By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It's snack time, which means hand washing. As the kids line up at the sink, I hear one boy cheer when another boy ends up at the end of the line. The ridiculed boy begins a tantrum of monumental proportion, while the laughing boy runs over to his lunch pail and begins extracting a box of sushi. After their teacher gets the story between tears and yelps, she pulls the sushi-eating boy aside. This is "problem-solving."
"He says you said yay when he was end of the line, is that true?" she asks the laugher. He shrugs, which makes the other boy scream all the more. A few minutes and a few repeated questions later, the boys are both quiet.
"What we have here is a misunderstanding," she explains to both of them. They apologize, and seconds later they're at the snack table. This is part of Vicki Johnston's core goal: Nobody is humiliated by punishment, and everyone "shows the children respect."
Johnston's holistic education comes at a price: $4,700 a year for elementary school students. But the Muller Center's earthy, spiritual approach to learning appeals to parents who recoil at the thought of standardized tests turning their children into factoid-spewing zombies.
"We play to their strengths," Johnston says. If a child likes drawing, her reports on teaching stories can be through art. If a kid likes music, he's permitted to write songs. Late one morning, as Johnston's working with a brown-haired girl on a scroll-like timeline about the history of the world, the girl laughs when I ask if they're in school five days a week.
"I don't want weekends!" she exclaims. I look at her quizzically. She continues, "I want to stay here." Peace curriculum? "Problem-solving" instead of time out? Those things are interesting. But kids wanting to go to school on weekends? That's just crazy talk.