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Madi Learns Blog Posts

Find Tuesday’s new blog post, scroll through my post archives, sign up to get new posts sent directly to your inbox, and drop a comment on any post to get a dialogue going!

My Latest Posts


  • On Learning to Speak Non-Violence and Spanish
    Esa foto es de mi en un barco con dos niños quien viven en Puerto Escondido I didn’t want to study Spanish while I was in my early teens (tweens?). I wanted to study French but adults in my life encouraged (coerced) me against it with arguments like, “Spanish would make you a much more desirable candidate for jobs.” No one else really cared about how desirable French felt in my ears, so I caved and took public school Spanish classes for almost 6 years.     I always had an ear for accents so pronouncing words “correctly” in Spanish feels […]
  • On Tragedy As Told by Young People
    Photo somewhere in the southwest area of Central Park circa 2019 “So, do you wanna know what nine eleven is? Or was?” I’m taking lunch on the sunny back porch of the ALC I work at these days and I overhear this conversation between two young people. One of them is holding a screen in their left hand, the other young person looking perplexed and shrugging at them, “oooh kay?” “So nine eleven was basically, it was basically this thing where planes just started flying and crashing into really important and really tall buildings and at first they thought it […]
  • On Everday Utopias
    This image shows a sticker given to me and made by Farley and you can get your own here! I tried to interview more kids about how they like their self-directed learning center recently but got very few responses. I learned firsthand how even journalistic writing can be a reflection of what the writer is interested in despite its desire for neutrality and reporting. Instead, I’ll be more forthcoming with my interests and share what I can’t stop thinking about, which is how to redesign many of the systems I interact within our capitalist, patriarchal society to be more collectivist […]
  • On An Interview from Dat School
    I went to a gala performance that featured original dance material by some young adults in high school. The focus of their work was on their mental health during the pandemic–scenes of childlike dances that turned into stunted awkward navigating and seat-bound screen scrolling. The program they passed around showed alarming statistics on the correlation between the coronavirus and anxiety and depression in teens. Like this, studies since the pandemic have shown that “1 in 3 teens meet criteria for anxiety disorder by age 18” or how “70% of teens describe anxiety as a problem for people their age” (backed […]
  • On SDE as Anti-Oppression Work
    This photo was taken at the 2020 BLM protests in NYC by my dear friend, Rev Alison Schuettinger of Alison Lee Photography. Find more of her work at her Instagram, @alisonleebk Preface: I’m open to and encourage any and all feedback on this post and my approach to it. Please and thank you! I’m listening to a podcast mini-series on the history of a public school in New York City. The podcast is titled, “Nice White Parents.” I find the stories it tells relevant to SDE and, really, all communities where there are white folks present. It details the subtleties […]
  • On What to Believe
    I’ve had a handful of conversations with young people in SDE spaces on topics most folks would find taboo. Recently, I’ve been talking regularly with them on such topics as gender identity, sex and sexuality, wealth, power, and poverty. It might start with something as simple as a comment calling someone a girl who is nonbinary or it might come from driving around our city seeing folks who are unhoused. I have never been a parent, never donned that coat of responsibility. But I know from our cultural matrix that parents are the most influential people on their children’s beliefs, […]
  • On Collaboration and Failure
    I asked my partner who is a photographer for an image that he considers an “epic fail.” This is what he gave me (though I find it captivating as hellllll). Zrbuck.com “I can’t do it.” The furrowed brow of this young person, we’ll call them Rickie, zeroed in on me. “It,” the art project, which had been in their two hands, splayed across the table like wreckage from a storm. “I can’t do it” is hard for me to hear. Perhaps it’s because I’m hard on myself for not being able to do things, likely a byproduct of this capitalist […]
  • On Liberation Work
    “I think it’s funny when grown ups don’t think it’s the other grown up.” I laughed along, grateful to be in on the joke despite being legally considered a member of the offending party, “can you elaborate?” “Grown ups only blame the kids.” The young person talking to me went on to explain how funny they found it when adults are proved false in their accusations that a child was culpable for an unwanted act, such as leaving the sink running, only to find out that the responsible party is another adult instead. I remember feeling similarly as a kid, […]
  • On Life Work
    “I have to do school work today.” That’s what a young person I tutor in reading and writing told me while we were nearing the end of our session. To say they seemed unenthused is an understatement. They were absolutely dreading whatever “school work” meant. “Oh, do you mean like this?” I asked, curiously. “Oh no, this is so not school work.” I instinctively replied, “Okay, good.” I definitely would consider our sessions a form of work both for the young person and myself. And yet, I was happy when they said they didn’t see it as being of the […]
  • On Belonging
    A young person, let’s call them Ellie (not their name), who attends the school at which I facilitate, wanted to throw a prom. It was a nice idea, let’s all get fancy and dancy and have fun together, until no one else wanted to go. Ellie was distraught–“no one wants to be my friend, they all hate me!” Other adults try to explain so Ellie will understand what happened, saying, “the other kids began a game just before your prom was meant to start, they didn’t know you wanted to do a prom right now and they’d rather keep playing […]
  • On the Creative Wagon
    You tell me. Is this conversation between myself and my muse or 2 kids at the school I work at? “Hey, can I pull you on the wagon down the street?” “Why?” “I don’t know!” “Okay sure!” I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity— What it is not: A burden, a sentence to a lonely and tortured existence, isolationism, perfectionism, doubt, a curse or hex, a cross or dagger, a promise, a regret, a fear. What it is: that moment when the idea is aware of me before I am of it. As if it could lift off and suddenly […]
  • On who makes the rules
    (Image by zrbuck) I’m playing a game and all of a sudden I’m keenly aware that I am not far from losing–maybe I followed a trap, I’m getting tired, I forgot something–and I panic. In this moment when I must either accept defeat or employ all means necessary to be on top again, my competitiveness comes out. I make outrageous attempts to regain the edge rather than surrender, and often this involves a form of “breaking the rules.” Usually once a game when I play my partner in chess I’ll ask “can I take that back?” Though it’s become a […]
  • On Dead Butterflies
    No words I’ve read have felt more true to my adult experience of creative writing than those of Ann Patchett in The Getaway Car. She describes her idea for a novel as being a shimmery, unpredictable, indescribable, captivating beauty that flies across her mind, much like a butterfly. And once she is no longer able to delay it, she plucks the butterfly from her head and presses it to paper, killing it, and that pinned specimen is the book she writes. Birth for death, death for creation. I love this image because I know that, these days, so much is […]
  • On conflict resolution and power
    (Image by zrbuck) When I say I work in schools where kids set the rules with adults, people often ask me about fighting—what happens when the kids fight? Do they resolve these conflicts, if so how? This is a question that lots of folks in SDE (self-directed education) also grapple with. Why? They may have difficulties in communicating around conflict themselves due to lack of practice, lack of experience in communal processing, and/or past trauma that clouds awareness of a present conflict with a response merely synthesized by memories. There are 2 polarities of how to respond to conflict: do […]
  • On “Educated,” homeschooling, and SDE
    After receiving many recommendations to do so, on the basis that I am a person in education, I recently read “Educated” by Tara Westover. I was aware of the book’s connection to unschooling and its homesteader, off-grid focus. People had given some insights into the drastically abnormal learning environment in which Westover grew up; they mentioned a wild scheme of her father or two as a kind of warning, as if to say, “it gets pretty absurd.” What they did not prepare me for, what, I imagine, no one adequately could have prepared me for, was the abuse Westover incurs […]
  • On bell hooks and deschooling
    “The personal is political,” was a new idea to me when I picked up Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks, the first in a trilogy of books on teaching that detail her pedagogy in the university classroom. hooks writes that “the ability to see and describe one’s own reality is a significant step in the long process of self-recovery, but it is only the beginning.” Through individuation and storytelling, one can recover from “imperialist white-supremicist capitalist patriarchy,” as hooks describes it, and that this recovery is a statement against these political ideologies and the systems they built.  (AN ASIDE…I heard […]
  • On Apocalypse & Interdependence
    “I’m ready for the next apocalypse.” That’s what a facilitator told me yesterday as we considered covid and sipped tea (next to the ventilation unit) inside a learning center in New York City. What they meant was that the continued focus on the coronaviruses felt like a distraction from the other apocalypses we face today–climate collapse, racial injustice, economic inequality, democracy and capitalism both falling (globally) before our eyes. I bet you can name at least one other that I missed that gets you hot and bothered when you think about it for longer than the allotted scrolling glance at […]
  • On Impulses
    Society begs us to question impulses as they arise. To ask, is it possible or not? Is it helpful/harmful? What’s the purpose? Will it succeed? This can be useful: it can be difficult to embark on explorations of impulses without understanding their limitations and impacts. And yet, it can also create stasis, preventing exploration of an impulse that your brain, the universe, wherever you believe the ideas come from, has proffered you. The younger one is, the less conditioning one has to doubt these ideas. It was true in my own childhood: when someone questioned an impulse I experienced (which […]

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