When a River Runs through it -- 
Village Lessons

The Village Project Curriculum Notes are Descriptions of Teaching and Learning Situations in Village Written by Teachers Involved in the Program. 

Currency Exchange and Capitalizing on the Lessons at hand, by Amy Shuffelton and Noah Sobe

When a River Runs Through it -- Village Lessons, by Noah Sobe and Amy Shuffelton

Peep Metaphysics -- What is a Peep?, by Amy Shuffelton


by Amy Shuffelton and Noah Sobe

The Village of St. Valentin de Campolfra had a river running through it that set into motion a series of events and debates that offers a fortunate, though inadvertent, illustration of how the focus of a Village program develops.  When describing Village, we often tell people that one group of students may be taken with the idea of patent laws, spend hours debating them formally and informally, form a patent committee and hold a court case on a possible infringement; another group might elect a monarch and discover that their decision has a whole series of repercussions.  The topics and affairs that will absorb one group are unpredictable.  It is, however, in this – in the debate over and thinking about some captivating public issue – that the civic lessons Village teaches are learned.

St. Valentin de Campolfra was created by a group of teachers learning the Village program in Wojtowice, Poland in February, 2000.  They heard about summer Village programs where children get to build their towns outside on real land and wanted something better for their town than the flat and empty sheets of plywood we build our towns on inside classrooms.  They voted  to have a river.  But who was to draw it?  As no one offered to, they chose by lot.  Still, this was not an entirely satisfactory way to get a river.  “How am I supposed to draw this?” wailed Agata, whose name had been drawn.  “How do I know where the river is supposed to go?”  She had a clever solution: holding a pencil behind her head, she drew lines randomly, without looking, so that in the creation of the river there was an element of chance, not just human planning.  But Danielle was still unsatisfied: this could teach children, she pointed out, that human beings could shape the environment to fit their desires.   It was an ecological question more discussed than resolved. 

 The river that came to be meandered peacefully through our town and gave shape to the town’s layout.  Riverfront property was in demand and in choosing plots citizens worked out arrangements with one another so that those who wanted access got it.  (Peep mediators were unnecessary, though in some cases they are be called in to help new settlers resolve differences.) 

One peep, thrilled at the watercourse just off his lawn announced that he was going to take up fishing.  Quite wisely, John first set about stocking the river with salmon and trout made from modeling clay.  Other peeps who looked up from making architectural drawings and forming business partnerships noticed the aquatic life flourishing in the town river.  More than one decided to do some fishing on his or her own.  A town meeting had to be called because John's salmon were ending up in other peeps' ovens.  Could one keep a private fish stock in a public river?  Or did that make it public?  A lost goat ought to be returned to its owner and not barbecued immediately, one peep argued.  In the end it was decided that John's stocking the river was creating a public good and that he ought to be employed by the town for doing it.

Our town was quite congested and some peeps found themselves only able to travel to the space that had been reserved for a town center by river.  All possible foot paths were blocked by houses, gardens or other private structures.  Again, this occasioned spirited public debate.  Boat travel was an option, but should it be forced on anyone?  Perhaps the town's desire for a river path should overrule one stubborn property owner's insistence on having a garden on the riverbank.  Public funds were freed up and in several places riverbank property was purchased by the town.

The river in St. Valentin de Campolfra is a poetic example of the themes or issues that run through Villages.  The example of this river illustrates the way that Village is play and real; peeps and rivers and clay salmon are things we have fun with and at the same time are matters of grave importance.  A community thinks about its visions of the good life, comes up with ways to realize these plans, and that’s why we play Village. 

(December 2000)

What is Village? What Are Peeps? - A Short Introduction
Return to Village Home Page

Copyright © 2002-3 The Village Project Inc.