Yaacov and the Possible

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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.

44 Some links about Yaacov and Democratic Education:

Yaacov at the APDEC 2016

Yaacov Hecht on Wikipedia

Yaacov on Youtube

Yaacov’s book – Democratic Education (on Amazon)

International Democratic Education Network

 

 

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These are the websites of two famous democratic schools:

Summerhill School U.K.

Sudbury Valley School U.S.

Stop the Press

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If it were up to my mom and dad, we would be living in the Philippines, not in China.  They have been asking us if we could move back just as they had requested my sister who had lived abroad most her life, to come home.   It is a difficult decision to make and not mine alone to formulate. However, I am always open and thus checked out the Waldorf School in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. For years, I have had Waldorf at the back of my mind especially in the past year when I was researching alternative forms of education.  I was set to enroll my kids at the TMA/Global Homeschool but then something stopped me.

It was that thing at the back of my mind that said Joshua might thrive better in a school setting.  He loves having playmates and he enjoys it the most when he’s with his favorite buddies like Yinpu, Chong Chong and even others that he’s met no matter how briefly. However, we have planned this big trip albeit it’s simpler and shorter now.  The arrival of a new opportunity forced us to make adjustments.  My friend, Donna and I are now preparing for a nine-day camp in the Philippines for Chinese students during the winter holiday in China which falls on February.  It’s a challenge we neophytes in this sort of thing are eager to take as a leap of faith.  I excitedly drafted the route on power point and Donna and I are constantly in touch exchanging ideas and updates.

Donna writes for academic journals in Chinese.  I used to write for magazines and newspapers.  A few weeks back, we both worked on an article about Shure Univeristy, the democratic school in Tokyo that was introduced to us at the APDEC in Taiwan.  After showing it to a professor, we realized it didn’t pass muster.  It wasn’t “academic” enough.  Our failure of sorts gave birth to the idea for the camp – genesis from a loss. Instead of writing about education that we believed in, why not put those beliefs into action and practice.  We can start with a camp which, who knows, can evolve into a full-blown alternative school in the future.

Today, my dad and I went to Sta. Rosa to check out the Waldorf School.  I wanted to visit the Waldorf School in Chengdu during our road trip in China but we went during the summer holiday when school was out.  I have visited the Waldorf School in Timberland when Donna sent her daughter there for a week in Manila, so visiting Waldorf at Sta. Rosa today was a much-awaited trip taken with my dad who is always supportive of what I do.

I wanted to combine the trip outside Manila with researching possible places for the camp such as the Sta. Elena Fun Farm which was featured in some blogs.  When we arrived there, it turned out it was only open to members or guests of members of the Sta. Elena Golf Club.  I was disappointed at the exclusivity of places left and right.  The most beautiful places were reserved only for the very elite few who could afford the astronomical, gravity-defying costs, but then probably, it was also a way of ensuring the area’s preservation.  Were it not for a fortunate encounter with a family friend, we wouldn’t have been able to enter it, plus it was closed on a Monday to boot.

Thinking of the camp and the Waldorf at Sta. Rosa which I mistakenly thought did not have a high school (but it had actually recently started) plus the possibility of starting an alternative school in the future, sent my mind racing and careening at the sharp curves.   During primary school, some sort of structure such as that offered by a traditional school or by alternatives such as Waldorf may be good for the child. But in high school and at the university levels, the tenets of democratic education seem more relevant and in some cases, urgent and necessary.  I googled the schools and centers that embodied self-directed learning such as the Compass for Self-Directed Learning in Canada and North Star in Massachusetts, USA.  I sent the links to Donna and told her, we could be doing something like that in the future.

Stoked by these way-out, intergalactic notions, I also rambled excitedly to an aunt about these newly hatched ideas before my dad and I set off for Sta. Rosa.   I was imagining finding the perfect place where that future school could be.  I was picturing the building I’d be designing to welcome the youth.  When I reached Sta. Rosa, reality hit me hard at the utter craziness of the idea and I balked again as I always do after getting a brilliant idea ran over and flattened by a slew of formula one race cars and monster trucks in my brain.

How would I even start? Where would I even start?  Who would even be interested?  How can you even get the people for this together?  And in this part of town?  Are you kidding?

There it goes flying out the window.  I’d have to wait for the bird to come back.

Maybe it’ll come back after the trip to see those schools and learning centers up close and personal in the United States.  Maybe it’ll come back after I’ve studied the origins of those schools.  Maybe it’ll come back after Donna and I have gone through the first few camps. Maybe it’ll come back after a few more stumbles and falls and friends help to get you back up.

 

The inspirational signs above dotted the Sta. Elena Fun Farm.  Here are some links for more inspiration:

Self-directed learning centre tackles current education system

North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens

Compass for Self-Directed Learning

 

 

 

 

 

After the Unbloggable

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“After the Unbloggable,” otherwise known as “A Break in the Stress in Continuum,” I could finally sit down and write or plainly speaking, my Mom took the boys out to the dog groomers, no not to groom them but the dogs, so there’s an opportune moment and the dust from the hammering has settled.  I am blowing the powder away.  The “Dream Drive Around the World” has been morphing, going through Calvin and Hobbes’ transmogrifying machine, shape shifting, stretching, reducing, pulverized into a pulp, reconstituted into being, polished into this current presentable state and who knows what it will finally end up looking until we board the plane to each destination.  So after hemming and hawing, hair pulling and WeChatting, we, meaning I with the help of others, mainly my husband, managed to come up with this spanking new, fresh from the oven timetable.

October 25 – November 20 Xishuangbanna
November 20 – December 27 Laos, Vietnam, Thailand Drive from Xishuangbanna
December 27 – January 12 Bali, Indonesia Green School, Green Village
January 12 – February 27 Manila, Philippines Hero’s Journey Camp – Feb 1 – 10

SG check-up

Preparation for US trip

February 27 Fly to New York, USA

Travel to the following states: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Utah, Arizona, California, and also arrange a trip to Canada

Sudbury School, Big Picture School, Free School Albany, Alternative Education Resource Organization, Tinkering School, Timbernook and other schools
July 30 Fly from San Francisco, USA to Tokyo, Japan
July 31 – August 8 Tokyo, Japan Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference – August 1 – 5
August 8 – August 30 Manila, Philippines Possible – Hero’s Journey Camp

SG check-up

September 1 – 10 Tianjin, China
September 10 Xishuangbanna, China

Before reaching this stage, there were several Excel columns filled up with options A, B, C, D, but thank goodness not all the way to Z.  However, if you do take everything I’ve mapped out since the beginning, I may be on the second round of the alphabet.

The original or the last plan prior to this, started with Japan and had New Zealand for the whole of February.  Both were bumped off with good reason.  My friend Donna, who attended the APDEC in Taiwan with Lucy and me, had been mulling over how to put into action and concretize the beliefs that have been planted in her mind since before and expressed fervently in that life-altering conference in Taiwan.

Donna hatched a vision to bring Chinese children and perhaps their parents to the Philippines during the winter holiday in China.  Instead of learning and practicing English in the classroom, the kids would be immersed in various outdoor activities like camping, forest survival, swimming, horseback riding, obstacle course racing and attend other highly interactive events.  My husband, Jason has also thought of something like this before and I couldn’t deny how much better it is to test out theories in real life business instead of merely writing about them or researching things online.

Donna had originally planned to travel to Laos but because she met me, she changed her plan and went to the Philippines instead.  Her daughter had a blast attending the Waldorf School in Manila for a week before going to Boracay so Donna knows that there are Chinese parents who would appreciate this sort of immersive experience for their children.  Coincidentally, I’m changing our itinerary to go to Japan and New Zealand and replacing it with Laos and its neighbors in order to pursue the camp concept with Donna.

We must come up with a nice name for the camp and since Donna’s been reading Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” as suggested by one of the speakers at APDEC, she texted me: Hero’s Journey.  Everyone wants to be a hero, the hero in his or her own life.  We all have dreams thwarted by dragons and monsters and we can get overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear, wanting to overcome hurdles to emerge triumphant but we’re still writing the lines to our own stories.

Eventually, something small like this can lead to the school we envision in the future which embodies the ideals of democratic education.

My other obsession with Japan is architectural and I didn’t need much to convince my architect friend to come with us during the Japanese leg in January but then I kept imagining how difficult it would be to choose between architectural tours and sites I know my family would prefer.  I kept picturing Jimmy having a meltdown in Tadao Ando’s sacred space and that would be appalling so maybe it’s good to postpone this for another time.  Anyway, there’s still the APDEC Tokyo in August.

The last plan prior to this one included a long run from Israel to Europe to North and South America and culminating in Africa.  Where did that go now?  It was exchanged for going directly to the United States because we have the visas but it would take too much time to process visas for the other eight countries.

We also thought our family would be resettling in Dali but Jason found a place that may be more suitable for us: Xishuangbanna.  Quite a mouthful to say for a Chinese town, it’s located at the border of Laos, thus we could take our car and drive to the countries south of Yunnan.

Another trade-off is that I won’t be able to attend the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) in Israel and the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) Conference in New York but will make it, cross my fingers and hope it really happens, to the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference in Tokyo to satisfy my intense curiosity about the Shure University.

Overall, I’m happy with the concessions and substitutes because we end up saving more money and time.  The route seems more rationalized proceeding southward from Yunnan to the Philippines and straight to the heart of where most of my research work needs to be done.  Majority of the schools I want to visit are in America so setting that as a much earlier destination makes more sense.  The other countries can follow after an undefined time but we end up with a journey that combines the best from preceding ideas.

This journey to undertake this journey has been encountering dragons and demons of its own: naysayers and courage-sappers who can’t understand what on earth can drive foolish parents to do this with young children in tow, who can’t understand the logic behind not enrolling kids in school and not having a stable home for an extended period, who think this is whimsical, nonsensical, flaky, irrational, irresponsible, deplorable behavior.  “Besides, your children won’t be able to remember any of this when they grow up.”  I hate to be on the defensive and keep explaining myself. Exhausted, I say I’ve discussed it clearly in the blog but if you didn’t get it, I’m sorry.

If you want to understand what this journey is about, please read this previous blog entry.

Some other links for the heroic:

Your Life: A Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey Outline

For those who want to read more about alternative and democratic education:

Alternative Education Resource Organization

International Democratic Education Network

 

What are the Chances?

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Yaacov, Cecelia and Iku used giant leaves to call attention to their cause: fundraising for APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference held in Taiwan last July).  Because the organizers wanted more participants to be able to afford the conference, they lowered the fees but didn’t have enough to cover the costs during the week of the event itself.  However, in a gathering of people who champion democratic education, there’s bound to be leaders like Yaacov, Cecelia and Iku who would rally everyone to pitch in and help the organizers.  Aside from putting up a donation box, an auction was held where anyone can contribute anything they could.  The highest bidder gets to take home items such as a drum from Kenya, Japanese green tea biscuits (claimed and proven to be the most delicious), pictures drawn by children, musical instruments made of popsicle sticks, an autographed book and other bric-a-brac.

I didn’t have any thing to offer so I thought of auctioning a blog entry — a writer for hire.  So that’s this article here that you’re reading now and the winning bidder is Taiwanese homeschooling mom, Irene Su.  Now the odd coincidence is: I won the bid for a drawing Irene’s son made of heroes.  Plus, we both have two sons who are the same age.  What are the chances, right?

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Irene’s decision to homeschool didn’t come easy and homeschoolers face that dilemma of choosing a non-mainstream method which people generally tend to be skeptical and wary of. In Irene’s case, it was her architect-husband who encouraged her.  Their eldest son, Timothy also led them towards that path by clearly expressing what he wanted.  Timothy tried going to school for a month and didn’t like it, saying the teacher was often angry at the naughty boys.  Timothy also begged to study Japanese but it’s something not taught in Taiwanese school.  Irene got a tutor for him and now seven years old, Timothy reads and writes Chinese, Japanese and English and can remember more dates and names in history than Irene could.  Timothy also regularly reads stories to his four-year old brother Lewis and helps bathe him.

One of the criticisms levied at homeschooling is the issue of socialization but parents are quick to defend that there are opportunities to play with other kids.  In Irene’s situation, she has partnered with her good friend, Leri who is also a homeschooling mom.  Leri is a missionary and English teacher from South Africa who has two children, Taelyn and Jared.  Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Irene and Leri homeschool the kids together.

Their basic schedule goes like this: morning worship songs, Bible story followed by two subjects and lunch.  They sometimes teach all four kids together or split them into older and younger groups.  The two moms take turns teaching history and the kids are lucky to be able to learn English from Leri and Chinese from Irene.   Leri also teaches drama and organizes an Adventurers Club similar to the Boys Scouts while Irene integrates scientific concepts into the arts and crafts, which sometimes prove to be explosive fun.

Irene maximizes learning opportunities outside of the classroom while Leri loves finding innovative ways to help kids connect with the topic through the use of stories and movement.  It’s the different teaching methods of the two mothers that broaden the children’s way of thinking and that’s why team-teaching for the dynamic duo is a source of joy.  What are the chances that two homeschooling moms can partner with each other and complement each other’s styles beautifully?

Irene loves to travel with her children, even braving the Philippines during a typhoon.  After visiting a squatters’ area and seeing the extent of extreme poverty there, Timothy said he wanted to be a doctor and didn’t want to waste any more food after that trip.  In Japan, they did a homestay with a couple with one child.  Homes in Japan are usually tiny so they were surprised that their hosts lived in a big house.  Irene’s family has been to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Macau and live with the locals whenever they can. Through these trips, Irene prefers that her children learn from real-life experiences like purchasing tickets, planning trips, buying food, solving problems along the way, writing letters to people in other countries and keeping a diary about the trip.

Timothy and Lewis’ friends are from all over the world and of different ages.  If they were in school, they would mostly be interacting with kids their age, but in homeschool, they hang out with kids, teenagers and senior citizens. Timothy especially likes talking about history with older people and could be seen in APDEC talking with the adults or playing zombie with the one of the speakers, Henry Readhead of Summerhill School fame.  Lewis likes climbing, swimming, playing golf, jumping up and down and according to Irene, is never shy.
For Irene, the bureaucratic red tape to apply to homeschool is quite tedious along with the need to do more than the usual amount of house-cleaning.  In the future, Irene will give her children the freedom to choose their high school, whether they want to continue homeschooling or attend an overseas boarding school.  For college, they can choose where they’d like to study or even consider Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).  Even during high school, the option to take university courses is already available.

Irene and her whole family were impressed by APDEC and how people not only talked about but lived their belief that children are important.  She was happy to meet people who shared the same view that learning should take place outside the classroom setting like a library, museum, on a trip and generally anywhere else your feet and minds can take you, which in Irene’s case, is everywhere.

Check out MOOCs:

Who’s Benefiting from MOOCs and Why

MOOCs are Multiplying at a Rapid Pace

MOOCs: Top 10 Sites for Free Education with Elite Universities

Two Favorites

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Here are pictures from two favorite places — one that I never outgrew and one that I grew to love.

From almost two decades of going there with my brothers and nieces, I noticed that most kids eventually outgrow this particular beach in Calatagan because it’s not nice in a resort kind of way.  It’s not powdery smooth.  It’s muddy and swampy in some parts and it’s too shallow to swim. You’d have to walk a distance and still it would be too far.  When you’re small as a toddler or a few years after, you could swim and you have less of an awareness of icky.  You haven’t developed that instant “ewwww” reaction.  Then eventually, the experience that was once sublime becomes boring because you’d rather play with an ipad or wish you were with friends in the city.

I’ve seen children who used to love coming to this beach grow up into teenagers and adults refusing an invitation to this outing.  I hope my children will be like me and never outgrow this place of perfect sunsets, never taking for granted the imperfect beauty of its shore in “all it’s perfect imperfections.”  I hope they don’t get tired of collecting tiny hermit crabs, snails and starfish.  I hope they never get grossed out sinking in the mud.

With the introduction of the stand-up (or sit-up in our neck of the woods) paddleboard, that may never happen.

The other favorite place is Singapore.  Almost two decades ago when I first stayed there for what seemed then like a longish time of one month, I couldn’t imagine myself living in such a limited area that could make one feel claustrophobic in its smallness.  At that time, the island was too tiny and there wasn’t enough to do, not enough choices and two weeks tops was the max for me.  However, going there regularly these past five years, I’ve grown to love the island nation and discover new hidden treasures each visit.  Either I must have been a cynical youth back then who didn’t know how to appreciate life as much as I do now, or Singapore has grown in leaps and bounds in hipness and vibrance, developing into a designers’ and urban planner’s tropical urban paradise.  Oh, and I’ve fallen in love with the variety of food from the hawker stalls to the restaurants in the malls and everything in between.

If I didn’t have a plane to catch, I wanted to linger at the Lasalle College of the Arts, snoop around the studios and see what the young artists are up to.  Perhaps in the next trip. Always a next one.

In the next one, I better watch a play.  I tried catching a performance this trip but after rushing to the National Gallery, I found the Tony award-winning play, Art wasn’t on that day although the brochure said it was.  So I will just have to content myself imagining what happens when “the friendship of three men is turned upside down when one of them buys an expensive piece of modern art – a white canvas crossed by barely visible lines. Serge buys the painting but Marc hates it and Yvan is caught in the middle between his two friends.  This contemporary comedy about friendship, creativity and the complexities of human relationships has become one of the most successful plays ever written.”  Uhmm. Nope, imagination doesn’t work.  I need to see it.

I’m just missing theater in my life.  No, not the personal drama which is more than enough, thank you.

 

 

 

Mall Stuff

The last time we were in Manila in February, Joshua and Jimmy attended a robotics class in Greenhills.  Recently, through Facebook, I found another LEGO robotics learning center located closer to where we live so I pounced at the opportunity and visited the mall patterned after Venice.  It’s quite a sight to behold but funny-weird in its “fakeness” as well.  There were a number of architectural gaffes you’d wish the designers corrected before giving the blueprints to the contractor.

The kids tried out the LEGO robotics program at iCreate Cafe and compared to the First Robotics Learning Center in Annapolis, the one in Venice Grand Canal at McKinley leaves the kids to assemble things by themselves guided by instructions in mini-laptops. The robotics teacher in Greenhills impressed me a lot since both Joshua and Jimmy were very engaged in the activities.  At iCreate, the staff were at a distance giving the kids more independence.  Joshua was okay on his own but Jimmy was another story.  If Greenhills were closer, I’d prefer to send the kids there but McKinley will also do for now.

Links: First Robotics Learning Center, Greenhills   iCreate Cafe Manila, McKinley

The relatively new mall with more impressive construction details and design is the U.P. Town Center over at Katipunan.  Peppered with art works on the wall, it’s an experience for mall rats plus it has the Ayala development signature gardens in the midst of commerce.  I’d take that over a fake canal but the canal of so-called “Venice” would also do because the kids love zigzagging through the columns in top speed.

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The Philippines is the land of temptation when it comes to in-between meal snacking. The boys and I find it hard to resist the lure of cheesy fries at Potato Corner, mango shake and now there’s churros.  This one is at the Mall of Asia by Manila Bay.

This is one of our favorite place in the city — the gardens and playgrounds of Serendra and High Street.  Joshua and Jimmy did a lot of growing up here and every time they climb the modern jungle gym, they get more and more daring.  You see their courage and confidence increasing through the years.

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The Ayala development at BGC (Bonifacio Global City) is like a deconstructed mall turned inside out. The green outdoor spaces make for a more dynamic experience.  Now, it’s possible to walk from Market Market to High Street all the way down to the Mind Museum and Burgos Circle through a landscaped park.  When we got to the Mind Museum, there was a special interactive exhibit about dinosaurs which tied in perfectly with the Magic School Bus book we read after lunch.

Jimmy was all too happy to become a Pteranodon crossed Stegosaurus protecting the nest with his wings.  Joshua was engrossed dusting off the soil revealing the fossilized bones.  There were different stations but each kid stuck to his for longer than expected — Joshua on an archeological quest and Jimmy in his costumed pre-historic glory. After a while, Joshua donned a dino-robe too. Roaring, Jimmy protected the dino eggs, fending off potential predators. Joshua got into the act treating the egg like a football to be defended against competition.  They wore Japanese wooden slippers with undersides bearing the footprints of a Veloceraptor, Brontosaurus, T-Rex and other types so that when you walk on the carpet, you leave a mark like an ink-less stamp.

If somebody asks me, Joei, why are you getting so fat?  I’d say, it’s the malls’ fault. They make me eat too much cheese.