Why I Wrote a Book on Alternative Education and titled it: Dancing on the Contradictions

The stories contained within my book, Dancing on the Contradictions, detail the realities—the struggles and the resilience—of students in alternative educational settings grappling with assuming responsibility for their lives, forging identities, and carving out their autonomy, all within settings founded on democratic principles of free expression and community.

Yet, no matter how elaborate or comprehensive our machinery of governance, it never operated quite as we had hoped. Does this mean we failed or that democracy failed?

Certainly not. It means that there is where the dance begins.

Democracy is itself a contradiction, messy and difficult, beautiful and freeing. As Winston Churchill said, “It is the worst form of government, except for all the others…”  

And so, it is vital that progressive educators of today merge the “why” with the “how”, that they ground alternative education theory with real practice. That was the focus of my life’s work and that is what’s now contained within the pages of my book.

It’s about a dance that early school reformers took up many decades ago, and which I have no doubt modern educators will continue even better than before. If, that is, they understand the history of educational reform in this country and build upon it rather than exhausting their energy by reinventing everything the profession already knows–but has a tendency to forget.

And so we confront not only the contradictions within democracy, but within the educational system, and most importantly–within ourselves. Instead of railing against the system, we rise. We bring our talents and passions to bear in constructive ways to boldly articulate the values that inform the alternatives.

As the great social theorist Paul Goodman once said: “The notion that nothing can be done is completely unsatisfactory to me. Something must be done.”

His words have always hung on a wall in my study and been an ongoing personal challenge.

Even at the age of 85, I haven’t relinquished the call that captured me so many years ago when I stepped into a classroom for the first time as a new teacher.

For me, there is no joy like the joy of teaching. Being an educator is the spirit that animates me and so, for as long as I can take on Paul Goodman’s challenge, I will.

For I must.

And so must you.

But my time in the classroom has come and gone. Your time is now. My hope is that this book helps you along your own journey as you devise alternatives and build new models to help young people realize their potential.


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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