This memoir is set in Maine during the turbulent 1960 & 70s. It chronicles a man whose traditional public and private schooling focused on the intellectual and physical, and how he discovered in Summerhill schools his emotional and spiritual life. Jacob Watson founded Collins Brook School and with volunteer help, built classrooms and dormitories. Democratic school meetings tackled challenges of optional classes, ‘magic meadow’, organic gardening, stealing, bullying, food, and raising animals. When a fateful plan to merge Collins Brook with another Summerhill school collapsed and his marriage ended, he found solace sailing the Maine coast and islands, then learned to listen to his still small voice within, became an interfaith minister and started another Maine school. With photographs, student writing, newspaper articles, bedtime stories and transcripts of school meetings.
The intertwining of Jacob’s memoir with the birth, life and death of Collins Brook School contains rich details of physical endurance, snarling and loving relationships, tests of will and determination, and the path from emotional loss to spiritual growth. The sweep of We’re Gainin’ is engaging and informative, wistful and provocative. The drama of this remarkable school from concept to creation and demise is backdrop for the odyssey of Dick to Jacob Watson.
We’re Gainin’ is the engaging memoir of Jacob Watson, a New Englander of superb imagination, the exercise of which created Collins Brook, a Maine free school. It details how he built it out of that imagination, seemingly inexhaustible personal energy, and incredible utilization of resources that seemed to appear out of nowhere. It also details the hamartia — the “fatal flaw” — that limited the school to seven years. The story engaged me from the outset, and held that engagement through the healing of Jacob’s hamartia to become the man I first met thirty years ago and whom I respect to this day.
After reading Jacob Watson’s story of Collins Brook School, I felt a strong affinity with the model and philosophy of education practiced there. Having spent ten years working in public schools as an educator and counselor, I believe that the current state of education in this country, and the social/emotional/academic well-being of our children, are in crisis today. It is important that we begin to consider alternative and more relevant models of education, such as that practiced at Collins Brook, that focus less on test scores and academic achievement, and more on empowering kids to listen to and trust their own inner guidance as keys to finding and developing their own social/emotional and academic skills.
We’re Gainin’ is a deep psychological memoir that describes Jacob’s evolution from locked-up schoolboy to opened-out school man who has learned to look deeply within, listen for Spirit, be present for others, and turn himself inside out to help create a more compassionate world. The detailed story-telling involves many people, the political texture of the times and the coinciding revolution in educational philosophy. Readers beware! This book will move you deeply, as it concerns a man growing into his own soul. In a tale that hangs together beautifully, you will meet children, a blue truck, women, couples, sailors, bankers, builders, teachers, a new baby, lost souls, and through it all, people finding themselves.
This book has deeply touched me in so many ways, in beautifully addressing the heart of education and it’s real potential for positively shaping students’ lives, in reminding me of the wonderful energy and hope we felt in earlier days, in how a group of people with related ideals can create something meaningful and important despite facing major challenges. I heartedly recommend reading this book for these reasons and for a page-turning adventure experience.
We’re Gainin’ is beautifully written, self-revealing, and reads like a novel. This is an interesting read especially for teachers, and anyone who lived through the 70s as a student or adult. Educators today, pay attention. You can’t measure heart and spirit, but they are essential for understanding and learning.
We’re Gainin’ is a heartfelt reflection of an enormous endeavor that Jacob dared to dream possible. His passion is palpable, his vision admirable. A vividly personal account of the triumphs and defeats shared with honesty and humility. The massive burden Jacob carried through sheer willpower and commitment demonstrates his resilience, faith, courage and dedication to something bigger than himself. After reading We’re Gainin’, I feel humbled, moved and inspired.
The truly wonderful story of Collins Brook, especially the ringing of the bell by anyone to call the whole school to a spontaneous celebration of democracy and working spirituality, to fill the great hollowness in the world culture so mired in money and violence, something every community and neighborhood in the world can create, a coming together of people of like mind and heart to create a love-centered, love-powered living covenant.
Jacob Watson has written a deeply personal memoir of his mission as co-creator and headmaster of Collins Brook School. Built upon the progressive education tradition of the philosopher John Dewey, and the English free school Summerhill, his school tapped into the optimistic and radical flow of social and political change of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. For those of us who were parents of young children during this crucial turning point in American education, Jacob’s story may subtly deliver us to a deep, intact memory of the incredible faith we had that by providing children with a loving education that trusted in individual self-determination, we would make the world a better place.
At Collins Brook I had an unequaled chance to explore my inner world in a safe environment. I have remained unafraid of following my interests and going against the current when necessary. By the time I went to college, this “freedom” served me well. I went into math — a field for which I had shown no interest or ability in — but a field that attracted me and for which independence of thought is a must.
Jacob’s book on the Collins Brook School is a skillful weaving of a good tale, an in-depth understanding and exposition of the Summerhill philosophy of education, an interesting story of a man’s emotional and spiritual journey, and a snapshot of a very interesting time. The unreformed hippy part of me takes delight in those heady days of tie-died shirts, psychedelic posters, the Moody blues, skinny dipping, and unbridled, if naive optimism that we were creating a new and better world.
Jacob Watson is an education pioneer committed to social and academic freedom, coming off the teachings of A. S. Neill, brave enough to open an alternative school for children capable of learning at their own pace. We’re Gainin’ is wonderful and heartfelt writing that brings back a time of change, turmoil, and excitement.
Collins Brook School teachers gave me the gift of time, trust, and tolerance to find my own way.
I remain to this day a curious and enthusiastic learner, continuously in search of ah-ha moments. This life-altering experience shaped the teacher I have become as I share my fascination for the act of learning with young students in my own classroom. Teaching is more of who I am than what I do. Collins Brook is a place and time very dear to my heart. It had an enormous influence on who I am, and was especially influential in my decision to become an educator; the experience still influences how and why I teach.
Jacob Watson’s story of Collins Brook is an insightful and inspiring memoir. His narrative affirms my belief in the power of self-direction in children’s education, especially the arts.
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At Collins Brook there were moments of sheer joy; I greatly appreciated the unfettered time to heal, read, hang out, be outside, play with animals, mess around on my own, get to know everybody, play music. This time was a great gift that I view as enabling me to find my own way in life. In a very real way Dick saved my life with generosity and care.
As a lifetime educator and an art teacher in the public schools for 29 years, I know first-hand how many students are not served by our current approach to education. This book is about a remarkable man who is a trailblazer in finding a way to educate the whole person. The journey of Collins Brook is parallel to the journey of the man who is trying to find his place in the world and working to create something new inside and out. Jacob’s story is an inspiration to all of us who struggle to find a new way to educate our children and ourselves.