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Schools, Programs, & Visit Reports - Jun, 1991 Issue 

CEDU School
(714) 867-2722
Running Springs, CA
Founder: Mel Wasserman
Headmaster: Tim Brace
Admissions: Patricia Savage
Lon Woodbury's Visit: April 25, 1991

Organized in 1967, CEDU School is one of the original Special Purpose Schools in the country. In fact, it is the inspiration for at least five other successful schools that have evolved their own version of the CEDU approach to education. This was my third visit to the school in the last six years. I found the school is continuing to evolve to meet the changing needs of its student population, and to utilize the increasing body of knowledge of how to work with dysfunctional children and families.

What caught my attention most was the explanation of her job by Liz Holmes, the head of CEDU's parent communications. What she told me was, "Parents are not a problem. When parents enroll their child, they have needs only the school can meet."

A little history will put this statement in context. In the seventies, there was a tendency by all child workers to see parents as the enemy. This is understandable since so many of the children having problems come from dysfunctional families where there was too high an incidence of abuse and neglect of children. Our society reflected this view by legislation and the growth of Health and Welfare agencies during the seventies designed to protect children from their parents in cases of abuse or neglect. By the eighties, Special Purpose Schools found this attitude did not work well, because children still needed their parents no matter what had happened between them. The attitude evolved to where parents were seen as a problem that needed to be worked with by the school for the good of the child. In this light, parent conferences of various types became popular with CEDU and other Special Purpose Schools, along with experimenting with ways to improve communication between the school, the parents, and the child. This evolution was reflected in our society during the eighties by the increasing popularity of family counseling, and the view that when a child is out of control, the source is a dysfunctional family system and the solution is to heal the family dynamics.

Liz Holmes, and CEDU's philosophy of parent communication, I think reflects the evolution in the nineties of the view that the whole family must be worked with in order to heal the child. Many other Special Purpose schools' thinking have evolved along similar lines, but CEDU is incorporating the latest knowledge of how to work with children with behavioral problems. This attitude starts with the assumption that the parent is not necessarily bad, but needs the help the school can provide. It is my hope that legislatures and Health and Welfare Departments will adopt this philosophy and get themselves out of the philosophy of the seventies that starts with the assumption that the parent is the enemy.

CEDU's unique approach to emotional growth evolved into pretty much its present form during the seventies. The school shies away from rules, believing they have a tendency to be rigid, and can foster divisive hair-splitting on the part of verbal and manipulative students. Instead, each student starts with a set of agreements which is explained when a student enrolls. The school believes agreements can better get to the heart of an understanding of expected student behavior without being as vulnerable to distractions over the precise meaning of words. Also, agreements are more conducive to modification on an individual basis when the student's behavior earns less structured agreements.

The heart of their emotional growth program is the propheet. These were evolved out of all night "Rap" sessions by Founder Mel Wasserman in the late sixties which used the book "The Prophet" by Kahul Gibran as an inspiration. It was soon found that certain questions had to be addressed before there could be meaningful work on other areas. It rapidly evolved into nine Propheets, taken in sequence by all students, each one addressing different issues any child must resolve in order to become a mature, successful adult. For example, a child has to have at least some handle on what the truth is about themselves before anything else can even be addressed. The first Propheet consequently is the Truth Propheet. Later is the Values Propheet where each child explores the basic values he or she is living by, and is helped to decide if those values make any sense. Other Propheets help them look at what they are really doing in creating relationships, help them ask what happened to the Dreams they once held, and explore and understand the things they do to undermine success and happiness. Each one helps them to better understand that area of their life, and to make changes when and where appropriate.

A good measure of how safe students feel in an environment is how open they are to talking with strangers. At CEDU, the students must feel safe in their environment because several students came up to me to introduce themselves, visit, and tell me their story.

Academics was an area I did not have as much time for in this trip as I would have liked. However, teachers are free to draw on the children's thinking, experiences, and feelings in conducting their lessons. This helps the students see things in new ways, which is what education should be all about. An exercise in an English class I sat in on demonstrated to me how the whole child concept is brought into their classrooms. The teacher played several selections of music, and after each, had the students write what the selection made them think of. Comparing reactions at the end of the class, it was striking how similar each student's independent reactions were to each selection. The lesson I learned from the exercise was how it demonstrated how music is a language that clearly communicates non-verbal images.

As a final note on academics, and the whole school for that matter, the proof is in results, and the list of colleges the CEDU graduates go to is impressive. Considering most CEDU students were going nowhere academically when they enrolled, it is obvious the CEDU approach works."

Copyright 1991, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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