Kingdom of Childhood: Growing Up at Sudbury Valley School


Chapter 29 - Kingdom of Childhood

I don't know if I really understood everything about the school right away, but the thing that I did understand was that I loved it. It was somewhere that I wanted to be. And it stayed that way until it was time for me to move on!

Most of the time as a little kid I played. I loved exploring. We spent a lot of time going into the woods, building forts. We built amazing pine needle forts that were set up all over the land adjoining the school. They were very, very secret, although select people got to come out and learn about them. As a matter of fact, when I got involved with them, there were some older kids who were building them and they had brought me and a few other people out to see them, and then we found out how to do it, so we started our own secret ones. We thought that was so cool!

We were outdoors winter, summer, fall and spring. There was no difference at all. Winter, we'd take the toboggans up the trails. We would go down this big, long hill in Callahan State Park. There would always be skimobiles, during the day too, and we hated them. We were nature guys! We never used anything with power, and we were very much against that. One day we took a huge, twelve foot toboggan down the hill. As you came down the hill, the trail went into a field; you just continued down the path and you'd eventually just stop. We came to the bottom of the hill and saw a skimobile come down. We all bailed out at the same time and the toboggan went right into the skimobile, broke the toboggan and the guy's skimobile.

Sometimes I wished there were more kids. When I got a little older and I was interested in girls — I was never interested in the girls who were close to me in age, only in the older girls — there never seemed to be enough kids. But it didn't really make that much of a difference to me. I enjoyed everybody. I enjoy people.

I loved to cook with Margaret. The great thing about Margaret was when you cooked with her, she'd show you how to do something and you'd do it. And then while you were waiting for the things to bake or to cook or whatever, she'd sit down and tell you these unbelievable stories. She always had a great story, and always kept us very entertained.

The first time I realized that I was actively learning something was one night when I was about seven. I picked up a book I had never been able to read (but was read to me often) and read the whole thing, and I was so excited! From that day on, I could read, just like that. There'd be words that I'd have to ask the meaning of, but I could read the words after that night. By the time I was ten or twelve years old I was reading a lot. Later, I read a lot of Shakespeare, Greek and Roman tragedies, a little Thoreau and Steinbeck, and I was into plays for a very long time.

I felt that there was an expectation from outside people, there was a little bit of pressure put on you, when people asked you what you did in that school, and how you learned in that school. When I got a little older, I would say, "I'm as ignorant as the next guy." And I'm probably a lot less ignorant from having the experience of going to Sudbury Valley. I had friends who were so rebellious about everything that by the time they got out of public high school, they didn't know what they wanted to do, or who they wanted to be. And they would be the same people who would say to me, "You go to that school. How can you learn anything?" I picked up the guitar when I was seven or eight years old. A student at school taught me my first lessons. At that time none of the younger kids I knew had any interest in playing music. So I started taking lessons at a few different local places. It was just your basic method books that they were teaching out of, and I got bored with it quickly and stopped. Then I took classical guitar for a while, which I really loved, but it was too hard for me.

I'd play at home. There were teenage kids at the school like Dominic, who I thought was great because he had all the gear and he could play fast; he could learn songs off of records, which I couldn't do, so I felt almost embarrassed. But I'd sit at home with my guitar and play. My dad got this old reel-to-reel tape machine from a friend of his, and I found out that if you plug your guitar directly into the input jack where the mike goes, halfway in, you could get distortion, and it would sound great. So that was my amp, a reel-to-reel tape recorder! Later on, when I was about fourteen, I bought a big old speaker cabinet with four twelve inch speakers, and I put my tape recorder amp on top of it. It was kind of funny.

There was a kid, Gene, who played drums at the school, and he and I jammed a lot. Somebody else was jamming with us too. Then Gene's father told me that he didn't want his son playing with me because Gene was a much better musician than I would ever be, and he couldn't have his son playing with me!

That crushed me, but I continued to play, and to this day, no matter what kind of comments I get, I just keep going on. That's something the school taught me. You can't just end things because someone tells you you're not good or you can't do this, or they're not interested in what you're doing. You have to do what's true to yourself. You just go on and you live your life; you survive and you move on, and you do what's important to you.

Let's say someone is playing and it's terrible. If they ask my opinion, I'd probably tell them the things they were doing wrong, and then give them advice as to how to go about making it better. I'd never tell anybody, "Give it up. Don't do it.", because I don't believe in that at all. I believe if somebody is involved in what they're doing and they love it, then if they're not talented, they'll find that out on their own. For myself, I had a lot of belief in what I did.

By the time I was ready to leave school, I had reached the decision that music was the most prominent part of my life. One of my first memories of the school had been music. That was at the end of the sixties, when you had a melting pot of great experimental music. I was hearing all this fantastic music as a six or seven year old kid: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Doors, and I never realized until recently how important those bands were to me. That was what got me involved in music. As I got older, those bands were no longer the hip thing. There was a big '70's surge of pop rock bands, and I got caught up in the mainstream; it was different from the earlier bands, but it really wasn't. It just appeared to be because it was all covered up in gauze. And I went on and I graduated and kept moving in that direction, and it wasn't until maybe five years ago that I realized that the real music for me was those bands that I heard as a child. They were my teachers.

Music was the common bond between all of us in my peer group at school. We talked about music and we explored music together. I remember when Alan made a harpsichord and everybody was in awe. We all did different things, but we seemed to do them together.

When I was seventeen years old, I felt I was an adult. I felt that I'd learned everything that I could inside the school and by that time I had befriended people who weren't at the school, and I wanted to meet more people. I felt it was time to move on. But my memories of the school are probably the fondest of my life.


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