A Room for Learning: The Making of a School in Vermont (St. Martin's Press, 2009) tells the story of the founding of the North Branch School. In this stirring account of a teacher and his fourteen students tucked away in the Green Mountains of Vermont, educator Tal Birdsey fervently documents the founding year of a small junior high school with wit and humility. Part memoir, part meditation on the power of art and poetry, and part critique of standardized education, A Room for Learning evokes a spirit of change, in which students were allowed a hand in their own education. With no set curriculum, no prior history, and limited resources, the students delve deep into the poetry of Yeats, Bukowski, and Szymborska, the music of Coltrane, the art of Caravaggio, and the emotional landscape of Elie Wiesel’s Night, with each student learning to offer his or her own personal insights. But they also take time to be outside in the Green Mountains, amidst the tree sand fresh air, to be the kids that they still sometimes are and to learn from one another. Isolated from mainstream culture and tenuously on the brink of apathy, this diverse group of kids and a teacher created a literary community and celebrated learning and themselves. A Room for Learning is the poignant true story of how one small school demonstrated that a classroom can be a place of transformative power.
"If education interests you--if kids interest you--this is a magical story. It's about what happens if you take them seriously, and if you have the grace and agility to hang with them in the tough spots and the glorious ones. Nothing you've read for a long time will make you much more optimistic about the possibilities for the future. And if you're an educator, or thinking of becoming one, nothing will remind you more powerfully of the nobility of your calling."—Bill McKibben, New York Times bestselling author of Deep Economy
"I found this a deeply disturbing and moving account of powerful schooling, and of a teacher finding himself as fourteen youngsters do so too, alongside him." —Deborah Meier, author of The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem
"A telling and inspiring account of a dedicated and knowing teacher and a community that assembled on behalf of the future of its young citizens, all determined to further the cultural, intellectual, moral, psychological growth that takes place in a classroom….A witness to education as it hands one generation along to form, ably and knowingly, its place in a nation's destiny."— Robert Coles, Pulitzer Prize award-winning author of Children in Crisis
"A glorious memoir of teaching and learning, of building a school from the bottom up, of keeping it small, intimate, personal and informal, Tal Birdsey's A Room for Learning is an implicit rebuke of of the rancid illness that plagues American education: bureaucracy, formality, standardized testing, uniformity, conformity, and an unholy reliance on numbers and statistics. In Birdsey's little piece of heaven, there is simply the student, the teacher, the materials, and the place. Nothing extraneous, only art, intelligence, creativity and a close stable healthy environment. A hymn to pedagogy, the sacredness of nature and the child, the music of language, the rigors of inquiry, and the natural high of creativity. As he opens his students eyes, he opened mine." —Pat Conroy, New York Times bestselling author of The Prince of Tides, My Losing Season, The Water is Wide, and Beach Music