Hippie Academy – Freedom Gone too Far!

I was in the third grade at Middlebelt Elementary School, a public school, when my father apparently had a disagreement with the principal, and the principal told him he was crazy. This was not the first time somebody called my dad crazy, by the way, but this time the situation got heated and my father told the principal that he would be removing his children from school. So, what is a hippie dad to do – take his kids to “the Free School”, of course.

bus 2The Free School was a school that basically didn’t have any teachers, per se, but definitely had a few adults roaming around keeping an eye on things. There was also no teaching going on, there was just this honor system type style of “teaching”. They gave us a math book and told us to complete the pages when we felt moved to do so and then we were to place a check mark on the board when it was complete. Thank goodness for the check marks because the inner pleaser in me had to know that somebody knew I was doing the right thing.

I don’t recall any art or music classes, but we did swim once a week in the city pool and watch movies.  And then there was that one “naked massage” class where two naked hippies walked into the room with a massage table and told us they were going to “teach” us how to do massage – now they decide to teach us something! They asked for volunteers and my siblings and I, with wide-eyes, declined.

I have to laugh imagining this going on today.  Helicopters would be flying above the school and the police would have them on the ground, in handcuffs, before they even had the chance to ask for volunteers.  It was the 70’s though, and it was sort of an anything goes kind of era, at least where I grew up.

I don’t recall why we left the Free School, but I am fairly certain it had nothing to do with the naked massage lesson. Looking back, I don’t think we even told our parents, we just wanted to forget it ever happened. We went back to public school, and we were understandably behind and a little embarrassed, but like every experience in life there was a gift.

There was a really nice mix of kids from various backgrounds at the Free School, and that showed me early on that there are all types of people living in all types of situations, and one is not better than the next, just different. This lesson prepared me for having to attend ten different schools after the Free School with a generous mix of cultures in each.

I quickly learned to trust my instincts too when I was asked to volunteer in the massage class. This was one of my first memorable experiences of feeling my instincts deep down inside my gut and trusting them.  That’s a feeling I will never forget, it has served me well.

Finally, I learned self-reliance while taking it upon myself to learn math, even though I did it to please others (another lesson I learned over and over later in life). I needed to know how to rely upon myself just two years later when my father passed away, and so the Free School was simply the practice I needed for “the Big Show”.

We often have experiences that come into our lives quickly and move out just as fast, leaving us with memorable and meaningful lessons.  They are short and sweet. I’m grateful that in the three short months I attended the Free School, I learned many valuable lessons, aside from math, that have stayed with me throughout my life.


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