In my old life, before my son was born, I taught at a small, innovative private school where students were asked to take control of their educations, make their own choices, and then reap the rewards or endure the consequences. Staff and students were required to treat each other as equals. Because of the realities of private education in America, such a school had to be run on a shoestring budget and largely served “troubled” kids.

The big-hearted, late-1960s ethos of the place was unspeakably foreign to me: I had myself attended an elite prep school and Big Ten university and had no training in education; fortunately, at that time, Michigan’s stringent requirements for a private school teacher was that he or she be hired by a ...

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