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Dr. Stuart Grauer offers a peach from the garden in one of the outdoor learning spaces on campus at The Grauer School in Encinitas. Photo by Susan Sullivan
Columns Soul on Fire

Soul on Fire: An opportunity to rethink what we teach

To open schools or not open schools, that is the question. 

For this column, I reached out to one of Encinitas’ top authorities in education, Dr. Stuart Grauer, to discuss how he is going about reopening The Grauer School during COVID-19. The Grauer School is a premier private school focused on preparing teens for the future and their roles as leaders in the community and the world. 

As many parents know firsthand, schools, public and private, have been closed due to the pandemic. Today the debate arises as to how, when, and if they will be reopening. As with most industries, businesses, and personal philosophies during the lockdown, it is the hope that we can return, not back to normal, but to something better than what we had in place before. All schools are faced with preparing a complete return plan that is required to bring students back to the classroom, remote learning, and/or a hybrid of each. Not an easy task. 

What a privilege to have an interview with Stuart Grauer. He informed me that he has put more thought into reopening than the preparation and creative work he put into his doctorate. It’s that detailed, complex and controversial. I walked onto the expansive 5-acre campus — this passion project of Dr. Grauer that is tucked into the hillside using the natural environment as a learning center.

A peach tree with fruit weighing down the limbs was the first thing I saw. Open fields of green grass. Small areas set up for discussion as a method of learning. Seating on tree trunks, some under Mexican palapas with beach sand underfoot. Kids are allowed to tend to a garden. They integrate each class with sustainability and earth sciences as well as gardening to learn about maintaining a healthy environment and how to coexist with Mother Earth. Outdoor classrooms set in a natural ecosystem bowl. All schools are coming up with ways of managing the fact that we need to be outdoors. Grauer is the model for the ecology that is needed in all school systems today. 

After all, isn’t our neglect and rabid consumption what got us to this place where viruses can increase? “It’s incumbent upon every educator in the country, if not the world, to teach reverence and sensitivity to the natural world,” stated Grauer. 

“If you want to be a great school, it’s not how you relaunch your campus, although the protocols for sanitation being implemented would be the envy of any hospital in the land,” he continued. “We are talking about a change in the way we teach things. We need to change what we teach kids. This whole thing (COVID-19) was unleashed when humans encroached upon deep wilds, where these viruses lived naturally for millions of years, and we as humans don’t have any immunity toward that.

“These kids need to understand that. Our kids need to understand the consequences of taking too much land, encroaching, and what happens when the human population gets out of control. This is a natural reaction that the earth is having right now. We know a million species threatened with extinction today, even bees, giraffes, elephants and whales. Storybook animals. At Grauer, we are partners with the children in developing the next generation.”

After all, we are just borrowing the earth from the next generation for a time. 

Besides a soul on fire with a passion for education and educating other educators, Grauer brings big values and gratitude. Healthy space for processing thoughts versus ripping through the curriculum. Getting in touch with larger purposes. Spirituality in school that includes teaching respect for the earth and every living being on it. Healthy spaces in which to learn. Getting outside and connecting to the sky, the stars, and the earth. Appreciating. Exploring. Mentoring Socrates style with conversations that lead to the knowledge that we just might not know everything.

But perhaps if we reason things out, we can have a fresh start, especially if we look to a model that has been empowering and educating children on sustainability at The Grauer School in Encinitas for nearly 30 years.