The School in My Mind


It troubled me that I can’t visualize the alternative school I want to create in the future.  I thought undertaking this research would lead me to some clues and true enough, right on the appointed dot by the universe, Kageki, an educator from Japan, sparked a nerve, turned a dial to make the hazy picture clearer . . . . and it went pffft back into obscurity when he walked off and there were a myriad questions still in my mind.

Kageki, together with his previous democratic school students in Tokyo, started the Shure University where the students decide and design what they study, how much they pay for tuition and how long it takes to finish the course.  This university was “founded by people interested in helping young people pursue their curiosity.”  Fifty experts from various fields serve as instructors, advisors and mentors and it’s even gained interest from people in other countries.

Since I haven’t taught kindergarten, primary or high school, I couldn’t form a concrete image of the school to set up but when Kageki mentioned an alternative university, it was a light bulb moment.  I love teaching at a university in China and having the privilege of helping students come out of their shells, find their voice and blossom.  It pained me to hear stories of students who didn’t want to be in the major they were in, to walk along the corridors and see classrooms full of blank faces trying to get through the hour by staring at their phones.  People were certainly not put on earth to feel imprisoned.  Our society somehow designed traps intending to free minds by clipping their wings feather by feather.

Before he established the Shure University, Kageki had already been teaching at free schools for decades.  When some of his students graduated, they didn’t look forward to entering a traditional university so they sought Kageki.  Their branstorming gave birth to the democratic university in 1999.

While I write this blog entry on my cellphone-connected keyboard waiting for breakfast to start, guess who lines up in front of me — students from Shure University.  One of them is writing about himself and about children who like him, refused to go to school.  He tells me that other students are working on theater plays, movies, art but then the line for food moves on and I couldn’t ask further.

There are no democratic schools in China or the Philippines although my friend Donna is certain that there is one in Yunnan and I think I’d have to do more research.  However, if there is no history of democratic education in a country, how could a democratic university be formed?  Kageki said that students from traditional schools also choose to go to Shure, not just graduates of democratic schools.

Another detail worth mentioning is that in Shure University, one doesn’t receive a degree.  If one can’t obtain a degree, how can it be attractive to people?  It will only appeal to a narrow sector who’s after true learning, not merely a certificate.  Is that brave but limited sector enough to begin with?  Right now, Shure has forty students.  I can’t wait to visit Japan, which should be added to our drive around the world route, to meet them and listen to their stories. Meanwhile, there’s an opportunity more up front: on Friday, Kageki will hold an Open Space about “School Refusal and the Democratic Education Movement.”

Starting an alternative school may be one of the scariest part of this journey for me but it doesn’t necessarily have to happen.  I could be happy helping others establish an alternative school or contributing whatever I can to push for reforms in education by writing and being a bridge.   There’s no use worrying about this imagined school, rather focus on the road school that we’ll start soon with our children.  When I get back from Taiwan, the priority will be to start packing, put things in storage, tie loose ends, say our goodbyes and start the drive from north to south of China.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  One day at a time.




3 thoughts on “The School in My Mind

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