Growing Wish List Tracker


The list of schools and organizations I want to visit is growing faster than the rate I can see them all and I imagine it will even grow longers as we start going around especially during conferences where you meet even more people in the field of alternative education. So before the list balloons out of hand, as if it’s not out of hand already, here’s the list as it stands today.

I’ve been tinkering with the round-the-world routes so the earlier plans accommodated stops at thirty schools and organizations.  Then it got whittled down to ten in the name of economizing but at the end, the number doesn’t matter as much as the experience itself of meeting the visionaries, the teachers and students themselves.

Plus, I’d like to add two more.  I met Moe Zimmerberg at APDEC and though I didn’t get to chat with him much, I checked out the website of the democratic school where he teaches, The Tutorial School and wish to take a detour to Santa Fe when we do the U.S. West Coast.

On Facebook this morning, somebody posted a video of a math teacher dancing a funky hip hop with students.  I googled the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta plus read a review of somebody who visited the school, answering the question, Does it live up to the hype?


These two schools may be different from each other.  One falls into the category of democratic while the other operates like a traditional school but don’t be fooled by the uniform because it uses non-traditional methods.  I’d like to see and learn from as many types of alternatives including those that can be considered more mainstream than others.  I wonder if someday, the alternatives will outnumber the mainstream and there will be a switch in nomenclature.

Or will there be a day when we dispense with categories altogether?

School or Organization 



Holistic Education School Miaoli, Taiwan Location of APDEC 2016 Conference
Green School Bali, Indonesia TED Talk – John Hardy: My green school dream
Waldorf School Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Mosaic Collective Colorado, USA TED Talk – Will Richardson: The Surprising Truth about Learning in Schools
Science Leadership Academy 55 N 22nd St, Philadelphia, PA TED Talk – Will Richardson: The Surprising Truth about Learning in Schools

Real work for real purpose

Incubator School ·         7400 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles, CA Students launch entrepreneurial ideas
Tinkering School 1960 Bryant St
San Francisco, CA 94110and San Francisco Peninsula Coastside
TED Talk – Gever Tulley: Life Lessons through tinkering

The use of real tools to tackle real problems creates a unique atmosphere of trust and responsibility. From six-year-olds to highschoolers, we empower our tinkerers with tools, autonomy and space. Big responsibilities build competency and leave lasting memories.

Waldorf School of the Peninsula Silicon Valley

11311 Mora Drive, Los Altos, California

180 N. Rengstorff Ave. Mountain View, CA

Waldorf School of the Peninsula was established in 1984 by parents and educators motivated by the great need for a school that would address the heart and will—as well as the mind—of the child. This whole-child approach is the cornerstone of our philosophy, curriculum and environment.
High Tech High School, K-12, Graduate School San Diego, California



The design principles permeate every aspect of life at High Tech High: the small size of the school, the openness of the facilities, the personalization through advisory, the emphasis on integrated, project-based learning and student exhibitions, the requirement that all students complete internships in the community, and the provision of ample planning time for teacher teams during the work day.
San Fernando Institute for Applied Media 130 N. Brand Blvd. San Fernando, CA 91340

TED Talk: Pearl Arrendondo – My story from gangland daughter to start teacher

SFiAM provides a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member develops communication, technological, and leadership skills that foster self-confidence and supports personal growth.

SFiAM students learn through rigorous project-based learning modalities that are inherent to the pilot school model. Students are challenged to develop problem-solving and interpersonal skills to succeed in the 21st Century.

Paolo Freire Freedom School and Paolo Freire Freedom University Tuczon, Arizona PFFS – University, with its focus on social justice and environmental sustainability, has been a successful demonstration site/lab school for best instructional practices and small school design for eleven years.  The PFFS – Downtown is implementing these successful strategies with the same focus in a completely redesigned delivery of interdisciplinary, problem-based, ‘full immersion’ STEM curricula.  Both schools are public schools grounded in the legacy of Paulo Freire and the Freedom Movement in America. Both schools are demonstration sites/lab schools within  CITY Center for Collaborative Learning in Tucson.
Timbernook Barrington, New Hampshire Our programming provides ample time for children to explore their surroundings, create, build, design, take risks, and dive into their imagination – all while fostering a love for the great outdoors. Our camps are creative in design and in strong demand.
Big Picture Learning (a network) 325 Public Street, Providence, Rhode Island A student-centered learning design, where students are actively invested in their learning and are challenged to pursue their interests by a supportive community of educators, professionals, and family members.
The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center Providence, Rhode Island First big picture learning school
826 Valencia 826 Valencia St., San Francisco, California TED Prize – Dave Eggers

Dedicated to supporting under-resourced students ages 6-18 with their writing skills and to helping teachers get their students excited about the literary arts.

The Free School


Albany, New York Founded in 1969, The Free School in Albany, New York is the longest running inner-city independent alternative school in the United States.  We provide a unique alternative to traditional models of education by offering children a self-directed approach to their learning. Students at our school, many whom have slipped through the cracks of today’s regimented test-driven school system, flourish in a nurturing environment that allows them the freedom to chart their own course of learning while fostering emotional growth and inter-personal skills.
Unschooling NYC


Amy Milstein is an active member of the NYC Home Educators Alliance (NYCHEA).   She and her husband Joshua unschool their two children, Maya 13 and Ben 9, who have never been to school.  The Milsteins are pioneers of unschooling in the big city.   Their goal is to create an awareness of unschooling  as a viable option for families looking for alternatives to traditional curriculum based schooling.
Green Bronx Machine South Bronx, New York TED Talk – Stephen Ritz – A teacher growing green in the South Bronx

Green Bronx Machine was born via collaboration between life-long educator Stephen Ritz and his students who observed that as waistlines expanded, engagement and opportunities in school decreased, school performance suffered, and hope and ambition became minimized. Originally an after-school, alternative program for high school students, Green Bronx Machine has evolved into K-12+ model fully integrated into core curriculum. Our students grow, eat and love their vegetables en route to spectacular academic performance. 40,000 pounds of Bronx vegetables later, our favorite crops include healthy students, high performing schools, graduates, registered voters, living wage jobs and members of the middle class.

Alternative Education Resource Organization 417 Roslyn Rd. Roslyn Heights, NY AERO is the primary hub of communications and support for educational alternatives around the world. Our network includes Montessori, Waldorf (Steiner), Public Choice and At-Risk, Democratic, Homeschool, Open, Charter, Free, Sudbury, Holistic, Virtual, Magnet, Early Childhood, Reggio Emilia, Indigo, Krishnamurti, Quaker, Libertarian, Independent, Progressive, Community, Cooperative, and Unschooling.
World Peace Game Camp Charlottesville, Virginia TED Talk: John Hunter (creator of the World Peace Game)

Author wants to register for a Master Class with John Hunter

Compass for Self-Directed Learning 211 Bronson Ave #210, Ottawa, Ontario Canada Compass is a centre that helps teenagers live and learn without school by supporting teens (13-18 years old) to create a customized education based on their interests, abilities, and goals. We offer classes that run throughout the day, tutoring, mentoring, assistance with finding internships and volunteer opportunities, help with university admissions, and a safe and comfortable place for students to work and socialize.
Escola Lumiar Sao Paolo, Brazil TED Talk – Ricardo Semler

In recent a survey jointly conducted by Unesco, Stanford University and Microsoft, Lumiar has been chosen as one of the 12 most Innovative Schools in the World (the only one in Brazil).

Fundacion Escuela Nueva Colombia Across Colombia, 20,000 schools have been influenced by the model, which features project-based learning, parent and community engagement, learning by doing and according to student interests, and democratic decision-making.
Forest Kindergartens Germany
Summerhill School England Founded in 1921, it continues to be an influential model for progressive, democratic education around the world.

Summerhill is the oldest children’s democracy in the world. It is probably the most famous alternative or ‘free’ school. The system that Summerhill employs is not only about education – it is also a different way of parenting which eliminates most of the friction and many of the problems experienced by modern families.


Northern Beach Christian School Australia TED Talk – Will Richardson, The Surprising Truth about Learning in Schools
Deep Green Bush School New Zealand We do not have classes, we will not administer any tests and we will not give homework. At the Deep Green Bush-School youth learn the responsibility inherent in freedom and demonstrate how well people can manage themselves through democratic decision-making.
The Kaitaki Collective Auckland, New Zealand We are a democratic, nature-based learning collective in Auckland, rooted in indigenous & Maori wisdom.
Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery Christchurch special character state school with a fundamental tenet that the child is central in directing his or her own learning so that the enthusiasm and love of learning is retained.

These are the conferences I’d like to attend in the future: IDEC 2017 in Israel, APDEC 2017 in Tokyo and AERO 2017 in America.  I might have to sacrifice APDEC in favor of AERO but if I can’t make it to Tokyo, I’ll make sure to get as many people as I can to join.

AERO Alternative Education Resource Organization Conference

Ron Clark Academy teacher busting all the right moves

International Democratic Education Network

The photos above are of Moe and his cohorts raising funds at the auction and during lunch at the APDEC in Taiwan. 

More APDEC Photos

And I haven’t even told you about the performances at night and the auction and . . . .


Keep in touch.

Check out my nine articles about APDEC 2016 in Taiwan:

About Yaacov Hecht’s keynote speech

About Simon Hulshoff’s speech and notes from casual talks and open spaces

About Shure University, Tokyo and my dream school

About our one-day off visiting an aboriginal school, biking and pigging-out

About Professor Fong’s lecture and Peter Gray’s first open space

About Summerhill and the talk given by Henry Readhead, A.S. Neill’s grandson

About Peter Gray’s keynote and open space after

About various open spaces – many lessons and realizations

About the round table discussion

Photos were taken from Matthew Chen’s and other people’s Facebook pages.  Thank you. 

Manic Writing


I just wrote my ninth article on APDEC and there are two more to go – one to share photos and the other about the homeschooling mom who won the bid for a blog entry during the auction last Saturday night.  Why am I writing like crazy?  At the same time I’m writing, I’ve been packing all our things, preparing for our big move from north to south of China, the official start of our dream to go around the world.  I can’t stop writing because once we leave our house, there won’t be a stable 24-7 Wi-Fi.  We’d be staying in hotels or camping in our tents and then I don’t know how often I can take time out to write.  So I want to finish everything before leaving.

Today, I’ve been able to write courtesy of our neighbors who have taken Joshua and Jimmy in to play with their children.  Yesterday, I finished the bulk of putting most of our things into boxes.  Today, it’s my husband’s turn to put the boxes into storage.  I can write in peace while all this is happening.

After APDEC, my idea for the trip has been simplified and things have been added into the itinerary such as a visit to Summerhill.  From the start of this project planning, the target number of countries have dwindled from 30 to 25 to 20 and now it’s down to 15.  The time frame also has gone from 4 years down to a year and a half which is advantageous from an economical point of view.  We can always do the other countries another time in the future.

Through APDEC, I realized a short-cut.  Attending conferences is quite an efficient use of time. It allows me to interview a huge range of people involved in the field of alternative education.  It allows me to prioritize certain schools over others so I don’t have to cram the trip with too many schools. At the end of the day, we still don’t know which plan would hold and I should just stop being OC about planning.

I thought I had learned to let go of my control freak self through Simon’s help but it’s still there.  Another friend tried to wake me up by shredding into pieces my power point print outs of routes.  I still managed to insert doing these excel route updates in the midst of manic packing and manic writing, like somebody is chasing me and I can’t stop running.

I wish I was back in the forest.





How many times have we moved homes?  Each time, the boys have a rollicking fun with the boxes.

Here’s the evolution of the plans to go around the world:




I think I’m just turning into a documentation freak!

Notice the progression of simplification from the plan prior to Plan A and then I tried to do IDEC and APDEC in 2017 (Plan B) but the shortest, most streamlined and economical plan thus far seems to be Plan C.




At the Round Table


Lucy from mainland China asked me about the connection of democratic education, a democratic society and a democratic form of governance.  Coming from a country that experiences the pitfalls of “too much” democracy and living in a country which many outsiders believe is not democratic “enough,” it was a hard for me to answer the complex question so I said, let’s look for Simon Hulshoff because his talked touched on those bigger issues.  We didn’t have to find him because on the last day of APDEC, the round table discussion provided a lot of answers not just in words but in actual action – democracy in action.

A group of government officials from the education bureau came to discuss with the conference speakers and participants about the possibilities of improving and expanding the laws regarding experimental education which were passed in Taiwan three years ago.  The palpable excitement made it feel like history in the making.

One of the government officials explained what she wrote in her diary and reflected about democratic education, having witnessed the changes in this field in Taiwan.  “Everyone can be responsible for themselves, feel good about themselves, love themselves and other people, allow children to be responsible.  I believe this is also the objective of APDEC.  Parents and teachers can support each other and communicate with each other.  I believe nobody will oppose learner-centered education.  A responsible government will not treat people as tools and there must be responsible allocation of resources.  This (democratic education) is an unstoppable trend all over the world. . . . . Our government will continue to support the development of alternative education. . . . I fully believe that education that is beautiful teaches people to be courageous.”

Yaacov Hecht hopes that many types of schools can be built, emphasizing, “Different is beautiful.”  Peter Gray comments how fitting that this is now taking place in Taiwan where people are brave defenders of freedom and individual rights.  He then brought up the subject of testing and assessment and how he would evaluate an educational system based on two questions: 1) Are the students happy? and 2) Do they live satisfying lives and are productive in society?  None of these can be measured by tests but can only be seen in the long run.
One of the problem, points out Henry Readhead is that there is systemic pressure from the top to bottom.  The government puts pressure on the schools which pressures the teacher who then pressures the child.   How can the pressure building be reversed from bottom to top?  Simon Hulshoff suggests that one of the ways is to make the voice of the student equal to the teacher in meetings.  Another government official recommended that there should be structural reform in the government to allow for more participatory discussions.  Students should learn how to conduct democratic discussions in school and listen to each other.

Somebody who had worked as a teacher for twenty years and was now in the local education bureau said, “The challenge is whether teachers allow students to have different opinions and whether teachers can take back the right of teaching.  In public schools, teachers listen to their bosses, follow the education policies and guidelines so the teachers are very submissive to the orders from the top.”
Peter Gray said, “The most essential idea of democracy is you trust people.  I think you can trust children but for others this may be hard.  At least, we must be ready to trust families to choose how they want their children to be educated.  Denying them this is violating a fundamental right.  In the history of education, schools were built to control people, to indoctrinate people.  Hitler and Stalin were big on education.  If you can control the child’s development, you can control people.  This is the history we are stuck with as a people.  We must trust families to make their own decision.  We are still under tyranny.  Democracy means trusting people.”
One of the conference participants, a Taiwanese homeschooling parent spoke up saying that democratic schools tend to be expensive.  His question struck a chord in me and I wanted to cry, “That’s the same problem I have!  I wish alternative education was economically more accessible!”

Our friends in Taiwan must update us about what happens after APDEC.


Photos taken by Matthew Chen, a teacher at the Holistic School. 

Opening Up


Open Space lives up to its name.  It really IS that open.  Anyone can appropriate the space — no bureaucratic application or credentials needed, just the willingness to share something, anything or a burning question to start the ball rolling.

I attended Moe’s open space and was struck by how insidious this idea of separation was but it was quite “harmless” studying in school back then about Descartes and his dualistic model of society. Then we looked at the destruction man has wrought and what the concept of separation has brought. Tragic.  I came out of the dark, hot media room seeking air and accidentally walked into Hoho’s impromptu workshop in the lab.

A photographer, Hoho explained that she’d like for us to go somewhere so we all voted to search for a venue outside.  At a crossroad, she asked again which direction and eventually we trooped to a grassy, sloping area shaded by trees.  She then asked what people wanted to do and we ended up electing to sleep so everyone chose a spot and arranged their bodies in a comfortable position to snooze while Hoho snapped away with her camera.   It was hard to get up after because you just wanted to stay and stare at the trees and blue sky above and I thought how wonderful to get a rest from heavyweight thinking and discussing.

Somebody broached the idea of going to the stream next and what a discovery!  Beyond the path where we usually walk from dormitory to canteen was a sharp drop into the jungle and we lowered ourselves with the help of a rope.  We splashed about in the water flowing over rocks, moss and fern and screwed separation.

Another workshop I joined was Simon’s because of the compelling title, “How to use meetings to solve problems without use of punishments.”   Surely, I knew in theory that reward and punishment are the lowest forms of teaching something but I can’t get out of the pattern like I’m stuck.  Hearing Simon R. was helpful and he continued the thread of conversation with another open space this time, exploring why we keep repeating certain unwanted behaviors by tracing the roots to past occurrences.

Simon R. shared how his ill-tempered father hit and shouted at him when he was a child and as a father himself now, he exhibited behavior towards his own son that recalled his father’s.  He wanted to break the chains that bound him and he was only able to do it through internal work and seeking professional help online.  This revelation touched a nerve in people in the room and others shared their own realizations.

While three more people talked about their experience that made them rethink their parenting or teaching style vis a vis baggage from the past, I pondered what is it that’s triggering my undesirable bursts towards my own children or why I couldn’t change my habit of using reward and punishment even if I wanted to.   The conference had already ended and we were making the journey back home when it dawned on me: trust.  I had a trust issue.  It was hard for me to let go of control and to trust my children more because I don’t feel trusted as an adult child to decide what’s best for my own family.  That neediness to control because somebody sought to control you – the awareness frees you to be less of a control freak and let go.  Belated thanks to Simon R. for aiding in pushing it to the surface!  I went home feeling like a healthier mom.

Because I was interested in the Tokyo Shure University, I eagerly attended the Open Space about Japan’s democratic education movement borne out of a phenomenon termed “school refusal.”  The students refuse to go to school not because of economic or health problems but because they encountered bullying or they felt in their hearts that it was something they believed was true to their identity.  One by one, the people in the circle related their story.

One woman got tired of the situation where everything is evaluated and compared.  In the classroom, her value was measured by how she performed against the others.  To top it off, state school was simply boring. One day she caught a bad cold and decided not to return to school.  At first she could not fully understand and express the reason and it was a difficult time for her.  People regarded students who did this as sick or disabled.

At nineteen years old, she entered Shure University and everything changed for her.  Before she had nothing – no friends, no knowledge, no experience.  She thought she was a “wrong” person and a level below humans.  Those ideas limited her behavior.  Now she’s fine, active and creative.  At the APDEC, she offered her photographs for sale at the fundraiser.  She was lucky that her parents had heard about Shure University and she spent one week to try it out.  During that short experimental period she realized what was taken away from her – that idea that it’s okay to pursue something you are interested in. That idea empowered her to alter her self-perception and turn around her life.

There are so many stories to tell, all worth documenting but it might even be better to just join the APDEC in Tokyo next year.

Lastly, I had one interesting final Open Space in the crowded train from Miaoli to Taoyuan.  We were stuck in a tight space, standing up with no seats because all the tickets were taken.  It was perhaps deliberate on the side of the universe that I ended up beside a fellow conference participant, Leon from South Korea who was so excited to show the pictures on his phone.  He finished chemistry in college and was now pursuing his masters in Alternative Education at the Asia Life University.  Leon’s phone pictures were mostly these groovy-fun-looking experiments he did with high school students plus other student activities that made me think, “What a teacher nerd!”  I mean that in a good way.  Teachers get excited about what they do and the excitement is contagious.

I previously attended an Open Space about the Korean democratic schools inspired by Gandhi and which embraced the ideals of love and compassion.  I thought then how I wanted to visit Korea to see for myself and the train ride with Leon gave me an extra glimpse.

When we got back to China, my two friends Donna and Lucy, who went with me to the conference, and I couldn’t stop doing Open Space, discussing about education that we even formed a WeChat Group called APDEC in the future.

Learn more about Shure University and from Simon R.’s recommended author Alfie Kohn who wrote Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason.

Moe Zimmerberg has worked for decades in the field of democratic education at The Tutorial School.  I hope everyone who’s doubtful about alternative schools can take time to read this: College and FAQs.

For Simon R., here’s the ikigai diagram I told you about during breakfast:


Gray’s Groupie


In his cool dude way, Phenix’s introduction of each speaker is very brief which is ideal because people can always read the bio on the program and dispense with the formality.  A graduate of the Holistic School, Phenix confessed to the audience point blank, “I never attended classes.  If you were given the choice to attend class or this . . . . ,” he said gesturing with sweeping arms towards the lush forest surrounding us, “what would you do?” Like introducing the next set in a rock concert, Phenix intones into the mic, “Let’s give it up for Peter Gray!”

The audience cheer like groupies.  Peter speaks about “The Biology of Education: How Children Learn through Free Play and Exploration,” linking Karl Groo’s Practice Theory of Play with his own study of children in hunter-gatherer cultures.  Peter did his study by contacting the anthropologists who closely studied hunter-gatherer communities around the world and asking them about their observations of children.

Peter then went to connect this research with his survey of students who attended the Sudbury Valley, a democratic school in Massachusetts where his son chose to go and wouldn’t have it any other way after his bad experience with regular school.  Peter then enumerates what he believes is the “optimal context for self-education” through this study of Sudbury echoing certain points in hunter-gatherer societies:

  1. The social expectation (and reality) that education is children’s responsibility
  2. Unlimited freedom to play, explore and pursue own interests
  3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture
  4. Access to a variety of caring adults, who are helpers, not judges
  5. Free age mixing among children and adolescents
  6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic community

Parents may unknowingly take away from children the drive to be self-directed by exerting too much control.  “The world has become worse for young people,” Peter said.  The degree to which you feel you are in control of your life plays is important.  “People who lack this internal locus of control are prone to depression and anxiety.   How can children learn how to take control of their life if they can’t be allowed to play without adults?”

Historical evidence and social science research shows that the decline of play over the last sixty years in America is correlated with the rise of social and emotional disorders.  Peter points out, 1) five to eight-fold rise in major depression and anxiety disorders in children, 2) four-fold rise in suicide rate for children under age 15; decline in internal locus of control, 3) increased narcissism, decreased empathy.
Regarding unschoolers, Peter commented that majority who responded to his survey became responsible and self-directed adults.  It’s important that parents allow opportunities for children to play and interact with others and be immersed in community life.  “Peers play a protective psychological role from parents.  If you have good friends, you’ll be okay.”
Since I was interested in exploring Project Based Learning, I asked Peter Gray about it and he expressed some doubts as to whether some of the projects are truly undertaken out of passion or merely out of duty since they may be required by the teacher or chosen by group mates.  The problem with academia sometimes is that even people pursuing PhD’s do so out of a calculated move for career advancement rather than a pure interest in the subject or a sincere desire to solve a problem.

When he started his research work on Sudbury Valley School and on unschoolers, Peter came in skeptical but the results show the favorable potential of unschooling and that parents in democratic schools like Sudbury don’t have to worry too much.  In a similar way, my quest to visit alternative schools while driving around the world is a search for answers.  Short visits can’t take the place of in-depth studies such as those conducted by Peter Gray but talking to practitioners could still offer some degree of enlightenment.

And who knows one day, what the Gray groupie can grow up to be.


Certified fan!  I ended up in this conference because of Peter Gray.  I emailed him about my thesis proposal linking nature, creativity and play and he responded by telling me about APDEC in Taiwan. 

Check out Peter Gray’s Blog Freedom to Learn and his article about Sudbury Valley School.

Peter Gray’s study on unschoolers is available in PDF file from Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives:

Grown Unschoolers’ Evaluation of Their Unschooling Experiences

Grown Unschoolers’ Experiences with Higher Education and Employment


Please, Mom, Can I Go to Summerhill? Please, Please, Pretty Please With Sugar Sprinkles on Top.


I wish I was ten years old and I can go to Summerhill, but since there is no rewind button in life, I wish my sons can go to Summerhill.  However, I would ask them first.  I’d take them around the world to visit alternative schools and if they’d like to see traditional schools, that’s fine, too.  Then I’d ask them which school they’d like to attend or would they like to continue homeschooling / unschooling / roadschooling.  The choice is up to them but my secret wish is Summerhill because I met and heard Henry Readhead, grandson of A.S. Neill who started the ninety five year old institution.

It’s not about what he said but how he said it but I think if I went there I’d be less screwed-up in the head, less afraid to be myself.  In turn, I don’t want to screw up my kids with my style of parenting which sometimes is too helicopter for comfort but it’s a process, I know.

Henry attended Summerhill from the age of three and if his talk is any gauge of how students from that famous almost-hundred year boarding school turn out, then they have their Peter Pan inside intact even as they become responsible, productive adults.  And I believe that’s a good thing.

I went to the APDEC conference with two of my friends who also teach at the Tianjin Foreign Studies University in Dagang.  Donna teaches Psychology and has a seven-year old daughter who is a close friend of my son, Joshua.  Lucy teaches Chinese literature and is into history big time.  Although I’ve never met her seven-year old son, I saw his artworks and complex models he built by himself.

Donna, Lucy and I wish our children can attend Summerhill, although I’d like to also check out Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts to be able to compare.  That’s where Peter Gray sent his son when his son rebelled against regular school, insisted on going to Sudbury and was happy from then on.  Summerhill is a boarding school while Sudbury is a day school.

After his talk, Henry plays Zombie Apocalypse with the children milling around.  He gets tired and takes a break under the shade of a tree but continues to talk to the child full of stories and questions.

Notes from Henry Readhead’s Keynote Talk and Open Space:

  1. We are all different in every way – our emotional patterns, the way we learn, the time we need to find out what we need to do.
  2. Finding out what you want to do with your life is important but there’s no set time when you will find it. It doesn’t have to be when we are young.
  3. Social and emotional development is our fundamental aim at Summerhill. Students find out who they are and how to live with other people.  Understanding who we are and how to live with others is the most important thing.  Social and emotional development happens at Summerhill from the first day a child arrives until they graduate and move on.
  4. Learning happens purely through experience. It happens through living.
  5. I attended Summerhill from the age of three and I didn’t even know what I was getting. I had a really happy childhood but I didn’t know what I gained.  It was only when I visited it from the eyes of a prospective parent did I see.  It was mind-blowing.
  6. Summerhill is designed as such so that it doesn’t get in the way. It’s a good thing to be away from their parents.  The kids make their own decisions and do not rely on their parents all the time.  Each term is two months long.
  7. The process is important. The kids build self-confidence and independence.  It’s about understanding boundaries – what’s okay and not okay.  Children are always pushing each other’s boundaries.  In Summerhill, there’s so much time for that.
  8. In Summerhill, social time is not battling with learning time. Social time happens twenty four hours a day.
  9. In an average day at Summerhill, the kids get fined if they don’t wake up in the morning. There’s screen ban, work fine and other fines thought up by the students themselves.  The twenty four hour screen ban is very effective.
  10. There are scheduled classes but it’s up to the student to attend or not. If the student wants to study a particular thing, he can get together with other students and request for a teacher who can be from inside or outside the school.
  11. There are open learning spaces and twelve acres of land.
  12. Using screens (tablets, phones, laptop, television) is not allowed between 5am and 3pm.
  13. It’s not about freedom meaning you can do everything you want. It’s about responsibility and being considerate of everyone in the community.
  14. There’s time to experience boredom and this is not a negative thing because it fuels enthusiasm and creativity.
  15. One eleven year old came to Sudbury with an amazing talent for playing the piano. They hired a teacher for her but the teacher begged off because the student’s level was too advanced and recommended to look for another teacher.  They had to go through another unwilling teacher before they found one who was qualified to teach her.  When the student turned fourteen, she decided she didn’t want to play the piano and turned to mathematics.  After university, she ended up in a bank with a high position earning lots of money.  After some years, she decided to go to Thailand and focus on kick boxing.

Some quotes from A.S. Neill:

  1. All crimes, all hatreds, all wars can be reduced to unhappiness.
  2. The function of a child is to live his/her own life, not the life that his/her anxious parents think he/she should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educators who think they know best.
  3. I would rather see a school produce a happy street cleaner than a neurotic scholar.


Read about a former Summerhill pupil who’s now sending his two sons there:

An ex-pupil’s view on becoming a Summerhill parent

There’s a lot of stuff about Summerhill in the internet, but this one is my favorite:

Gangsters: I will never apologize for being me

The BBC made a series about the school’s famous battle with the government who tried to close it down.  The students rallied to raise funds by asking former graduates for help.

You can read about A.S. Neill here:

A. S. Neill (1883–1973) – Early Life and Career, Significance to Education

The range of formal subjects offered in Summerhill includes: Science – Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Math, English (Language and Literature), German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Woodwork, Art, Drama, History, Geography, Music Technology, DJ Work, Studio Sessions, Information Technology, Vocal Music (by arrangement).  The range of Class 2 projects offered or suggested by students include: Gardening, Bug Study, Whitewings (airplane construction), The Game of Diplomacy, Magic Lessons and Show, Psychology for Kids, Thinking Skills and Games, Mosaics, Photography and Photoshop, Afternoon Walks, Plasticene, Computer Strategy Games lessons, Writing and making a video, Making a Radio Play, Chess, Macrame, Warhammer and much more.



It was an emotional, tearful goodbye.  We had seven days of happiness, waking up in the midst of a cool forest, warmed by smiles and conversations, fed by others’ experience in democratic education, entertained by young artists who remind us what it is to truly be free, and inspired by everyone who have big dreams for a better world.  The organizers did an astounding job putting this event together.  It wasn’t easy and their road was paved with challenges – logistical and personal, but it was a journey of heroes, a journey worth taking.  Our kudos and appreciation goes out to each and every one of them and to those who participated from various countries: Taiwan, Malaysia, India, Japan, Korea, China, America, England, Australia and the Netherlands.

Coming from the Philippines, I’m now excited to spread the word about this yearly gathering that creates and strengthens bonds among kindred spirits working on alternative education.  Whether it is in the fringes or within the mainstream, on a personal, small or large scale, each effort is equally important and when combined, greater than the sum of its parts.  There were homeschoolers from Taiwan and there were those who have been leading the democratic education movement for decades.  There were students and teachers who probably shouldn’t be labeled as such because they were BOTH students and teachers.

I still have two and a half days’ worth of notes that have to be transformed into blog entries and I don’t know where to start.  I was tearful at the end because I realized what I found — a new family.  Do you know when you have crazy-sounding ideas in your head and some people even in your own family don’t understand?  Some people put you down, laugh at or consider the concept ridiculous, irresponsible and reckless.  Sending children to a school where they can play all day – how preposterous is that?  Now, none of that matters because you know you are not alone.  There is family.  Family, not by blood, but family.



How many conferences do you know are organized by a real, live, head-banging rocker-convener?  Phenix, you rock our world!


To everyone who made these seven days possible, thank you, thank you, thank you!  Our hearts overflow. 

I will miss waking up to the sounds and smells of forest.  I will miss eating under a tent full of passionate souls.  I will miss the rhythm of the past few days.

But there are so many things to look forward to such as IDEC in Israel on April and APDEC in Tokyo on August next year.  And friggin crazy as it might seem, in the future, APDEC will come to China.

Please read my other entries about APDEC 2016 here:

About Yaacov Hecht’s keynote speech

About Simon Hulshoff’s speech and notes from casual talks and open spaces

About Shure University, Tokyo and my dream school

About our one-day off visiting an aboriginal school, biking and pigging-out

About Professor Fong’s lecture and Peter Gray’s first open space

About Summerhill and the talk given by Henry Readhead, A.S. Neill’s grandson



Playing Heroes, Being Heroes


As a child, we played at being heroes.  As we grow older we admire heroes, real and imagined, and wish to be heroes ourselves.  Somewhere along the way, we may think, it’s only in the realm of make-believe and a non-existent utopia where heroes make their mark.  We struggle back to hero-hood or not depending on our courage and self-determination.

Peter Gray is my hero.  He led me to this conference by answering an email from a “nobody,” although I apologize and know that’s a democratically incorrect thing to say.  I’m even a more gushing fan after meeting and hearing him.

Excuse this short-cut enumeration, but there are simply too many ideas flying around at break-neck speed so to facilitate the capture, I’ll list points from two talks that struck me.

From Tsao-Lin Fang

  1. A hero is someone who has the courage to become himself and take the journey that he believes he must take. Eventually, the hero returns home.
  2. The ultimate mystery is within yourself.
  3. Mythology is an excellent way to imitate the unlimited imagination. Myths inspire one to be more of a hero and have the courage to follow one’s dreams.
  4. Our schools should be a school for gods and our learning journey should be like a hero’s journey.
  5. Follow the bliss of being yourself.
  6. When people dream big, they can get into a state of bliss.
  7. The holistic hero tries to encompass the individual’s circle into the circle of the whole cosmos.
  8. Find the hero in yourself, the people around you and the people you love.
  9. Have the courage to take the journey you must.

These are from the keynote speech, “The Hero’s Journey – The Holistic Education from the Perspective of Joseph Campbell.”  Tsao-Lin Fang from Taiwan is founder, President of Formosa Alternative Pedagogy Association, Professor of Education at National Chengchi University, Principal of Hsin-Chuang Community University, Chief Editor of Alternative Pedagogy, Former Chairman of National Chengchi University Graduate Institute of Early Childhood Education, Former Chair of Education Department of National Chengchi University.  (From the APDEC 2016 Program)

From Peter Gray

  1. Peter’s son hated and rebelled in school, so Peter put him in Sudbury, a radically democratic school where students are free to do what they choose. To answer his own doubts about it, Peter decided to study the school and surveyed the students who graduated from Sudbury.
  2. How could students who used no textbooks, no curriculum, who did not study in a systematic way get into college? Learning is thought to be progressive.  You need to do A before proceeding to B and C and if you don’t do it in the prescribed way, you fall behind.  Students from Sudbury show that this is not the case and it’s possible to attend college, even the elite ones without formal schooling.
  3. If they fell behind their college courses, they just caught up. They asked the professor what they had to read to catch up.  They took responsibility for their own education.
  4. Test taking is regarded as a kind of skill that needs to be practiced like there’s an art behind it, but it’s not.
  5. Why is studying in college more tolerable now when they couldn’t even tolerate formal schooling before? When they decided to go to college, it was their decision.  It was still a self-directed form of education.  Some wanted to pursue being a doctor and that requires going to college.  There are those who were drawn to a liberal arts education.
  6. They realized how refreshing it was to attend college and formal school for the first time. They never went to “school” in the traditional sense.  What was quite disappointing for them was the immaturity of their classmates who were not really interested in college but were only there because they were expected to be there.
  7. After university, they pursued careers that were also self-directed. They didn’t become assembly line workers. They were in charge of their own time and work.  Some started businesses while others pursued something that was almost in direct relationship to what they were playing at in their youth.
  8. For example, a boy flunked out of school at 13 and went to Sudbury where he developed a fascination for computers but there were no computers in Sudbury. He decided to find a way to convince companies to donate computers by saying that students would learn and buy their computers in the future.  He went on to make billions establishing a software company.
  9. A girl spent time making clothes for her doll and became a pattern maker in the fashion industry. A boy who liked building things from scrap became an inventor.  Not everyone’s career is connected with something they did in their childhood playtime but those who didn’t, attended college to find what it is they wanted to pursue.
  10. Peter then became interested in unschooling which he was skeptical of because in Sudbury, there were a lot of things going on with a number of students and staff. Unschoolers, on the other hand, are mostly only with their parents at home.
  11. For the survey on the Sudbury graduates, Peter was able to find most of them but for the survey of unschoolers, Peter only relied on an online invitation to get respondents. The people who answered the survey are most likely those who had attained some level of success in their life.  The survey may not show what is typical but it does show the potential of unschooling.
  12. Three people hated unschooling because their parents weren’t active in their education or were highly dysfunctional, but majority of the respondents were glad that they were unschooled and would choose to unschool their children or send them to an alternative school.
  13. The unschoolers who were surveyed went onto careers in the arts and creative fields but there was a percentage who ended up in STEM careers. Some built businesses around their art.
  14. A man who loved the woods led him into paragliding, photography and flying. He became an aerial photographer.  A woman who was fascinated by the circus as a girl founded her own circus company and then worked in tall ships to secure ropes up high.
  15. Peter asked unschooling parents what the hardest thing is about unschooling and it’s dealing with the judgements of other people – the grandparents who feel the parents are destroying their children’s future, the disapproving neighbors, relatives and friends. To undertake something like unschooling as a parent, you have to be very courageous and find your own support network to make you feel what you’re doing is not crazy at all.
  16. Defensive parenting is a term to describe what holds parents back like the fear of being criticized. Peter had that feeling himself.  There are some parents who believe in unschooling or in Sudbury school but do not have the courage to face the criticisms.
  17. Peter asked parents who followed his blog to answer a survey about their children learning to read. The range of age when they started reading is wide, from 3 to 13 and in the end it doesn’t matter what age they start because once they’ve caught up with one another, you can’t tell them apart.
  18. What’s important is they learn to read without any pressure so they don’t associate reading with pain. The primary thing is interest.  One child learned to read because her mother read Harry Potter to her but in a speed too slow for her and her mom would stop when she wanted to continue.  Because she was motivated, she worked harder to read herself.

These are from Friday’s Open Space session.  Peter Gray from U.S.A. is a research professor of psychology of Boston College and writes the popular “Freedom to Learn” blog in Psychology Today.  His introductory textbook, Psychology is the most commonly designated textbook in the Ivy Leagues.  Gray is frequently invited to speak on television as an expert on childhood development.  His works are also often cited in newspapers and magazines. (From the APDEC 2016 Program)


The drawing at the top of this blog entry was done by a boy whose parents attended the APDEC.  It was auctioned at the fund raiser for the conference which ran short of funds. These hand-made musical instruments were also made and auctioned off by a mother who was always carrying her one-month old baby to the sessions.











After two full days of talking about democratic education, we had one day-off this Thursday.  Obsessed geeks that we were though, we still continued the discussions but this time, the backdrops changed.  We visited a primary school for aboriginals ran by a most visionary man, biked through tree-lined roads and re-fueled our stomachs at the night market.

We sat in a well-equipped auditorium where the principal explained how the school integrated aboriginal culture and values into the regular subjects.  Children played ethnic musical instruments and during the summer break, more murals were being added on the walls and beams to express their heritage. After his talk, the principal showed a documentary about the facial tattoo tradition of the Taya tribe.  The filmmaker followed Yakis whose age were close to a hundred but who got their tattoos when they were around fourteen years old as a symbol of maturity and as an identifying mark that somebody from their tribe had to possess to enter the afterlife’s rainbow.  You felt the affinity the filmmaker had with his subjects and one Yaki said that when she passed away, she will be trailing and blessing him.

When the video ended, the principal revealed, much to everyone’s surprise, that he is Pilin, the young director of the film.  Decades stood between and we didn’t connect the faces of then and now.  Suddenly, the principal’s life took on a deeper meaning for us who were seated in the audience.  He had dedicated himself to protecting and strengthening the aboriginal people’s legacy.  The Yakis were obviously following and guiding him who was a humble beacon for others.

After lunch and before starting the bike ride, Matt, our guide teacher from the Holistic School asked us whether we wanted to take the short or long route and of course, everyone voted for the shorter way.  But like the principal who astounded us, we also surprised ourselves.  We finished the five kilometer route so early, we wanted to finish the rest of the route because it was simply too gorgeous and too fun to miss.  We didn’t realize what a perfect biking park it was, including the longest tunnel in Taiwan which formed part of an abandoned railway system that was converted into something everyone can enjoy.  I envied Taiwan and their government that provides high quality spaces for the people and bike rental is cheap.

The day was capped off by two hours to freely roam the night market and try food locals rave about and queue up for.  Now we know why the lines are that long.  The food is truly worth the wait.