The Farm

Summertown, Tennessee, USA


The Farm School

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The school on the Farm began in 1971, with one classroom, in the back of a schoolbus.

Construction on a larger schoolhouse was one of the first projects undertaken when the "new land" was settled in the Spring of 1972. The Lewis County Board of Education, seeing that the Farm was determined to have its own school, at first opposed the program, but then realized that the County would have to build at least one new schoolroom and buy another schoolbus to accommodate the newcomers way at the edge of their county, an hour's drive from the county school in Hohenwald. So the Board of Education told the Farm teachers that they were essentially on their own, as long as they provided standardized tests to show what the students were learning.

The Farm School was like public school for the Farm; all Farm kids attended. At its peak (about 1980) it had 365 students from K-12, and ran in shifts, like many public schools in the US at that time.

Viewed from an outside perspective, in many ways the Farm School in its early years seemed pretty mainstream. There were regularly scheduled classes in classrooms, regular homework assignments, and letter grades were given. But there were differences. For one thing, it was much friendlier than most public schools. Students knew teachers from other interactions in the community and called them by their first names. Classes included standard academicÊsubjects, but emphasized the visual and performing arts to a greater extent. Teachers tried to offer as much hands-on experience as possible and employed frequent field trips. There was plenty to see and do within the Farm, like exploring the woods, creeks and ponds, taking a day to help harvest sweet potatoes or working on the production line at the book company or Solar Electronics.

The Farm High School was especially innovative. The emphasis was on apprenticeships and real-world experiences. High schoolers attended classes in the mornings, and then worked at various internships for Farm businesses and charities in the afternoons. Farm students learned to grow food, repair cars, perform simple health care, horse care, and construction, and assist with electronic music engineering, ham radio, video production, and run our FM radio station.

The Farm School continues today in that tradition, although there are many fewer students of school age. Some students within the Farm are home schooled, many attend county schools, and about fifty attend daily classes at the Farm School. Today the School tries to serve the general public through outreach programs such as Kids to the Country, the Tennessee Educators' Forum, and the annual Harvest Festival. As an active member of the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools the Farm School provides its students opportunities to visit other alternatives and to learn from the best of them. Farm students are offered a global perspective. They view a constant stream of people from various parts of the world, who stop in and spend some time at the school, introducing the students to their cultures and lifestyles. The school has had visits by Mohawks, Sioux, Fiji Islanders, Sufi Pir Valiat Inayat Kahn, Rabbi Schlomo Carlbach, Hugh "Wavy Gravy" Romney, the 101st Airborne Base Commander from Fort Campbell, and Al Gore. It is not uncommon to receive visits from the Governor, State Senators, and various candidates for public office.

Many of the Farm's adult musicians have been generous in sharing their skills and many Farm students graduate high school with significant musical and electronics skills. There has been a strong tradition of kid bands on the Farm and a number of these have moved on into the commerical performance and recording sphere. There are bands formed on the Farm that have been performing continuously for more than 30 years.

The Farm School is also the site of the transmitter for the FM radio station, WUTZ (UTZ means "Good" in Cakchikiel). Farm School students are sometimes programmers and disk jockeys.

Farm people want students to understand the relationship of everything they do to consequences in the outside world. Simple things like eating and going to the bathroom may have global consequences, and the actions of each of us affect the whole. This is the essence of instruction at The Farm School today: learning locally, thinking globally.


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