After the closing of Maple School and the convening of the neighborhood association which wrote Plan Z, it was time to get on with the interests of our own children. Laura Stine had a son who was failing to thrive in school. My daughter Elizabeth was refusing to go to school. Levene was not liking the person she felt school was making her daughter into. We began a campaign of taking kids out of school, depriving the district of their state funding per pupil.
We met at Laura’s house in southwest Fullerton. Laura knew some mothers from nursery school days, and we began with six students. The site was Laura’s house in southwest Fullerton on Olive Avenue just east of Euclid Street.
We did do field trips also, such as a camp-out in the Cleveland National Forest. After camp was set up on a hill, the kids scattered. Towards, we were concerned about four of the 12 and 13 year-olds who were off in the thickets, and twilight was upon us. We finally saw them making their way through the brush up the hill back to camp. We had the satisfaction of watching a search for a pack of boy scouts lost in the night with a leader. Here we were, an apparently undisciplined gathering, and our kids knew enough pay attention to looming darkness.
Laura had talked with Superintendent Crawford of the need for a school program that offered children space for self-direction. He was unconcerned. Hence, the establishment of our own school in early 1972 was to get the attention of the school administration.
Elizabeth’s three siblings before her had had their school agonies, usually commencing by fifth grade. Tony’s school pictures were a trail of growing sadness, grade by grade. Beth, as she was then known, was made of sterner stuff. In second grade, not far from the end of the school year, she announced she was not going to school any more. At first, I fought with her, actually pushed her out the door and locked it. She stood across the street, leaning on the mail box and sobbing. Mrs. Sanders came out to see what was gong on. Busted! I couldn’t do that any more. I went with her to talk to her teacher who had no idea of any problems. Beth ventured explanations: “My fingernails are too short.” “I can’t think of a picture to go with my story.”
She finished the year. I presumed she would get over the whole thing, whatever it was, during the summer. Come Labor Day, she announced, “I”m not going to school.” I walked her there, to Rolling Hills School, a block up the street. I spoke with her third grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson had dealt with my oldest, Matthew, six years before when in fifth grade he refused to do any school work but science. Geography? Never! That had no connection to his future as a scientist. Mrs. Johnson had been tolerant, said she would have to give him an F, but not to worry, it wouldn’t go on his permanent record, would no way impede his college prospects.
I also took Elizabeth to the Child Guidance Center (in the building that is now Rutabegorz). Diagnosis: she does not have school phobia, but she has to go to school.
Third grade was fine with Bethy. Mrs. Johnson never sent her to the office if she was late in the morning. She would greet the child with a cheerful welcome. She worked with her students using individual contract notebooks. I remember one entry, Beth writing, “Do 25 and go on to 26. Do 26 and go on to 27…I can’t stand it!” Mrs. Johnson’s reply was, “Well then, why don’t you write a story. You are so good at that.”
Fourth grade, she was in a special program for gifted children, three teachers, team teaching. It was also fine—until December. “I am not going to school.” Back to school for me. The teacher showed me her contract notebook system: she had changed her system so that she, the teacher, filled in all the items in the notebook, including the child’s name at the top of the page.
“Why did you change it?” I asked. “Well, if I didn’t tell some children when to go to the library, they would never go.” “Yes, but not my child.” She shrugged, and closed the book. Beth commenced behaving resistantly. She was referred to the support teacher. She was sent to the office. Principal Herb Welch said, “What’s the matter little girl? Is the math too hard?” “That’s it,” said the little girl. “The math’s too hard.” It was a year later I discovered she had been tested; her I. Q. was 162.
They called in the school psychologist. He reported to me and Mr. Welch in the school office conference room. “Some children need to set their own direction,” he stated. “It’s based on family values.” “What? I’m just a housewife.” “No matter,” he said. “It’s family values. Second grade is typical for resistance to begin, then fourth and seventh grades; sometimes kindergarten if the child is precocious.” (OMG! Valerie already resisting going to kindergarten. One day, to illustrate the problem, I took her to school on a pony.) The parameter is that the child has to go to school …” he drew his hands widely around the circumference of the oval table…” and withing that, the school needs to give.”
“No way!” snorted Herb Welch, age 58. “If we give in to her now, what will she (age 8) want next month!?” The psychologist shrugged…and walked out without another word. What was I to do? I still get teary thinking of such abandonment of my child and me. I learned later the man was working half time for the school while he established a private practice. A motive to not want to rock any boats on behalf of a little girl.
Speaking of which, school people fell all over my two boys who had tested I. Q.’s of 158 and 164. Teachers were always thinking up neat projects for them to do, science fairs to enter. The boys would not perform as urged by teachers. Their two-years-younger sisters had tested at 154 and 162. The first girl was ignored, and actually turned into a labeled “troublemaker” by the end of sixth grade. The testing I did not know of until I learned at COS that parents could read their kids’ “cum” (cumulative) files. I went to Troy high school to look at Matt and Annie’s. I took Levene Borgen with me–we had learned a policy of never dealing with bureaucracy by one’s lone self. I opened Matt’s file. Then I opened Annie’s file… My friend said, “Shocked you, didn’t it.”
Probably all my fault—my attitude toward school had been, “If you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.”
So that was my motivation for continuing with Laura Stine and Levene Borgen to achieve an open school. I was also heavily involved with the fair housing organization and the PTA project to get the road out of the park. Laura would just look at me and say, “It’s your kid.” So that’s where my attention focused, Golden Eagle School and the Community Open School to come.
The children occupied themselves with learning things, like playing with the mercury from a thermometer, and trying to train a gerbil to jump off a high dive. Adults studied and planned a public school alternative. We did do field trips also, such as a camp-out in the Cleveland National Forest. After camp was set up on a hill, the kids scattered. Towards, we were concerned about four of the 12 and 13 year-olds who were off in the thickets, and twilight was upon us. We finally saw them making their way through the brush up the hill back to camp. We had the satisfaction of watching a search for a pack of boy scouts lost in the night with a leader. Here we were, an apparently undisciplined gathering, and our kids knew enough pay attention to looming darkness.
We adults paced Laura’s family room, thinking, reading, analyzing open school philosophies and methods. Laura was a credential teacher, so she knew how to talk with the superintendent. Levene was an experienced PTA activist, so she knew how the administration worked. And I…? As it turned out, I seemed to be a strategist.
On or February 9, 1972, after the Maple school vote, Laura went to the superintendent. “Now how about an alternative school.” Finally, in May, he presented a proposal to the school board authorizing parents and teachers who wanted an open school or a conservative school to join together to develop plans for such programs. Our thinking was that if parents want their kids in an open school, and a teacher wanted to teach in an open school, the kids would be fine. And likewise, for conservative parents and teachers.
The board in their usual sheepish manner voted for whatever their shepherd presented to them. Next morning we danced at Golden Eagle School, 1317 Olive Street. Next step was to send home an announcement of a new open school opportunity to all parents in the district, a flyer for the kids to take home. Laura called the district office to start on that. “Sorry. Superintendent Crawford has left for a two months’ vacation.” His return would be the middle of summer; ergo no school flyers being sent home by his authorization.
Laura telephone the district offices to speak with the assistant superintendent. Sorry, he was too busy. We tried several calls. No flyers would be sent without official authorization, and no official would deal with us to give that authorization.
Pace…pace…think…think. “There is the Civic Center Act,” I said. “Any group can have a meeting at any school as long as the meeting is open to the public and no money changes hands.” We booked a meeting at Orangethorpe school. We wrote an announcement which was published in our then-daily newspaper, the Fullerton Tribune.
We telephoned a message for the assistant superintendent: tell him he is invited to our meeting. He showed up and brought with him three minions. The game was afoot!
August 1, 1972, the Fullerton Elementary School District Board of Trustees approved the establishment of “Community Open School” and authorized using three now-vacant classrooms at Maple school. Ninety of 114 applicants would be accepted for enrollment.
Arriving at Maple school with my VW busload of kids that first day of school, I was abashed; mothers were standing on curbs waiting with their children to be bussed to other neighborhood schools, while I and others were bussing our children to their neighborhood school. What a nasty choice the district had handed us.