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Education outside the box

School DeskToday is graduation day. Not for me, but for thirty other students from across the country. Writers all. Writers of plays, books, poems, non-fiction, memoir and more. I’m on the early side of this academic journey.

I’m in Vermont, on an abnormally warm day in Vermont. No jackets, not even a sweater needed. In just two days of a January heat wave, the snow is all but gone, even here in the mountains. The first snowdrops and crocus are making a precipitous and dangerous arrival, since we are expecting snow and ice tomorrow. Maybe there’s a poem in there.

I’m at Goddard College, a low-residency master’s program in creative writing, where thinking and working outside the box are the norm. Each student has an individual curriculum, crossing paths via master classes, workshops, seminars, individual advising sessions, student and faculty readings or the staging of works in progress.

Set in the heart of nearly three hundred acres of land, Goddard is sacred space; its historic buildings clustered within woodlands and fields, with stone-walled gardens, hiking trails, with nooks and crannies of quiet space for reading or small discussions. Maybe there’s an essay in there.
Study here is self-directed, with input from as many sources as one can find. Students and teachers mingle freely, dining together,  co-existing in a unique learning environment that nurtures creativity and supports individualism. No surprise that there are Unitarian Universalist strings in its background. Goddard was progressive education before progressive education hit the public consciousness.
In my search for a school in which I could grow, I looked at dozens of traditional colleges and universities, and already had credits from some schools, scattered in random transcripts. I was almost ready to take a shot at Smith College, as Ivy League as it gets for a mid-life woman, when I stumbled on an ad for Goddard in Green Living magazine. Not your everyday tabloid. I scanned the course listings, realizing the question now was not “what interested me” but “what didn’t interest me?”

I visited the campus. My feet hit the ground and I felt myself putting roots deep into its earth. Home.
I realized that I was one of thousands of students who work best outside the box, not confined by the strict structure of traditional institutions but in an environment where ideas flood the academic landscape, to be poured over in a non-confrontational environment.

When I moved to Tennessee, I was amazed that — unlike the northeast — there were no high school level vocational (trade) schools, though there are thousands of  high schoolers for whom traditional college prep doesn’t work, students who would fare exceptionally well with applied subjects and technical training.

Goddard is somewhat like that, not in the technical training sense, but as an adult alternative to traditional colleges and universities. Its long-standing low residency format, increasingly popular in other schools given today’s hectic lifestyles, creates a way to mix learning and life, and realize dreams in the process.

I’m halfway through my residency now, choosing my semester bibliography, developing my individualized study plan, planning my teaching practicum, outlining my body of work for the spring semester. I am surrounded by freethinkers making their way through the world of words. This residency is racing past.

I see today’s graduates making their way to the ceremony, knowing it will be just a few semesters until I am one of them.  I can’t wait to join their ranks, but that’s an ending to the story. And a new beginning.
Goddard’s graduate and undergraduate programs span a range of majors including psychology, individualized studies, holistic health, fine arts, sustainable living, transformational language arts, and more.


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