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Philosophy of Independent Thinking Permeates Ojai Campus

Lifestyle: Though many at Oak Grove School do not realize it was founded by Jiddu Krishnamurti, they have embraced his Eastern-oriented concepts.

March 30, 1998|LISA FERNANDEZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OJAI — Once upon a time, there lived a spiritual leader.

He came from India and discovered the beauty of Ojai on his many travels across the globe.

Every year, he returned to the pastoral valley's oak groves, speaking about Eastern-oriented concepts: holistic health, critical inquiry, noncompetitive atmospheres, the environment, emotional stability and social responsibility.

Today, students and staff embody these ideas at the private Oak Grove School, one of nine independent-minded campuses worldwide founded in 1975 by the late Jiddu Krishnamurti.

Teachers and pupils say that though theirs is not a fairy-tale world--they fight and cry and sometimes fail tests--they are strongly committed to creating a better world.

In that vein, a handful of high school students got together a few years ago and brainstormed on how to "green" the Earth, a notion dear to Krishnamurti.

The result: Last year, the students printed and published a 28-page handbook called "Schools for a Sustainable Future: An Environmental Planner for the School Year."

"I'm interested personally in making a difference on campus," said one of the brochure writers, Alisha Musicant, a 17-year-old with a flowered skirt and buzz cut. "I want to make people aware. I really care about the environment and too many people just don't."

Teaching Others About Environment

The booklet offers step-by-step information on how to conduct radon tests, check for lead in the water, make soil healthier, cut down on trash and create compost piles.

Students plan to distribute sample copies to about 70 schools throughout Ventura County this year, in the hope that other students will be interested in starting their own environmental clubs, compiling the data and sharing the results.

This fall, Oak Grove School is set to host an environmental conference, where organizers hope to inspire others to join the project.

The project's advisor, parent Nancy Scanlan, is proud of her students and even more pleased with the approach of the school.

"I like their philosophy. They try new things and take visionary steps," she said.

Many of the 160 students at the school don't even know they are practicing the teachings of the school's founding father.

Krishnamurti would have wanted it that way, said Mark Lee, director of the Krishnamurti Foundation in Ojai. Krishnamurti didn't want followers, he wanted people to think on their own.

Consistent with Krishnamurti's views on inquiry and questioning, the school does not subscribe to any creed. His books are not taught on campus and no one is required to even "be interested" in Krishnamurti, according to the school's statement of philosophy--which, like every piece of school paper, is photocopied on both sides of the sheet to save resources.

Although the school is definitely nontraditional, Oak Grove lessons, from kindergarten through 12th grade, are grounded in science, math, literature, art and real-life learning, teachers say.

In the last three graduating classes, the average verbal SAT score has been 566 of a perfect 600, the math score 575. Some of the 30 high school graduates since Oak Grove began offering secondary classes eight years ago have been accepted at Bard, Barnard, Bates, Brown, Columbia, Harvard, Pepperdine, Stanford, Vassar and University of California campuses.

Translating Lofty Words

Tuition for the average high schooler is $10,000; full-time elementary school starts at $5,300. At least 30% of the students take advantage of partial scholarships.

Much of the curriculum is inspired, if not directly derived, from Krishnamurti's teachings. He stressed intellectual depth, environmental sensitivity, social responsibility, emotional stability and physical vitality.

But Krishnamurti never said exactly how to achieve these goals--he wanted people to figure it out on their own.

So, school administrators translated his lofty words into classroom lessons such as these:

* Each year, seniors take a five-week class trip to India and England, visiting their Krishnamurti sister schools and learning about poverty, politics and other people.

* Elementary students camp in the woods for a week at a time to learn about wildlife and edible plants. The eighth grade takes an annual trip to Baja California, Mexico, to swim with baby whales.

* Students are not allowed to bring disposable juice boxes or Styrofoam soup cups for snacks--food must be brought in thermoses or reusable containers. Food is organically grown at the school and students must share in serving and cleaning up the meals.

* Teachers are called by their first names, because they are not regarded as authority figures, but rather, equals in learning.

* If students miss even one problem on a test, they must see their teacher to find out how to correct it. They are allowed to keep taking the exam until they get it all right.

* Special round rugs are laid out in each classroom for "morning circle," where students vent, share and discuss any feelings they might have before their day begins.

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