a classmate because I would do better if his grade was lower." So grading on a curve, right? So the message that that kid was getting was, "Actually you should not be helping out your classmates." That learning in this environment for this student was being defined as, "This is about you and about your achievement and your performance, right? Which is very different from saying that you are here—. This is what we tell our students day one in Rivers, "You're here not just to support your own learning, you're here to support the learning of this community, the larger school community, and then the communities in which we reside." There are informal ways that we ask our students to do that all the time. So if you see that a friend of yours got pissed off by something that someone said and is upset, are you following up with that person at the conclusion of the class? You see that someone is struggling to grasp the concept and you have it. Are you making the effort to reach out and try and help that person with a greater understanding. But then formally, we ask every student in the program to take on a, what we call a formal stewardship role, and so students have to choose from between five or six different community-based organizations, in which the idea is they are leveraging their learning in the program in the service of an ongoing effort in the community. And we carve out significant time during the school day for students to do this work. So this is not something cute we just do in addition to the work. This is the work. This is a major part of the work. So over the few examples, we've had students teaching curriculum down at the elementary school and working with one of the 5th grade teachers there, Sue Erickson.

CK: Teaching teachers?

MG: This is—. No. This is actually—. This part of the program we have students who are working with a 5th grade teacher to then teach the 5th graders. So that's their stewardship role. We have students right now over at the Emerson Umbrella. They've been working all semester with the Director of Arts over there to put on a huge showcase of student work, which is opening on Thursday night with a big celebration. We've had students doing architectural design work at the Ripley Playscape, a new interactive ecological park that is designed to open sometime next year. We have had students writing curriculum that teachers and students will use for the Robbin's House Interpretive Center, the new African-American History Center that is just getting ready to open. We have had students at the court of the sculpture park working on some of their outdoor exhibitions and installations and helping to write the materials that people will use when they visit the court. So we have these—. The Concord Museum. We just—. Gosh, there is a show up right now actually. It's called The Evolution of Learning, and we had eight students who were placed at the Concord Museum all semester working directly with their director of education, and they got to work with her to decide what kind of show they wanted. They showed up and they said, "Okay. This is the gallery space that you're going to have. You're going to have it for five weeks starting in May. What do you want to do?" So they worked with the director of education to come up with this concept, The Evolution of Learning, and then they accessed the museum's permanent collection and brought in their own work in order to put together what I think is just a stunning exhibit that is up there right now. It is gorgeous. We had an opening for that a couple of weeks ago. So all of these opportunities are—. I mean. they are rich for a lot of reasons, I think. You know, certainly it is in terms of that relevance piece. It's a great way to make their learning relevant, because they are very literally taking what they are learning in the classroom and then applying it to in effort in the community. Next year we are actually moving into more sort of social justice-type of stewardship programs as well, so we are hoping to partner with the food project in Lincoln as an example, which is--. You know, they grow food for impoverished folks living in the city--. And to kind of expand this nature of the program, too. But I think the other piece that is so exciting with the stewardship program, and I guess this fits with relevance, but, you know, they get to see, "What does this stuff actually look like in the professional world?" They get to, on a very high level, work. So the idea of working with the director of education at the Concord Museum and having a voice at the table, that's really empowering. And so on the night when that opened and the eight students are all standing there and being applauded by dozens, hundreds of people who showed up, to come and see this exhibit, that is, the kind of pride that you can take in your work when you have actually really helped shape it. It's pretty remarkable.

MK: It reminds me of, of—. Frequently when Eliott Wiggington was asked to come and address a conference, he would bring a couple of students along, and they would deliver the address.

MG: Yep, yep. (laughter) Yeah, and I think that is fantastic. I love it. You know—. And so we—. And there has been a number of—. I mean, even the Concord Museum opening, I spoke for a minute and students spoke for 20. Same thing will happen here at Emerson on Thursday night. I went to speak at a graduate class at BC, and I brought four students, and I spoke for maybe five minutes, and they spoke for half an hour. It is much more powerful hearing about the experience from the students, and really helps to ground it, I think.

CK: I am trying to imagine, who are the students? What kind of backgrounds are they coming with that they can come so far in a semester?"

MG: Yeah, great question. So much like with pilot with program, we really wanted to get a diverse array of students, and it's actually a point of pride for our session that we are the most diverse heterogeneous group in the high school now at Concord-Carlisle. That means that, that doesn't necessarily mean that much, although I will say, it's amazing. So we have, as you likely know, we've had the Metco Program up at the high school now for almost 40 years, which takes students from the city, largely African-American students and Hispanic students, and brings them out to Concord. They make up about seven percent of the school population. They made up over 20 percent of our session. So, there's one way in which we were able to capture greater diversity. But beyond that, we also—. And in the (???) (inaudible) 0:41:16.6, we have a greater socioeconomic diversity, we have a greater racial ethnic diversity, and the other diversity we have overwhelmingly is, we have A students, we have C students, we have students on the verge of failing out. We've got students with severe disabilities who are there with one-to-one aides and nondisabled students. I mean it is, it really—. That—. That is part of the magic, if not the magic about what we're doing. I had—. So in terms of takeaways that students are reporting, we had our closing ceremonies when the Seniors left on Saturday, on Friday of this last week. A handful of students, they said their big takeaway was they learned not to judge other people, because in the traditional sort of mainstream, so many classes are tracked, right? They are in classes with all the honor students, or with all the students in lower levels, and then you sort of travel with that group during the day. So a lot of students say when they walked into Rivers on day one, they looked around the room and said, "What the hell is this? This isn't good. That kid is in here? Right. That kid's in here?" We—. You know, you've got the drug dealer and you've got the 4.0 student in the same space, and you've got the kid from Pathways with severe autism, and you've got—. And, and quite quickly, I think, they begin to discover how much is possible when you learn how to operate in a group like that. And how everyone has something to give in that scenario. So one this I tell them on day one is, "If you think you have more to offer than anyone else, you're wrong. And if you think you don't have as much to offer, you're wrong, too. You do." So it's that, that ends up being a really big takeaway, so in terms of the students who decide to do it. Students are coming in for a lot of different reasons. Some students are coming in because they're just so fed up with a school experience which to them seems inane. We have some students coming in because--, not for that reason at all. Because maybe they've had a great experience, but they're just looking for sort of this intellectual adventure. Other students are coming in because they are much more hands-on learners, and they like to build stuff and create stuff and be out in the field, and that is so much of what we do. So the reasons are different. I would say that one thing that will be interesting to see change, at least as it exists at the high school, is that the students who came in for the very first session last semester had this beautiful risk-taking temperament that I just loved. These are students who, without knowing at all what it was going to be, without having the luxury of hearing from their friends about it was good, or it wasn't or whatever. They just jumped in. In September when our first session of 40 students in the Fall came and were sitting in front of me, the first thing I said to them was, "You've already blown me away and impressed me, and I haven't even seen you do anything yet, just by virtue of the fact that you are here right now. And you made a decision. You made a decision to do something different and took a risk."

Learning is all about risk-taking, right? And I almost see my primary role as an educator as just to build a safety net. In some ways it is as simple as that. These students who had come in just—. And this will change over time, because it is no longer—. So the students who are coming in next Fall, it's not as much of a risk because they've heard from their friends about what it's like. They've seen that, "Oh if you do Rivers, lo and behold, you don't curl up in a corner and die. You can get into college." And all these concerns that were being—. You know, during those two years, and some of those concerns were being surfaced by members of the faculty trying to sink the program, essentially, were telling students, "You're not going to get into college if you do this." They were—. There was another teacher who was telling students that teachers were going to lose jobs because of it. All false. So it was amazing again about this first group that came in. They were hearing that, right? They were hearing that and then they were also excited about it. And—. But yet they made the decision to come in. So what I'm interested to see is, as it becomes less and less of a risk, does that change the temperament and makeup of the entire session? Does it end up—? How is that going to impact what we're doing? Because, I'll tell you what, this—. The group we had both semesters this year, I mean they were, they would do anything. And we could do the weirdest stuff with them, and they'd be all over it. So I did this activity where in the Migration Unit—so our units of study for the semester-long program are Rivers, Revolutions, Air Fire, Love Migration, and Equilibrium. That's a perfect reaction to it.

CK: (laughter)

MG: And in the Migration Unit, we do this activity where I have them think about the transition from being awake to going to sleep as a daily migration we all undertake. I do sort of a sleep simulation activity where I have them lie down. Their homework assignment is to bring in a pillow, which of course then gets the rumbling going in the mainstream. "Did you hear what their homework assignment is? Bringing in a pillow. They are taking naptime." Which at this point I just love hearing stuff like that. And so they lie down. I take them through this whole sort of, this 15 or 20-minute thing of this particular day in history over time, and it gets more abstract as it goes. So with different historical events that have happened on this day, then taking them back to the glaciers and when the mastodon was here, and then we just put on some waves. So there's about 20—. The whole thing's about half an hour. Some students fall asleep, some don't. And then I bring them back and then they have to write in their journals, which is a huge part of what we do. There is so much reflection in journals that we do, which becomes, I hope, a practice from they continue after. And then we sort of talk about it, "So what was that transitional period like?" I bring that up only as that's an example of—. That's a pretty strange thing to ask students to do. You know, and very different from things that they are asked to do most of the time, and to actually what they are asked to do a lot of the time is just to sit there and be passive. And these kids who have come in, they didn't blink an eye on doing something like that, "Oh sure, I'll lay down on the ground." I guess that is what I'm referring to when I say like, "Will that risk-taking temperament change? Will we start to see more students who are not quite as adventurous or not?" I don't know. But we also have to build up to that. I would never ask students to do that on day one, because they'd run for the hills probably.

MK: Well, if you can establish a culture of educational risk-taking—

MG: Umm-hmm.

MK: Which apparently is happening—apparently there is no way you could probably prevent it happening.

MG: I hope so. Yeah.

MK: Then I think the chances are pretty good that the sole goal would be transmitted to the students themselves rather than the institution of the classroom.

MG: Yeah.

MK: Or the curriculum definitions or whatever.

MG: Yeah, sure, right. No it is—yeah—that's exactly right. It is that, it's the culture that we try to instill and create collectively with them. We actually had another sort of closing reflection from a student last week, and she said, "You know, when I first came in and Mr. Goodwin was talking about embracing the chaos and the messiness of learning, and I couldn't stand that concept, and now I just realize how valuable that chaos is in sort of allowing that, the messiness to sort of take hold." Because I—. Learning is chaotic, right? And it is messy. And it's not always neat, and it's not always—but for many of these students, their experience of school really is something that is very proper and very cordoned off, and very, very super-organized.

MK: You know what, it's five minutes to eleven. (end of audio)


Students in Rivers and Revolutions Class

Interviewer: Michael N. Kline
Date: June 4, 2013
Place of Interview: Concord Public Library Staff's Room
Transcriptionist: Adept Word Management

Click here for audio.
Audio file is in .mp3 format.

Michael Goodwin's students

Michael Nobel Kline: 0:00:04.7 Okay Michael, we're going to ask you to act in—what do they call it?—in loco parentis or something—.

Michael Goodwin: Yeah.

MK: And to give school approval for this—.

MG: It's granted.

MK: Because anybody under the age of 18 theoretically we would need—.

MG: Right. Permission.

MK: Parental permission, yeah. Yeah. But if we get from you, then--.

MG: Yep, yep you got it. Yep.

MK: We got what?

MG: Parental permission for the two students at the table who are under 18.

MK: Okay, okay. Would you like to introduce them quickly?

MG: Oh yeah. Look at this crew here. All right. We've got—. So five students who have been in the program: Bryan Benjamin there in the middle was in the last cohort, but has been essentially an extension of this one. And then we have Katie Noonan, Robbie Hoaglund, Caroline Conley, and Keith Allen. And the four of them were all in this cohort. Keith and Robbie have just finished. They're seniors. And Caroline and Katie are still with us and have one more year at the high school.

MK: All right. Okay.

MG: And just for the record, too, Bryan's last name is Benjamin.

MK: Okay.

MG: Bryan Benjamin.

Carrie Kline: I've got Bryan Benjamin, Katie Noonan, Caroline Conley. C-O-N-L-E-Y.

MK: Katie, can you and Caroline changes places?

Caroline Conley: Sure.

CK: And just keep your—. You're Keith. What's your last name?

Keith Allen: Allen. A-L-L-E-N.

CK: What's your name again?

Robert Hoaglund: Rob, Robert Hoaglund.

CK: H-O-G-L-A-N-D?

RH: H-O-A-G-L-U-N-D.

MG: And just so you know before you start, too, this is for the archives here at the library at this point, so you don't have that next week it's going to be on the radio or anything.


MG: No pressure just yet.

MK: So could you please say, "My name is," then introduce yourself?

CC: My name is Caroline Conley, and I'm a junior.

CK: Your date of birth?

CC: December 18, 1995.

MK: Say that again, please.

CC: December 18, 1995.

MK: 0:02:22.6 Okay. Well, could you tell me how you came to this program and what your experience with it has been?

CC: I'm not a student who learns really well in a regular classroom where I'm forced to just take notes and listen to a teacher talk all day. I'm much more of an experiential learner so when I heard about the program Rivers and Revolutions, I was really excited because you do a lot field trips—the program basically just approaches a student and the student's type of learning from a bunch of different angles. And I had also heard about Mr. Goodwin and how much of a great teacher he was, so I—(laughter)—was really excited to get to know him, and I knew that it would be a really great program for me.

MK: You weren't a little put off by the title of it?

CC: Rivers and Revolutions? No, I was excited. (laughter) I thought it'd that be interesting—try something new.

MK: So then what's been your experience with it?

CC: It's been absolutely incredible. Just the whole atmosphere of the classroom. It's sort of like a second family and getting to know all the teachers and getting to know all of these students who I probably never would have never crossed paths with in the first place has been really great and—.

MK: Students you never would have crossed paths with?

CC: Just like—I don't know—students of all different kinds. People who I might not have been friends with without the program, and also just my learning experience in the program. I've excelled pretty well in the program, and I don't know, it just totally goes with my learning techniques, and I got to try so many new things. For the first time in a lot of years, I'm really excited to walk in the school in the morning.

MK: So tell me about experiential learning and what the difference is between that and more traditional learning.

CC: Traditional learning in regular high school just means you walk into class, you sit down, you basically do the same thing, which is you look at the board, and you listen to a teacher talk, and you take notes, and a lot of kids can't absorb information that way because they'll either get bored, distracted, or a lot of kids are visual learners, and they need hands-on work, so what Rivers and Revolutions does is it gives kids who don't necessarily learn that way in a regular classroom, be able to learn that way. So we do a lot of field trips. We do a bunch of different activities that help us to sort of approach any of the material we're learning from completely different angles and just keeps you moving all the time, which is really great.

MK: Can you give me an example of say the most memorable of these field trips for you?

CC: 0:05:08.3 In the winter we went to a glass-blowing place in Boston called Diablo Glass where we got to—that was during one of our fire units, and we got to learn about the process of glass blowing and really hands-on just right up in front of the big fireplaces where they're just melting glass and making just incredible art in front of us, which was really great.

MK: Can you tell me your name and introduce yourself?

RH: I'm Rob Hoaglund.

MK: Your date of birth?

RH: April 5, 1995.

MK: Okay. Talk about your relationship with all of this?

RH: Well, like I really believe that everyone—. We're all hands-on learners, you know? You learn everything by actually experiences, you know. You're not going to become a doctor or a lawyer or anything without actually you know practicing and getting hands on the material, and I think that the normal school and the normal way we've done things for a pretty long time, and the way we do things in traditional K-12 education is not really doing that. There is very little hands-on. It's all memorization, and there is really not applying what you learn to anything, and I think that's what one of the biggest goals for Rivers is to really go hands-on. To really get—. To really put what you learn to good use, and I think that's what I've got personally out of it. I'm actually learning stuff and then applying it to things. I've never really done that before in school.

MK: Talk a little bit about some cases where that's been especially valuable for you.

RH: So we do—. I had to set up an exhibit in the Concord Museum, and that was just kind of mind-blowing to me that I actually got to set up—. I get to have—be part of an exhibit in a real museum and a real thing. Because not just—. Because school, it's all about theories, and theoretically if you were to do this, you'd do this. But we got to actually do something and show what we've done. We got to apply teamwork. How to communicate—. Like people rely on you as much as you rely on other people, and it's kind of like team-building exercises. Kind of hard to explain, but it's kind of like it's just directly hands-on stuff.

MK: So you went and worked with the Museum?

RH: 0:08:10.5 Uh-huh (affirmative). Yes.

MK: Talk about that.

RH: That was just really cool. In looking back at high school, I really didn't think I was ever going to do anything that significant in my high school career, and the fact that I can say that I put up a real exhibit in a real museum. It's just something that I can take away from high school, and say, "Wow. I did something amazing in high school," and I don't think many students come out of high school going, "Wow. I did something amazing in high school." And I don't think that many student students come out of high school going, "I did something amazing. That's something that I'll look back and go, Wow." Most kids, they do a couple tests and they forget about it. They learn all this material and they just absolutely just throw it away because they don't find it relevant. And I found that that Concord Museum experience so relevant, so amazing. I think I'm going to remember it forever.

MK: How did it all happen?

RH: So we have these things called stewardships, and basically you actually go out in the community of Concord. There are a couple of options. I chose the Concord Museum, and it's really going out there and doing something directly involved in your community, and I chose the Concord Museum because I found it interesting, and I wanted to put up an exhibit. And—so yeah, we got our group, and I mean it was kind of confusing at first. We didn't know what ideas we were going to do or what our topic was going to be and how it was all was going to come together, which really—I don't know how—it really was up in the air. But yeah, it was a frustrating and long process, but it was rewarding, and we decided to do the education, like how learning has evolved in Concord. Like how the educational system has evolved in Concord and that kind of theme. It's pretty relevant to us because we are such a revolutionary idea, Rivers and Revolutions, the idea of like a new step in learning in the high school. So I think it just was perfect. And really it all came together really well. It's at the Concord Museum right now. It will be there for another two, maybe three, weeks and it came out really nice.

MK: Give me more of a sense of how it actually worked. Did you go every day to the Museum?

RH: We went once or twice a month. We spent a good portion discussing what we were going to do, how it was going to look, what objects from their collection we were going to put up there. We had to figure out—. Obviously we had to do some research on how learning has evolved in Concord. So yeah, that was actually most of the process. Just brainstorming and coming up with the idea. We didn't actually set it up until the last day before it came up, and that was kind of like actually putting our ideas to good use, and it was just really cool. I've never actually set up and done something like that before.

MK: Wow, sounds amazing.

(many talking at once)

CK: Hi, would you introduce yourself? Say, "My name is."

Katie Noonan: 0:11:00.0 Hi my name is Katie Noonan. I'm from Carlisle, Mass.

CK: Your date of birth?

KN: My date of birth is January 24, 1996.

CK: Can you connect yourself with this Rivers and Revolutions program? How'd you get into it?

KN: Sure. Actually, at first, my parents really wanted me to do it, and to be completely honest, I really did not want to do it—I didn't know, given that I didn't know much about it at the time, but it was mainly because they thought that I would have a harder time in calculus and chemistry in my junior year. I still happened to take chemistry A-block in the beginning of the day, but I indeed have a hard time with Calculus, and I was really reluctant to doing it. I wasn't very open to taking risks at the time, but that's how I got to do it. Because my parents really wanted me to do it, and I said I'd give it a try, and so I did. I immediately found that it was a really good decision, and that I would regret it dreadfully, like if I didn't do it, a lot. Like, I would really not be happy if I didn't do it, because the classes I was taking were very hard for me, and the style of learning in Rivers is so much more my type of learning.

CK: Your type of learning?

KN: Yes. I tend to learn better if I'm actually doing things instead of memorization of facts and like spitting it out on a test the next day. I don't function that way. In Rivers, instead of testing, we do projects, so that takes what you learn and you put it into your hands and then apply it to something that you create yourself instead of you know writing a paper, or you know, expressing your learning through the tip of a pencil. That doesn't really work for me, and I think that I soak in facts more when I'm actually applying them.

CK: Can you give an example of a project you've been working on?

KN: Every synthesis project—. We take what we learned in the units that we had been participating in, and create something out of it. Whether it be a painting or a video or something like that. I did a video where I captured on camera a burning wood—, Every year people tend to burn the wood that they don't use, and so I was expressing the relationship between creation and destruction, and then I happened to catch on camera like a fire, someone's house on fire, like down my street. So I compared them in the videos, like an on-purpose fire and like one that's unexpected, and I used that to express the power of fire. Whether it be on purpose or not. So that's an example of that. Also something that I really remember as a good example of this type of learning is—like in math—we would do math in the Rivers and Revolutions program and learn about measuring angles or arcs and all that stuff like geometry. And right after we learned it, we'd go outside and measure the angle of the building in relationship to the ground, and we got to actually apply what we'd just learned, whereas in regular class, you'd learn it, write it down in your notebook, and never see it again. I think that's very important. That's a vital part of the Rivers and Revolutions program.

CK: I think about the transformation caused by fire. It makes me wonder about your own transformation in the context of this class or this year.

KN: Yeah, like what Caroline was saying. When we went to Diablo Glass in Boston. That was a lot about creation and destruction and how you can use fire to create something beautiful. Or like you can destroy something, but then in the end, the outcome is beautiful, and I think that it relates to my transformation in the way that entering the Rivers and Revolutionsprogram was something that I didn't want to do, and it was something that I thought would be detrimental to my learning and my future and college and stuff, and then it happened to turn out to be something that's going to really help me a lot, and I'm so grateful that I did it, and it's something that is really important in understanding how I transformed throughout the program.

CK: 0:14:59.7 So you think it will help you?

KN: Yeah, definitely. I think that anything that you know makes you look and say like, "Oh, this kid is different from you know the millions of other kids applying to college every year." I think that—or like applying for a job. I think that when something sticks out, and something is very different from the traditional form of education, it's definitely beneficial.

CK: What about internally?

KN: Internally? Yeah. I think it was a great experience internally, because it had to do a lot with reflection. We each had journals in it. Every kid has a journal, and we write. Every day we have journal entries or take down notes on things we've been doing outside or on field trips and activities in the classroom, and it taught me a lot about how important it is to reflect on the things that you do every day. Or the thoughts that you have, you just get them out because they get lost when you're doing this traditional not thinking about like what you think, just thinking about what's being told to you. I think that is very important for students to be able to reflect on things that they're learning and reflect on how they're responding to things that they're doing. I think that internally, I've learned that reflection is very good, and I'll probably continue doing journal entries for the rest of my life.

CK: Wow.

KN: Yeah.

CK: I'd love to talk with you for the next hour, but I know you have other things to do. Is there any piece that you'd want to add?

KN: Well, I just think that what I've gotten—. A big part of what I've gotten from this is just that students, especially, shouldn't be afraid to take risks and step out of the norm. And that's what I've a lot from this program. That's it.

CK: Fantastic. Thank you so much.

KN: Thank you. It was nice to meet you.

CK: You, too.

KA: Hello, my name is Keith Allen. I was born on March 16, 1995, and I am from Boston.

CK: Tell me about you how you came to be in this program.

KA: 0:16:57.5 Originally, I was suggested to Goodwin by a teacher. It's a former teacher of mine, and he thought I would have been a good fit for Rivers and Revolutions. I was quite skeptical in the beginning. I didn't know too much about it. I wasn't sure if I really wanted to be part of it, but then "Hoodwink" kind of hunted me down and kind of harassed me pretty much every day telling me I shouldt, I should think about it, I should fill out an application to get into it. I eventually did as he suggested, and it's been great ever since. It's definitely something I do enjoy going to every day and learning from.

CK: What was your skepticism?

KA: I work well in traditional learning. I do pick up information rather quickly, so it's not hard for me to succeed in a regular classroom. I've always been good with just writing down notes and like keeping it in my mind, and whether or not I review it, it usually stays there, and I can usually recall it whenever I want. That was working well for me and like this whole experiential learning—learning through your experiences and like what you do, hands-on stuff. It looked fun, but I didn't really know if I considered that like true learning, and that's what worried me. I wasn't sure if I'd get the same information out of Rivers as I would in regular school and it would be something that would be beneficial towards me. But once I did enroll in Rivers and I first started off, it was slow in the beginning. It took me a while to get used to, but once it picked up, I started learning a lot—a lot of new things. Things I'd never thought I would've learned in experiencing education through a new form.

CK: Wow.

CK: Things you never thought you would have learned?

MK: What about the slowness? Talk a little bit about that beginning.

KA: In the beginning, it was a lot of ice-breaking. Trying to introduce you to the other members. There are 54 students in our cohort this semester versus the 38 that were in the first one, and they just wanted to make that you would be able to work well with other people, and that right there, seemed kind of long. Like we spent weeks on end just like trying to get close with each other. It was something that would naturally happen, but I felt without it you wouldn't really be pushing yourself. There were a few people I didn't know. And without all that, I probably wouldn't have introduced myself to them and become great friends with them. Yeah.

CK: 0:19:39.4 So in the end, are you saying that was worth it or not or?

KA: It was. It definitely was worth it. It's just at the time I didn't think it was like true learning, so that's what I thought was slow. But being—. That's taught to anyone in the room—. Kind of like talk ideas and look at information with new perspectives with other people, it definitely improved the way you learned. So that helped out.

CK: What sort of internal revolutions do you think you've undergone?

KA: Internal revolutions. Okay. I haven't had a—. Okay, so--.

CK: You want to think about that for a minute?

KA: I think I can answer it. I'll try my best at least. As I said originally, I learn best in books, and I actually do need to think about it, I'm sorry.

CK: Or I could put this more simply to you: just tell me about what the experience has been like for you.

KA: It's enlightened me as to who I am as a person. I used to always kind of build a wall around myself and my emotions with other people. I don't like to get too attached to people, and Rivers has definitely brought me closer with all 53 other students. They seem as if they are our family. They've definitely helped me improve who I am as a person. Rivers has definitely offered me a lot of insight on the world and especially myself.

CK: Can you give an example of change to you as a person?

KA: Change to me as a person. Yeah. When I first met people, I never really was a very outgoing guy, and there would times where I usually used sarcasm and remarks to kind of defend myself, in order to make an interaction with the person. It might not always be beneficial, it might not always be good. And ever since I've been in Rivers, I've pushed myself past that trying to always be like the kind and gentle guy I truly am and let people see that. So I no longer rely on the sarcasm and things like that in order to create an image.

CK: Wow. Will you still be able to be that kind, gentle guy when you return to more traditional education?

KA: Most certainly. Rivers has changed me for the better, and I feel, permanently. Whenever I do go into a regular high school, I do carry my Rivers persona with me. So it's not—. It' not even persona—it's who I am now. And so I just try to be the gentle guy that Rivers taught me to be and to bring it to the world.

CK: Wow. And you said that you live in Boston.

KA: Yes.

CK: 0:22:45.3 Were you already in a school in Concord?

KA: Yeah, I've been Concord in the MECA System since 1st grade. So I've been making my way out here since 1st grade every morning. It's a long trip but it's worth it.

CK: Can you speak to that at all? I mean it's been a long time. You're in some ways entrenched in this.

KA: About the MECA program?

CK: Yeah, what that's been like for you coming from a different community, a different background.

KA: As you just said, a different community and background. They definitely do play a huge role in my whole educational process. When I first came here in 1st grade, I was very concerned and worried that I would not fit in because of my racial identity. And over the years it was something that I struggled with. I never truly want to identify myself as a, a certain particular race. I would always be like, "Oh, you can guess," and I won't really tell you whether or not you're correct. It was something, I'm sad to say, I was ashamed of, because I wouldn't always fit in, and there would be certain times that being a certain race wasn't very beneficial towards me. But over the years, as I struggled with it, I tried my best to figure out who I was, and not until this year, I actually figured out who and like what I am. Rivers definitely did help with that as well. It allowed me to realize that people really don't judge you by your race or your ethnicity anymore. That they are very accepting. It's improved my educational—. Like my educational learning has definitely improved over the years. Before, whenever teachers would say, "I did a good job," and just like praise me, I always thought, "Oh, it's because I was the black kid doing well out of the few that did." So they like had to make a point to like address that. But I've realized that that's not it. That's not what it was. It's truly because I'm doing great as a student academically and they should have thought it would be something that was worth praising. So, yeah.

CK: Good distinction. What did we miss that you really want to say?

KA: About Rivers or anything?

CK: Anything.

KA: Rivers has made me a more creative person. Originally whenever I did projects, I would just do a poster and pin up some facts and just hand in a paper with it., but ever since these unit synthesis assignments, which are the projects that we have to for every unit, I've been getting more and more abstract. Originally I started trying to do like painting and art. I did that one time, and then I moved over toward something a little more sophisticated. A little mechanism that rotates and it has fire in the center, so when it like rotates, the fire will spin up and create a fire tornado. That was something I took a lot of pride in doing, and it took me a while to get it right, but I never would have seen myself creating something like that outside of Rivers. Without Rivers, I never would have been inspired to do that. So, that was a good run.

CK: 0:25:58.6 God.

MK: Did you ever see a filmed called October Sky?

KA: No, I did not.

MK: Oh check it out. It's about West Virginia kids growing up in a coal camp.

CK: Coal.

MK: Coal camp in southern West Virginia. A very poor place.

KA: Uh-huh (affirmative).

CK: Wanting to be astronauts and having one teacher believed in them.

MK: Wanting to be astronauts who had this dream of being able to build and fly a rocket.

KA: Wow.

MK: Check it out.

KA: What's it called again?

MK: October Sky.

KA: October Sky. All right.

CK: It's a—the book gets based on is called "Rocket Boys." That's wonderful. Thank you so much.

KA: Thank you very much.

CK: I wish you well.

KA: I'll stick it out to hear what you got to say Bryan.

CK: All right.

MK: Twenty-six.

CK: Hey, do you want to introduce yourself?

Bryan Benjamin: 0:26:41.3 I'm Bryan Benjamin. Born November 10, 1994, in San Francisco, California, and there began my journey across the country. I lived in Colorado and back to California. Here, all over the state, and now I'm sitting here.

CK: And how did you come to be Rivers and Revolutions.

BB: Um, bear with me for a second.

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft,
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,

Hart Crane, To Brooklyn Bridge. And when I think of that segment, and when I read that segment, it's enough for me to think about it and read it. I want to be there. I want to be on the Brooklyn Bridge having the New York air wrap my shirt around me and tilt over the parapet or the side of the bridge. And—

CK: And that quote is from?

BB: Hart Cranes' To Brooklyn Bridge.

CK: By?

BB: By Hart Crane.

CK: I'm sorry.

BB: Yeah. No problem.

CK: Hart. Can you spell it?

BB: H-A-R-T C-R-A-N-E.

CK: Okay, so you want to be there. Feeling that?

BB: Yep, and I feel that the education system here and around the country as I've experienced says that it's enough to read it. It's enough to simply see, to imagine what Hart Crane was thinking when he wrote that poem, that bit of literature, and it's not. It's not enough. And I was on track to graduate a year early from high school so I could actually go out and experience life through different eyes and take in as much content, however you want to define content. And then I think, a couple months before I was ready to shoot off into the world, I heard an announcement over the intercom at the school Rivers and Revolutions informational meeting in the little theater, and I said, "What's that? Rivers and Revolutions sounds like where I want to be."

CK: That's the first you'd heard of it?

BB: 0:28:55.4 First I'd heard of it. That would be the late semester of my junior year of high school.

CK: So the name made you want to be there?

BB: Yeah, yeah. So I hear the name, I go to the little theater, and I hear Michael Goodwin talking about it, and I was convinced. Hooked. Ready to go. So I signed up. I abandoned my plan to leave the high school early, and I stayed and took part in the program, and it was single-handedly the most important academic thing I have done so far. Why? To have the drive to go out and experience is very risk—. It's risk-oriented. Because especially given my age of 17 years old, now 18, wanting to go out and simply exist and meet people. It's a dangerous thing to do without proper funding and so on and so forth. And Rivers and Revolutions is simply a safe place to do that. To do everything that you want to do academically, to see everything that you care to see. To go places around the State that you would have never gone by yourself, but here you're reading these interpretations from hundreds of years ago and these places that you're standing now in 2013, and it's an incredible experience. And not only that, it's paid for by the government. So you're having true learning centered around the question, "Why do we learn? Or, what do we learn for?" And people are starting to actually answer that question, and it's actually being proposed. When you come out of it, we learn because it's fun. It's the most entertaining thing we can do for ourselves. That's why people do it. This is why people do it. This is why this is being happening right now. You're having fun doing it, I assume. So, kids are starting to value their education as something that is intrinsically pleasing to them. Not as something we're required to do by the State, but rather because this is who I am down inside as a person and as a learner. I seek information even if I don't realize it yet. This is what Rivers and Revolutions gives to us. And that's why it's so important.

CK: How can you—?

MK: Talk about a memorable field trip or a—

CK: Moment.

MK: —moment or—

CK: Experience.

MK: —class discussion. Something that really will stay with you forever.

BB: So I remember one time in class we were discussing the situation of U.S. drone use and other sovereign nations. We had this series of opposing opinions that were creating this immense clamor in the classroom, and everybody was at each other's throats and you know disagreeing and agreeing and taking sides and changing and so on and so forth. And here we are in a classroom yelling at each other, angry with each other because in my eyes, he's not right or she's not right, in her eyes I'm not right. But Rivers, the safety of Rivers, allows people to do that with each other. We are allowed to be at each other's throat. We can be without any consequences because it's a learning environment, because we're all invested in our learning. And we know that just because he's yelling at me right now, doesn't mean he doesn't value my opinion, and in a regular classroom if I were to yell at somebody, that would be taken very seriously. I'd be punished and so on and so forth. That is something that we do as humans. We duke things out and we create from that. And so that was a very condensed memory of the importance of the type of classroom that we have with the Rivers and Revolution curriculum. It's very trusting. Trusting enough to go places within ourselves that we wouldn't otherwise.

CK: 0:33:53.8 Wow. It seems so hard to go back into traditional modes of learning after that.

BB: Yeah. And—.

CK: High school or college.

BB: I think the importance of a program like this is simply to get ourselves asking the question, "What do we learn for?" And once we start answering that question for ourselves, you don't return to traditional things. It's always there. You make your education a Rivers and Revolution curriculum by yourself because you've discovered something within you that is hungry and starving part of you. And I discovered that. And Rivers and Revolutions nurtured it, and now I feel prepared to go out and be that learner that wants everything, good or bad. The content of the world, if you will. Yeah, it's an amazing program. It really is.

CK: Thank you so much.

BB: No problem.

0:33:57.9 (end of audio)

Michael Goodwin

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Text and image mounted 11 June 2014 -- rcwh.