Dec 9, 2009

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


by Walt Whitman, published in Leaves of Grass, 1855

COME, my tan-faced children,

Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,

Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?

Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,

We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,

We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you youths, Western youths,

So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,

Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Have the elder races halted?

Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?

We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the past we leave behind,

We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,

Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

We detachments steady throwing,

Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep,

Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

We primeval forests felling,

We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,

We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Colorado men are we,

From the peaks gigantic, from the great sierras and the high plateaus,

From the mine and from the gully, from the hunting trail we come,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

From Nebraska, from Arkansas,

Central inland race are we, from Missouri, with the continental blood intervein'd,

All the hands of comrades clasping, all the Southern, all the Northern,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

O resistless restless race!

O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all!

O I mourn and yet exult, I am rapt with love for all,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Raise the mighty mother mistress,

Waving high the delicate mistress, over all the starry mistress,

(bend your heads all,)

Raise the fang'd and warlike mistress, stern, impassive, weapon'd mistress,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

See my children, resolute children,

By those swarms upon our rear we must never yield or falter,

Ages back in ghostly millions frowning there behind us urging,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

On and on the compact ranks,

With accessions ever waiting, with the places of the dead quickly fill'd,

Through the battle, through defeat, moving yet and never stopping,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

O to die advancing on!

Are there some of us to droop and die? has the hour come?

Then upon the march we fittest die, soon and sure the gap is fill'd.

Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the pulses of the world,

Falling in they beat for us, with the Western movement beat,

Holding single or together, steady moving to the front, all for us,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Life's involv'd and varied pageants,

All the forms and shows, all the workmen at their work,

All the seamen and the landsmen, all the masters with their slaves,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the hapless silent lovers,

All the prisoners in the prisons, all the righteous and the wicked,

All the joyous, all the sorrowing, all the living, all the dying,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

I too with my soul and body,

We, a curious trio, picking, wandering on our way,

Through these shores amid the shadows, with the apparitions pressing,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Lo, the darting bowling orb!

Lo, the brother orbs around, all the clustering suns and planets,

All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

These are of us, they are with us,

All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait behind,

We to-day's procession heading, we the route for travel clearing,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you daughters of the West!

O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives!

Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Minstrels latent on the prairies!

(Shrouded bards of other lands, you may rest, you have done your work,)

Soon I hear you coming warbling, soon you rise and tramp amid us,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Not for delectations sweet,

Not the cushion and the slipper, not the peaceful and the studious,

Not the riches safe and palling, not for us the tame enjoyment,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Do the feasters gluttonous feast?

Do the corpulent sleepers sleep? have they lock'd and bolted doors?

Still be ours the diet hard, and the blanket on the ground,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Has the night descended?

Was the road of late so toilsome? did we stop discouraged nodding on our way?

Yet a passing hour I yield you in your tracks to pause oblivious,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Till with sound of trumpet,

Far, far off the daybreak call-hark! how loud and clear I hear it wind,

Swift! to the head of the army!-swift! spring to your places,

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Thanks to Nancy Zastudil for offering this poem as a tribute to and reminder of the pioneering spirit still very much alive and well today.

Dec 6, 2009

This Beautiful City

Tonight I attended what has been called "a site-specific theater production" by the Civilians, a New York-based troupe, about the city where I live. In 2007 the Civilians were invited to Colorado College for a 10-week residency in Colorado Springs, during which they developed a musical based on the city and its legendary evangelical churches. The production was sculpted from hundreds of hours of extensive interviews and provides a complex and thought-provoking mosaic of actual statements from real, local people. Here's how the Civilians website describes the play:
This Beautiful City is a play with music, created from interviews with actual persons, that explores the Evangelical movement and its unofficial U.S. capital. Because of the presence of several national Evangelical headquarters, the influential megachurch New Life (formerly led by Ted Haggard), and numerous and diverse churches, questions surrounding religion and civic concerns are brought to the foreground of everyday life in this city. The Civilians’ project looks at Colorado Springs as a microcosm of issues facing the country as a whole—the shifting line between church and state, changing ideas about the nature of Christianity, and how different beliefs can either coexist or conflict within a community.
This Beautiful City has traveled the country and received rave reviews; the city of Colorado Springs, though, has not fared so well and continues to suffer from the media spectacle surrounding its evangelic Christian population.

I must admit that I was nervous about attending the production, fearing that the worst part of our city had been dressed up and put on national tour by a bunch of outsider critics. For years I've denied being from Colorado Springs because I didn't want to associate myself with the mega-churches, the military, and the right wing politics that have taken hold in this town since the '90s. I wasn't alone with my localized shame in the hometown audience tonight.

The performance featured local personalities and paradoxes and while these could have been presented in a cynical or tongue-in-cheek fashion, but instead were both human and fair without being at all feel-good. As a New Yorker review states, the play is "vivid, agenda-free, and marked by a benevolent irony." After witnessing the musical that proved to be thought-provoking, well-researched, expertly produced, and fully accountable to its audience; I am proud of the Civilians and proud of our city. Appropriately titled "This Beautiful City," the musical unpacks (as much as a two-hour musical can) the divisions, opinions, characters, and history surrounding the evangelical movement, finishing with a song about our beautiful mountain, Pikes Peak, and the quandary of living with extreme difference in an extremely desirable place.

Since 2001, the Civilians have cultivated their craft of "investigative theater" that combines journalism and art. They have made 12 productions that include The Ladies, about "the lives of Eva Perón, Madame Mao, Elena Ceausescu, Imelda Marcos — and those of project author Anne Washburn and director Anne Kauffman — told through gossip, tape recorders, torch songs, spectacle, and grim historical analysis." Canard, Canard Goose is "a story about a Hollywood movie and a lost flock of carelessly imprinted geese resulting in an eclectic show about disorientation, misplaced empathy and coming home." Their current project is an investigation of the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn and the Great Immensity, focusing on the environmental crisis and climate change.

Documentary theater is a new concept to me but appears to be a potent form of cultural production, one that is capable of taking on difficult issues in specific places. As This Beautiful City has evidenced, cities are complex, issues are personal, and art -- in both its production and dissemination, and with ample time and curiosity -- can create meaningful dialog about what it means to be human.

Learn more about the Civilians here:
Read a rather short-sighted review of This Beautiful City in my hometown newspaper here.

Dec 5, 2009

Brilliant, Singing

Ashleigh Brilliant is a writer and cartoonist, best known for his humorously illustrated, one-line postcards (see above example). I recently discovered Mr. Brilliant while doing research on the Human Be-In held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park during the Summer of Love. I came across a set of radio pieces highlighting the sounds of Haight-Ashbury circa 1967. Amidst various interviews relating to the definition of "groovy" or the ideology of Free Love, were a few recordings of Ashleigh Brilliant performing live in Golden Gate Park.

His songs struck me as poignant and raw. Set to the tune of well-known songs, he changed the words to reflect the world he witnessed in the Haight-Ashbury during those times. At times these sound like countercultural anthems, at times they are snide criticisms of hippie materialism. From my understanding, he performed these songs regularly and never sang with accompaniment.

Unfortunately, I don't have a sound recording to share with Red Legacy readers. But here are the lyrics set to a tune you'll surely know.

From Haight Ashbury Song Book

"Haight-Ashbury The Beautiful"
(tune: "America the Beautiful")

O beautiful for hairy beard,
For psychedelic smiles,
For lava-lamps and costumes weird
And run-away juveniles.

Haight-Ashbury, Haight-Ashbury,
America unbound!
Within thy good old neighborhood:
The rising underground.

O beautiful for hippie feet
That walk without mishap
Through tourist trash on every street
And piles of canine crap.

Haight-Ashbury, Haight-Ashbury,
Your own conclusion draw--
Collapse entire or die by fire,
But never go bourgeois!

You can order his songbook, published in 1967, for $10 on Ashleigh Brilliant's website. Check it out at:

Dec 3, 2009

The Teacher Was the Sea: Pacific High School

I am soon to finish my first semester of teaching at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and with this experience comes a heightened concern for making education a provocative investigation that invites a personal sense of agency and curiosity in each student. Likewise, with the initiation of PLAND, which aims to be a process-driven exploration of community and place, I am interested in models of experiential research through real, lived projects. How timely it feels to have encountered Michael S. Kaye’s book, The Teacher Was The Sea, which is a thoughtful retrospective about his involvement with Pacific High School.

Resulting from the brainstorm of several disgruntled parents and teachers who wanted a new educational alternative, Pacific High School started in the fall of 1961 with 11 students, one full-time staff member, and no place to call home. After an extended field trip to the Sierras, Pacific settled into a rented space above a law firm in Palo Alto and offered a schedule of courses that students could elect, but were not required, to attend. The goal was non-hierarchical progressive education in which everyone involved was responsible for his or her individual experience.

Within the following four years, the school moved eight times and struggled to pay bills, maintain enrollment, and practice some collective notion of student-empowered education. Of these early years, Kaye recounts the main struggle as a common but naïve faith that kids will go to classes because they want to, that learning is its own reward. He recalls thinking that “all we have to do is cook up a bunch of interesting relevant classes and that kids, after a period of adjustment will flock to them.” He talks about trying to “beat the sports news” but that “classes are an abstract, unnatural way of passing on information. When kids are not coerced, few of them will go regularly… They are too busy living.”

Faculty struggled to create a curriculum that adhered to a no-rules, no-hierarchy manifesto, often discontinuing classes that students didn’t attend or offering one-off workshops to test their feasibility. Students were invited to join long-term field courses to study ecology in Mexico, to work with legislature in Sacramento, to practice French in Quebec, even to Albania for “eight fun-filled months in the world’s most hated country.” This mosaic of curriculum was punctuated by frequent parties that, in effect, restored good feelings and a sense of shared freedom. Parties, Kaye claims, were “the redemptive saving feature of the school.”

In spring of 1965, as Pacific teetered on the brink of closure, the school was given a 40-acre parcel of land in the Santa Cruz Mountains (in truth, it was a trade: the land was commission for handling the legal work involved with acquiring 440 acres for a local conservation group.) Buildings were moved to the land and others were constructed. To aid in the school’s mere survival, classes were relegated to the morning while afternoons were given over to the building program.

The faculty was made up of a constantly changing cast of characters, voted on and invited by the community at large. Stanford professors taught pro bono courses, Ant Farm and Zomeworks initiated alternative building workshops on the property, musicians from the San Francisco Tape Music Center taught music with synthesizers and hand-made instruments, the radical art collective Videfreex brought cameras and new experience to the students at Pacific. Most people who taught at Pacific were not teachers by trade, but rather they knew how to do things that the community admired and were “hip” enough to the Free School experiment to readily participate.

With hands-on projects and visiting teachers, there was a sense of purpose alongside real, tangible life lessons. While building shelters, gardens, and instruments provided a sense of structure (both literally and metaphorically), a new director of the school introduced a vastly radical approach to the already alternative environment at Pacific that bred anxiety and a pedagogical groundlessness. Peter Marin wanted to create “a feeling to the place: a sense of intensity and space… a ‘guilt-free’ environment, one in which the students might discover or become what they were without having to worry about preconceived ideas of what they had to be.” Under his directorship, students were encouraged to go out and experience the world on their own (even experimentation with drugs and sex), knowing that Pacific was “a place to come back to.”

At one point during this period, the school received a call from a police offer who was holding eight kids he had found on the beach. His conversation with the Director went like this:

“You say they’re on a regular field trip?”


“What kinda field trip?

“Marine biology and oceanography.”

“How come there was no teacher?”

“The teacher was the sea.”

By summer 1966, Pacific was in such economic turmoil that teachers were not afforded salaries; still many decided to continue teaching, and moved onto the land to live rent- and commute-free. Classrooms became bedrooms, tents sprouted up, teachers lived in their cars and through by becoming a live-in community, Pacific was brought back to life. Soon the faculty decided to stop bus service for students and invited them to live on the land as well. 15 students moved onto the property, each paying $5 a week, sharing cooking duties and other chores. All business was discussed in a constant string of community meetings, during which every student, staff, and faculty member had an equal vote. What to stand for and how to “STOP SUPPORTING PASSIVENESS” were regular items on the agenda.

That summer, Pacific decided to become a “live-in, community-school” but needed boarding facilities to bring in more students. In a spontaneous burst of brainstorming, the group decided to invite Lloyd Kahn, who was associated with the Whole Earth Catalog and was an experienced dome builder, to lead the construction of the experimental school. As the domes went up, more students seemed to materialize. Kaye says, “people were apparently so desperate for alternatives to conventional high schools that they were willing to try a boarding school with only ephemeral boarding facilities.” By the first day of school, 60 students were enrolled. Parents paid up to $3,000 a year in tuition, which included room and board.

Several student groups set about building their own dome homes. It’s hard to comprehend being 16-years old and living full-time in a structure of one’s own design and construction, but given the charge of student responsibility and self-reflection many of these collective experiences were recorded in photographs and journal entries. Kaye’s book includes a semi-daily log from a student group – four boys and one girl – who built a dome 1/3 of a mile from school on a hill they dubbed “Horny Mountain.” The Log is written with adult-like confidence and honest introspection, chronicling the daily “hassles” of chopping firewood, patching a leaky ceiling, smoking pot, wanting girls, wanting privacy, feeling adrift, feeling inspired.

As a community-school, life at Pacific was shaped by a trial-by-fire democratic process. Relationships between the faculty and students were increasingly intimate and rules were never put into writing. Kaye describes Pacific as “made up of people with an aversion to giving and taking orders. If we were not going to give orders, then the only way to ensure that the kids acted responsibly was for them to feel committed to the community. And the only way to ensure this commitment was for the kids to have power.” Getting the kids to take that power, to believe in it and use it to real ends was a different story. Education remained a certain focus, but as the community grew (and met incredible challenges) the politics increasingly took into account the daily function of meals, dishes, sanitation, and relationships. Kaye writes:

“We were all living together. The artificial distinctions that had for so long separated students and staff were blurring. Each morning we staggered into breakfast together. When the sanitation in the kitchen screwed up, we all had the runs together. The older and younger people were becoming friends – lovers. Kids and adults were talking openly about the school, themselves, and each other. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this. It meant that the kids could be part of the very fiber of the place.”

Kaye’s book was published in 1972 when Pacific High School was at its height. With 80 students and constant calls from prospective staff, he writes about the school as a complicated mix of success and failure. The school was never intended to be a utopia or a model of free education. He says, “Beneath all of its changes and confusions there has always been a bedrock common-sense, a surprisingly consistent principle at work: to restore to the center of experience experience itself.” For Kaye, teaching at Pacific was not necessarily about training young minds, but about testing the limits of freedom, democracy, shelter, adolescence. For better or for worse, it was a shared experience in learning how to live, and also maybe one of living how to learn.

I don’t know what happened to Pacific High School. The book ends; time has passed and little has been written about Pacific High in the past 40 years. There is much that can be said (and much I haven’t shared here) about the legacy of Pacific. Instead, I’ll end with this quote from Oscar Wilde in The Critic as Artist, 1861:

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
*All quotes and photos from Kaye, Michael S., The Teacher Was the Sea. Links Press, 1972.