It was a Saturday. I was over at a friend’s house, and he mentioned a few friends of his and said, “Hey, did you hear about their idea, about starting a new school?”
No, I hadn’t heard, not till that moment. It sounded like an awesome idea. I was in.
And that was that. We were going to start a school.
This was forty-five years ago, the fall of 1970. We were 16.
A handful of 16-year-olds — talking about starting their own, actual, real, high school?! Obviously, this was a group of kids with their heads in the clouds.
We kept getting together on weekends, and talking about it. What would the ideal school look like? How would it work? What classes would we have? A picture started emerging. This school would be one where you could study anything and everything you wanted to. There wouldn’t be any “requirements,” per se. Because every kid was different, every kid’s curriculum would be different. We would have dozens and dozens of classes, dozens and dozens of awesome teachers who would teach us everything from knitting to computer programming, ancient mythology to modern literature. How to cook. How to sew. How to think.
Dozens of classes? No requirements?
Heads in the clouds.
One evening I was with my parents at a social gathering. A well-intentioned but — how shall I say this nicely? — compulsively managerial friend of the family approached me. She’d heard what I was up to and felt moved to offer advice.
“Don’t buck the system, Johnny,” she warned. “You buck the system, and the system will buck you.” I nodded and made a few polite words come out of my mouth. She nodded, too, satisfied, and moved along.
My European father, the picture of Old-World manners and propriety, waited until she was out of earshot, then leaned in and whispered. “Buck you.” I nearly spit out my ginger ale.
Supportive parents: they were clearly the tether ropes that helped ground the pictures we were floating in the ether of our teenage enthusiasm. Rather than telling us, “Don’t be ridiculous — you can’t start your own school!” they quietly encouraged us to keep meeting, keep talking, keep dreaming big.
We soon decided we needed to hire an adult, someone to help us raise money and work out the kinds of things we didn’t know how to work out ourselves. So we made the position available and began holding interviews for the position of director of our school. Job requirements: be extremely interesting, and someone we like a lot and feel we can trust. Starting salary: $0. (Remember, though, this was in 1970 dollars, so it was worth more.)
Maybe a half dozen people applied — all them fascinating. We eventually hired a man named Julian F. Thompson, who was all that and more. And in the fall of 1971 we opened our doors, with dozens of classes, and dozens of awesome teachers, teaching us everything from knitting to computer programming, ancient mythology to modern literature. We had no accreditation of any kind, but we sent our graduates to colleges and universities all over the country, including Harvard and Yale.
These days I get paid to spend time with my head in the clouds, and call it “writing.” As it turns out, there’s all kinds of amazing stuff in those clouds.
And I mean that verbatim: all kinds. Every possibility, every powerful thought, every conceivable plan, from high schools to stories to businesses to world-changing ideas. It’s all there. In the clouds. Just waiting for you to put in your head.
If you don’t live with your head in the clouds, how will you ever make it rain?
Photo by viking (Takács Zsolt)