|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
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
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.