High school anarchy

a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.


image by taliesin … morgue file || CC0

A contemplation of long duration


Note: Today as I publish this piece I am celebrating the sixty-eighth anniversary of my birth. Hippo birdie to me. Hippo birdie to me. ….


Fast Times at Parkway West?

In Graves/SD terms, my alma mater, Parkway West High School [PWHS], was an early adopter/applier of Green [FS] values in some important ways. I’ll explain in a moment.

West-county St. Louis was growing in leaps and bounds in the late 1960’s. West-county’s Parkway District schools swelled with rapidly increasing student enrolment. So, PWHS was constructed and ready for students in the Fall of 1968. PWHS graduated its first senior class in June of 1969. I was a part of the junior class that first year, so, my classmates and I graduated with the second class of PWHS in June of 1970.

—To set the context for our 1970 class graduation, it was but a short month after the Kent State shootings [KSS]. The KSS were a result of a “Law and Order” response to anti-war protest of U.S. participation in the Vietnam War. Like BLM protest today, the Kent State anti-war protests were a mixture of a vast majority of lawful protesters with a small number who performed patently lawless acts. The lethal response of the National Guard in Ohio was an American trauma of lasting significance. In Kenosha, WI, the Kyle Rittenhouse story tells of a much different kind of national trauma. Will it be of lasting significance and of what kind?



The founding principle at PWHS was Mr. Al Burr. We didn’t call him Doctor Burr, but, if I remember correctly, he had earned that honorific with a PhD in school administration. I don’t recall having conscious language for an appreciation of it at that time, but Mr. Burr was an early adopter/applier of Green [FS] values leadership. During Mr. Burr’s well over decade long tenure (13 years), the high school operated without any written rules or regulations—rather, with only mutual agreements and expectations. Some students had problems with the subtlety and nuance of the approach. The whole mambo we did with faculty around the issue of smoking in the bathrooms was a practical strain on the aspirational-anarchy of Mr. Burr’s no-rules administrative reign. Mr. Burr’s experiment didn’t meet too harsh of a reality because PWHS was situated in the white, middle to upper-middle class suburbs of the late 1960s that the president likes to conjure and project onto today’s more diverse suburban reality. Still, students who are fully able to self-regulate (e.g., healthy Red [CP], Blue [DQ], Orange [ER]) are a pre-requisite to achieving Green success.

As I wrote in my first blog post at a mystical möbius, Perennial leading edge failure, Green [FS] expressions, as with Orange [ER] and Blue [DQ] before it, often harness shame as a control technology. PWHS was no exception. “But for the two-percent who cause all the problems, we could…,” Mr. Burr would frequently lament at all-school assemblies. We can look back now and easily see that Principle Burr’s exercise in school management was undoubtedly quite well meant, if, however, perhaps somewhat naïve in a few ways.

Policy returned to a more legacy-resembling formulation the year after Mr. Burr moved on. So, Rules and Regulations were published in a student handbook to serve as the guiding authority at PWHS, and just in time for 1984!  

Green [FS] values think about how—in and through each and every one of us—all the many human stories are woven together into a global tapestry. 


Weaver by Gaia Orion || Gaia Orion Studio

Green [FS] brought changes in the way we think about the interconnection of humans and their individual stories, and it brought several new expressions of humanness to emergence. Changes, not only in the way we think about management and leadership in relation to people and community, also in the way we think about and relate to our living environment. The ancient prescription to be good stewards of creation found new forms of expression in emerging Green values. The move toward environmental awareness—and the attending call to care for the earth—reached out to persons and communities for ground-level embrace and embodiment. FS used a strategy to raise consciousness in order to then subsequently drive legislative change. Self-aware of its own novelty, Green is, and always has been, big on consciousness raising. Like recognizing our home as Spaceship Earth, for instance.



For example, in the decades before the first Earth Day—and I remember this well from the 50s and 60s—most people on the go thought nothing at all about just pitching whatever trash (even garbage) they had inside their car right out the window—and we could find this behavior exhibited almost anywhere. This insane practice betrayed a complete lack of consciousness regarding the human commons, nor of our having any responsibility to it, not even from a physical commons, shared public space standpoint. [I note: the architecture of PWHS paid close attention to the public spaces students shared when not in classrooms. A large space in the center of the building complex was even called “The Commons.”]

The first Earth Day in April of 1970 began to raise awareness about the environment and pollution. Littering became a major theme. The TV PSA for the second Earth Day in 1971 leveraged its environmental message to also expand our cultural awareness regarding First Peoples. Green [FS] values working toward creating awareness around both environmentalism and cultural reconciliation/equality/inclusion:



Changing minds and behavior

I remember in the 70s the awareness and the laws changed regarding littering. Pennsylvania was early with anti-littering laws (1972) and other states followed along. Between PSA campaigns (often using guilt/shame) and legislation ($500 fines used financial pain as deterrent), peoples’ consciousness and behavior were changed over the course of the 70s. Not that it never happens, but nowadays one rarely sees someone deliberately littering. I don’t need to believe that change for the common good is possible, why, I’ve seen it happen myself.

Tragically, In the last piece of the 20-teens, and especially in 2020, the U.S. president and some political leaders who, for business reasons, have been calling for a rapid move away from care for the common good—e.g., ending environmental regulations, and, now, using guilt and shame to call environmental-caring persons suckers and losers—and leading a regression away from caring for the commons and each other toward an emphasis on serving oneself. ‘Let’s make some money ’cause that fixes everything,’ is the apparent motive of our blind leaders: ‘Clean energy, posh, we have all this fossil fuel money cued-up to be made and you can bet we’re not going to leave that laying on the table.’ 

Mr. Graham

One might think that the person with the disciplinary role in a school with no rules would be a bit like the Maytag repair man with little or nothing to do. Actually, quite the opposite. At PWHS the role was probably many times as busy as in a traditional school with a student handbook chockfull of rules. The job of disciplinarian was actually one of building relationships and not the traditional enforcement of rules one expects.

One of the administrative vice-principles at PWHS was Mr. Phil Graham and his duties primarily included being the disciplinarian. Mr. Graham tended to focus on building relationships, and the “expectations” part, as I recall. Even though I was pretty average all the way around, I still formed a pretty close relationship with Mr. Graham. My best compadres back in the day, Gary and John, well, we weren’t rebels without a cause by any stretch of the imagination, but we did manage to get our share of time to hangout with Mr. Graham. Time to go over “agreements and expectations,” so to speak. On my recollection, Mr. Graham was as level as water, and a very thoughtful, kind man.


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash || CC0

Home visit

I recall very well one occasion shortly before graduation, John, Gary, and I had some reason to visit Mr. Graham at his home. I remember at that meeting, without really being invited to, we called Mr. Graham, “Phil.” Now I can’t help but wonder if that was an homage of sorts to our “no rules or regulations” context from school, or were we claiming some kind of a right of passage as graduating seniors.

On that home visit I remember the four of us, as we often did, got into a lively discussion about the problems of the world and how we might consider tackling them with our lives. Apparently Paul Ehrlich’s, The Population Bomb, had been required reading in a final-semester class and so the problems attending overpopulation came up. Mr. Graham said something that I have never forgotten. In fact, I’ve not only not-forgotten it, looking back now, I think it might be fair to say it helped shape the rest of my life [so far].

“The problem isn’t too many people. The problem is we haven’t learned how to live together.” —Phil Graham

It’s turned out I’ve been in a praxis relationship with that statement ever since Mr. Graham declared it.


Zen stone pathway over a stream in a traditional Japanese garden somewhere in Tokyo

Right as rain

Well, the numbers indicate that in simple empirical terms, Mr. Graham was obviously correct: 3.7 billion humans in 1970 and 7.8 billion humans in 2020, and yet we’re still here. However, what I sure didn’t realize at the time was that both Mr. Graham and Dr. Ehrlich each had a crucially important piece of the whole problem. Mr. Graham knew the true nature of the problem, and Dr. Ehrlich knew the true urgency at hand. It would be difficult to argue that we have made much if any advance over the past fifty years in learning how to live together. Yet in the same period, our capability to destroy ourselves has grown exponentially.

Covid-19 has exposed the ways our man-made systems betray our living together well as human beings. Seven point eight billion people have exponentially increased the urgency of our need to learn “to live together.” Can we learn to live together in such a way as to revision our ways of connecting and structuring human life before our technology, bio-diversity loss, or climate collapse make human life at any large scale on Earth unsustainable?

I guess for fifty years now I’ve really been contemplating that the human race really is. We are in a race to learn to live together before our selfishness, greed, and apparent determination to self-destruct are finally fully realized.

“Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment…” –Buckminster Fuller 

…. Hippo birdie Hippo birdie Hippo birdie to me.

[please see ‘ADDENDUM’ in comments below]

Next week: No commitments on it yet. Come and see. 

[this post approx. 1,850 words (8 min. read)]

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say? Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).

morgue file || CC0

5 thoughts on “High school anarchy

  1. I enjoyed this. My four sisters are all retired school teachers. My sister Judy became a counselor when one of the school’s two counselors quit in the middle of the year. The school psychologist recommended Judy whose initial reaction was that she didn’t have a counseling degree. The Principal said that they could work that out if she was willing to take classes and work on a degree. She is probably the best model for helping people get along with each other that I know.


  2. In 1972 I taught a course at the Free University of Wichita titled “Applied Whole Earth Catalog.” It was the most popular course with 55 people enrolled. One of the things we did over the first two sessions was to collectively build two geodesic spheres (two different frequencies) using plastic straws with pipe clears as connectors.

    Course Description
    Applied Whole Earth Catalog – Hopefully, this class will result in the formulation of a new community. An interpretation and application of the Whole Earth Catalog, Bucky Fuller, Domebook 2, and other tools as they relate to comprehensive education, technology, cities, poverty, ecology, economics, and individual growth. Premises of the course include: 1) there is enough for everybody, 2) education is by doing, 3) we the people do have power if we realize that power.


    1. Thanks for writing, David!

      Your three points in the course description only go to prove that Chesterton had it right in “What’s Wrong With the World.” It’s not that we haven’t come up with sufficient ideals, it’s just that we don’t enact the ideals, we just move on to finding the next ideals that we won’t try.


  3. A D D E N D U M .

    I did a little research and Mr. Burr was indeed Dr. Burr.

    I found his obit from four years ago.

    I’ll include a link to the obit and grief guest book I found that was provided by the funeral home. Here’s an excerpt from one of the comments:


    “Once I asked him how it could be his school had no rule book. He told me written rules only set minimum standards. His goal was to encourage every student to reach their maximum potential, not to merely meet a bottom line of rules. Thereby, the faculty could cultivate students’ maturity and good judgment.

    Another time, we were discussing the ultimate goal of education when students are individually so different. He had a Lincoln-like way of explaining his ideas with anecdotes. So, I heard the best butter story.

    He told me about a high school principal who met with a farmer who many years before, needed to end his schooling after 8th grade to work his Family’s land. The farmer was considering if he should send his son to high school. He was an honorable person who loved his son and worked long and hard.

    The farmer asked the principal: if I send my son to this school, will you teach him about rotating crops so as not to ruin the soil? No, the principal replied. That’s not part of what his studies will be.

    Next the farmer asked: will you teach my son to repair a barn roof after a hard winter? No, the principal continued, fearing he was disturbing the farmer.

    Well then, the farmer continued, will you teach my son to churn good butter?

    No replied the principal, but I tell you what we will teach your son we will teach your son to never be satisfied until he makes the best butter God gave him the ability to make.

    The best butter.

    Without a rule book.

    At the end of my senior year, I was lucky to be chosen one of the student speakers at graduation. During a rehearsal attended by the entire class, Dr. Burr privately observed to me that for many of my fellow students, it would be the first and only time in their lives they would proudly walk across a stage before a large crowd. Owing to that, he wanted the ceremony to be as best as it could. So with each student, he practiced shaking one hand and giving them their diploma with the other hand. He knew their names. I heard him.

    After the rehearsal, he asked me what I considered he should say in his own speech at my graduation. I asked him to include the best butter story in his remarks. He did. And I’ve never forgotten that parable.

    God bless him.

    Regards, Gary Langan Goodenow, Miami Shores, Florida.”


    My blog post is meant to mainly recall the vice-principle, Mr. Graham. However, obviously, we were blessed to have a gifted visionary leader like Dr. Burr as principle.

    I’d encourage you to read Dr. Burr’s obit [link below], and the comments written under it…



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