July 11th, 2008  |  Filed under Afield in the World

The Xara Learning Village Charter School

July 11th, 2008  |  Filed under Afield in the World

Anthony Petersen/Burningman.com Image Gallery

On April 19, 2008, Burning Man’s Communications Manager, Andie Grace, received the email below from Mark Hinkley, a Burning Man acquaintance. Mark is the former Regional Contact for San Diego; he also organized both the Xara theme camp at Burning Man, and then later, in 2003, a Southern California art/music/creativity and mythology festival called Xara Dulzara, which grew from 200 people to 1100 in 2006.

In the years since, Mark has remained on the Regional Contacts discussion list as an emeritus member, and has kept in touch with Andie Grace about his latest projects. From time to time, he’d send an email to fill us in on his latest ideas about Burning Man or Xara. This April 19 email was titled “A spring update from Mark.”


By sharing it with our readers (with Mark’s permission, of course) we hope to illuminate an incredible manifestation of the inspiration that Burning Man has brought to one man’s life and how it will, through his efforts, come to have an impact on the world beyond Black Rock City. Mark has taken his experience at Burning Man, his inspiration, and his lessons learned while organizing theme camps and community events, and combined it with his real-world vocations and avocations to create an entirely new and phenomenally exciting vision of the world as he believes it should be – a world that’s just a little bit more like Burning Man.

Good morning Andie,

How are you, and how is mothering? My take on parenthood is that it is like Burning Man. No matter what you have seen or heard or think you know, it is infinitely more difficult and infinitely more rewarding that you could ever have imagined. I feel very warm and hopeful every time I think of you as a mom.

I am writing to fill you in on what is next for me and for Xara. You may remember that about a year ago I told you about an idea for putting on a Children’s Festival. You wrote that you were excited and you asked to be kept abreast of developments. But even as the parts and pieces of that project were beaming in to me, I was also getting a strong message that the Children’s Festival was not the real project, though it was related to it somehow.

Well, there is a Children’s Festival, but it only comes in at the end, and only in the context of the overall project, which I now recognize as the purpose and crowning achievement of my own life.

Ready?

The Xara Learning Village – California Public Charter Schools.

…California public education for our children, applying methods and principles of Burning Man to the best practices of cognitive science and developmental and transpersonal psychology, as the future paradise of Xara builds itself in the children who will build that world.

The word education comes from the Latin, “educare,” meaning “to draw out.” It does not mean to “forge” or “fill.” I always like to start discussing education with that thought.

You may remember I have been on the local school board for the past 10 years, and I have the background, jargon-fluency, and contacts to make this happen. I was designing and producing outdoor art festivals for our district before I ever got to Burning Man, and the schools here in our little rodeo-town have been selected by the California State Department of Education as offering a “Model Arts Program.” As an attorney and board member I have credibility and respect in the education world, and I am working on this Charter School initiative with the best people (professionally and personally) in the field. I can defend the educational program to any educational audience in its own language, and grasp the integration of all the related theories. I’m still finessing the politics, but the point is that this is real and it is underway.

Project-based learning is a big thing in education. Lots of people talk about it, and a handful are doing it well. The idea is to construct meaning by learning content in the context of creating practical projects. The curriculum is integrated so students are learning all the subjects all the time, in such a way as to understand the relationship of the parts to the whole, and construct meaning holistically and organically. Service-learning is another rising tide in education, and so is the challenge of integrating values, ethics, morality, spirituality, and mystery without religious trappings.

The Xara twist is to structure education on a gift economy of playful service as a motive for all work. Student projects are created for presentation at various scheduled learning fairs and family festivals, with a goal of teaching subject matter to others. And like Burning Man, the projects must be engaging, interactive and fun for others to experience. Work is not done because it is assigned and owed, like a commercial transaction. It is done because everybody is working together to present something fun for others. Responsibility to self and others is internalized and aligned with one’s best nature. Servant-leadership is a big idea in management and business these days, and this takes the idea all the way to the roots, instilling its values in children as their first and core values. Belonging begets giving.

Anthony Peterson/Burningman.com

“The Xara First Families Festival” comes in as the year-end finale for the students and their families, and here we see BRC re-envisioned for children. It would be an outdoor weekend festival, and would invite the public to experience what the students have done, and also to play along with their own projects and entertainments. It would be a fundraiser for the schools, and provide a safe bridge for the general public to join what we have been doing in the desert without the barriers to participation that may exist for those who will never make that trip.

This idea is all fleshed out with layers and layers of detail, and I won’t regale you with the educational theory, but I think you could see how this would transform the education experience just as BRC has transformed the civic experience. Except, as public education, this is economically sustainable and can work all year round.

The Xara Learning Village will be a campus of four schools serving students Pre-K through 12th grade. The Xara Garden School covers Pre-K through 2nd grade, the Xara Terrace School covers 3rd-5th grade, followed by Xara Village Middle and Xara Village High Schools.

Campuses will be a showplace of green building, water/energy conservation/reclamation, and sustainable technologies, with indoor/outdoor classrooms, terraces, and hanging gardens. The culture will be built on a foundation of radical kindness and cooperation, encouraging risk and failure in emotional safety. The curriculum will structure around HEART/EARTH: Humanities, Engineering, Arts, Research and Technology

Students will learn Spanish and piano and yoga from the first day of Kindergarten. They will learn practical skills: from soldering to sewing, carpentry to cooking, automotive maintenance and laundry and circuit design and welding. They will develop the Burner’s DIY ethos and disdain for the “storebought.” A programmatic emphasis will promote careers in environmental technologies, resource management, sustainable development, and of course, the physical and digital arts. A deep understanding of history is developed to understand the evolution of social systems, technology and religious thought. All of this comes through educational methods and approaches that integrate and cultivate the whole person, rather than treating children as wiggly and unwilling little hard drives.

The charter consultant/kingmaker who is recruiting me to this project said that another project he worked on took the slogan, “A new school for a new century.” He said that school never lived up to its intentions, but the Xara schools really are new schools for a new millennium – for a new epoch. May it be so.

The idea is to open the first campus in San Diego in September 2009 as a proving ground and showcase, and then to open others around the country and the world. We would start with Kindergarten, and add a grade level each year thereafter, assuring a critical mass of desired culture and good modeling. The split of elementary school into the Garden and Terrace schools suits a developmental transition that children make at that age, and provides advantages in structuring the charters.

There is fertile ground for recruiting Xara’s students in the many progressive pre-schools operating today. All of them struggle with recommending an elementary school to their parents because, since State “reforms,” public schools live in a constant panic about test scores and standards.

Cooperation over competition is a core value, and the choice not to offer competitive athletics will further define the culture of the Xara Learning Village. My take is that our schools will produce good academics and good workers, certainly, but they will also produce good husbands and wives, good parents, good citizens, good sports, and good company. We’ll take your standardized test, and the children will enter the testing room singing. We’ll cover your standards, and we will also teach the things that matter. Our children will not just develop information or even understanding; they will develop wisdom.

But I see how this is a particularly ambitious and constructive example of our culture rooting beyond the desert to influence the world as a whole. For years now I have been asking, “What comes after the party?” More than that, I think we’re really on to something, and the work we will do will properly be a credit to the Burning Man Project, as Burners Without Borders and the Black Rock Arts Foundation have been.

For the next few years, work will all be here in San Diego getting our pilot operational. But at the point that we are ready to replicate success outside of our hometown, the publicity reach of Burning Man may aid in making contact with interested educators in other cities. That is presently neither here nor there, but if we can build the educational success story I anticipate, we may discover synergies that are good for all of us, and for all the world.

Pretty neat, huh? Xara Dulzura had Flipside as a model and inspiration when it started, but Burnerly public education is an original. Getting back to all the educational theory I left out of this letter, this idea synthesizes a lot of the best theories and approaches in a way that carries all of them to a full resolution. Honestly, I just keeping saying, “wow.”

Hoomojo/Burningman.com

And finally, as the work of the Xara muse, what more logical – albeit audacious – next step could there be? We have been playing “world” like BRC plays “city,” with the fanciful notion that a future paradise Xara is calling us, like a strange attractor, to bring that world into being. Educating the children to populate and build that world is the literal realization of our world-building game. The art and architecture of Xara will appear in its physical campuses, and this bigger-than-us meme/god which we all serve will find a new proving ground in the most important arena of all.

At the age of 52, I can look back at the checkered story of my life so far, and project fifteen or so years into the future and my retirement. For the first time, I have some inkling of what the whole grand story-arc of my life is going to be, and imagining that story as it will appear to me on my deathbed gives me a deep peace that it is a lifestory well-lived and well-told. How’s that for getting the cart ahead of the horse? But it is how this stuff comes through to me, and deep peace is very cool, wherever you can find it.

So there. Like I say, it’s just an update, but I am very excited, and somehow think you guys will be too. (Ed. note: We are.)

Mark

(Addendum: On July 10, 2008, the Lakeside Union School District Board of Trustees voted to approve a five year charter to the Xara Garden School to operate as a California public school under its proposed terms. The school will open in San Diego, California on September 14, 2009.)

Photo credits: Andy Kuepper, 2001; Anthony Peterson, 2005; Hoomojo, 2003. Courtesy of the photographers and Burning Man’s Image Gallery.


27 Responses to “The Xara Learning Village Charter School”

  1. bliss Says:

    This is amazing and wonderful, bravo Mark!

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  2. Mike Hedge Says:

    neat story. congrats!

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  3. mark Says:

    What a lovely, fantastic, and inspirational project!

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  4. Dan Says:

    Mark, reading this just brought tears to my eyes.
    Thank you for for all of the great times, it was a pleasure to work with you on Xara Dulzura.

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  5. Napalm Dragon Says:

    Oh,

    What a beautiful and inspiring account.
    That place of profound peace, coming from such a great project.

    We’re rooting for you.

    Napalm Dragon
    )’()’(

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  6. Aubrey Says:

    Today a dozen Bay Area healthcare educators salute and gratefully hail Mark Hinkley’s amazing inititative. We can see such a perfect integration of playa morality, practical wisdom and community participation being a curriculum that thinking parents insist upon.

    May the San Diego pilot thrive and broaden. We hope to be the fortunate recipients of those well-prepared students into the healthcare education system someday.

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  7. keeper Says:

    Hey Mark,

    Congratulations! It takes a lot of work to start a school. Let me know if/ when you’re looking for teachers. Public education is not serving our youth the way it should… I’m proud of you guys for creating this vision and acting upon it.

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  8. Jeff Says:

    Mark, how exciting to hear about this, and it is an intriguing coincidence that it is in the same school district as the charter school our daughter currently attends, River Valley Charter School, which was started by some close friends from the San Diego Zen Center many years ago. My wife and I have had a vision of a school such as Xara for many years (http://www.banyantree.org/jsale/banyantree.html), and River Valley was the closest we have been able to come to that. It’s a shame our daughter will have graduated before Xara reaches fruition. Good luck! If you need to hire a tech guru, let me know.

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  9. Jrod Says:

    Interesting experiment and I do wish you the best of luck! I am always in favor of new ideas left to thrive or wither in the marketplace based entirely on their merit.

    The only thing that is a bit puzzling to me based on this admittedly brief outline is your choice to not offer competitive athletics. Is that a reflection of your feelings toward competition in general, or just towards competitive sports? If the former, it seems irresponsible to hobble a child by not introducing them to competition. It remains an innate part of our humanity, no matter how much distaste one may personally have for it. If the latter, I will say that the lessons I learned on the various competitive sports fields I’ve played on throughout my life are very positive and have served me well thus far.
    Thanks for your consideration.

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  10. Noah Says:

    I would love to help out in any way to turn this dream into reality.

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  11. Cuchulainn Says:

    Mark, as an educator and burner up here in Seattle, I am in love with this idea. It is… perfect. Had I any kids, I would want them to go to this school. When this school catches on please consider expanding up here. I’d be very interested in a teaching career at such a school. Hell, I’d love to be the janitor at such a school. I’ve grown very tired of the way our public education system is run. It is only getting worse and seemingly further from what research has shown to work. I’d love to put my art degree and masters in teaching to work for once. You have all my best wishes. -John (cuchulainn_aodh here: cuchulainn_aodh (at) hotmail.com)

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  12. Mark Hinkley Says:

    Thank you all for all of your congratulations, encouragement, and offers of support. My letter to Andie was pretty gushy, but you can tell I was excited. Reading it again, though, I can say that the charter that we got approved did not compromise that early vision.

    The really gratifying thing for me is the feeling that my contribution is finding a way for other people to do what they are trying to do. These ideas are all proven and people want to use them, so I’m not trying to talk anybody into anything. They are all really too big to just graft onto a regular classroom structure, but starting from scratch, they can all complement and support each other. Somehow, it took both the Burning Man and Xara threads to complete the weave, and I marvel at the unlikely beauty of it. But, there it is, and here we go.

    Already, this has broadened out beyond me as other people appear and add their own brilliance. Burner-teachers planning curriculum, an old friend now re-appeared as an uber-green organic farmer/consultant, Burner-parents forming a parents’ committee, on and on. I am reminded of one of the first lessons I learned directing a theme camp at Burning Man: work with excellent people, and get out of their way.

    We’re all learning a lot everyday, and we’ll fine tune the roundness of our new wheel when school begins. But I am more encouraged every day that we are on to something worthwhile, and that it will prove to be an idea with a “long tail” that can grow and spread.

    We will get up a website soon to keep folks appraised of our progress and to gather contacts and ideas. In the meantime, thank you for your support, and thanks for forgiving me when I carry on.

    Mark
    mark-hinkley (at) cox.net

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  13. Liat Cohen (amma Lollipop) Says:

    I am truly inspired by your vision. I am wondering if you would like to get involved with a concept I am creating this year on the playa.

    There are thousands of activities for grown ups on the playa- and
    barely any for the little ones. I am starting this in hopes of both
    expanding the minds and hearts of our little crystal and indigo Playa
    kids, as well as giving their parents some…ahem…”alone time”

    Here is the vision so far:
    Amma Lollipop’s Transformational Daycare center for Crystal and Indigo
    Playa
    Children of all ages-
    from Wed to friday from 1-3 PM we meet at center camp (or any camp) where an art car will pick us up and take us on an art
    tour, then we will have a different activity hosted by a different
    camp each day. For example- one day we meet at center camp- obraxis
    will pick us up and take us to see some amazing art installations
    around the playa and deep playa. Then we go to a theme camp such as
    Kostume Kult and become the characters of their dreams.

    the purpose of this post is to:
    - find camps that will “host” us (would you be interested??)
    - find art cars that can pick us up
    - find child loving volunteers
    -create a discussion forum that will expand this vision

    Thank you so much!
    Amma Lollipop
    AKA
    Liat Cohen

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  14. Trieste Says:

    I am amazed and astonished.

    The more time I spend exploring our community, the brighter the future appears to me.

    I too am rooting for this project, congratulations are due for the 5 year charter that has been granted!!!

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  15. Mark Hinkley Says:

    To Amma Lollipop,

    Your Transformational Daycare Center sounds like a wonderful playa project. We will be stay-cating this summer and skipping this year’s Burn. I am thinking our staff will hold its pre-year meeting at the Burn in ’09, two weeks before school opens, and so I actually am kind of look forward to this year off. Like the fox in Aesop’s sour grapes fable, the dust is so dusty and the heat is so hotty, ewwww, I’m glad to stay home this year.

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  16. Mark Hinkley Says:

    To Jrod:

    I’m sorry, I missed your honest question in the midst of feeling congratulated. You asked about not offering competitive athletics or introducing children to competition.

    I would say that if a child was successfully born and survived infancy, it has been introduced to competition. It knew competition from the first hungry howl, and experienced all the dimensions of the Oedipal romance. Competition certainly exists, but it is not the highest form of relationship. Beginning from a value preference for cooperation, competition, when necessary, may be conducted with decency. Sports require a huge commitment of space and resources that can be used for other things. Students may certainly participate in community sports programs on their own, but there are plenty of schools that do a good job of using sports as a hook to engage kids. We’re working on something else, and part of that is a culture that won’t miss them. I think that the worthwhile things learned on sports fields can be learned in other activities too, and one can cultivate teamwork and individual excellence without striving to beat someone else. Burning Man produces amazing stuff without ever giving out trophies or pitting people against one another. All the best science points to hope in cooperative systems and behavior, and our emphasis will be on developing those skills. I hope you feel that as an honest answer.

    Mark

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  17. Jrod Says:

    Thank you Mark for the thoughtful answer. Makes sense–cooperation as a value preference over competition. That’s a luxury afforded to those who are lucky enough to live in a land of plenty, like you and me.

    BM does indeed produce amazing stuff (an understatement IMO) but to say there’s no competition involved is to be willfully blind. Just ask anybody who’s had to compete for an art grant.

    Good luck with the Charter School!

    Jrod

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  18. Robn Floyd Says:

    OH JOY! Mark, Thank you for having the care, foresight, and trust to begin this very important project.

    I’ve been a teacher in the public school system for 7 years. With a single subject art credential there is no room for me anymore. ( I was given a token, hoity-toity, position as Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator and a business card and expected to live with an over $50,000 pay cut and the burden of paying for my health insurance all by myself – BUT that isn’t the sad part….

    School districts across the US are cutting all important arts projects leaving students with no resources for the most important skill that they can learn, problem solving, thinking…. As you know, with the appropriate guidance and with skillful lesson planning interfacing curriculum as you pointed out, kids will enjoy going to school … they will enjoy their lives and respect the lives of others.

    Please don’t read this and think I’m gunning for a job, though I would love to be part of this project and “work” to see this dream come to fruition, I would equally be honored to support this cause with the lesson plans that I have written and gathered, or in providing professional development workshops to the staff. I desperately want to see a shift in education – to a “classroom” of children stimulated and engaged and prepared, as you said; to develop wisdom. Bring on the playa!

    Here’s to you!

    And Liat Cohen (amma Lollipop), I may have spread myself a little too thin at Burning Man this year with my commitment to the Lamp Lighters, but I would be happy to brainstorm with you! Haaa, maybe a parade with the Lamp Lighters….

    Robn Floyd (Rilling, G)
    robnfloyd here: robnfloyd (at) yahoo.com

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  19. jeffreytaos Says:

    You are fantastic! The light of the future emerges with every new dawn. May you always find the love and support that is needed to carry our children beyond the future into the most powerful time of all, the now, full of joy and hope, made possible by people like you!

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  20. crust Says:

    There ya go, indoctrinate the babies and catch them all off guard.

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  21. Mark Hinkley Says:

    Further to Jrod,

    Well, ya busted me on competition at Burning Man. I never competed for any grant money, but I do remember a campmate muttering in 2000, as we were applying gold leaf to an arch in our plywood temple, “I know, you’re just waiting for them to start giving out trophies.” I like to think I was only competing with myself, but, no, I’m vain as can be.

    Even so, whatever we accomplished at Burning Man was because of the cooperation, and despite any personally competitive motives, and nobody had to be declared loser. We aren’t going to pretend there is no such thing as competition, we just won’t celebrate it. And you make a very good point about cooperation being a luxury made possible by abundance. But it is also true that cooperation can produce abundance, and indeed, new forms of wealth. See http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/howard_rheingold_on_collaboration.html

    thanks to Jrod for the brain-jog, and thanks to everyone for the support and encouragment.

    mark

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  22. Ali_Baba Says:

    Such a fantastic thing, to educate. The future is bright!

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  23. Robn Floyd Says:

    I was wondering if the school is up and running. I’d love to come down (I live in the LA area) and visit. Would that be possible?

    Rilling Commagee (aka Robn Floyd)

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  24. BRATTY Says:

    i love xara web.i want to met with xara and xara pix is very cute. :)

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  25. BRATTY Says:

    i love web.i want to met with xara and xara pix is very cute. :)

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  26. The Summit Says:

    I was wondering if the school is up and running. May you always find the love and support that is needed to carry our children beyond the future into the most powerful time of all, the now, full of joy and hope, made possible by people like you! This is amazing and wonderful, bravo Mark! Thanks

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  27. Daren Lastinger Says:

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