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"On Falling Apart"
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On Falling Apart

by Alan Shapiro
The First I, January 4, 1974

What is reality? A question endlessly asked and variously answered by prophets, poets, and 3I students, who are also known to declare prophetically, philosophically, and poetically, "The 3Is is falling apart." Like Henny-Penny, who imagined that the sky was falling every time she felt a few drops of rain or some pebbles on her head, some 3Iers seem to have a penchant for disaster. So, beginning usually the first Monday after Labor Day, someone, brushing a tear aside, cries softly, "The 3Is is falling apart," and this funeral toll, picked up by others, resonates with increasing loudness till spring vacation, which marks psychologically the effective end of the school year and which is duly followed by a lot of parties in which everyone recalls nostalgically all those great days and events in the 3Is.

Reality? Reality for me is what is out there in what we call the world, what's in my heart and head, and the process of interaction among world, heart, and head. Thus, to some degree, I, like you, create the world. If for you the 3Is is falling apart, how so?

Because we're too class-oriented (1970-71)? Because we've lost the spirit of community and we're too class-oriented (1971-72)? Because Don is running the program dictatorially, because there's a senior clique and because we've lost the spirit of community (1972-1973)? Because orientation was lousy, because there aren't enough projects, because we have to replace three teachers and because we're too class-oriented and because we've lost the spirit of community amd because Don is running the program dictatorially and because there isn't any senior clique (1973-1974)?

The 3Is was imagined into existence by a few people, born in a spirit of euphoria and utopianism, and bathed in an Edenic glow for about ten days. Since the fall of 1970 it has (in the minds of some, and some can affect many), Adam and Eve, who were also fallen, been expelled from the garden into the World, where it has for four years been falling apart. But slowly . . . like Bonnie and Clyde, riddled with bullets, twisting, turning, ever so slowly falling, falling; falling apart.

A few observations:

(1) Even during its short period in the garden, the 3Is did not take the form that its creators envisaged (see the original "Postman Proposal" and the report that Don and I wrote for the Board of Education the spring of 1970). But then has the universe turned out the way God envisaged? Does He think it's falling apart? Or does He keep on creating it because the process interests Him?

(2) Class-oriented? Who or what has every made anyone in the 3Is take more classes than he/she wants to take? First year student Richard Hobbs during his two years in the 3Is probably didn't take more than one or two and, if I remember correctly, didn't even get credit for them. He graduated. (See Ira Socol and Tom Murphy on the art of not taking classes; on the other hand, for the art of taking classes, see Kim Jones, who amassed something like 12 credits and graduated after her sophomore year.)

(3) Community? Like "project," "community" can be given many meanings. But probably 3Iers who feel an absence of community are looking for something the 3Is never had in the garden: a close, rich spirit of oneness as a group. Something which, I think, can only be achieved among relatively a few (the senior clique, though its members will lose this group feeling with the passage of time and circumstance), and which is probably impossible to sustain in a large group whose members, as in the 3Is, change yearly. We have our bonds within sub-groups, our high moments (last year's spring festival, but even at that event 50 ore more were not present), and a certain loyalty to each other as members of the 3Is. How much more can we ask as a public school group whose members do not live together and who have lives outside of the 3Is?

(4) Don runs (alternative version of an alternative program: the teachers run) the program? See Realistic Richard Lauder's "Does Don Run the Program?", November 30, 1973, First I. (For the-3Is-is-falling-apart Laudor, see "What Have They Done to My Song, Ma," September 21, 1983, First I).

(5) The senior clique? Enough said.

(6) Orientation was lousy? Of course. Every orientation has been lousy, especially the second one which some balding 3Iers now view through the smogged glasses of faulty recollection. One of the first orientations in America probably took place aboard the Mayflower. Ask Don for a copy of the Mayflower Compact; it didn't work the way it was supposed to, except in the pages of junior high American history textbooks.

(7) There aren't enough projects? So do one.

(8) We have to replace three teachers? So replace them, enjoy the process, and shut up about it.

Of course there are other reasons why the 3Is is falling apart: the Steering Committee doesn't work (does the U.S. Congress do any better?), tutorials don't work (do you want them to do anything? If not, get rid of them; if so, do it), some classes don't work (complain, complain loudly and insistently or make some constructive criticisms or stop going to those that don't work for you).

That sage, Kurt Oschorn (also a non-classtaker, by the way) once said, "The 3Is isn't a program. The 3Is doesn't have a program. You can do whatever you want." Kurt did. And he discovered what anyone discovers when he/she can do what he/she wants. T. H. Huxley, a 19th century biologist and teacher, said it well: "A man's worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes."

Now you may not be able to do exactly as you like, but even if you could, you wouldn't be satisfied. The problem with doing whatever you like is that first you have to discover what that is. That's a real problem. And further, assuming you do discover what you want to do, how long will it be before you don't want to do it anymore and recommence the search? Partial definition of a human being: a creature who is chronically dissatisfied (see Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents).

Nevertheless, Kurt was at least partly right -- 3Is is less a program than an opportunity. Admittedly one that has its limitations. Probably because the restless fires of youth no longer flame in me (wow), I don't mind the limits much, but am thankful for the opportunity. What that opportunity has been for me I discussed as well as I could at last year's graduation. (Those who missed this remarkable address, gnash yer teeth.)

So when I return this fall I expect to be greeted with an inadequate orientation and cries that 3Is is falling apart. But in my 25 years of teaching, I haven't found any group I like to fall apart with as much as you.

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