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Detail Mentor Profile: PAUL FREEDMAN

The Transformative Learning Foundation


Paul Freedman

Goddard College, M.A. 2008

Paul grew up in NYC and attended progressive schools in Manhattan. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1990 with a BA in Psychology. He has been an elementary classroom teacher in both public and independent schools for 24 years, and he helped to found the Salmonberry School in Eastsound, WA, where he continues to serve as Head of School and intermediate grades teacher. He earned his MA in Partnership Education from Goddard College in 2008. For five years he served as a Contributing Editor for Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice and has published many articles on holistic education. In 2011 he joined the SDGI faculty. In 2016, he helped to found the Holistic Education Initiative. He continues to write and enjoy public speaking. His recent talks have included a TEDx talk on Deep Learning and a Podcast interview for Meetings with Remarkable Educators.

He is deeply committed to holistic and humanistic forms of education and believes that all the bureaucracies of the modernist era, including mainstream education, are desperately clinging to outdated paradigms and structures. Our evolving human consciousness is in dire need of new models and counter-hegemonic visions. The Self Design Graduate Institute represents one such beacon of hope. Here learners are guided and mentored to cultivate their capacity to powerfully author their own journeys of discovery. SDGI has coalesced an incredible group of inspiring faculty members who are committed to realizing the transformative potential of intimate mentor-learner relationships, and SDGI provides the models and structures to bring these relationship-based learning journeys forward. He has been excited to be part of this organization, and looks forward to deepening his commitment to its growth and success. It is an honor to offer leadership to this caring learning community.


  • Swarthmore College, B.A. 1990



Main Interests/Focus Areas

Holistic education, founding and sustaining independent K-12 schools and non- schools, integrating theory and philosophy with practice within K-12 education

Paul lives on the East Sound of Orcas Island


Personal Statement

I am deeply committed to exploring the landscape of educational alternatives and collaborating with past, present and future school founders and leaders who share my passion for holistic approaches to nurturing and educating young people in humane and child-centered ways.


SDGI Courses

PM 501 Envisioning and Founding a Post-Modern School (3 credits)

Learners in this course explore post-modern consciousness and values and consider how these can be expressed through the structure and culture of a post-modern school. They articulate their own personal vision of post-modern schooling and develop key documents that will help to define their school-to-be: mission statement, statement of philosophy re the process of human development, the process of learning, and the role of curriculum, pedagogy, teachers, and so on.

Learners then explore the elements required to found a post-modern school: the nature of its ownership and governance; the role of its leadership; facilities and resources; legal requirements in the state of operation; recruitment of families and learners; hiring of staff; and start-up of operations and likely initial challenges.

PM 502 Leading and Sustaining a Successful Post-Modern School (3 credits)

Learners in this course explore the predictable challenges likely in leading and sustaining a post-modern school. The course focuses on issues of school administration and management; the school’s identity in its community; professional development of adults working in the school; recruitment of families and learners; tuition and fund raising issues; engagement of community partners and allies; parental engagement in the life of the school; and crisis management.

PM 513 The Joys and Sorrows of Leading a Post-Modern School (3 credits)

Learners in this course explore many aspects of starting and sustaining a post-modern school through first-hand accounts. Learners read and reflect on school leaders’ narratives regarding their experiences. They observe and speak with school leaders about their work. Particular emphasis will be placed on the visionary qualities of school leaders and the extreme highs and lows associated with the responsibilities and opportunities of leading a school community towards a unique post-modern vision.

In the Media


Publications/Presentations/Professional Projects

Selected Articles and Papers

  • “Fathoming Depth: Envisioning Deep Education” 2012. Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. 25:1
  • “Flow and Educating for Life” 2010. Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice.23:4
  • “Plankton: a Great Thing: Transformative Learning Community in Elementary School” 2010. Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. 23:1
  • “Permaculture and Holistic Education: a Match Made in Heaven and Earth” 2009-10. Education Revolution: The Magazine of Educational Alternatives 21:4
  • “To Nurture a Flame” 2009. Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. 22:1.
  • “Holding Tensions, Seeking Balance: One Holistic Educator’s Holistic Pedagogy in Action” 2008-09. Education Revolution: The Magazine of Educational Alternatives. 20:4.
  • “Holistic Education for Peace and Social Justice” 2008. Peace and Justice Studies Association Conference Journal.
  • “Writing with the Wind” 2007. Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. 20:1.


Selected Education Conference Presentations and Talks

  • “Holistic AND Progressive: Exploring Points of Synergy and Divergence Between Holistic and Progressive Education” Progressive Education Network Conference, Brooklyn, NY, 9/2015
  • “Deep Education: Re-visioning Teaching and Learning for Today” TEDx Talk TEDx Orcas Island: This Is America, Eastsound, WA, November, 2014
  • “Holding Tensions, Seeking Balance, Finding Truth: A Journey Towards Deconstructing the Forces that Affect Our Work, and Helping Learners Do the Same” Holistic Teaching and Learning Conference, Ashland, OR November, 2014
  • “Establishing Classroom Culture Through Initiatives and Cooperative Games” Northest Association of Independent Schools Conference, Portland, OR, October 2014
  • “Holistic Education for Peace and Social Justice” Peace and Justice Studies Association Conference, September, 2008.
  • “The Heart of Education: Holistic Pedagogy in Action” Orcas Island: Visioning Education Holistically, March 2007. Designed and hosted this conference, which included keynote speakers Brent Cameron and David Marshak.

Fathoming Depth: Envisioning Deep Education

I go down. Rung after rung I go down… I came to explore… The thing I came for: The wreck and not the story of the wreck The thing itself and not the myth. This is the place and I am here. We circle silently. About the wreck. We dive into the hold. I am she: I am he We are. I am, you are.

–Adrienne Rich

We are a culture of surfers. We cruise across surfaces, channel surfing, surfing the internet, crossing vast terrains without ever, or at best rarely, scratching many of these surfaces. Whether this tendency is cause or effect, I am not sure but schooling seems to either reflect this cultural tendency or else it is perhaps the very training ground where we become acculturated to the game of surfing. We teachers are obsessed with surfaces, how much ground can we cover, before handing our charges off to the next intrepid leader who will continue on the quest. Fatser, faster, further, further.

The word surface, closely related etymologically to the word superficial, ( is defined, partly, as the extreme outer boundary or layer where an object meets the world around it. As a teacher I am not interested in surfaces. Yes, edges and boundaries can be interesting places, places where two beings (the knower and the known, for example) may meet, but can we engage with deeper elements of each, from the depths of one being to the depths of another? Is it possible that the encounter with one’s learning can be a richer experience than it typically is in school settings? Can the interiority of one’s self reach towards a deeper aspect or essence of the living subject? How deep can we dig? What if the educational mission were not about covering subject areas. (The metaphor of covering, is another interesting one – in covering something we shield it from light and illumination. To cover a plant, for example results in stressing its capacity to sustain its own life.) What if education were not about brushing past surfaces with the least possible affect on either knower or known, but rather exploring and exposing the “hidden wholeness” (Palmer, 2004) of ourselves with the vastness and complexity of our study, with the goal of emerging from the encounter transformed?

What would be the implications of such a shift on the contemporary practice of education?

I live on an island in north Puget Sound, and I am often struck by the attitude of the visiting tourists that start to arrive here each spring. They are driven to cross the water and gaze over it without ever getting wet. They cross surfaces and report by cell phone to friends back home that they have seen the beautiful ocean, thinking that they know it. But with our limited access to the top, almost insignificant layers of the sea, we know nothing of its wonders, its diversity, its power, its fragility, grace and wholeness, even if we were to devote a lifetime to its study.

Similarly, in schools as we guide our students over the “waters” of Algebra 1, Civics, and Language Arts, are we guiding them to know these subjects, their complexity and depth, or rather do we just surf across them? I would like to heretically urge us all to try to cover less territory and dive deeply into the particularities and complexities of your studies. Let us embrace a single poem and explore it with passion, openness and wonder. As William Blake wrote, let us “see the world in a grain of sand.” I truly believe that it is through the study of the microcosm that the universal may be revealed.

Martin Buber wrote at length about what he called the Ich-Du or I-Thou encounter: “It is a relationship that stresses the mutual, holistic existence of two beings. It is a concrete encounter, because these beings meet one another in their authentic existence, without any qualification or objectification of one another. In an I-Thou encounter, infinity and universality are made actual (rather than being merely concepts).” (Kramer, 39) Real education can be conceived of as a series of such I- Thou encounters, aiming towards transcendence and transformation. This is what I would like to aim for in my classroom.

Jiddu Krishnamurti once wrote: “Let us go into it deeply together. Not I see it and you don’t see it, or you see it and I don’t see it. But we both go into it. Deeply. Together.” (Krishnamurti, 64-5) This is such a simple and powerful image to represent a transformative vision of education for depth.

As I said, I live on an island, and, after ten years, finally, with the encouragement of my teenage son, have purchased a small used sailboat. Together we have been looking at our first nautical charts as we are trying to navigate through the waters of our new hobby. Bodies of water on these charts are covered with numbers, depth of water, measured not in feet but fathoms. The fathom seems such an odd and esoteric unit of measure, as well as a word with several meanings. It turns out that the origins of the word fathom are from an Old English word meaning to embrace. The unit of measure was derived from the distance a man could reach out and thus embrace (this later became standardized as a length of six feet.) And the meaning of fathom: to understand, as in “I can’t fathom what you mean by that” also comes from this concept of knowing or understanding as an embrace of the subject. Let us try to conceptualize a vision of education where the unfolding of the learner and the process coming into knowledge invokes both these meanings of fathom. Education should be an embrace, and it must require depth of experience.

On my literal and simultaneously metaphoric island I have helped to found a small independent school for kids ranging in age from age 3-12 called Salmonberry School. Over this decade of teaching and working to realize a humane and inspiring child-centered model of education, I have gradually evolved a personal pedagogy, which I have often called “holistic.” But when I reflect now on what truly differentiates my practice in the classroom most from a mainstream approach, it is this quest for both embrace and depth.

I was in a meeting with a school principal last week and had the most surreal moment. We were surrounded by so much that was familiar, new math books, school furniture, the language of the educational profession, but something was so off. When the principal said, “we’re really all after the same goals, aren’t we?” It reminded me of the planet, Camazots in A Wrinkle in Time, where everything is so normal, it’s somehow freakish and not right. “No!” I want to scream, “we are not after the same goals at all!”

So what is “deep education?” What would it look like if depth were a real goal in our work with learners? I believe it would include an emphasis on Bloom’s higher level thinking skills as a starting point, with which many readers will be familiar. However in many ways I believe in addition to “higher-level thinking” deep education would include “lower-level” feeling, experiencing and knowing; lower level in the sense that it is “radical,” being at the roots of this education. A deep education would include a sense of celebration at times, and a sense of despair at others. It would include laughter as well as tears.

Deep education would involve cognitive knowing, but it would importantly apply this knowledge to both a very personal sense of self, one acquired through experience and reflection, and to an insight into the universal. So that cognitive knowing would be a window to connection to the cosmos. Like eating an artichoke, as depth educators we would patiently and diligently peel off the outer prickly leaves of living subjects as we move towards the tender and tasty heart, and in so doing we would also become ourselves.

Deep education would have much to learn from the deep ecology movement from the 1970’s: Arne Ness coined the term deep ecology and first developed its theoretical underpinnings. Naess was critical of the limitations of ecological science. He recognized that ecology’s scientific and scientistic orientation prevented ecologists from articulating a moral and spiritual basis for their work, or adopting a position on how people should live. To have such a moral and ethical stance, Naess believed we must have ecological wisdom. Deep ecology seeks to develop ecological wisdom by focusing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. These three aspects of deep ecology constitute an interconnected system. Together, these three aspects of deep ecology create what Naess would call, an ecosophy: an evolving but consistent philosophy of being, thinking and acting in the world, that embodies ecological wisdom and harmony. Similarly deep education would also be about deep questioning and deep commitment rooted in deep experience. Like deep ecology, it would also be about being and acting, as well as thinking and feeling, more interested in the goal of wisdom than the goal of knowledge. And like deep ecology, deep education would have a strong ethical and moral point of view. It would not only see accumulation and unbiased analysis of facts as the primary educational goal, but would rather encourage and nurture the capacity for right ways of being and acting.

What conditions might support deep education? This question should be the subject of much study and reflection. But to begin with, it seems clear that deep education requires a much greater allowance for time and space, and a far greater emphasis on beauty and reverence. Learning experiences must be integrated and integral, cross- disciplinary and expansive. The curriculum must include study of self, including self-exploration, self-knowledge and self-reflection. A deep education would not be wholly about self, however, it would also need a learning community, a sense of collaboration and a dramatic decrease in learners’ sense of isolation and competition.

As I continue to immerse myself both in the in-the-moment practice of teaching, as well as study and reflection it has slowly come to me, or rather come back to me, I have re-realized one huge defining feature of a Salmonberry School education. We value and pursue depth. Here, learning is not and cannot be summarized by checklists of age-tied standards. Rather than skimming and surfing across vast surfaces, and deluding ourselves that we have seen the ocean, we dive in, deep, and explore with both purpose and abandon. We are less interested in covering curriculum, and more interested in the many ways of knowing.

Not just knowing but KNOWING, feeling meaning and relevance in one’s work, connecting intimately with one’s study; this is the kind of experience that makes education worthwhile and lifelong. This is how we try to keep children’s learning whole and holistic, rather than fragmented and superficial. Let us commit to evaluating the quality of a learning experience by its depth and by the authenticity of the embrace. Can we “fathom” such a vision?

I find inspiration from John Moffit’s poem, “To Look at Any Thing”

To look at any thing, If you would know that thing, You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say, “I have seen spring in these Woods,” will not do—you must Be the thing you see: You must be the dark snakes of

Stems and ferry plumes of leaves, You must enter in To the small silences between The leaves,

You must take your time And touch the very peace They Issue from.



Kenneth Kramer; Mechthild Gawlick. 2004. Martin Buber’s I and thou: practicing living dialogue. Mahwhah, New Jersey: Paulist Press.

Krishnamurti, Jiddu. 2001. A Flame of Learning: Krishnamurti with Teachers. Den Haag, Holland, Mirananda Press.

L’Engle, Madeleine, 2007. A Wrinkle in Time. New York, MacMillan-Square Fish Press.

Moffit, John. “To Look at Any Thing” in Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner, 2003. San Francisco: Josey-Bass. P.124

Naess, Arne. The Ecology of Wisdom: Writings by Arne Naess. 2010. Berkeley, Counterpoint Press.

Palmer, Parker. 2004. A Hidden Wholeness: the Journey Toward and Undivided Life. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Rich, Adrienne. “Diving Into the Wreck” in Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner, 2003. San Francisco: Josey- Bass. P.136