rick posner – open school

rick posner

Arnie got me to reading Rick’s book, Lives of Passion, School of Hope.


perhaps the overal premise of the book:

p. 69 – It has been more than 70 yrs since anyone followed the college progress of students from a public, nongraded, alternative school. The 8-yr study, published in the 1930’s, tracked, 1475 matched pairs of graduates from public experimental high schools and public conventional high schools for 8 yrs after graduation. The study found that the students from the nongraded schools earned hight gpa’s “possessed higher degrees of intellectual curiosity and desire, demonstrated more resourcefulness, and had better orientations toward vocational choices.” In fact, those students from the most “wide open”kinds of schools, such as the Ohio State Lab School, were “strikingly more successful” in college than their matches.

here – Rick gives us an incredible study/report/reflection of alumni from the Open School. plenty of evidence in support of self-directed, informal learning. authentic from the inside – out.. individual curiosity as the driver. focus on self convo and community convo/relationship. huge resonation throughout the book with – being known by someone – and – talk to yourself – everyday.

These are Rick’s words on the reporting (as we have now connected):

Suffice it to say, for now, that the book is not an empirical study based on a random sample. On the other hand, the book is based on almost 500 interviews out of a total sample size of under 1,0000 graduates spanning the years from the first graduating class of 1976 through the year 2002. It is the only organized follow-up of a public pre K-12 school of this kind since the Eight Year Study and its subsequent follow-ups that we are aware of. Also, remember that the 8 Yr. St. was focused on high schools only.

I also found out, in finishing the book – the 8 yr study he speaks of, was inspired by John Dewey, in 1932.


much is copied below.. the book is an incredible resource.. esp for all those who feel they are constantly defending [eudaimonia – p. 143 – it comes with this constant questioning of whether my life is in sync with my vlaues] self-directed learning… esp for those who wish to be set free.. esp for those who wish to make what Rick writes about – equitable – today.

because we can.

because we can’t not.

highly recommend this book.

thank you for writing it Rick.

rich stories.

now let’s gather together, and crank it up a notch. no?



p. 5 – Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit. – ee cummings

p. 20 – their wilderness trips – sometimes called – intentional disorientation

p. 25 – The popular notion was that these kids were mountain hippie kids, with their long hair and colorful clothing – the offspring of hippie parents who allowed them to do whatever they wanted.They were considered wild and wooly, but the irony for me was that they were by far the best-behaved kids on any of my routes (school bus).

I quickly discovered that learning was fun again. What a relief to just follow my bliss and rejuvenate my sense of what was important and meaningful in my life. Sue, 1976

We got used to creating our own structure from chaos.  kate 1977

p. 64 – the author and columnist David Brooks reminds us that the required documentation (good grrades and high test scores) for college admission will never be needed again during onde’s lifetime. He further adds that once you reach adulthood, the key to success will not be demonstrating teacher-pleasing competencies across many fields, it will be finding a few things you really love and committing to them passionately. The traits you used to get good grades and get into a prestigious college might actually hold you back from pursuing your goals.

I did have many interest, but they were, in effect, buried, because no one, including myself. tok them seriously.

p. 69 – It has been more than 70 yrs since anyone followed the college progress of students from a public, nongraded, alternative school. The 8-yr study, published in the 1930’s, tracked, 1475 matched pairs of graduates from public experimental high schools and public conventional high schools for 8 yrs after graduation. The study found that the students from the nongraded schools earned hight gpa’s “possessed higher degrees of intellectual curiosity and desire, demonstrated more resourcefulness, and had better orientations toward vocational choices.” In fact, those students from the most “wide open”kinds of schools, such as the Ohio State Lab School, were “strikingly more successful” in college than their matches.

Like their progressive 1930s counterparts, most Open School graduates who go on to college are quite successful. The average undergraduate grade-point average reported by alumni is a hefty 3.44. More astounding is the college completion rate: 85% of those graduates who went to college have completed degrees as compared with a paltry 45% nationwide.

p. 70 – Many alumni say that they felt better prepared for the overall college experience that their conventional school peers. They observe that other students were not accustomed to all the choices and freedom – and consequent responsibility – that are involved in campus life.

p. 71 – Hoever, some alumni reported that they had trouble with teh “grading game” they encountered at college. They were so accustomed to assessing themselves and demonstrating their competence in real-world settings that seemingly artificial measure of assessment felt unfair to them.

How could a letter grade sum up my performance? I was irate. I had to learn how to play the game, and it was very difficult for me. I learned that I had to pay some dues and play by their rules. I resented the OPen School for a while because I thought ti was not realistic enough. But it’s funny; once I got out of college and out in to the real world, I found myself right back wehre the OPen School taught me to be. I had to evaluate myself, and I had to demonstrate competence every day. There waas no on there to give me a grade on everything I did.  Terry 1984

p. 74 – Another alumnus, who is now a math and computer science professor at Cambridge, England, says that his interest in math and science was sparked at the Open School, and that it flowered into competence and expertise later, in college. The idea of having the opportunity to become and expert at something was something he learned from the Open School. Although he never took a single math class at the school, he knew what it was like to strive for excellence.

p. 75 – My professors appreciated my dedication and my curiosity about learning.  – Patrick 2003

In a genuine community of learners, everyone is a learner, first and foremost, and everyone is considered a vlaued human resource.

p. 76 – I was in one class with some fellow Open School alumni. It was interesting because we were the only ones to ask question adn start discussions. Most of the other students only raised their hands to ask, “Is this going to be on the test?” – Matt, 1994

College profs respons similarly.

I know, almost immediately, if a student in my class is from the OPen School. They are voracious learners who are not afraid to challenge ideas and theories. They are also quiet articulate in their analyses as the probe and examine the unknown. In short, they are used to learning for learning’s sake, not just for grades. prof of political science

p. 80 – i was admitted the the uni conditionally because i didn’t submit a traditional high school transcript with grades. i was told at orientation that i was deficient in us history and would have to successfully complete 2 semesters of it before i was formally admitted. so i took the classes, and love them. i really liked my profs and i got to know them well. so that “deficiency” turned out to be an advantageous thing for me. i got a’s both semesters. at the end fo the year, i had to meet again with the admissions officer about my formal acceptance. he sat down and read my entire opens school transcript, and sad he wished that ll of his freshman students were as articulate and well[prepared for ca college ed as i was. i never had any more trouble with the admissions office…. i signed up for class that interested me, and i dropped the ones that didn’t meet my needs. … the open school profoundly affected my ideas about success by showing me that anyone who pursued their passions was a valued human being. – andrea 1984

p. 84 – I just knew how to live independently. I also knew how to get along with different kinds of people., and I knew how to motivate myself. Some other kids who were really smart actually flunked out because they were so used to being told exactly what to do. – Alison – 1989

I began graduate school at CSU> Let’s just say that I feel aberrant in that environment. I find myself around people who have spent their entire adult lives being manipulated by the dominant culture’s standards for success, people who are willing to be molded into workers to serve the culture’s dominant interest. I guess I have finally realized that a lot of people pursuing Ph.D.s are some fo the most brainwashed people in our society.  James – 1993

Tina (2002) said that despite it being rather easy to accomplish good grades at a conventional college, she was dissatisfied. She also quickly learned how to play the game, but it made her uneasy. She said that even thought the Open School instilled in her a great work ethic and even a sense of academic obligation, she found herself feeling like she was cheating on assignments because she quickly learned what the professors wanted and just gave it to them. Now she says she has an increased awareness of what the school was all about.

p. 87 – Some educators and observers have asserted that we are graduating lots of straight -A students who know nothing more than how to prepare for and take standardized test. Thee high school graduates are lost in the work place, not because of their deficits in trig or advanced grammar, but due to their lack of self-motification and self-direction. They simply do not know hot to get started on their own.

if only ed could listen to this bit of advice:

p. 100 – Many alumni remember specific instance when they learned the valu of directly facing a and solving problems rather than just ignoring them and going on with the routine.

106 – Money and job security meant less to me than being in tune with my spirit.  – Rebecca 1996

p. 107- We had a huge retreat before the school year and we talked and argued into the night. I began to understand that the possibilities were endless, that I could set out to do anything that interested me, and that the support would be there from staff and students alike. – Russell 1978

Immediately, Russ was introduced to the idea that schools could be places where passions are shared without the hierarchy of formal instructors and professors.

p. 109 – Some (alumni) talked about a balance that they had learned how to achieve from navigating the sometimes ambiguous waters of the school. There were no absolutes, no one telling you what to do all the time.

p. 113 – I was so unchallenged and bored in conventional schools. Also, I could have painted myself purple and enclosed myself in a clear plastic gerbil ball and no one would have even noticed. When I came to Open, my advisor and other staff modeled a love for learning and knowledge that was amazing. Their enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I realized that all of the passions that I had (which were many) had been marginalized. There weren’t considered part of the curriculum.  – Tom 1983

The advising process involves students in an exploration of themselves; a genuine self-assessment has to take place for student to begin their self-directed journey. Without grades to artificially hold students back, they are free to shoot for the stars. The reward is the pleasure of learning [feynman – of finding things out] for its own sake, not meeting someone else’s standards of achievement.

p. 114 – Without this ability to self-assess, I would be limited to the success-or-failure concept of learning.  Brian 1992

p. 115 – Ben 2001 – focussed on music and swedish culture, playing the nyckelharpa. he spent 2 yrs on sweden, became fluent in swedish, and globally renowned as master of the instrument. then got a full ride to brown.

Similar stories are prevalent among alumni. One who had once described herself as a “humanities junkie” found that by having the freedom to choose her own classes and build her own curriculum, she was able to discover a wider array of interests than she had previously thought she had.

She writes: I give the school credit for expanding my horizons by making all learning mysterious and wonderful. Learning for me became a process of exciting discovery. I simply made me feel good. I found that my interests changed and became less narrow.  – Ann 1991

p. 117 – A school that nurtures the glow associated with finding one’s bliss can change lives dramatically.

p. 129 – For the first time, I got some recognition for the stuff I had previously done in private. I started to feel good about being recognized for just being myself.

Joey 1994 – later went on to live in rustics of Alaska, ant then to become part of a select grop of about 500 spider experts in north america.

very cool story on p 135 – about ero – and stopping the world to be together in a tragedy, about having each other’s backs.

p. 145 – I needed to have my desire validated before I could proceed on the fumbling journey to figure out what meaning is and what it means to go looking for it. In the end, the confidence and sense of identity that the school fostered in me were enormous components in my search for meaning and continue to give me strength as I make important decisions as an adult.  – Corrine 1997

Johannes 1993 – No one seemed to care about how Johannes was feeling. He sees now that he was invisible to his teachers. He felt physically ill because his love of learning was being stamped out by an autocratic system.

There was a distinct lack of pressure in the air and a sense of openness about school and learning. He now says that it was like coming out of “an oppressive fog” into the daylight…

He writes: I began to blossom like a flower that had not been nurtured enough. I wanted to do everything. – I was like a thirsty man who had come to an oasis. I wanted to drink until the water was running down my neck. – I started to see that successful people were those who were passionate and free. No experience was too much for them. They saw it all as a grand adventure. – For the first time in my life, I felt acknowledged for who I was and who I was becoming. -It was like a balm on my heart, a healing medicine.

p. 152 – I began to see that the kids were going through a necessary process of finding themselves and discovering how they personally could best contribute to the larger community – something all teens need to grapple with, but are usually discouraged from doing in the context of school. – I began to understand that these kids went out into the real world all the time. Indeed, there was little separation between school and the outside world.

p. 154 – The real world isn’t like conventional school. I’ve never called a boss “ms. “or “mr.” And true fulfillment in life isn’t something you’re pushed into. -The Open School never pushed me into anything; it just helped me to know myself.  – I soon discovered that I had the strength and passion to make y way in the world without al that hierarchical nonsense of the conventional school. – Jeff 1983

book image below links to amazon (also available at Barnes and Noble or directly from the publisher, Sentient Publications – Rick thinks there are only a couple of hundred copies left in this printing.)

lives of passion school of hope

open school site (image links to it):

open school site

Rick’s site:

rick's site

Chris’s review (Albany Free School et al) of Rick’s work & columbine et al.

Which brings us to the model itself, and why nearly 90% of the responding alumni rated their Open School experience as a positive influence in their continuing education and their adult lives beyond. The centerpiece of the model, according to Posner, is the staff/student advisory system. Every student meets weekly with an advisor, whose role is to provide support with social and emotional issues as much as with academic ones. The fact that every single student in the building has a significant, trusting relationship with at least one adult cannot be overstressed. Combined with the staff mantra — “mentor first, teach second” — it means in no uncertain terms that the model fully recognizes the reality of Joseph Chilton Pearce’s classic one-line dictum, “The head will follow the heart every time.”


Rick will be a coffeetalk speaker at idec:

idec 2013 coffee talkers