The next several issues of the Newsletter I will share excerpts from my new book
We're Gainin', which will be published this month. A reunion of former staff and students will be held in Freeport August 17.
We’re Gainin’ Collins Brook, A Maine Free School - A Memoir is set in Maine during the turbulent 1960 & 70s. It chronicles a man whose traditional public and private schooling focused on the intellectual and physical, and how he discovered in Summerhill schools his emotional and spiritual life. Jacob Watson founded Collins Brook School and with volunteer help, built classrooms and dormitories. Democratic school meetings tackled challenges of optional classes, ‘magic meadow’, organic gardening, stealing, bullying, food, and raising animals. When a fateful plan to merge Collins Brook with another Summerhill school collapsed and his marriage ended, he found solace sailing the Maine coast and islands, then learned to listen to his still small voice within, became an interfaith minister and started another Maine school. With photographs, student writing, newspaper articles, bedtime stories and transcripts of school meetings.
from back cover
The red brick farmhouse was patient, sitting there on the rise as it had for almost a hundred years. As we settled in we gave it new life by filling the old walls with new music, the songs and singers of our age, especially the protest songs of Bob Dylan, whose 1964 album The Times They Are a-Changin' was still popular. His songs were a connection to the larger social context, and gave us, in Maine, a sense of being a part of the social and political revolution of the country. We felt we could do our part by creating a free school.
from Chapter 3 “Changing Times”
We didn’t have a written curriculum plan, or a business plan, or a group of committed parents, or a ‘start-up fund’, or even a budget. Each of us had painful memories of authoritarian schools whose teachers knew what was ‘right’ for us, who seldom asked our opinions of what we wanted to study. Both of us had a love of children and freedom. We had some years of experience teaching in a Summerhill school where we had watched children thrive in a loving, supportive learning environment where their needs and desires were recognized, encouraged and met with educational responsibility. We had faith in children and their innate capacity to learn first about themselves, then choose what they wanted to know about the world around them.
from Chapter 4 “Cushing Farm”
Ray drove his back-hoe over the new bridge, up the driveway and began to dig the trenches for the foundation. We had broken ground. As much as I wanted to see walls going up, we were going down! My rational mind knew the reason: we had to anchor the building walls to concrete that went down below the frost line, in this region of Maine about four feet. I appreciated that we were digging roots for the new school, all our hopes and dreams, and all the school stood for, in the Maine earth. I got it. But I wanted to be going up. I wanted to see the new school building take shape against the sky. I bugged Ray about our progress. He took off his cap, adjusted his glasses, scratched his hair, then ducked his head in the shy way he had, and said out of the corner of his mouth, “We’re gainin’.”
from Chapter 5 “Going Up”
We’re Gainin’ is beautifully written, self-revealing, and reads like a novel. This is an interesting read especially for teachers, and anyone who lived through the 70s as a student or adult. Educators today, pay attention. You can’t measure heart and spirit, but they are essential for understanding and learning.
Jon Gale, former superintendent of schools, Pownal, Maine
At Collins Brook there were moments of sheer joy; I greatly appreciated the unfettered time to heal, read, hang out, be outside, play with animals, mess around on my own, get to know everybody, play music. This time was a great gift that I view as enabling me to find my own way in life. In a very real way Collins Brook saved my life with generosity and care.
Kim Hansen, Collins Brook graduate
Collins Brook, A Maine Free School
will be available in local independent bookstores and Amazon later this month.