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Do you know what curriculum’ really means?” Moe Zimmerberg ‘79 asks almost as soon as you meet him. In Latin it means “running in circles,” he explains. Therefore, at the Tutorial School in Santa Fe, NM, which he founded with Richard Testa in 1992, there is no curriculum. There is, however, plenty of learning-in almost any subject a student requests. Zimmerberg, who has an undergraduate degree in neuroscience from MIT, believes that people naturally want to learn, so classes are available but not required. “We offer structure, but not coercion,” he explains.

Presenting himself with the carelessness of a counterculture intellectual, the lanky Zimmerberg is appealing in a former-hippie kind of way: his khaki pants are too big, his polo shirt is wrinkled, and his black beard has probably not been trimmed for a while, but his eyes are focused and penetrating. He radiates a paradoxical excess of two opposed qualities-serenity and an intense urgency-simultaneously. He is one of the two full-time faculty members at the Tutorial School, a small private school located in a couple of homey adobe buildings on Santa Fe’s south side. Iku Fujimatsu, the other permanent teacher, initially joined the school because a student wanted to learn Japanese. Now she covers arts and crafts as well. Testa died in September 2002; six to 10 part-time and guest teachers now offer such courses as anatomy, photography, sign language, and fencing.

The 25 students, aged six to 18, enrolled this year for a variety of reasons, but mostly, Zimmerberg believes, because “they’re ready to start taking charge of their lives.” Academically, socially, and in all matters concerning school governance, students are equal partners with the faculty. In fact, the only rule students don’t get a choice about is the one that says they must take responsibility for themselves and their education. Everyone in the school participates in the All-School Council, setting policies and reaching “agreements” about their work together.

Given this unconventional structure, Zimmerberg is naturally concerned about what will happen if and when he realizes his long-time goal of taking some time off to travel around the world. In order to ensure that the school’s values survive beyond the tenure of its founders, he hopes to establish a firm democratic structure for the board, with bylaws that guarantee that no individual can take control. He would also love to see the institution on firm financial footing. Money is always tight. Tuition is $6,400 per year, but most students receive scholarships. Salaries are already so low that staff must supplement their incomes; Zimmerberg’s parents bought him a house so he would not have to worry about rent. Zimmerberg cannot afford to hire a fund-raiser, so the work of seeking donations falls on him, and it’s difficult to find the necessary time for it.

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Tagged: Biomedicine

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