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Earthworks High School

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■Jl'JmI.'lA'Jj.II''i.'.'.II.Hi.I.'JJ.'Ii.I.'JJ Autumn, 1974. We're walking across the tops of the foothills just west of the Appalachians, and east of Chillicothe. Southeastem Ohio, like much of Michigan's remaining wildemess, is sacred ground. One senses the spirits in the treesand especiallyupfrom the soil, through the soles of thefeet Onthisbrightandchilly day, we are exploring together the Pre-Columbian miracle of the Earthworks. Long before whitey anived to mow away the forests for timber, this región was inhabited by a people who are only remembered as the Hopewell Indians. They didn't cali themselves Hopewells. Or Indians, for that matter. Hopewell was the name of a landowner who decided to excávate rather than oblitérate the remnants of this civilization which were discovered upon his acreage. Midwestem North America is still dotted with their monuments, and Ohio has a remarkable number of sites. Working the earth into mounds, the Hopewells buried their dead and carried out the rituals of life. Most of the mounds are circular or oblong. The mound we're makingapilgrimagetowardsisamong the most famous in the world, for it lies in the form of a wriggling snake. The serpent, in the old way of seeing things, was a symbol of regeneration. Shedding her skin she moves forward, bom anew. The chthonic wonderment of an immense serpent wriggling along just under the surface of the topsoil, jaws open to engulf the waiting egg. Once y ou 've experienced it up dose, there 's no f orgetting. Neither are those of us who pattcipated in Ann Arbor's mostambitious accredited altemative High School likelytoforget Earthworks High we called our school, and some of us wore the Serpent logo on ou r shirts and bookbags. Initially they called it Pioneer II, which sounded like a satell rte . And yes we were teen nically an extensión of Pioneer High School. But the NASAsounding name was ugly, we thought, especially to the ears of children raised in the shadow of Sputnik and Telstar. After much brainstorming, and a great deal of reckless ideation, we carne up with a name commensurate with our most meaningful experience as a group: the camping trips which often took us to those Hopewellian Mounds. Earthworks existed during the 1 970s in a tiny building on North Maple which originally had been Fritz Bementary (today it's the Alano Club). It was run down, poorly heated during the winter, and underwent considerable changes during our time there. We painted muráis, hung chairs made from automobile tires in one of the three main rooms, and converted the girls' room into a ceramics workshop. This gave us one co-ed pisser, which I still see in my dreams with its amazing wall art and snappy graffiti. Right nexttothe urinal a little gargoyle knelt, staring at you and saying: "he's back!" Our school was surrounded by lots of lovely trees. The parking lot was unpaved and often unspeakably muddy. The flagpde had no chain, but we managed to string up our school flag, (grey burlap with a hole in the middle, edged with pink fringe), which was presented to us one day by the superindendent of schools, who had a wonderful sense of humor. He was responding to our proud announcement regarding a group decisión we had reached: Our school colors were Grey and Clear. This was the schooM'd always wanted. Community High was great but it was still too big. Earthworks was more intímate. And there was more of a feeling of direct involvement in everything which went down. Torn Dodd, who with Alian Schreiberacted as ad uit advisors to the school 's 100 or so students, said it was a place "...not where anything goes, but where everything counts." The attendance policy was: If you dont come to school, you're missed. As Tve said in pre vious artic les, not everyone can handle such adose of freedom and honesty afterthe rigidity of conventional public schooling. Some simply fell right out But many of us flourished. Which is not to say we were all tremendously well-adjusted. I was an asshole! Fortunately, Dodd taught me the artoiCreativeAssholism. Thismeansrf you'regoing to be an asshole, do something worthwhile with all of thatenergyyou'regeyseringaboutwith. Nosense wasting everyone's time! Dodd also presided over classes like Creative Problem Solving and Imagination Marathon. The impact of such inspiring workshops is still being measu red in the I ives of our graduates. Real altemative schools teach you to be unflinchingly different and to do it up rightly so that you can go out into the world and make a difference. I think it was Dodd who also conceived of I.D.LE, which stood for In-Depth Leaming Experience. He suggested we suspend the regularcurriculum for a portion of a semester and hunkerdown for concentrated individualized study. As a confirmed autodidact, this was the best plan for me, although I often sat in on Alian Schreiber's history classes, or the many off erings which sounded more like college courses - Archaeology, Poetry, Asian Studies, or especial ly Beatific Litera ture, which I dont think U of M offers. Sex Class was always a lot of fun, with honest discussion andtestimony. We managedtofit an awful lot of doings into one little schoolhouse. Earthworks went on lots of field trips. Schreiber and Dodd both know their architecture, ánd I recall Schreiber's narrated tours of Athens, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Michigan. He'd teil youall heknewabouteach and every style of house along the way. Did you know that Cambridge Street in the Bums Park district used to be called Israel Street? The neighborhood was settled by Jewish ntellectuals. Did the renaming have anything to do with the Presbyterian Church? Pardon my brash inquines. I was taught to stir the pot; it's what I leamed in school. We visited the sewage treatment plant. We led blindfolded partners acrossthesand dunes of Northern Michigan. We argued like heil sometimes and cried together. Art instructor Sally Ryan taught belly danci ng while pregnant, and when I told her I wan ted to paint on the underside of an ironing board rather than on boring okJ canvas, she said give it a try, so I did. We watched ridiculous educational and propaganda films from the 1 940s. We did the experiment where fora wholedaybrown-eyedpeop Ie had more rights than blue-eyed people, and considered aloud the inanities of racism. Come to think of it this was one dialectic upbringing. We discussed everything at length. Let me teil you what happened to Earthworks. LJke all wonderful experiments, it changed constantly and dramatically. As time went by I noticed we were being handed individuals who were unusual in provocative ways; the public school system was siphoning off problematic kids upon us. So we found ourselves dealing with a violent brain-damaged boy who needed special attentjon. Everybody deserves a fresh altemative, but there are some people whosevery prese ncecanbedestructive. Ido feel that this was one factor in the disintegratJon of Earthworks. Also, frankly, I believe that the school system chose to allow for altemative programs because of overcrowding. When overcrowding became less of a problem, there was suddenly less of a need for altematives. Then one day, Earthworks moved into the Community High building and was absorbed and all that's left of it is Torn Dodd, who is still at Community, showing young people how to redefi ne their limits, toexerci se their imaginations, and hopefully to go out into the world where they have every opportunrty to make a difference.


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