Reviews, Interviews, Miscellaneous

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Interview with VoiceAmerica

An interview about the place of alternative education in contemporary America and what today's kids need most.  (listen)

Interview with Jane Lindholm on Vermont Public Radio

Tal talks with VPR about A Room for Learning, the founding of the North Branch School, and possible alternatives to standardized education.  (listen)

"North Branch School Ends Year on the Long Trail"

"At Ripton’s North Branch School, student effort isn’t just measured by the amount of time spent in the classroom or in front of a computer screen. For graduating 9th-graders, it’s also measured in miles — 23 of them, all associated with an annual three-day backpacking trek along the Long Trail." (read more)

Excerpt from "A Room for Learning" in Yankee Magazine

A short excerpt from A Room for Learning in Yankee Magazine. (read more)

"A New School of Thought"

Article from The Montpelier Times-Argus about the founding of the North Branch School. (read more)

Short Film: "Life is the School"

NBS students made this film about the school in collaboration with the Vermont Folklife Center. (Watch)

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Interview: Summit Series for Families

Tal talks about ways to know, see, hear, and understand students in the classroom. (read more)

Seven Days: "The Art of Teaching Adolescents"

Interview with Seven Days about the North Branch School. (Read more)

"North Branch Students Invent Outdoor Game"

An article about "Pokey Stick," a cross between hide-and-go-seek, tree-climbing, and The Lord of the Flies. (read more)

Press Release: "McKibben and Patton Discuss Religion and Education"

At an NBS sponsored event, author Bill McKibben and Middlebury College President Laurie Patton talked about what's most important in education. (read more)

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Review in Vermont Commons: "Education Closer to the Heart"

"A few years ago, an idealistic teacher named Tal Birdsey started such a school for young adolescents in Ripton, Vermont, called North Branch School. He tells its story, with delightful wit and penetrating insight, in his inspiring new book A Room for Learning. We see how an authentic teacher builds a caring, loving community of learners. Every page, every incident and observation Birdsey relates, is a gentle but firm repudiation of technocratic schooling. “The first parents gravitated to the school,” he tells us, "because something entirely different could be made. . .  [C]urrent political debates about accountability or state funding fell far short of meaningful discourse about the education of children. These parents, no matter their income, education, or political views, were seeking education that involved something closer to the heart. In particular, they seemed to want something more creative and free. . . in contradistinction to schools tethered to right, standards-based approaches or school officials bombarded with federal mandates to test (pp. 31-2)."


A Room for Learning shows exactly what “something closer to the heart” looks like in education. Birdsey sees each of his students as whole persons, with their own challenges, inclinations, learning styles, quirks and insecurities. Most of them have been “wounded by school” (as Kirsten Olson systematically documents in her recent book by that title); they are afraid of ridicule and rejection, suspicious of adults who judge them and peers who band together in cliques to exercise power. They are reluctant to open themselves to others, to test their own limits or pursue their deepest dreams. Birdsey tells how he created a safe, nurturing space in which these young teens could find and test their best, authentic selves. “I asked them to embrace the personal pronoun I so that we might come closer to what was sacred inside of them. Those truths—their truths—would bring us closer to what mattered” (p. 59). Ultimately, what really matters to Birdsey and his students is a community where everyone feels cared for, a community rooted in love. This, not triumph in the corporate race, is what people are for.


Educational policies based on standardization, authoritarian control, and competition for abstract goals only support the continuation of empire. People don’t much matter—systems do. Education dictated by corporate and political elites is oblivious to the lived reality of children and youths struggling to define themselves and find their place in the world. “Race to the Top,” like “No Child Left Behind,” and every other federal educational mandate, imposes a brutal efficiency on schooling that has no place for visionary educators, like Birdsey, who honor the essential personhood of their students. One vital goal of Vermont independence is an educational culture that respects and encourages learning on a human scale, that supports caring and loving communities of learning. National educational policy is one more reason why we need to challenge the burgeoning power of the American empire. Because Vermonters value genuine democracy, treasure individuality, and hold as precious the local land and community, we ought to decline the federal government’s inducements to participate in any “race to the top.”" —Ron Miller (author of What Are Schools For?), Vermont Commons