Why so mad, I can see how you would gain that perspective, however it's not an accurate one. I worked directly with the students, and I do hold a degree in Elementary Education from UNCW, as well as an Associate in Applied Science. As far as Marshall Massey being disgruntled by the lack of work or pay, that too is not an accurate assumption. I can’t speak for him, but neither can you.
What I witnessed as far as safety is concerned could easily be used in an academic setting as an example of what NOT to do. I'm NOT mad as Spence’s Educational philosophies, in fact I found them a refreshing change from public school philosophies. I DO think it’s important for students to have access to the positive experiences available on Spence’s farm, such as learning about and participating in horticulture, animals, and food production. Which made it so much harder for me to leave, because I thought it could be a beautiful program. Unfortunately what I saw was an owner who doesn’t care enough about the kids to put simple safety procedures into play. And let’s face it, the owner has complete control over every aspect of his farm and his program, so he is to be blamed. As a mother and an educator I couldn't ignore what I experienced as acceptable when working with young children. Your child should not have to go to the restroom in a dark cold port-a-potty because the house flood lights don't reach all the way out to the outhouse once it becomes dark at 5:15, but the program doesn't end until 6pm. Of course that is just a matter of comfort, so why bother. However, they should have access to a proper hand washing station at all times, which they didn’t because the hand washing station is a crudely set up series of plastic containers and pvc tubes, that were often broken, or empty with no soap available. Sure the kids could go inside and wash their hands, but it was frowned upon for children to be in and out of the house constantly. Which I'm sure will change now that he will need to prove these statements false. To that I say GREAT, as long as there is a change made.
I am also concerned about Spence’s mental health, and don’t believe he needs to work with children until this can be resolved. I have participated in some conversations with Spence that have left me wondering how sane he really is. However I know his loyal followers will just dismiss my accounts as that of an angry employee, so let’s explore comments from others that don’t contain my own biases or opinions.
• Dismissing the two women's accounts of harassment and unwanted sexual advances is abhorrent. Downplaying a victim's complaint with the excuse "He's never done that to me!" or saying that teens dramatize situations is not a valid argument. This is victim blaming and rape culture in effect - surely they're overreacting, he's trustworthy, etc. In the people's comments above even as they defend him, they use words like "strange" and "creep factor". These are often code words for internal alarm bells going off. (petronella007)
• He's begun to carry over his worst personal habits into his work life, and his personality defects have grown worse with age as often happens with people. I was forewarned about him years ago and never let my children go near the place. (Mango)
• I will never forget the hateful attitude he expressed toward 3 adorable Hispanic girls I had taken for a visit a few years ago. Spence was so derogatory to me for having "wandered into" his farm! (In fact, I had made a reservation.) He refused to listen. (SoniaK1)
• "My biggest problem/concern was that Spence doesn't understand (or believe) in presenting children with appropriate options." (Mphills)
• Spence was driving and saw a stray dog on the road, I thought nothing of it until we were around 20 ft away and Spence had not stopped the car, he just honked wildly and yelled, in the enclosed car, at the dog. He then proceeded to hit the dog with his car. He exclaimed a heartless "oh damn", grabbed the dog, and threw it in someone’s yard. He then drove away. (Sr1)
• I asked him if he thought a 7-year-old was old enough to use a table saw, and he said "if you think a kid is ready, then yes." I was shocked that he would even consider letting a child that young operate such a potentially dangerous machine. Based on the tour he gave me and the description of his programs, I felt like his attitude was one of almost total disregard for the safety of the children. (Marko Marisic)
• I sent my child (not a fearful kid or one who needs a lot of structure) there for two weeks one summer as a treat and it turned out to be anything but. "Unstructured" is fine -- we like unstructured, but this was something else. (WestCarrboro)
• For some creepy reason I still don't understand, a bunch of little girls were made to clean the penis sheath of one of the horses... seriously? WestCarrboro
I have absolute no problems with outdoor programs, as they do expose kids to exciting, and educational experiences. And there ARE other programs out there like this one that have accomplished the goal of teaching students; green living, organic growing, horsemanship, archery, and much more, in an effective and safe manner. Need an example: Well I could give you one, but then I would probably be accused of promoting another business, in order to slander Spence’s so I won’t. But parents you should really look, because they are out there.
To Nancy, I would like to defend myself by saying...I did quit, and felt so strongly about it that I did so without another job lined up. Spence even asked me to stay another week, but I felt like I was doing him a favor by staying till the end of the week. So, I am paying a high price for believing in my convictions, please don't belittle my sacrifices with sassy, simple comments like "your an adult you could have just left".
Spence’s supporters will bash my views and opinions in any way they can, because those that do support him are very loyal to him and his land. However, I hope that parents who are looking at outdoor programs for your children will take my personal experiences, and those of others speaking out here into consideration before enrolling your child into a potentially harmful situation.
This will be my last entry here, as I am aware my response here will more than likely be turned into something it isn't by those loyal to Spence's program. And for those that choose to ignore the red flags of mental instability mentioned above I say "Enjoy your blissful ignorance".
I also worked with at Spence's Farm, but saw all I needed to during my stay. I witnessed children being encouraged to "just jump" over huge swarms of fire ants on the property, as if they were not a danger at all. With the result being about 40% of the students being bitten. Kids were told to run into the natural swimming pond, because the water would make it all better. I watched while many children cried out in pain with tears streaming down their faces. I have also witnessed children being left outside during thunderstorms / lightning with only the shelter of a play set and a metal framed large tent. As an employee I was only given so much power and had to witness these things in order to keep my job, which I really needed.
As far as the horses are concerned I saw students told to go out into paddocks and get horses for lessons, with NO ADULTS present. When I saw this all I could think is, "Wow, I'm glad I'm watching to see if they get hurt, because no one else seems to be." The lead horse instructor was on her phone most of the time, but would put it away and be on point as soon as a parent would show up to watch their child. While I do believe in the core concept of empowerment I also believe children can be empowered without being encouraged to ignore their gut instincts of survival. According to the video on Spences' FB page (climbing Rainbow Mountain) the children are told not to listen to the voice in their heads that tells them that they might fall. Children are not only being told to ignore their own survival instincts they are being empowered to ignore park warnings to not climb the face of the mountain. There are so many ways we can empower children without putting them in danger of falling while on a steep slop of pyrophyllite rock, on a mountain that would make adults get dizzy just looking up at the excavated face of it. There is a pile of rocks at the bottom of the quarry that is the result of a rockslide that occurred in February 2001. Part of the quarry wall collapsed, carrying nearly 5,100 tons of rock down 200 feet in a wide path of destruction. (http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GCZCGR_occoneechee-mountain-state-natural-area?guid=d4621283-da86-4585-a5b2-6633c638340a) Look it up!
However Spence will insist that this activity is a safe one.
I think the idea of this educational route is a great one, and the feel of a turn of the century farm is intoxicating, but I also feel the leader at the helm of the program lives in a reality that puts your child in danger. Yes, farms do naturally come with dangers, however Spence has been running this farm long enough to work out safety procedures that protect the children he so dearly wants to "impact". In the article he says that he doesn't care if your child is "scared shitless". If your ok with your child crying out in fear (mountain) and sometimes pain (fire ants) then by all means support the man. However if you would rather your child have safe experiences with "empowerment" that shape their world, then I wouldn't send your child here. You can introduce them to the life experience of a farm without putting them in danger. I choose to leave employment here, because I just couldn't support someone who puts children in the path of real danger just so he can say that he taught them to overcome their fears.
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Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
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