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Thank You’s: How and Where I Learned Stuff

As I get older, I start to see myself as more of a collection of intersections of amazing people, ideas and experiences I have met over the course of my life, than a monadic, stand-alone person. I can claim credit for a few original ideas and synthesis, but much of what I know and share has been known and shared with me by others. So, I want to take a minute and say “Thank you” to many of my teachers and acknowledge them and point you to their work as well.

My first teachers were the woods and stream behind my house, and my parents who had the wisdom to let me roam and play and dig there relentlessly. I’m grateful for my free-range childhood. The two other big threads of youthful nature connection were sailing with my dad, and later on my own boat, and monthly hiking and camping trips, rain, snow or shine, with Boy Scout Troop 183. God Bless Mr. Wright for putting up with a bunch of crazy kids for a few days in the woods every month.

After a long unproductive intermission in school and college, I was introduced to the traditions of community based education, social justice, cultural teaching, educacion popular when I worked in Ivanhoe, Virginia,and throughout central Appalachia for five years. There, my mentor was “Betty Crocker of the Mountains,” Maxine Waller. Through the Ivanhoe Civic League, I worked extensively with the Highlander Research and Education Center which was founded by Myles Horton and has an important and under-appreciated role in U.S. history. I even got to meet Paulo Freire shortly before he died, and his seminal text “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” gave voice to 20 years of misgivings I had harbored about school. Somewhere in here I had the privilege to be befriended and mentored by farmer, philosopher, cab driver, mechanic, polymath Tony Equale, who has several books in print and writes regularly at his blog. I taught with and learned from his wife Mary, who had many years of study and practice of educacion popular in Chile, Mexico and Nicarauga, and who was perhaps the most luminous person I have ever met.

After reading Joseph Campbell and riding a bicycle across the continent one summer in a self-induced right of passage, a chance invitation by my best friend and soulbrother Joe Gaydos, led me to Tom Brown’s Tracker School, which led me to Jon Young, Wilderness Awareness School, 8 Shields Institute, the Kamana Naturalist Program, Vermont Wilderness School, Mark Morey, and several visits over the course of 5 years to The Art of Mentoring. I think every week at the Art of Mentoring is worth at least a year of school, and pretty soon the practice takes you far from the narrow confines of formal education. Jon’s work and the Art of Mentoring in particular, changed my life course profoundly, gifted me with a vision and tools to learn, use and explore with over a lifetime. Jon is a master teacher and mentor and metaphor maker. Through Jon and WAS, I had privilege to learn from several native elders, for short periods of time, but in very concentrated doses. Gilbert Walking Bull, Jake Swamp and the Tree of Peace Society, Paul Raphael, Tony Ten Fingers, and Mohawks Mike McDonald, Kay Olan, and Tom Porter shared teachings that changed everything, as did George Goodstriker. There are many resources and programs available from many of these teachers, which I highly recommend.

After all this learning, I did finally go back to school and received my Master’s in Educational Psychology at Virginia Tech. I was honored to learn from people like Drs. Sally Johnston, Terry Wildman, James Garrison, and Tom Sherman. Dr. Joe Germana blew my mind when I was a sophomore, then 20 years later, he blew it to another level in his graduate Transpersonal Psychology class. Thank god for coyote teachers like Joe Germana. Dr. Jack Dudley taught me how warm, caring, and intelligent, effective program design and organization could be.

Other folks of high-impact note, but remote, past and present, in no particular order are Wendell Berry, Rumi, Mary Oliver, Rilke, Bill Plotkin, David Abram, Thomas Berry, Ken Wilber, Bill Mollison, JRR Tolkien, Robert Pirsig, Ellen Langer, and many others.

Thank you to all of you.

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