Donna and I have a few crazy dreams. We’d like to someday hold the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference in China and we’d like to someday start a democratic school in the Philippines, China or both. The latter seems scary and daunting at the moment, so if it’s too impossible, we also wish we could send our children to a democratic school in England or America. All those seem far-off in the future so we are thinking of what we can do today that is feasible. We are planning to hold a camp called “Hero’s Journey” for Chinese children who want to practice their English for a few days in the Philippines. Instead of classroom sessions, the mountains, lakes and forests will be the classroom and learning will be any where, any time, interacting with the locals.
Starting a democratic school in the Philippines or China seems too far-fetched. The Chinese people we talked to bristled at the word “democracy,” advising us that it should be changed. The Filipino teachers I talked to about the concept also felt uncomfortable at the idea of having no structure and no curriculum. They would go as far as progressive but not to the other extreme end of learner-centered education. Politics in China and religion in the Philippines would be likely deterrents, among others.
Then one night ago over Skype, I talked to Yaacov Hecht, and what seemed to be impossible in my mind was possible again. Yaacov spearheaded the International Democratic Education Conference in 1992 and was one of the speakers at the APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference) in Taiwan last July. He founded the first democratic school in Hadera, Israel in 1987 and now there are 30 democratic schools that are funded by the government. This is quite amazing and that’s why I want to see for myself because in most other countries, democratic schools generally remain in the private realm.
When we attended the conference in Taiwan, Yaacov put in our heads the germ of the idea holding APDEC in mainland China. Donna, Lucy and I volunteered to initiate the process even if we didn’t know what we were doing. We started a WeChat group and inched our way to finding people to add.
When I finally talked to Yaacov over Skype, he had just attended the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) where met and talked to China’s Assistant Minister of Education. They talked about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), not democratic education so Yaacov resolved to invite him and the minister to the IDEC (International Democratic Education Conference) in Israel on April next year. Yaacov said that one of us from our China APDEC group must attend IDEC to make the crucial link with the government.
Then I asked Yaacov about how we can start a democratic school when we don’t even know if people will be interested in this sort of thing. Yaacov suggested that we could hold a talk and workshop in Manila, and invite around 100 people. Among the total people who will attend, a small crop will emerge who may be seriously interested in the cause and take action. With that, I felt encouraged and empowered. It’s something that we can do, start small, initiate a dialogue, set the ball rolling and who knows where it ends up. Yaacov can come to Manila before heading to the Tokyo APDEC which takes place from August 1 to 5, 2017. We can set the talk in Manila around the last week of July.
Donna thought about inviting Simon Robinson, a teacher at the Okinawa Sudbury School in Japan whom we met at the Taiwan APDEC and Simon readily agreed. Simon held several open spaces at the APDEC where his passion for this type of education was clearly shown. Donna and I are both eager to learn from him and his experience with the Sudbury way.
So it seems we are on our way somewhere and doubts fall behind. Getting something off the ground is just a matter of doing one thing at a time and constantly connecting with people.
Some links about Yaacov and Democratic Education:
These are the websites of two famous democratic schools: