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Community High

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WMMflffmTiiifflfcflmitiiWJ America, your big schools never taught me. Not very deeply, anyway. I needed intimacy, and in the swollen ranks of overcrowded schooling, intimacy was simply not applicable. So I chose the options which presented themselves. Anything to persevere as an individual. I believe I was about thirteen years old when the dress code finally evaporated. Following some ancient voice, I wore as many as ten neckties around my throat Using a long crochet hook, I employed the afghan stitch and fashioned a knobby and brightly speckled headdress which gave me that shamanistic look. There are people who still remember and mention this to me; it's not surprising that it left a lasting impression. I looked very strange. And feit wonderful. Public schools were boring and wicked. And do you realize how dangerous it is, this business of inundating impressionable young minds with deadly blah? It can kill! The awful ennui can work murder. To be fair, I will say that Haisley Elementary gave me some hope, as it was inf initely more progressive than the schools l'd attended in Toledo, Ohio; Concord, Massachusetts; and Bozeman, Montana. At Haisley I was fortúnate to have Lois Theis as my instructor. Her style was a mixture of hard-headedness and righteous sensitivity. Forthe first time anywhere, Iwasencouraged to follow my own path. To get up in front of the class and read the poetry of Longfellow if I wished. But then carne the alienation of Junior High School. Forsythe was a grim experience which l'd rather not discuss. Switching to Tappan I found a moderately gentier atmosphere, and t was at Tappan that I began to dress my body so outrageously. And during the spring of 1972, several of my coolestteachers took me aside and let me know they'd recommended me for an experimental school slated to epen in the fall. This was the very beginning of Community High School. I recall their thoughtful explanations: they acknowledged my unusual qualities and made it clear to me that there was an environment being created forthose of us who deserved a different setting in which to enrich our minds. Looking back, I am grateful. Because they could have been nasty or dismissive. But these were Ann Arbor teachers of the very best sort, and they appearto have been willing and able to see what was really going on inside of the young minds. And I consider what they did to have been an act of love. September 1 972 was a very importanttuming point forme. I worked the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, and was thusly inspired to devote the rest of my life to the music. I also ingested my first hit of acid on Sunday night, and the very next moming, still giddy and glowing, I attended my first day of High School, which was the very first day of Community High. That's a lot of firsts. And blessed be. Community opened in what used to be Jones Elementary, on the beautiful hillside near División and Catherine. The adults who ran it seemed full of optimism and tolerance. Here are a few whom I recall: Ava Brown, who's still working at Community, l'd had as a Unified Studies teacher at Forsythe. I remember her as being rascally and real. She took no shit f rom nobody and had hairraising stories to teil about growing up tough in the boondocks. Jack Gray was my mentor. He had a wry sense of humor, smoked a pipe and quietly shared some tremendous insights. Legend had it he'd toured Europe with his wife on a motoreyele. We discussed sex, politics, language, sex, culture, Charles Dickens and sex. In later years Jack and I had reason to talk about old Jazz, and I still have a British import LP of 1 924 sessions by the LJttJe Ramblers which he gave me. Jack left the planet a few years back, and is sorely missed. The kindness of Oakley Winter, the gregariousness of Betsy King, these are cherished memories, and I suspect that the kids today have similarly sensitive adults to interact with at this remarkable school. I wish that Bill Casello was still there. His energy and optimism was extremely inspiring to me and to many others, and it was Bill who gave the administrative innards of Community such a vitality, a human highspiritedness which I will never forget. Somewhere along the line Bill's name became scandalized and he doesn't tèach anymore. That's a terrific loss to this community and I personally cali for his reinstatement. Every educator should aspire to be so real and alive. Just as every school should be a Free School. At Community there was and is Freedom. Not everyone can handle such liberties, particularly after the regimentednonsense of straight schools with bells ringing between classes like a goddamned factory. When you're handed freedom at an early age it's up to you to discipline yourself and make the very most out of each and every day. I know that many of us flopped around and didn't get all that we could have f rom altemative schooling. Yet there were certain accomplishments, and here's one l'm proud of: I formed and headed the Trashy Fiction Club. The premise forthe club was simply that in order to truly appreciate fine literature, we needed to embrace the very lousiest available dreck. We assembled a special library of throwaway pulp fiction, and filled out Trash Evaluations. There were questions like "What were the major shortcomings of this book?", "Was there a plot?", "If so, when did the plot entirely collapse?" and so forth. Funny, right? But listen here. One day a woman carne to me and said she was grateful because had gotten her son to read. Without realizing it, I had helped a guy my age to overeóme a bit of a leaming disability. So what if he was reading a shitty espionage novelette? You gotta start somewhere. And the key was this: I had made it fun, even outrageous and different for him toopen the book and examine its pages. Ithinkl had stumbled onto something there. So I was teaching, or leading workshops anyway, while enrolled as a student. This is important: just as no one can teach who has ceased to leam, students should dare to rise above the limited state of being a receptacle for knowledge. In addition Community High has a Community Resource program, wherein citizens may interact as instructors with students.This constitutes an involvement with the real world which is sadly lacking in conventional public schooling. Over the years, Community High has gone through lots of changes, as has Ann Arbor and all who live here. The bestthing going on today, from my perspective, is the Community High Jazz Program, led by one Mike Grace. I can 't teil you how thrilled I am to know that there's an adult who's putting so much good and loving energy into the next generation of Jazz musicians. It's comparable to the work Ed Sarath is doing at the U of M School of Music. Both individuals are teaching the fine arts of improvisation, and for this they should have our undying gratitude. And maybe some grants transferred from the Pentagon. Disband the CIA and give the money to young musicians! You can heartheirensembles on CD. Specifically for the purposes of this article let's plug the title, "Community High School Jazz Program 1993-1994." Look for their music on the Schoolkids' Record label, apparently volume one in a series. Here's an altemative school with its own rhythm section. The future doesn't seem so scary after all.


Old News
Lois Theis