Fudgsicles and Emergency Teaching Certificates: My Inauspicious Beginnings in Alternative Education

I wasn’t always a radical educator, very far from it actually. Creating atmospheres in education conducive to democratic community and choice have never come easy. Not during the Vietnam War and the race riots of the 1960s and 70s when I was an educator, and certainly not today.

I got my start in ice cream.

Popsicles, fudgesicles, and creamsicles to be specific. You name it, I dunked it.

“So for this, we sent you to college?” my mother would routinely ask at dinner time. 

Many of us have seemingly inauspicious beginnings.

And many of us also have “aha” moments, turning points in our lives or careers that marked the beginning of a grand new adventure. Call it fate, destiny, or plain dumb luck.

These are the moments when we saw a sign, in my case a literal sign—“Friendly Teaching Agency.”

Given that I’d just been fired from my aforementioned ice cream job (for a single act of defiance performed out of an unquenchable curiosity. . . a hint of things to come. Read more about it here.), and that I did not wish to hear my mother’s sighs again that evening, I thought, “Why the fuck not?”

I needed a job, and they needed a math teacher. I was a history major, and they weren’t picky.

Our path through life often looks like a series of steps and missteps as we move ever onward and also circle back around.

When did you first know that education was your calling? Do you remember the moment you knew that no matter what happened, you’d be a teacher first and foremost?

For myself, that moment happened my very first day in a classroom.

I fell in love with my students, with their innocence and openness. There was no going back. I wanted to do everything in my power to support their growth and autonomy. It was and always has been for them that I have continuously asked, “But what if?” and “Why not”

In my life I’ve pushed the bounds of traditional schooling methods and ways of thinking. Not because I meant to be a troublemaker by disrupting the status quo and challenging the system, but because there is no other way when you believe deeply in the potential, ability, and diversity of all students.

Alternative educators believe in the transformative power of education, of free expression and choice in a democratic community, of firing up the imagination to find ways to come together on behalf of a future we can all believe in.  

And maybe we believe in ice cream too, if not for its nutritional profile, at least for the joy it brings.

As Don Kardong said, “Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.”  

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About the Author:

Larry Paros has worked in the field of Education and Human services for more than 30 years both as a teacher and administrator. A pioneer in the creation of alternative settings, he is best known for his work with young people from varied ethnic and racial backgrounds in contexts of his own making. His book, Dancing on the Contradictions: Transforming our Schools, our Students, and Ourselves, will be available in September of 2019.

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