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Berlin Sketches (1)

May 28, 2012

(Ting Schule, a Sudbury school in Berlin, Germany, recently hosted Fairhaven School staff member Mark McCaig to present his talk entitled “Who Will I Become Today? Role Playing as a Way to Understand Fairhaven School.” Here he posts some impressions of the experience.)

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Humbling, having to ask for translation when the four-year-old boy talks in the office at Ting Schule. My high school German classes have helped a great deal, and my hosts enjoy an American who speaks even some of their language. How similar the early morning is to my school’s: the absent student phone calls; the sleepy early arrivals; the need for a staff member RIGHT NOW. I’m practicing my Deutsch with my colleague and I ask what the young student says about me: he talks funny.

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For the three-day Maitreffen (May meetings), dark, heavy breads and various cheese wheels. Cabbage dishes, pickles, and olives. Homemade split pea soup. Bier und Wein. All of it wheeled from the kitchen on a stainless steel cart, the same cart the school uses to serve the hot meals provided daily by the city.

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When I visit the school in session, I join an English class in the park across the street. Myself, a staff member and four girls. I practice my German, they their English. We play “Taboo”, wherein you have to describe a given word in your non-native language. Garden, Frisbee, School Meeting, owl. I ask where I might see some Raubvogel (birds of prey) in the city. They don’t think there are any.

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I stay in an empty apartment at the corner of Berliner Strasse und Binz, a fourth floor walk-up with a small balcony, perfect for listening to the trams pass and to the snippets of conversations from the pedestrians on the sidewalks below. One evening, I notice common swifts, recently arrived from southern Africa, screaming and circling above the street, larger and more insistent than the chimney swifts of home. No, definitely not in Kansas anymore.

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The visceral, lovely truth: stepping into a Sudbury school always feels the same, no matter where you are. Although each has its own culture, the unique amalgam of respect and authenticity, freedom and responsibility, proves unmistakable. Even auf Deutsch.

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After each of the three lectures, breakout sessions. Parents and staff from three German Sudbury schools ask me many questions. (Viele Fragen). We spend at least an hour discussing JC, “JK” in Berlin.

How graciously they appreciate my perspective. How much I learn from them.

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One of the many upsides of a city Sudbury school: a grocery store one block away in each direction. The students prefer “Penny.’

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The school occupies the second floor of a commercial building, with a wide, sunny hallway and several rooms, including a library, a kitchen, a video game room, an office, and a large meeting/eating room.

Staff members ride a scooter down the hall in response to the frequent doorbell.

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I have one afternoon off and ride the subway downtown to Alexander Platz, joining the scores of tourists walking down Karl Liebknecht Strasse, past the island of museums, all the way to tree-lined Unter den Linden ending in the famed Brandenburg Gate. Before the museums, the massive Berliner Dom (cathedral), survivor of Allied bombing and Soviet liberation,  then a green swath where I spot the unmistakable angularity and precision of a raptor heading south, confirmed that night as a European sparrowhawk.

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After several hours of intense Sudbury school discussion each day, by the last night of my visit, I have begun to dream in German, and of course now, even from a distance of a couple of weeks, all of it has begun to feel like a dream.

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Next: English text of “Who Will I Become Today?”

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