THE SCHOOL PREPPING FOR APOCALYPSE

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THE MORNING SCHOOL run proceeds, at first glance, like any number of demographically adjacent — affluent, socially progressive, private — school runs the world over: There are lithe yoga moms, dads with beards and the occasional man bun, kids with Messi jerseys and top-heavy backpacks. 
But at Bali’s Green School, if you look past the familiarities of this ritual, incongruities begin to emerge, as in a spot-the-differences puzzle from a children’s workbook. First, that bell is a gong. Second, there is the incontrovertible fact that the school is in the jungle — some 20 acres of rolling terrain abutting the Ayung (Bali’s longest river) in the district of Abiansemal, about a half-hour southwest of Ubud. Then there’s the fact that almost all of the structures — even the basketball backboards — are made of bamboo. 
These are no simple huts, but grand, occasionally towering wall-less structures, graceful and whimsical, that resemble some southern extension of “The Lord of the Rings.” Sometimes, during the rainy season, the rain will fall so hard on the roof that the teachers (prefaced with the Balinese honorifics pak or ibu) temporarily halt lessons because they can’t be heard. Shoes are optional. Students read from the well-stocked (if mildew-prone) library, but they have also built bridges and bamboo bikes — as well as the school playground.

While some schools might employ the word “green” in the context of their LEED-certified building or cafeteria recycling effort, this place takes green to another level. Instead of SUVs, kids might show up in used-cooking-oil-fueled Bio Buses (another project led by students, one of whom recently represented Indonesia at the 2017 Miss World pageant). School lunch is cooked with sawdust fuel from a local bamboo farm, and served on ingka, or straw baskets with a compostable banana-leaf lining. There is a menagerie of rabbits, pigs and chickens. (The fourth-graders took out a loan to buy the chickens, and now raise them and sell their eggs, in a typically immersive Green School introduction to economics.) There’s a food-generating aquaponics facility, and an aviary for the endangered Bali starling. There is the occasional snake — the music teacher found a bright-green viper under the mixing board one morning — but there’s a “snake man” who can be summoned to remove particularly dangerous ones. A mud pit, not far from the kindergarten, is for mepantigan, a Balinese martial art, often practiced in nearby rice fields. Even after the kids have gone to class, one still finds surprising numbers of parents milling about, enticed by the open-air cafe (the best coffee for miles), the biweekly on-site farmer’s market or the chocolate-matcha macaroons at Living Food Lab, a raw restaurant run by a Finnish school parent. Not to mention the Wi-Fi.
 
And, on a day like the one on which I had arrived, there was a rare Balinese ceremony. Today was the first day of resi gana, a purifying ritual (celebrated every 25 years) for the land upon which the school sits. The teachers, rather than wearing their customary shorts and T-shirts, were in sarongs. Holy men and Balinese royalty had been invited. One element of resi gana — and here, in a fascinating estuarial swirl of cultures, was where the norms of a progressive educational institution met Bali’s uniquely animistic strain of Hinduism — involves animal sacrifice. “They don’t teach you this in administrative school,” said Leslie Medema, the head of school, a straightforward South Dakota native. Through some diplomacy, she was able to arrange for the actual sacrifices to occur off campus. I had absorbed all this information — which I instantly stereotyped as “The Mosquito Coast”-meets-Left Coast — in the first hour of my visit. Stretch this — all this — over the course of a semester and you can begin to imagine what the Green School experience might be like. In the library, I had seen a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book; it seemed the best way to describe what was happening all around. As Melinda Chickering, the school’s academic adviser, told me, “This isn’t for everyone. Some kids are super sensitive. There’s a lot of sound, a lot of color, there are animals. There are a lot of variables here.” Heather Blair, a 2016 Green School graduate now at the New School in New York, says that when she used to lead tours of the school, “people couldn’t even comprehend that it was a school in front of them.” Like visitors to a temple, she says, they would take pictures.
But the element that truly distinguishes Green School is its very premise. Begun a decade ago by John and Cynthia Hardy, jewelry designers and longtime Bali residents, it was intended to do nothing less than create a future generation of “green leaders,” even as it would defy — in form and function — what we know as school itself. In a much-viewed 2010 TED Talk, John Hardy, clad in sarong and sandals, speaks passionately about his own early troubles as a student (owing, in part, to his undiagnosed dyslexia) and how his school differs from a traditional educational institute. That talk, and, more importantly, word of mouth, has lured more than one parent to Bali from as far afield as Malibu, Budapest and São Paulo — and often, unlike “The Mosquito Coast,” it was the kids prompting the decision to come. The Green School was not simply the default option, as it is with other international schools, for expat families employed by nearby multinationals. Today, its student body (consisting of 435 students, from pre-K to high school, across 35 nationalities) has more than quadrupled from its original size. The school has become a sort of bamboo beacon, a pilgrimage site for progressive educators, a stop for TED-circuit global luminaries from Ban Ki-moon to Jane Goodall. “We’re the little school in the jungle that got big,” Medema said.
It is a prep school meant to do more than merely prepare students for college, but also equip them with survival skills for an unknown new world, in which proficiency with alternative fuels and sustainable building practices — and the experience of living in a nontraditional, unpredictable environment — might be more useful benchmarks than SAT scores.

FOR ALL ITS idealistic trappings, Green School was founded, initially, on a pragmatic concern. “I wanted to stay in Bali,” John Hardy told me, “and I didn’t have anywhere to send the kids.” John, who grew up in Canada, moved to Ubud in 1975. He met Cynthia in Bali in the ’80s, and their two daughters attended Green School. (Hardy’s other two children, from a previous marriage, were too old to attend by the time the school was founded, though his eldest, Elora, has a Bali-based company that specializes in building with bamboo and helped design several structures at the school.) The local Balinese schools were all about learning “by rote,” he said; at the other end, the traditional expat-driven international schools were a “monoculture” of privilege. The Hardys enlisted local friends and acquaintances, along with some international recruits, and in 2008, Green School was born.

It is not hard to see in John and Cynthia Hardy something of the spirit of Rudolf Steiner — the polymathic, charismatic Austrian whose principles informed the school he created in 1919 for the children of the workers in a German cigarette factory called Waldorf-Astoria. (The name lives on in more than 1,000 Waldorf schools worldwide.) While the Hardys abandoned an early idea to actually start a Steiner school — too much dogma, John told me — the influence remains. Not simply in the Green School’s emphasis on “holistic” (i.e., not strictly academic) development and “experiential” learning, but in highlighting the aesthetics of the classroom. (Steiner once called the schoolroom a “veritably barbaric environment.”)
It is a prep school meant to do more than merely prepare students for college, but also equip them with survival skills for an unknown new world, in which proficiency with alternative fuels and sustainable building practices — and the experience of living in a nontraditional, unpredictable environment — might be more useful benchmarks than SAT scores.

FOR ALL ITS idealistic trappings, Green School was founded, initially, on a pragmatic concern. “I wanted to stay in Bali,” John Hardy told me, “and I didn’t have anywhere to send the kids.” John, who grew up in Canada, moved to Ubud in 1975. He met Cynthia in Bali in the ’80s, and their two daughters attended Green School. (Hardy’s other two children, from a previous marriage, were too old to attend by the time the school was founded, though his eldest, Elora, has a Bali-based company that specializes in building with bamboo and helped design several structures at the school.) The local Balinese schools were all about learning “by rote,” he said; at the other end, the traditional expat-driven international schools were a “monoculture” of privilege. The Hardys enlisted local friends and acquaintances, along with some international recruits, and in 2008, Green School was born.

It is not hard to see in John and Cynthia Hardy something of the spirit of Rudolf Steiner — the polymathic, charismatic Austrian whose principles informed the school he created in 1919 for the children of the workers in a German cigarette factory called Waldorf-Astoria. (The name lives on in more than 1,000 Waldorf schools worldwide.) While the Hardys abandoned an early idea to actually start a Steiner school — too much dogma, John told me — the influence remains. Not simply in the Green School’s emphasis on “holistic” (i.e., not strictly academic) development and “experiential” learning, but in highlighting the aesthetics of the classroom. (Steiner once called the schoolroom a “veritably barbaric environment.”)
Ambitiously idealistic experiments often collapse under the weight of their own internal contradictions, and it is certainly possible to find these at Green School: Here are mostly Western, affluent families, many of them temporarily abandoning their comfortable lives for a metaphysical gap year of voluntary simplicity (or life rebalancing or spiritual reawakening) in an exotic stage-setting, at a school whose annual tuition (roughly $15,000 a year for a sixth-grader), while a bargain compared to New York City private-school standards, is far beyond the reach of the average Balinese. (Hardy’s original vision of having at least 20 percent of the school comprised of Balinese scholarship students was, Druhan noted, easier to scale when the school had 90 students. Today, about 9 percent of the student body are on scholarships.) Still, as much as any parent who’s unsure whether his child is getting the best education (in other words, all parents), I surveyed with envy the kids merrily clambering down jungle paths, the river gurgling in the background and the colorful shrines bedecking the hillsides, thinking grimly of my daughter encased in her sealed-window institutional public school building, shunted to the school gym to watch movies on days with a little bit of bad weather.

Faced with a problem involving the school’s hydropower system, the students were working with master’s students at the University of Cologne in Germany to design and build a new system that will combine solar and hydro power. 
On sunny days, surplus solar power will pump river water up to a holding tank. On cloudy days, that water will be released downhill, powering a turbine. Green School’s students scuba dive with CoralWatch and spend summers as oil-rig hounding “kayaktivists” and attend U.N. climate conferences; they start fashion companies like Nalu (which dedicates a portion of sales to help children buy school uniforms in India and Indonesia) and lobby the Balinese government to reduce the scourge of plastic bags on the island. “They really do want kids to go off and change the world, as clichéd as that sounds,” Blair told me.
On sunny days, surplus solar power will pump river water up to a holding tank. On cloudy days, that water will be released downhill, powering a turbine. Green School’s students scuba dive with CoralWatch and spend summers as oil-rig hounding “kayaktivists” and attend U.N. climate conferences; they start fashion companies like Nalu (which dedicates a portion of sales to help children buy school uniforms in India and Indonesia) and lobby the Balinese government to reduce the scourge of plastic bags on the island. “They really do want kids to go off and change the world, as clichéd as that sounds,” Blair told me.

BUT EVEN AMID this backdrop of plucky inventiveness and rational reuse, this armature of sustainable skills, was there not only an impulse toward betterment but a small whiff of dystopia — a prep school prepping for a world that is increasingly out of whack? Is the old paradigm really over?
At Green School, he said, he saw examples of “project-based management” — “how do you get through something using critical thinking. All that emphasis is not found in a lot of other places.”
Many families, Medema told me, come on the vacation and end up staying for the education. Michael Diamond, a.k.a. Mike D. of the Beastie Boys, who enrolled his two sons (Davis, 15, and Skyler, 13) this year (he and his ex-wife take turns living in Bali), first visited the school at the insistence of Skyler, whose friend had recently enrolled. Diamond was struck by how different it felt from the “traditional boarding school model — you go here because your grandfather went here and then you’re going to go to Yale and then work at this law firm and charge people $500 an hour to argue about nothing.” The sense I had from many Green School parents, echoing the school’s idea of nurturing and developing the whole student, was not only the hope that the school would help make their children better citizens, but would leave them better placed to navigate a world in which values and norms were changing. That the old prep school model might be lacking is not necessarily a progressive thought; the head of Manhattan’s elite Trinity School recently warned in a letter to parents that his institution was in danger of becoming a “credentialing factory,” helping to produce a “cognitive elite that is self-serving, callous and spiritually barren.”
When I asked Druhan if she could sum up Green School in one moment, she paused. One of her strongest memories was when her young son was doing the “rice thematic”— rice being of central economic and cultural import in Bali. His class had gone out in the fields to learn how to grow rice. He raved about the farmer. “He said, ‘Mum, he’s like a scientist! He has so much knowledge, and he doesn’t have even any instruments.”’ The students went on not only to harvest the rice, but cook an elaborate dinner in an underground fire pit, which they served to the farmers, parents and teachers. “That was everything that’s good about Green School in one moment: The hands-on learning, the respect for school values, the connection to the community.” As a tear brimmed, she changed tack. “Then there are other moments,” she said, with a wry smile. “I sat down with my coffee the other day and there were six parents talking about what the best coffee enema was — exactly how it works and the condition of how it came out. I thought, ‘Well, that’s only at Green School.’ ”

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