What’s Missing From Education Reform in America?

What Can the Wisdom of Nature Teach Us
About We Can Do to Fix Our Schools?

That is the subject of walden@oregoncoast


How and Why I Came to Write walden@oregoncoast

walden@oregoncoast began as emails I sent to family and friends during the second of three trips I made to the Oregon coast from September 1998 through May 1999. The first trip lasted five days; the second, five weeks; the third, nearly eighteen years and counting.


I mention those emails because that’s how I think of this book—a collection of stories and reflections sent out to friends about my adventures in and around a small unincorporated town on a narrow strip of sand between forest and sea. And what an adventure it’s been!

I mean, there I was in 1998—a small, clinically-depressed middle-aged woman living alone in America’s fastest sprawling city with no prospects and smog allergies.

And the next thing I knew I was living in a drafty old beach house in a quiet little town where the air was pure, the president was an eighteen-pound cat, and I found myself on a magical quest through the coastal wilderness for…


But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here because at the time I didn’t realize I was on a quest. “Quest” was what my therapist back home in Las Vegas had called it. I thought of the whole thing as just one last-ditch effort to save myself.

You see, four years before, school-district officials in Las Vegas had driven me from the teaching profession for my crimes of imagination against the system. Despite having a file full of nothing but exemplary evaluations, I’d lost not only my award-winning career but also my home and much of my retirement security.

I then spent the next four years trying to write a book to show that what happened to my students and me was an example of all the reasons we can’t solve the problems in our schools—and why the failure to solve these problems was largely responsible for our growing ability as a people to solve the problems affecting the well being of our planet and all living things.

But everything I wrote fizzled into one more sad story of yet another dedicated teacher and her disadvantaged students who got screwed by the system. School officials had turned me into a cliché.

Cat named CDBy the summer of 1998, I was in such despair over my failed life that the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning was the unyielding devotion of my two cats—MITTSticala chronically disheveled tortoise shell named cd, short for civil disobedience, and her sidekick, an anxious little tuxedo named MITTS, short for MITTStical.

I went to the sea with the hope that being in the presence of that great primordial body would help me find my way back to the person I was before I lost everything. That person would know how to write the book that needed to be written about education reform.

The sea did not disappoint—but apparently agreed with Albert Einstein that “It is impossible to solve a problem with the same mind set that created it.”

And I’m here to tell you that after fifty years in school, I was more entrenched in the system than I realized and unable to extricate myself from old patterns of thinking. Seeking diversion, I went dashing down a primrose path past every red flag in the book and fell head over sneakers in love with an irascible, demanding, and utterly charming wild man made of feathers and impertinence.

As you might imagine, my romance with an eighteen-inch bird with control issues met with stern resistance from the cats. But as any middle-aged woman with a shelf full of self-help books would do—I took control of the situation. Using my award-winning teaching skills, I would teach the primal enemies how to get along.

Within days, my life devolved into chaos, after which it became apparent that I’d created a situation that was hurting the ones I loved. And nothing I’d learned from books, school, or therapy could make things right.

Luckily, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. In fact, my teacher was already there—that wild man made of feathers and impertinence who, with the assistance of my cats, would become the teacher I’d been waiting for all my life.

For excerpts from walden@oregoncoast, visit my blog.

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