Sustainable non-coercion

There is rising energy for a democratic, non-coercive, project-based educational model at Garibaldi school. I’m super excited about this. Granted I could get super-excited about a small school version of either French or Mandarin Immersion or a Fine arts program. Of course, Harry can’t see the point of school at all if it’s in English. “I already KNOW English.” Jeesh mom.

But I want to be part of a school community that recognizes the basic fact about kids: they’re learning machines. We don’t have to coerce them into learning, we need to rise to the occasion and invite their attention with compelling projects and problems to solve.

Garibaldi school is already a small, warm-hearted, culturally and linguistically diverse community, located in the middle of a neighbourhood with generations of handy, food-growing people. These are the elements I’d like to see us build on.

Kids love making, growing and building stuff. They love applying their knowledge to real problems. Whether they were in a mainstream track or the non-coercive track, working together on a school garden or building a solar food dehydrator or building a cob bench could provide the grounding in the skills we need to live more sustainably.

I want to be part of a local learning community. I’ve got questions for my neighbours. What’s that prickly, melon like vine that my Chinese Canadian neighbours grow? How do you prepare it for eating? Or is it more medicinal, or both? What about the greens I see drying on racks- what do you do with those? Can I try some?

I also want to know how to properly prune my grapes. I’m a non-pruner at heart (one reading of the revolutionary Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka convinced me) but this is SMALL space gardening. I want to learn how to get the most food, medicine, tea etc out of my garden while always increasing the soil fertility. Pruning might have a place. I’ll let my Italian and Portuguese neighbours convince me.

I want Harry to learn how to grow food as part of his education because it’s timely, practical, hands-on and will help him apply the concepts he learns in science, math, social studies. It’s a venue for exploring history and literature. When people share old skills and nearly lost arts they share stories.

I want him to know what weeds and wild plants soothe a sore stomach, build immune systems and help wounds heal. I want him to know how to build simple structures using natural and salvaged materials, how to plant and nurture a vegetable garden, how to design and repair simple machines, how to create, recycle and reuse the materials he touches. And know how to raise backyard chickens– the next big sustainability battle for Vancouver residents! I want him to know how to speak and listen to his neighbours, to express himself, reflect on and share his learning with a myriad array of tools, technologies (hello www!) and materials (books, art supplies, musical instruments, costumes).

The urgent question we face is what does living sustainably in the city look like? I’d like to be a part of a local community school that viewed the curriculum as a way to experiment with answers to that big question, and to share what we discover to all who are interested.



  1. A “non-pruner”! I love it. I I remember working for an old lady with ENORMOUS English climbing roses: thick, mats of woven brambles tacked to the wall. She wove every long cane into a hanging outdoor wall tapestry. It was fabulous in bloom. Never before nor since have I seen such a display: Brilliant bouquets, blazing like comets in slow motion masking almost any trace of the plant from which they sprang. I’d be precariously clung to the tall ladder, gutter, rose and whatever else I could grab while she pointed with a stick from the ground at the last six buds of a long dangling rose cane indicating precisely where she wanted it cut (the odd piece was cut, rather than woven). If you cut seven buds by accident, you could feel her heart flutter in horror. This was followed by audible gulping as she attempted to swallow her frustration. Not quite a non-pruner, but a minimalist, for sure.

    I found it fascinating and indulged a long phase of “non-pruning” and weaving. Then I read about a famous japanese gardener who, when asked how he maintained such fabulous gardens, replied by holding up the pincer fingers of his hands, indicating his hardened calluses on thumb and forefinger. The other extreme. Diligent regular pinching “nipping in the bud” that prevents the plant from expending energy into growth where the GARDENER doesn’t want it. Quick, deliberate, persistent coaching. Patience and acute observation. Concern and care. Love. And the plant will achieve the shape that best supports it’s health, beauty and structure.

    When I look at the garry oaks in Victoria, or the beech trees lining Beach Ave in English Bay in Vancouver, or the blvd trees on Cambie St, Mother Nature, in connection with the plants, prunes without pruning. Leaving an energy field around the plants large enough for the plant to reach into at full extension is one way to do it in your own garden.

    With some plants… not grapes though! They are givers. They produce leaf, flower fruit and vine: food and air, cool shade, for so many creatures – giving ALL of themselves to that end. They need a lot of support in their giving. A structure to climb on, lean on, and drip from. And they need regular, timely reduction. And these prunings are by no means waste. They are a harvest. What children could do with the twisting malluable ropes of spent grape vineage and some adult support and encouragement: my imagination is creating all sorts of magical garden creations at the thought of it!

    I love what you say about how experience with nature bridges the casm between mathematical, scientific and social concepts and youthful, natural, abstract thought. Afterall, all science and maths were born of nature – nature is their essence. If we can understand nature, we understand the essence of EVERYTHING. Math and science become easy extensions on problems you watch unfold in nature every waking connected moment.

    Plant medicines, uses in general. Properties: rigidity, pliability, edibility, weight, shape, size, density… how have they been used? what creative new forms could they present to us? Interaction and observation definitely supply most of those answers – . The more space we make for nature in our lives, the more space it has in our lives, right?

    I love your school – the school of your dreams. What I love most is you are making it a reality. In fact you make it seem like a piece of cake. That tells me you’re tapped in.

    Keep sharing your story and living your personal legend, Keira, it’s really awesome.

    Peace/ Dan

  2. Whoa dude! Let me prosaic: I’m so excited you want to start blogging!

    Comments are the lifeblood of the blogger, a fact that I always knew but I had to get over my sense of being an amateur at everything before I got up the courage to comment occasionally to the people I read most regularly. I’m loving having a place to express my thinking and feeling but it’s the potential for conversation with people I learn from that is really fueling me in this space.

    Dan- we’ve had more conversations since you moved to Victoria than we did when you were in the city! Crazy. But lovely.

    You’re right- Harry would love to get in on some grape vine action. Which makes me think that perhaps after our perennial garden learning party on the 9th and before we eat and head into the DIY, hack carpentry approach to the web learning party with Brian maybe you’d show me how to prune them a bit.

    Is that going to be too late in the year? Robin has some very simple instruction in “Gardening for the Faint of Heart” (reprinted by New Society this spring) but I don’t have it handy.

    Grapes are Givers: could be a weblog title!

    Thanks so much!

  3. I too love your vision of a school where nature is intertwined with all subjects of learning.
    I’m still trying to get the courage to learn how to start and where to begin since I am semi on my own out here. Think I’m going to down to a small little gardening store that I heard was good to get some tips on how to even begin growing things. Nothing like feeling like the newbie.

  4. Gee, it’s too bad Harry’s great granpa David is not still with us. He would have been great at this! Granny Vidler (neighbour during my childhood) grew the BEST leaf lettuce I have ever tasted. She rotated the crop in her chicken yard 1/2 for the chickens and the other for the lettuce. Grandpa was good with apple trees but grapes not so much—So good luck

  5. Some chinese plants can be so strange in the eyes of westerners, mostly it might be food and medicine at the same time.

  6. Shannon: Starting points– when it comes to hands-on skills it really is all about finding someone close at hand isn’t it? A little garden store is a grand start, also farmer’s markets, if there’s a municipal dept that encourages composting they might know about some brief workshops.

    Mom, one of my permaculture friends was describing an apple fence the other day, made from weaving together living apple whips. You get food and a fence a the same time- how cool is that? Grandpa would approve I think.

    Victor: that’s my hunch too. Glad to have found your blog!

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