By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
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.