Real Schools - In Their Own Words:
From The Arthur Morgan School, in Burnsville, NC
Face Value
by Paul Houde

The call from my father came around 1700 PST in mid-April. We made the small talk as usual and then the reason behind the call was explained. His new job as editor of the Journal of Family Life and SKOLE. the Journal of Alternative Education had reminded him of an experience I had related to him on a recent visit he made to my residence in California. Putting that tale on paper for SKOLE readers was what was asked of me. Of course, the only appropriate answer was "yes." After I got over the initial shock and excitement of my father's request, I managed to get my big head back through the rec room door. To me, it was no small boost to my ego to know that my father thought I was capable of the task.

Well, after changing tacks and emptying the waste basket several times, I realized that I didn't really know much about writing. In the end I decided to tell the tale straight out and let you draw your own conclusions. Now that the excuses are out of the way, I'll fill in a little background to put the story into perspective.

I was born into a military family as the second son in a five boy string. My childhood memories are full of mischief, fun, and location changes due largely to the military lifestyle. The mischief I got myself into I define as "standard military issue" for a family of five boys - sorry, Mother. As for my parents, I have always had a deep respect for them and it hurt me quite deeply when I felt that I had disappointed them. This respect kept me out of quite a lot of trouble and the social skills they taught me still serve me well.

The setting for my tale is in the beautiful Black Mountains of western North Carolina, in a small community called Celo. The Arthur Morgan School was located there and I was lucky enough to be allowed to attend the 8th and 9th grades there. The school was coed and communal in operation and nature and, for me, my first major break from the home front. I was now free of all my parental constraints; those my parents imposed and those I imposed on myself. Can you just feel my elation at being in almost total control of my life and actions for the first time. Needless to say, I got in my share of trouble. Mostly, I was just hard to handle - there were no twelve page damage reports and I didn't interact with intent to harm anyone. I think the school staff thought of me as one of the main instigators of mutiny and mayhem but I don't recall having as much influence on the other students attending the school as they said I did. To sum it up, I was somewhat of a troublemaker and I was free to wreak havoc on the school and surrounding community.

By now you have a feel for the situation so I'll commence with the story. During this particular school day we (the students) were tasked with collating the Manual Of Simple Burial, a publication written by Ernest Morgan (one of the school founders) and printed at the school print shop. A more tedious job has not been devised yet. Spending this beautiful, sunny day inside while picking up pieces of paper and putting them inside each other so somebody else could benefit from my labor was not on my list of things to do. Of course, in reality, we did benefit from this work since whatever benefited the school trickled down to us in some way, shape, or form eventually.

Anyway, the general consensus among the other students fell in line with mine (with a little prodding), so we did as little work as we could possibly get away with as is normal for most young adults my age. Is that a bias? Later, I found out that the print shop staff were counting on us to finish the collating that day so they could do their part in the process. Pang, was that a feeling of guilt I was experiencing? It was partly my fault that things turned out like they did. I guess I used my influence negatively and spurred the other students into being lazy like I wanted to be. Now how was I going to fix this mess?

The answer was quite simple, really. I just used collating as an excuse for sneaking out of the dorms at night. The lure of being with my peers, at night, and with no supervision was a strong enticement to me at that age and one that I had used many times during my stay at AMS. After a student pow-wow where I presented my idea, it was decided that we should have a group sneak-out that night. Since it was my idea, I was given the responsibility of making it happen. If I chose to stay in that night, no one would be coming to the collating party.

It took some time but, finally, the day came to an end. This year I was residing in the dorm called Ebling with two roommates. My dorm parents were Pablo and Nan Cope and their two daughters, Heidi and April. Truly, wonderful people my dorm parents were, and the children were as cute as they could be. My sleeping quarters were in an out-building behind the Cope's house. The advantages of not living in the house were obvious on nights like these. I waited about an hour after the customary good nights were said and then I proceeded to do the deed. My roommates elected not to go, for whatever reasons they had, and I was off into the pitch black night by myself. To me, I was repeating a drama I had played on countless other nights but there was a difference this night that I was not made aware of till about 5 years after completing school at AMS.

The difference was Pablo Cope. For whatever twist of fate that had brought him out of his house that night, put him in a vantage point to see my departure from Ebling. Unbeknownst to me, I had gained a tracker. Pablo told his wife that he was "going to see what the boy was up to" and proceeded to give chase. It was a good mile or two trek through the woods to get me to the first dorm on my list: Silver. I woke the prospective collators there and said I would pick them up on my return from the other dorms. Next was Woodside, the dorm I had stayed in during the previous year, then came Dewing. Finally we were set to make the journey to the school facilities - Pablo in tow.

Of course, the school buildings were locked when we got there, but I had overcame all those obstacles in my first year at AMS. The other students set themselves up to collate while I raided the kitchen for our midnight snacks. That's pretty much it, we collated until all the manuals were complete, erased any records of our infiltration, and went back to our dorms to await the coming day.

The reaction of the staff the following day was much milder than I had anticipated, but my personal satisfaction was soaring. After Pablo told me, some five years later, that he had been there through the whole event with me, the staff's reaction finally made sense. To hear him relate of his surprise at the difference between what he expected and what he found gave me one of those good feelings that are treasured for a lifetime in memory.

Thanks to you for the project, Dad, for it allowed me to relive that day in my memory once again.

As always, your loving son,
Paul W. Houde