Jerry Mintz is one of the icons of the non-traditional education world having founded the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) in 1989 and having held AERO Conferences for the past twelve years, thus nurturing an international network of passionate change agents. After visiting fourteen schools and learning centers of varying degrees of progressiveness and radicalism, I felt the pilgrimage to Jerry’s home/AERO office in Roslyn Heights was a fitting culmination, a mini-graduation of sorts even if I still had one last co-op in Princeton to check out.
More than being a fountain of wisdom and experience from being a school principal for seventeen years and running his own catalytic organization, Jerry is simply a guy who loves people. His home office is abuzz with folks, young and old, and he is more than willing to share his love for table tennis with anyone who cares to try like my son, Joshua. Two people from mainland China coincidentally came that day we visited and they ended up chatting with Jason and showing off their ping pong prowess. Jerry has a knack for teaching ping pong and if I could place my kids in his homeschool twice a week together with Auroja, I would knowing what an encouraging and generous guy he is.
Jerry brings out a foldable ping pong table and turns on the robot and Joshua practices with complete glee. Jerry unfurls a roll of cardboard to cleverly contain the orange balls so they’d be easier to pick up. Weaving in and out of the rooms, Jimmy plays with five-year old Auroja, a fellow Paw Patrol devotee and monkey bar strongman like him.
AERO is a treasure trove for alt-ed pilgrims like me itching to find books. I thought I’d be able to get some books from the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham but they told me to just purchase online. Seeing Jerry’s bookshelves was a dream come true for me. I wish Donna, my partner in “ed crime,” was there to choose books and listen to Jerry share stories about his involvement in various efforts around America and the world.
The serendipity as we connect dots in this trip amazes me. Donna and I met Adler Yang and watched his film, “If There is a Reason to Study” about the condition of Taiwanese education during the APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference) last year. Jerry tells me that Adler is expected to arrive in New York end of the month and we could probably meet up again in AERO.
A woman from Ukraine calls Jerry up asking about some alternative schools they plan to visit. They are also doing a cross-country trip like us while researching about education. When I visit the Agile Learning Center (ALC) a few days after, folks at the ALC tell me the Ukrainians were there a few days before. The visitors wanted to learn about new methodologies to apply to their school.
Jerry talks about his observations about Sudbury Schools and new models like ALC. I tell him about the opportunity in the Philippines waiting for me to be part of the Gopala Learning Haven, a center for homeschoolers with an idyllic setting amidst nature. It’s a difficult decision for me to make because although I want to participate in this process I’ve been researching about and dreaming of, life in China still holds its attraction because things are way, way simpler and less problematic there. Jerry suggests, maybe we can have a trial period in the Philippines and make no long-term commitments first.
Being a part of this movement, this web is quite exciting and to think it all started over a year ago out of discontent with the education system in China. Many people’s starting point may be that — a bubbling discontent that pushes issues to the surface to be addressed. The challenge is what do we do about it in concrete terms that deliver, as Ghandi said, “the change we want to see.”