So many mentors have nurtured and sustained me—the gifted therapists, the systems thinkers and second order cyberneticians, the deep ecologists and naturalists, the school founders, the teens I have mentored who have become my peers in time, and the children who have trusted me and grace my life.

I know I’m not unusual in going through much of my early life feeling like an outsider on good days and feeling like a serious weirdo outcast on bad days. When I consider how and when this changed, I think of particular conversations as turning points and certain conversations as sustenance…

Conversations with my fierce, autodidact mother and my supersensitive, peacemaker father sustained me in my earliest years. I am grateful for their loving support. They had good priorities. They lived simply. They loved picnics in the mountains. They’d both lived through hell in their own ways prior to choosing each other as life partners.

I realize now, in retrospect, I had the good fortune that my parents moved with me from the West Coast to Cincinnati, Ohio, motivated by what they’d heard were “very good schools.” I was four at the time. For my mother, the standout feature of my elementary school was the “extraordinary art collection hanging on the walls throughout the school.” What stood out in my mind was the extraordinary cruelty exhibited by a few of my teachers toward a few of my classmates—always boys. Report cards with Cs in conduct and check marks for “lack of self-control” kept the A-student “talkative girls” (self included) a bit more subdued. I went through all of elementary school with this same group of exuberant peers who were too frequently suffering from extreme boredom and whose curiosity and creativity were severely constrained. In second grade, our teacher died midyear, and a few years later, one young friend died of cancer. An enormous absence of conversation hung in the air around these deaths, and we children were left on our own to make of it what we would. This context set me on a quest for alternative approaches to support young people in self-directed and collaborative learning, and life in general.