Quite some time ago, it came to our attention that people who don’t know much about us call our school “the hippie school.” People use this term in a derogatory way, and there are probably several reasons for this reputation. We have a rather easygoing uniform in a culture of strict uniforms and our philosophy is unconventional. Rather than sitting in rows at desks, our students work at tables, or on rugs, or outside in the grass. There’s a feeling of freedom in the school and students can often choose how they want to show their learning — whether it be through art work, a PowerPoint presentation, a stop motion video, a presentation, or a written format. And our discipline program (based on Discipline Without Stress by Dr. Marvin Marshall) works with self reflection rather than traditional detentions and punishments. All of this makes some parents feel that The Community for Learning is a wild campus where kids do whatever they want, which is not even close to the truth; our students are self-motivated, respectful, and well-behaved.
Yet there are many aspects of our school that do reflect the 60s movement. No one understands this better than our own students. Since our 12th grade students have been studying the 1960s in their history class, we asked them to reflect on TCFL’s reputation as “the hippie school.” This is what they had to say:
- “As a student who has studied for 12 years in this non-traditional environment, I take the term as a compliment. I like being known as a different individual, because that’s really what we all are. We’re all different, but we celebrate our differences. I think growing up in a ‘hippie’ environment has helped me build much broader critical thinking skills, helping me have a better understanding of the world around me. The term ‘hippie’ school has never had a negative connotation in my perspective. I say it loud and proud. I come from the hippie school.”
- “The term ‘hippie’ is commonly used to describe the unconventional and nonconformist. I think our school really does inspire a nonconformist way of thinking. We are taught that rather than following the crowd and being satisfied with popular ideas, we should carefully examine and analyze before making a conjecture. That sometimes we should not conform to what is expected of us, but we should stand up for what we believe in. Students from our school learn to think as individuals instead of caving to what society expects us to think.”
- “We are a community where we are taught to work as a team to achieve our goals and learn by doing. We learn by doing projects, by researching, and by discussing. The school’s main goal is to reinforce our critical thinking and be able to come up with our own conclusions. I am so glad I spent 14 years of my life in The Community for Learning.”
- “We question and we discuss real problems and we don’t conform to the way things are. We look for other ways to solve problems. We care about what we learn because we learn for the rest of our lives, not just to pass tests and quizzes. If questioning the system and defying it makes us ‘hippies’, we’ll gladly accept it.”
- “The uniforms are unconventional, the teachers are diverse and free-spirited, the seating arrangements are quite different, and we the conventional textbooks are not used. This is the superficial way people see TCFL. But deeper than that, there is the encouragement to think outside the box, to inspire and cause change, to look for new solutions even if they seem bizarre. Everything from the way we sit, to the way we speak in class opens the door to self-expression and self-determination.”
Students also spoke out against the nickname:
- “I believe that associating our school system with the term ‘hippie’ is a mistake. I agree that the positive connotations that come from the hippie term align with most of our school system’s ideals. But we should be aware of the negative stereotypes that surround the hippie term, such as apathy, drug abuse, and fanaticism. It’s clear that our school offers different methods of teaching, but that doesn’t mean that our school is ‘hippie’.”
- “I personally think that using the word ‘hippie’ as a reference to the school is pretty disrespectful and superficial. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a hippie, but I do think there is a problem when other schools refer to The Community for Learning as a hippie school without knowing how the school works or about its vision on education. I consider TCFL the most amazing school of all. I understand the importance of having your own opinion and creating an opinion based on evidence. I believe we are referred to as the hippie school because we don’t follow traditional Dominican education. We break the system.”
- “Well, we’re different. We’re not the usual ‘traditional’ school in the Dominican Republic. Everything about our school is different from other schools: the type of relationships students share with their teachers, the way we learn, the methods we are taught, our uniforms, and so on. But I think the term is too general. There are so many negative connotations that surround the term ‘hippies.’ From having long, scruffy hair to being devoted to mind altering drugs and psychedelic music. So the fact that we’re different doesn’t give people the authority to qualify us under a term such as being hippies because it can too easily be seen from the negative side.”
Although the nickname “the hippie school” is meant to be derogatory, we share positive characteristics of the hippie movement:
- Revolution – We teach our students to think for themselves rather than simply accept the status quo. Our students are actively aware of environmental issues and issues of poverty and injustice. They debate these issues and look for ways to change them.
- Peace and love – We pride ourselves on keeping bullying to a minimum. Students are taught to respect others and to stand up for victims. Of course, we have some bullying issues, but in general our school has a peaceful atmosphere where students feel respected, cared for, and safe. Working to minimize bullying takes consistency and hard work. There is no easy band-aid solution to this issue. If you’d like to know more about how we work to improve this issue read here and here.
- Non-conformity – We promote creative thinking. Our students are allowed to form their own opinions and to think outside the box. Our planet needs people who are trained to be innovative thinkers and find solutions to the problems we face.
Along with our students, we embrace the positive aspects of our nickname and reject the negatives. We hope that people will keep an open mind about who we are, and visit in order to form their own opinions. In the meantime, we love our community and the positive vibe we share.