June 17, 2020
The School I Want to Begin


Now that I am officially an amateur in the field of education (six months working in an Islamic school, father of two, and a dropout from a poetry Masters program at Brown University), I am now extremely semi-clear about what kind of school I would start if I started a school in this lifetime or the next.

If what I describe below sounds interesting to you and you want to either teach, organize, fund raise or attend, let me know. But please do not send me your resume or CV. I don't care if you have a resume or a CV. I am not a big fan of paperwork and one of the cool things about the school I will be starting is there will be no paperwork. Also, there will be no boredom, no behavior problems, no grades, no tests, no tenured teachers, no angry parents, no unnecessary meetings, no bullying, and no overcooked spinach.

At least that's the plan. We will, I am guessing, have some plans, though I realize that "Man plans and God laughs." So... there will be a healthy dose of laughter after we recognize just how lame our so-called planning process is.

Here are my school's key principles -- and when I use the word "my", I am really referring to "our" though I don't yet know who the "our" is, but have every confidence in the world (and the next) that the "our" will manifest as I continue writing this series of blog posts over the next few weeks, months, or lifetimes.


1. INTRINSIC MOTIVATION: Only students and teachers who want to learn will end up in our school. Our selection process will be a simple way to determine if our potential students and teachers are truly inspired to learn and teach. If they are not inspired to learn and teach, that's the end of the selection process. And we won't care, all that much, about what these fine folks want to learn or teach. Everything will be fair game.

That being said, we will accept a small number of students, each year, who have absolutely no interest in learning anything at all -- young people sadly lacking in any kind of apparent intrinsic motivation. Our "non-school within a school" will have only one purpose and that will be to discover why these kids have no desire to learn and how we can spark their unapparent non-desire to learn. Then, having learned more about this esoteric science, we will share what we learn with other schools, helping them learn how to awaken the joy of learning in the next generation of (apparent) unmovers and unshakers.

Students will go to the "classes" they are most inspired to go to on any given day. Their schedule will be self-organizing. "Follow your bliss" will be one of our mottos (t-shirts available online at our to-be-created virtual store, the profits of which will be given to charities our students will select or create on their own).

Our extraordinary teachers (heartfelt, wise, collaborative, and highly dedicated) will be standing by -- completely relaxed and way beyond the metrics of which kids (and how many) sign up for their class. (We'll figure out what this really means after one of our non-meetings).

In other words, my still-to-be created school will be an educational banquet. Students will fill their plates with whatever food for thought is nourishing to them, no matter what the well-meaning bureaucrats in our nearest state or federally funded "office of education" have concluded, years ago, that somebody else's children need to learn.


If we run out of teachers in any particular field of learning our students want to explore, we'll find more teachers with passion and wisdom in that particular field. "Supply and demand education", you might call it. If no students wants to learn algebra, we won't teach algebra. And no student will be coerced into learning about boron, bauxite, or the square root of 197.

3. STUDENTS WILL CO-CREATE THEIR OWN CURRICULUM: On the first day of "school", our "students" will "sit down" with our "teachers" and co-create the curriculum for that particular term or semester -- a curriculum, like life, that will organically unfold, based on student interest, time, space, and the ability of our highly awakened crew of educators to adapt and adjust to the inner-directed mojo of students on fire with fascination.

"We teach what you want to learn" our motto will be, not "you learn what we want to teach."

4. STUDENTS WILL TEACH, TEACHERS WILL LEARN: As part of our pedagogy, students will have plenty of chances to learn cool things on their own and become the teachers of others, including our so-called teachers (whose salaries will be way higher than the salaries of teachers anywhere else). Everybody will learn from each other.


If a student turns out to develop expertise in a particular field of knowledge, but is not a good "imparter" of that knowledge, one of our teachers will ask that student if he/she/it/they/us/them would be interested in learning more about the art of communicating knowledge and wisdom. If they do, one of our teachers will meet with that student one-on-one or in small groups and explore the art and science of teaching/learning/imparting/transmitting/evoking. Whoo hoo!

Get the picture? Real-time, real-life learning.

5. HOMEWORK: Sorry, there will be no homework. We don't like that word. Though we understand the purpose of homework and the origins of its existence, homework -- like governments, corporations, tax forms, elevator music, shopping malls, algebra, political conventions, and most commercially available ketchup -- has become a mere shadow of what it was intended to be back in the day. No homework. Ever. None.

Will our students continue learning after they leave the grounds on which our buildings stand? Of course they will! Not because they have been told to do their homework, but because they want to do their homework, or better yet, because they have given themselves the homework they are inspired to do.


6. TRUST: All of the above will work out because we will trust our students and they will trust us. We will assume the best in them and they will assume the best in us, because our staff's default condition will be infused with a massive commitment to seeing the goodness and potential in every student, no matter how much of that potential has been crusted over with fear, doubt, stress, impatience, funky parenting, or a lack of self-esteem.

7. CLASSROOMS will be designed by our students in alliance with their teachers. We'll have a bunch of raw materials, on campus, for them to select from. Students will create their own learning spaces which will probably look nothing at all like a modern-day classroom and that is fine with us.

Actually, we have no idea what our student's concept of a classroom will be. If our students have a need for materials or furniture that is not already available onsite, we will brainstorm, with them, creative ways of getting those materials and, in the process, students will learn what brainstorming is and how to open up their minds and how to listen to others with different points of view and what the creative process is really all about,

Maybe our students will learn more about what it takes to manifest a couch, rug, bookcase, or pinball machine than what they will eventually learn in the room they have invented to learn in.


- No grades, no tests
- Storytelling from the heart
- Parents as educational partners
- How to unlearn
- Diversity of thinking
- The gamification of education
- Food for the body, food for thought
- Physical education
- Metaphysical education
- Community service
- Emotional intelligence
- Learning to learn
- Free play
- The inner life
- Real alumni relations
- The great wisdom traditions
- The art of manifestation
- Becoming stewards of the planet
- Values and standards of excellence
- Gardening
- Field trips
- Vision quests
- Learning from experience
- Awakening the muse
- What's Finland got to do with it?
- Community building
- Finding peace within
- Human beings, not human doings
- Rilke, Hafiz, Rumi, and Kabir
- Pausing and reflecting
- Less is more
- Optimal use of iPads and technology
- The power of positive feedback
- The subconscious mind
- Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montesouri
- Sudbury School
- Summerhill
- Unschooling
- John Holt
- Tolstoy and Einstein on education
- Free Schools
- John Taylor Gatto
- Other educational savants I know nothing about
- Improv theater
- Who was Soupy Sales?
- The relationship between AHA and HAHA
- Creative expression for everyone
- The art (and science) of listening
- Music!
- The Peace Education Program (PEP)
- Parent teacher conferences reinvented
- Presence
- Being in the moment
- Gratitude
- Silence

PS: After working with Al Siraat over the past two and a half years, I am under no illusions about how difficult it is to start and sustain a school. It is very difficult. Very. My hat and head is off to the Founders of Al Siraat, their Senior Leadership Team, teachers, staff, team leaders, students, and parents. My hat and head are also off to all the teachers on the planet, Principals, school administrators, curriculum creators, thought leaders, and anyone doing their best to raise the bar for education on this third rock from the sun. Teachers, by the way, almost everywhere, are supremely underpaid and under-valued. Theirs is not an easy job. Yes, they get summer vacations off, but what they need to do every day to plan, teach, guide, adapt, respond, flow, recover, intervene, manage, focus, referee, collaborate, listen, learn, and attempt to captivate the attention of way too many kids going through way too many changes is mind-blowing.

"Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves." - Rudolf Steiner


90 quotes on education and learning
My business website
My personal website
My book on storytelling
The back story of my time at Al Siraat
I am 72. So what?


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at June 17, 2020 07:56 AM


Your philosophies remind me a lot of unschooling. If you haven't checked it out, I have learned a wealth of information from sandradodd.com. She also has a daily newsletter called Just Add Light and Stir. I thought I'd mention them in case you hadn't heard of her - she might provide even more food for thought to elaborate on your ideas. I very much enjoy your blog posts and I wish you the best!

Posted by: Carrie [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2020 01:58 PM

Hi Mitch I can't tell you how reassuring this piece is. I read it at 3:00 AM unable to sleep having recently finished a two month online training stint. Feeling, quite frankly, the opposite to what you have described in this article. And yet you have encapsulated my beating heart. The question I ask myself now is; do I go, once more, back into the fray? Having just been offered more of the same. Or do I throw caution to the wind, risk financial destitution, and develop my own voice (unencumbered by Govmt intervention)? I'd love to hear your thoughts or thoughts from some of your readers who have been down this "road less travelled." Best Jez

Posted by: Jez Collier [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2020 01:59 PM

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