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Letters to the Editor (9/10/14) 

Unschool Choice

Kathryn Flagg's very fine article ["Back to School — or Not," August 27] brought back memories from our family's unscripted, "unschooling" experience for about six years in the 1990s. They were mostly good memories, a mix of relaxed home time and planned group activities with other home-schooling families in or near Burlington.

Chittenden County has plenty of resources and opportunities for self-directed education. We found Ivan Illich's bold assertion that "most learning requires no teaching" (from his book Deschooling Society) to be true most of the time. Often, we parents just had to get out of the way.

Our two daughters began their more formal education when they entered fourth and sixth grades at a public school; they did fine, despite having to rapidly catch up on a few subjects they had avoided at home, and they very much enjoyed meeting new friends and proving to themselves that they do well out in the world. But to me, their self-powered curiosity was dimmed somewhat by the more structured educational experiences they encountered.

One thing the article didn't mention is that homeschooling is for some the most expensive private education you can find, as it requires one parent to mostly not work — and so people forego perhaps $30,000 a year or more in household earnings.

Still, we thought the adventure was well worth the investment. Our daughters absorbed a couple of fundamental lessons that are harder to acquire in schools — that the community is full of smart, talented people who love to share their skills with you if you just ask; and that the confidence you get from planning and executing your own education plan can help you a lot down the road.

George Thabault


"Third Space" for Education

I was quite interested in the binary juxtaposition of "The Case for the Classroom," versus the case made for "unschooling" ["Back to School — or Not"] in the August 27 issue of Seven Days. It should be added that in the last 20 years, a "third space" for learning that leverages the best of "schooling" (its structure and resources) with the best of "unschooling" (kid-driven focus and community and parent involvement) has made its presence known in Vermont and the nation. It's called exemplary after-school programming.

Taking place during nonschool hours, including the summer, here are some examples of third-space programs that integrate learning in a way that should make both Mr. Hewitt and Mr. Keizer smile:A fifth grader teaches a self-generated photography class for his peers; teams of seventh graders spend half a year conducting inquiry-based science and defend their results to their parents and community; a high school rowing club builds boats and races them against other youth on the lake;third graders get out and design and mark a new nature trail for the community;eighth graders code and build robots.

These and other high-quality third-space programs are managed by local schools, parents and community organizations working together. They, too, are a relevant option where important learning occurs.

Emanuel Betz


Betz is state coordinator of the Vermont Agency of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

More about JSC

Thanks to Ethan de Seife and Seven Days for shedding some light on the good work (and financial challenges) of the Vermont State College system ["College Try," September 3]. Ethan covered a lot of ground and did it very well. I do want to clarify what was said about the programs of Johnson State, however. While JSC traditionally has been known for programs in the fine, creative and performing arts, we are increasingly recognized — nationally and even internationally — for science. Attesting to the strength of science education at JSC, we received a major grant from the National Science Foundation that allows us to provide up to $10,000 a year in scholarships to our science majors. Our students work alongside professors in the lab and in the field researching pollution in the Lamoille River basin, microbes that thrive in asbestos-contaminated environments, the effects of exercise on people with asthma, climate change, biofeedback as a tool for exercise motivation and even how infants develop a sense of humor. The last of those was featured in an episode of "NOVA scienceNow" on PBS.

JSC undergraduates present at national and regional conferences with their professors, work as paid research assistants on campus during the summer, and often have papers published in professional journals before they graduate. This work not only provides our students with exceptional learning opportunities and career preparation, it contributes to local knowledge and ultimately the solution of some of our most pressing environmental problems.

Barbara E. Murphy


Murphy is the president of Johnson State College.

Practitioners v. Professors

Having taught for over a decade at the Community College of Vermont, and for over two decades at other colleges (including six years in the Massachusetts Community College system), I have a love-hate relationship with the organization. I donate yearly to CCV, much as I do to charities I like. Many CCV classes are first-rate. However, the myth, perpetuated by CCV President Joyce Judy, that having a part-time-only faculty is a good thing, is absurd.

CCV is the only community college in the country that hires only part-time faculty and it does so for financial — not educational — reasons. CCV faculty have no departments where they can speak with others in their field, no required office hours (indeed no offices), minuscule professional support to attend conferences and stay abreast of teaching trends, and no significant benefits. Indeed, many faculty must teach at multiple CCV locations just to earn a modest living.

To suggest that professors at CCV are somehow better "practitioners" in their fields, and have "a lot of credibility" is to ignore the exploitation of faculty that CCV relies upon in order to survive. President Judy: Please call it like it is — not how you'd like it to be perceived. And Seven Days: Please dig a little more to show the true story behind CCV.

David Ellenbogen



Last week's story, "BA or Total BS?," incorrectly stated that Milton Town School Superintendent John Barone was the only one of 18 candidates interviewed by the 15-member search committee. In fact, he was the only candidate interviewed by the Milton Town School Board.

Hannah Palmer Egan's August 20 food story, "Trail Blazers," incorrectly stated that Long Trail founders Andy Pherson and Jim Negomir left the company in the "early aughts." Actually, Negomir left the company in 1993 while suffering from multiple sclerosis, and Pherson left in 2006.

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