This oral history interview is an intimate conversation between two people, both of whom have generously agreed to share this recording with Oral History Summer School, and with you. Please listen in the spirit with which this was shared.
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This interview with Jennifer Wai-Lan Strodl took place via Zoom on September 1, 2020. Jennifer was the Founder and Director of the Liberi School in Hudson, New York, an independent multi-age one room schoolhouse that opened in 2015 and closed in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school closed its brick-and-mortar location at the end of the school year in June, 2020. Though the in-person school dissolved, Jennifer speaks toward the end of the interview about its next life as an online school offering remote education to what she hopes will be a global audience. Jennifer describes her early life in terms of education and the values of education instilled by her father. She narrates her path to education and more specifically to her role as founder of a school in Hudson. She briefly discusses how her identity as Chinese-Canadian relates to her educational questions and values and how these same values led her siblings in different ways.
Other subjects Jennifer discusses include her early awareness of COVID-19, the introduction of hand washing protocols pre-COVID due to an immunocompromised child in the lower school, the decision to close down, what she had planned for the school’s future before the pandemic, her distaste for bureaucracy, her approach to the school as an artist, the questions raised in this moment regarding the role of parents and families in education, care, equity and parity in education, what she would like to see happen in larger public school systems like New York City, the compassion she has for experienced teachers being sent back into rooms when they feel unsafe. Her main concern is around high needs children; she is very optimistic about the resilience of most children, developmentally, getting through the pandemic. She discusses wishing for a pivotal event as a child that would mark her generation the way her father’s experiences as a child directed his life. She believes this generation of children will be marked by this event, but emphasized some of what she views as positive family/parental engagement with their children and their children’s education in those households where that was possible. She recognizes and worries about those households without parental involvement or those in which children are not safe.
This interview will be of interest to those interested in the specific challenges of educational leadership without guidance, multi-age learning, dreams deferred during the pandemic and also the founding of alternative schools.
Suzanne Snider (Founder/Director, Oral History Summer School and Education Narratives Project) is a writer, documentarian, and educator whose work is deeply influenced by oral history theory and practice. Her most recent projects have taken the shape of sound installation, essays, and archive design. In 2012, she founded Oral History Summer School, an interdisciplinary training program in upstate New York. She consults frequently for institutions and project teams, collaborating with organizations including the National Public Housing Museum, MoMA, Center for Reproductive Rights and the Prison Public Memory Project. As an interviewer, she has worked for Columbia University's Center for Oral History Research, New York Academy of Medicine, HBO Productions, and the Brooklyn Arts Council. You can read more about OHSS’s collaborations, here. Her own oral history projects have addressed disappearing labor forces, rehabilitative medicine, parapsychology, and feminist presses (supported by the Radcliffe Institute/Schlesinger Library Oral History Grant). Her writing/audio work appear in The Guardian, The Believer, Legal Affairs, and The Washington Post, along with several anthologies and artist catalogs; she received a 2011 commission from Triple Canopy for New Media Reporting. Snider teaches at the New School, Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies and served as a visiting lecturer at Columbia University (OHMA) in spring 2014. Prior to her work with adult learners, she taught in the New York City public school system (pre-K through 6th), and developed arts curriculum for visually impaired students at the New York Institute for Special Education. With support from the Yaddo Corporation, the MacDowell Colony and the UCross Foundation Center, she is completing her first book, The Revival. She received an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and dual BA in Literature and Dance from Wesleyan University. She is currently studying Integrative Somatic Trauma Therapy.
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This interview is hereby made available for research purposes only. For additional uses (radio and other media, music, internet), please click here to inquire about permissions.