[Dan Earle participated in the Cedu Schools from 1975 to 1990. During this time he held many positions including the founding headmaster of Rocky Mountain Academy, headmaster of the Cedu School and Co-President of the Cedu Schools. Mel Wasserman, Founder of Cedu Education, passed away the night of April 28th, 2002.]
How does one even begin to pay tribute to Mel Wasserman, the Founder of Cedu Education? As I write, thousands of others like myself all over the United States, Canada and beyond are reflecting on the contribution he made to their individual lives as educators, parents, students. His imprint is “here forever”!
I can say without question that my life and my career took a radical departure in 1975 when I joined the Cedu School tucked away in the mountains of Southern California. I had joined Cedu to implement my thesis for a masters degree in education designed to integrate wilderness adventure into a therapeutic program.
During my internship interview, I was struck by the sense that something extraordinary was stirring in this tranquil place. I was well versed in Dewey’s contribution to education, and recently had been studying Kurt Hahn, the founder of the International Outward Bound movement. However, their influence could only touch me through books. Then with the introduction to Mel, I found myself swept into the center of a river of educational ideas that were moving at “life speed” (Mel’s term).
Mel was an imposing figure and the imprint of his ideas and philosophy of education was in evidence everywhere in the cultural environment of Cedu. The story of Mel and his wife Brigitte having started Cedu in their home in Palm Springs, California in 1967 was already a legend in the school’s history.
Monday evenings we would gather, ALL students and ALL faculty, to hear him speak. The room was always filled with a certain electricity and anticipation of how our individual and school life might change as he revealed his latest insights. Change and growth was something I was just beginning to comprehend.
In those days a requirement for any new faculty member was full participation in the Cedu program of personal growth. Little did I realize this agreement would launch me on the most dramatic, challenging and rewarding journey of my life.
I had yet to read Emerson’s essay on Self-reliance where he states: “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which has been given to him to till”. But under Mel’s guidance I was to discover the meaning of these profound words.
Mel was actively tilling and planting an educational philosophy that would years later become a movement. Long before the world would become familiar with the phrase “the child within”, Mel was creating an education whose core was dedicated to, in his words, “the liberation of the child within” all of us. Three decades before the term “Emotional Quotient” would appear acknowledging the importance of emotions, Mel was pioneering the creation of an educational approach that would address equally the development of the individual’s emotional knowledge, as well as one’s intellectual capacity, civic participation, and personal responsibility. “To know oneself”, to have the freedom to dream and the tools to achieve those dreams were an integral part of the education he felt everyone deserved.
Ironically, Mel was proud to state that he was a self-educated man and he encouraged faculty, regardless of their credentials to become self-educated as well. To live or work at Cedu was to grow, and the education was not just for the students. He often reminded us that, “You are not the teacher, you are the LESSON!” In group training sessions he would inquire of us individually “what are you teaching?”, “who are you?”, “where are you going?”, and “how are you going to get there?”
During the 70’s Mel spoke of a “Golden Age of Education”, and that each of us had an opportunity to make a contribution to the collective knowledge of this “age”. He would state “at this moment we are at the white hot center of the development of a philosophy and approach to education that will live long after our own individual experience”.
During this “golden age”, the idea of a holistic, integral education was born. It is one that addressed the foundation of self- understanding through an emotional growth curriculum running parallel to an academic, civic and wilderness curriculum grounded in experience, of which Dewey and Hahn would both have approved.
The development and application of an “emotional growth curriculum” based on the sequence of a child’s development created an opportunity for adolescents to review their past in developmental stages and complete missed tasks, thus leading them to a solid sense of self.
Having already been in alternative education for 14 years before joining Cedu, I was overwhelmed with excitement to be able to be a part of Mel’s dream. He became my mentor, a living inspiration demonstrating that there is a “giant” within each of us seeking expression in the light of day.
The contributions he and Brigitte made to the hundreds of faculty, staff, and thousands of students, parents, families, and schools cannot be spelled out in these few, wanting, words of tribute.
Great men and women are soon forgotten by the masses, however the words, ideas, philosophy and institutions created by them remain.
The impact of Mel Wasserman’s revolutionary contribution to education lives on in the lives of the individuals and the schools that bear his imprint. If there was ever a book worthy of writing, it would be “A Golden Age - Mel Wasserman’s Cedu Education”.
On behalf of those touched by your life, thank you Mel for the GIFT!