At Long-View, our days begin not with the ringing of a school bell, but with the resonant hum of a singing bowl. Teachers, learners, and visitors  gather around an (unignited) campfire log, and as the sound of the singing bowl fades slowly to silence, we settle ourselves in for a rich day of learning.

This ritual, which we call “Campfire,” is not just circle time or show-and-tell, but an intellectually rigorous start to every day. We begin by greeting each member of the community with the Zulu word Sawubona, which means “I see you.” Each person responds, “Sikhona,” meaning “I am here.” But don’t be mistaken--this is not just a silly way of taking attendance. When our learners say they are here, they mean it in every sense of the phrase. Not only are they physically and intellectually present, but they are here for each other as a community of thinkers and problem-solvers.

Indeed, Campfire is not just a teacher-led effort, but really belongs to the whole Long-View community. Whenever a learner or adult stumbles across a fascinating article, learns something neat on NPR, or has an idea for improving our community norms, we encourage them to engage us in a discussion about it at Campfire. These talks are usually led by one or two people, but they involve the questions, speculations, and knowledge of everyone in the room.

Even though the school year has just gotten started, we have already delved into an array of current events, historical issues, and scientific and mathematical concepts, including:

  • How does the Supreme Court Work, and who is the new nominee?

  • Do bees understand the concept of zero?

  • What happens to an ecosystem when a border wall goes through it?

  • Will the rock dam that we built in the creek harm the Pease Park ecosystem, and should we dismantle it?

  • How exactly do fish get up a fish ladder?

  • How can we change the thinking and learning patterns of our own brains?

Often, our discussions unearth the secret knowledge of folks in our community. William, for instance, helped us understand a great deal about how ecosystems work, and how harmful it can be to plants and animals if the balance is thrown off by overhunting or changing the terrain. Sometimes, our discussions simply result in more questions. After our first discussion about the Supreme Court, we discovered that we didn’t know much about the new nominee, so Avery and Ian investigated the topic at home and reported back to us the next day. Other times, our discussions lead to community action. A group of learners who dubbed themselves the Dam Destroyers, for instance, did end up dismantling our dam to protect the ecosystem of the creek. In short, Campfire is a time when we investigate and respond to the complexities of our world and our own community…

...usually.

Birthday celebrations are a bit of a deviation from our normal discussions. While the birthday-person is rigorously interviewed about their celebration plans, favorite kinds of cake, and any details they know about the day of their birth, the rest of us write sticky-note messages, declaring what we appreciate about them—a memento for them to take home at the end of the day. Finally, we sing a quick round of “Around the Campfire You Must Go,” (an original Long-View composition), while the birthday-person runs around the circle, awkwardly trying to time their return to their seat with the end of the song. Finally, we snap a picture of them touching the campfire log, specially bedazzled with twinkle lights, to post to our Instagram.

Of course, birthdays aren’t the only time we break from tradition. We also periodically bring in visitors to give Campfire presentations about their areas of expertise. Over the years, we have spoken with authors, scientists, engineers, beekeepers, and one scholar of American Studies who fell in love with Long-View and stayed to become a teacher.

No matter what we discuss during Campfire, we always leave informed, energized, and fired up to to learn more. These are the feelings and attitudes we bring with us when the singing bowl rings again, signaling our transition into the rest of our day.

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