The School of the Vegetative Parts of a Fungus, Consisting of a Network of

September 2, 2011
By BRONZE, East Brunswick, New Jersey BRONZE, East Brunswick, New Jersey
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Learning about the Mycelium School, your reaction is going to be somewhere between an innate sense of kinship and a scoff. To the environmentally conscious folks whose reaction is the former, the scoffers are gas-guzzling, city-slicking corporate drones. To the scoffers, the other end of the spectrum is comprised of hemp-wearing, granola-crunching hippies. Then, of course, there's everybody on the middle ground, whose reaction will likely be between mild interest and mild resonance at the school's mission of "Facilitating a textured understanding of self, providing diverse and learner-centered opportunities for the participant to develop connection and purpose, and providing the tools needed to manifest meaningful connection in the world." The school (which will probably break ground in Asheville, North Carolina in time for the 2012-13 school year) intends to do this through reading, seminars, workshops, and student-designer curricula broken in to three "modules" over the course of a year. To give the scoffers their due, the module titles can sound a little spacey: Journey of Self, Passport to Global Citizenship, and Dream Lab-Bringing Social Enterprise to Life. But beyond the pithy names lies solid, real-world applicable coursework. Even before the 36-week Dream Lab, students cover-among topics geared toward personal growth-self-reliant living, ecological literacy, economics, and social change. The Dream Lab is essentially a business class, teaching social business management, accounting and financing, design, marketing, multimedia, PR and communications, fundraising, social media, board development, strategy, and donor and constituent management. Plus, Mycelium graduates will be certified in both permaculture (developing self-reliant ecosystems to sustain human life and natural building (building structures that using materials and techniques that emphasize sustainability).

Besides, while the school is open to anyone aged 18-30, it anticipates many of its applicants will be recent high school graduates doing the program either as a gap year or in lieu of college. Matt Abrams well knows that any 18-year-old could benefit from a course called Identity Within an External Context followed by Identity Within an Internal Context (Module 1) or Community (Module 2). The Mycelium School's founder and CEO has, at age 34, traveled to 43 countries across 6 continents. He is already the owner of photography company Vanishing Footprint Production and has written travel articles for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe, not to mention National Geographic and international magazines. He's done a lot of living in a lot of places (although he lands in Eastham, Massachusetts every other August for his extended family's reunion. Aww.) Why, then, has he decided to devote all his time and energy to this one enterprise? Simple. “I believe the world needs a place for young leaders to go and learn from folks around the world,” he says. “I also think that if we want to make our world a better one, it's great to have good ideas, but to really make a difference, we need to act on them. I believe this is more important than anything else, and thus have dedicated my life to creating and developing this school.” Mostafa from Iran, of the Mycelium School's prospective class of 2013, thinks the idea behind the school is “very interesting: to bring together youth and fresh minds to know about each other's beliefs, cultures, understandings...can help to the process of moving toward Global Citizenship.” His potential classmate Louisse, who lives in England, agrees: “I think there is a need for a school like this; it combines so many aspects which help people learn life lessons and are not telling people how to go about life, you are letting them learn if for themselves and by themselves.”

Any gap year offers students these benefits. Tom Parker, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Amherst College, thinks it's “great, everyone should do it...get off the treadmill for a while.” John Latting, Director of Admissions at Johns Hopkins University, feels “it's good-it shows a person that thinks for himself...We welcome students who defer, who have something else in mind.” The Senior Assistant Dean of Admissions at University of Virginia personally wishes more students would consider a gap year. With its increasing popularity, the number of programs can become overwhelming-nobody wants to go through a process remotely like college apps ever again. The Mycelium School's wide appeal may make it an easy decision: it covers environmental science, social change, business, design, economics, personal growth, and an array of more obscure topics like Gaia theory and biomimicry. You'll get all this appealing stuff for a list price of $19,000 (that includes room and board), and the school expects to offer financial aid to 75% of its students.

For the record, average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Asheville is $730.

Residents find it worth it to live in a town that is home to the LaZoom Comedy Tour (which is on a bus), the Foodtopian Society (Asheville has walking tours dedicated to food), outdoor attractions adventurous enough that Outside magazine consistently ranks the city among its top destinations for outdoor recreation, an excellent live music scene, trolley tours of sites both historic and haunted... (Even if you don't have any interest whatsoever in the Mycelium School, may prove to be a tremendous time suck.) Not to mention that in Asheville you'll also find the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Ah, the sustainability movement. I won't try to convert you here, but Matt, Mostafa, Louisse and I concur-it's a great not-so-grassroots-anymore movement to be part of. It is a significant focus at the Mycelium School, but you'll find it accessible even if you're that gas-guzzling, city-slicking corporate drone's child. Basically, it says that we have to be conscious enough to preserve our environment's health long-term. Otherwise, how would mycelia- the vegetative parts of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments, obviously-ever flourish?

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