AERO’s Hero

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 was a fitting culmination, a mini-graduation of sorts even if I still had one last learning 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 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, 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 a fellow Paw Patrol devotee and monkey bar strongman like him.

Jerry’s place 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.”

 

 

The Free School in Albany

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Maya has been teaching in public school for five years.  It’s her first year at the Albany Free School where the role of the teacher is vastly different, shattering concepts of what a school should be.  Whereas before she was not so happy going to work, facing students who seemed forced to be where they are, now she comes to school with joy.  At the Free School, kids don’t have to attend class if they don’t want to.  Classes are optional and there is more freedom than rules.  There are morning meetings but after that, the kids choose what to do. Kids can propose any activity they want and can even teach their own class.

Brandon wanted to be a social worker but the amount of government regulations was discouraging and he discovered the Free School, a place he believed in and felt he belonged.  Earlier that day, he asked his students to teach him something useful.  One kid said that he likes playing chess because if the other person does something you don’t like, you react in the best way possible.  Another kid told a story of an MVP basketball player who said that the most important thing is being good to people. You can lose fame and wealth but whatever happens, what counts is being kind to others.

The building is located within a tight downtown neighborhood close to the Empire State Plaza so when students need to, they could easily walk to make their voices heard.  For instance, the other day, they protested against deportation.  Every Monday, the school prepares food for immigrants and refugees since Albany is an asylum city and there are programs for asylum seekers.

Older kids get to go on five-day class trips to Philadelphia, Cape Cod or Washington DC. Last year, they went to Puerto Rico and raised funds for it by selling fish fries and having cake auction.  The parents don’t have to shell out money unless they participate in the fundraisers.  The free school, by the way, is not “for free” but there’s tuition fee that is lower than what usual private schools charge.

One student moved from LA and enjoys how different the Free School is, especially how problems are solved by talking among each other, not just by getting automatic suspension.  When kids get in a fight, they talk about what caused it.  In regular school, you are sent home or placed in detention.

Diana attended this quite radical school from kindergarten to grade school and loved it. It didn’t matter if she wanted to do math or science, at the end of the day she knows how to solve problems as they come in the real world, how to stand up and speak for herself. She went to Harriet Tubman for high school which is similar to the Free School but according to her, the focus on academics is stronger.  Now she’s back at the Albany Free School as one of the teachers, work she describes as “the best job ever.”  She can’t imagine herself not being in a place like this or doing a job that pays the bills but without passion.  The other day, she took her students to the dragon steps and they wrote letters they placed under the dragon door.

The whole city is their school and it’s normal for them to go on spontaneous, unplanned walks to the parks, museum and other places in the neighborhood.  Right behind the building is a garden with chickens, vegetables and open green space quite surprising and welcoming downtown. There are rules about going out: fourth graders can leave without staff as long as there are at least three people together.  Those in the lower grades can go out only if there are with staff members.  They can ask staff if they want to go somewhere in particular.

Zach is a volunteer teacher who thinks kids who are made to sit for more than five hours behind a desk are subjected to a form of torture.  However crazily idealistic it sounds, the Free School may not also be for every kid.  One kid with mild autism thrived here and ended up learning how to read at a faster pace but his own sister struggled with and felt uncomfortable with the high degree of freedom.  There are some kids who were bullied in public school or got in trouble in their previous school but found they were accepted here.

Council meetings are run by the kids themselves and they can pass motions and decisions.  When Trump won, some of the kids felt devastated so they started a council meeting to share how people felt.  “I don’t understand why people chose a president who’s racist,” one child said.

When we visited the school, my family and I could’ve attended the dress rehearsal of Annie which was happening that afternoon but we opted to move on to our next destination. Last year, they did a production of Fantastic Mr. Fox and before we left, the kids crowded around the computer watching the show.  In the car, we settled being with them in spirit, singing “The sun will come out tomorrow. . . . . ”

Check out the Albany Free School website.1

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We’ve Been Published!!!

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Okay, it may not be THAT big a deal but it means A LOT to Donna and me that the article we worked on together was finally published in the online magazine of the Alternative Education Resource Organization.  It means so much to us because we reached a point when we were ready to give up after being told that the article was not fit to be published in an academic journal.  We were about to throw in the towel when, after some time, Donna brought it up again saying she really wished the piece could still be published.  I pondered the possibilities and thought the academic journal is not the only choice.  Other online publications might consider it since there may be less issues about style and language.  It just needed another round of editing.

The article is about the Shure University, a democratic university in Tokyo which by the way, is one of the organizations actively promoting the 2017 APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference) in Tokyo from August 1 – 5 this year.

Here’s the article plus the link to the article:

SHURE: A DEMOCRATIC UNIVERSITY IN TOKYO

By Yan LI

From the oldest continuously running democratic school Summerhill founded in 1921, till now, democratic education has developed into a global movement, from kindergarten to high school. There are a number of democratic schools at the pre-school, primary and intermediate levels but at the higher levels, there are less. I was then curious to know how are the principles of democratic education implemented at the university level?

Shure University in Tokyo is a 27-year- old college where students have the freedom to choose what and how they learn and where they use a democratic decision-making process among students and staff. Mr. Kageki Asakura is one of the founders of Shure University. We met at the First Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC), which was held in the Holistic School, Miaoli County in Taiwan from July 18 – 24, 2016. During this conference, keynote speeches in the morning were given by appointed speakers and after that, most time segments were open space where anyone can sign up and share their own experiences in workshops, discussions, and other formats.

During the keynotes, Mr. Kageki interpreted the speeches to the students who gathered together and listened intently. On the 22 nd , Japan Democratic School network held an Open Space about “Japanese School Refusal and the Democratic School Network Movement.” Apparently, school refusal in Japan is a huge issue in the field of education. Many democratic school students go through the process of school refusal. In the beginning, the students who went through this process themselves, explained what school refusal is, why the students refuse to go to school and how the democratic schools meet the student’s need.  They don’t really refuse school for economic or health reasons but for deeper reasons that question their sense of self, their values and identity.

One student shared her own story: at the state school she felt bored and was under pressure to perform because everything was measured by how one’s accomplishments compare with the others. There were expectations which she had to try and live up to. She refused to go to school.  At nineteen years old, she went to Shure University and spent one week trying 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 her life around. From somebody who did not believe in herself and had a very low self-esteem, she became self-assured and motivated to pursue her own unique path in life (https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/opening-up/). At the APDEC, she went on stage to express her idea of offering her photographs for sale at the fundraiser. She was active, confident and creative in front of the participants. In another open space, Shure students presented the Japanese tea ceremony, paper folding, self-designed stamps and so on which attracted a lot of participants. I was impressed by their kind, caring and calm smile and then began to gather more information about this democratic university.

In Shure University brochures, it says: “To live as I want. To get the world back to the self. To study, to express, to be reborn.” Shure Tokyo is the parent organization of Shure University, an non-profit organization founded by students in 1999 who wanted to continue their education. There are no qualifications necessary, no pre- defined curriculum, only freedom. In China, students are measured according to their academic performance at a college entrance examination. We judge students by the grades they get, not by who they are. We have a compulsory curriculum. If the students fail, they can’t get their degree.

“Accepted” is a 2006 comedy film made in the United States about a group of high school seniors who, after being rejected by all colleges to which they had applied, create their own college, the South Harmon Institute of Technology (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Accepted_(film). The students decide what they study based on their own individual schedule, how to spend their tuition, how long it takes to finish the course. They don’t have traditional teachers, classrooms or library, however they find their creativity and passion for learning with a desire for self- growth. Ironically, true learning takes place in this fake college. The students don’t need society’s approval to tell them what to learn or how to learn. It’s about total self-acceptance. When I introduced this American film to my students in Psychology class, they began to feel inspired, but later they said it was just a movie and not real.

Reality

I was eager to see how the concept of democratic university works in real life. Not long after the conference, on August 4, 2016, I visited the Shure University in Tokyo. Located in a two-story building, including one room for teenage democratic students, Shure University put the dream of democratic education into practice. Although that day fell on their summer vacation, the staff and students of Shure University were busy preparing for the Shure University International Film Festival all the way until night time. It was to be held a few weeks after so as the students labored, Mr. Asakura showed me around the building and patiently answered my questions.

Philosophy

Shure is an ancient Greek word, which means a place where people can use their mind freely. Mr. Asakura and his previous democratic school students started Shure University, because the students didn’t want to go to the traditional university to further their study. They wanted to continue the practice of making democratic decisions about the way they learn, including the tuition they pay, the curriculum they cover and the years they spend in college. Before establishing the Shure University, Kageki had already been teaching at free schools for decades and taught sociology at the University.

In Shure University’s website, the philosophy behind their school is best embodied in the phrase “creating your own way of life.” Society usually expects people to graduate from high school and university, get a job and be a productive member of the community. Democratic education posits that this is not the only route to take. “Changing yourself to match society’s expectation is only one way to live. Another way is to create your own values through your own interests and experiences for the purpose of suiting your own lifestyle. How do you want to work? How do you want to spend your time? How do you want to build relationships with others? Students here try to create their own values with other students, staff members, advisers and other friends of Shure University.” (http://shureuniv.org/english)

Administration

Now, there are around forty students, four staff members and almost fifty professional advisers from various fields. In the end, the students in Shure University do not receive a degree. Why then do they choose to attend? For them, education is about true learning, and not merely a certificate. The tuition cost is higher than the state universities but below the private ones. Without recognition by the Japanese Ministry of Education and comparatively low tuitions, Shure University has no economic advantage to attract famous experts to teach here. However, there are still fifty professional advisers such as Serizawa Shunsuke, Hirata Oriza, Shin Sugo, Hau Yasuo, Ozawa Makiko, Ueno Chizuko. The university attracts the people that they do because the students are highly self-motivated and tend to excel in the things they do since they choose it themselves.

Referring to the advisers, Mr. Asakura said that “We need fifty of them because interest of students are so diverse.” Even though the school only has forty students, the interests are so broad, spanning philosophy, anthropology, music, law, drama, cinema, history, documentary and others. These also change over time so the university has to be ready to deal with the evolving interests. Sometimes, the adviser comes to the university to hold a workshop or a class while other times, the student can visit the adviser’s office to have a personal tutorial or consultation.

It is understandable how diverse the composition of experts and advisers are because there are many unique courses available in Shure including: Alternative Education, Academic History, School Truancy, Family Discourse, Life Discourse, Cultural History, Politics and Economics, World History Research Seminar, Creating Your Way of Life, Literary Discussion, Pop Music, Computer Science, Tokyo Cultural Activities, Live Theater, Modern and Fine Arts, as well as language classes such as English and Korean. Project-based classes are also available including Film, Drama, Music and How to Build and Race Solar Powered Cars (http://shureuniv.org/english).

Evaluation

There are unique personal courses and a number of group projects. Students here decide how many classes they have and how many years they attend. They explore their own path with other students, staff members, advisers and other friends of Shure University. The graduate is evaluated on individual and project-based performance. One of the Shure University students, Yui Sakamoto explained that there is a meeting each semester to discuss and reflect on the seminars and group projects, what they want to get during the present semester and what they got during the previous one. Each student has tutorial time when they talk about their individual plans and reflect on their own work. Each student makes a presentation around March including an evaluation of their own work while other members give a response or comment on the presentation. They don’t use numerals to evaluate anything or anyone. In a sense, according to Yui Sakamoto, this is more challenging so when she needs to get a deeper understanding, she has to ask questions to grasp what she wants. For her, the most important thing is “living her own life and making the kind of world that she wants.”

At the APDEC 2016, American psychologist Peter Gray, author of Free To Learn explained 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? (https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/at-the-roundtable/) From this perspective, the graduates of Shure University seem to fulfill these standards. The majority work at an NGO or take care of senior citizens. Almost none of them takes part in the commercial field. They become responsible, caring adults.

The next APDEC will be held in Tokyo at The National Olympic Youth Centre on August 1 – 7, 2017. People from the Shure University will actively be involved in organizing this major, international event. Joining it may be an ideal way to continue learning more about this exceptional university and about democratic education in general.

 

About the Author:

Donna (Yan LI) is a Educational Psychology Lecturer at the School of Communications, Tianjin Foreign Studies University. As much as she possibly can, she wants to promote the ideas of democratic education and hopes to start a Democratic School in mainland China someday.

494Donna at the Shure University

If you want to read more about the APDEC 2016, here are past blog entries about it:

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

 

The Site is Up!

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The crowdfunding site is up and running!   After going through a series of hoops and hurdles as all worthwhile endeavors involve, I was giddy with excitement finally seeing it online.  I received a lot of help and encouragement from the people at CauseVox, the platform for people and organizations with an advocacy, a dream, a burning passion that keeps them up at night and energized in the day.

My friend in China, Donna and I wish to bring Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson to Manila for a seminar-workshop sharing their experiences about democratic and self-directed education on July 29, 2017.

Read about Yaacov here:

Democratic Education Around the World

Excerpts from Yaacov’s Speech

Read about Simon here:

Interview with Simon Robinson

And if you’re interested in attending the seminar-workshop on July 29 in Manila:

What the Seminar-Workshop is About

Or supporting the cause of spreading the word about self-directed education:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

And if this is not enough and you simply want to know more about self-directed education:

Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Video on Self-Directed Education

Hope to see you in July!

Which Pitch Do You Like Better?

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Dear family and friends, I’m embarking on a crowdfunding campaign to support the seminar-workshop on self-directed education we are holding on July 29, 2017 with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson.  I wrote two versions of the pitch — one that gives a brief backstory and another that goes straight to the point.  Which one do you think is better?

One friend prefers the first one because it could build connection between the readers and writer while the second one’s no-frills, direct pitch might be good for a cover page.

Here is the long version:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

Having lived in China for more than eight years, I saw the problems of the educational system from horror stories told by my university students.  After seeing the worrying effects on students’ lives and attitudes, I feared the prospect of my own children languishing in the system.  I was determined not to let the fire in my children’s eyes go out.  However, it’s not only the Chinese system where this lamentable phenomenon is happening.  In many countries, the stifling effects of schooling are felt, some recognized but not arrested fast enough to save minds from the cookie-cutter, factory assembly lines of irrelevant curriculum.

My anxiety about traditional education transformed into an eager curiosity to investigate alternative forms of education such as Waldorf, democratic schools, homeschooling, unschooling and Finland’s much-hailed system.  In July 2016, I attended the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) where I met Yaacov Hecht who sparked a crazy dream in me and my Chinese friends that China and the Philippines would someday host the APDEC and have their own democratic school.

As the first step of many, we have invited Yaacov Hecht from Israel and Simon Robinson from the U.K. to talk about self-directed and democratic education in Manila on July 29, 2017.  Yaacov will be a speaker at the APDEC in August in Tokyo while Simon teaches at the Okinawa Sudbury School, thus Manila is conveniently nearby.

Yaacov founded the first democratic school in Israel and helped establish a network of democratic schools at a national and international level.  Simon is interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit.  In their seminar-workshop in Manila, they will share their experiences as well as explore the possibilities of self-directed learning and democratic education in the Philippines.  Through this, we hope to find other champions and supporters and build momentum for this movement in the country.

Here is the short version:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

We’d like to hold a talk about self-directed and democratic education in Manila on July 29, 2017 with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson as speakers.  Yaacov founded the first democratic school in Israel and helped establish a network of democratic schools at a national and international level.  A teacher at the Okinawa Sudbury School in Japan, Simon is interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit.  In their seminar-workshop in Manila, they will share their experiences as well as explore the possibilities of self-directed learning and democratic education in the Philippines.  Through this, we hope to find other champions and supporters and build momentum for this movement in the country.

After researching and considering various platforms like Indiegogo (can’t use if you’re not from the US and certain countries), Go Get Funding, Cause, Go Fund Me and Razoo, I’m leaning towards Causevox.   Exciting times!

 

 

 

Democratic Education Around the World

If you are interested in education that allows students to choose their path in the broadest sense, that grants or gives each of them the freedom and respect accorded to every human being that the words “grant” or “give” should not even be used because they imply a “giver” or a “granter” when it is actually already everyone’s right, then you may be interested in the International Democratic Education Conference which will be held on March 2017 in Israel.

I am almost finished reading Yaacov Hecht’s book, Democratic Education, but I can’t wait to share some things from it because they jive with what I hope to study and research while traveling around the world with my husband and two sons.  The book details Yaacov’s experience of starting the first democratic school in Hadera, Israel and of being involved with setting up similar schools in his country and promoting the principles internationally.  The book does not paint a rose-colored picture but reveals the stark challenges and struggles of growth through failures and perseverance.  The idealist is also a realist with his feet firm on the ground, dealing with disappointments and mistakes as well as celebrating the triumphs.  The trajectory of the book goes from the small local communities all the way to the global stage where the network of democratic schools is empowered by knowing and studying each other, learning by example available worldwide.

And this is what I am so eager and stoked to put in table form: in Chapter Seven of the book called, The International Journey, Yaacov lays out an overview of democratic education efforts around the world.  Because I want to visit as many alternative schools as I can in the United States next year and in other countries in the future, I was high-school-crush-tickled-pink reading the general history of the movement in each country.   I wish I could join the IDEC in Israel but because we changed our plans to go to America first, I can only attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) in Tokyo in August next year.

Plus there’s the talk of Yaacov and Simon on self-directed learning that we are organizing in Manila for July 29.  My friends, Donna, Lucy and I have this crazy, lofty dream that someday, mainland China and the Philippines would have their own democratic schools and be the future hosts of APDEC.  We also wish our own children can attend Summerhill or Sudbury.

Japan Democratic education system in Japan focuses chiefly on children who are defined as “school refusing children.” By establishing a large network of democratic schools, the democratic education system offers these students the possibility of achievement in non-academic fields.  A democratic university (Shure) was established headed by Kageki Asakura.  Each student chooses to specialize in a field that interests him with the accompaniment of a volunteer mentor (a high-level expert in that area).
South Korea A large network of over 100 alternative schools have been formed which operate with a democratic approach.  Some are for students who have dropped out of regular schools, while others are regular schools which have created alternative tracks to success.
India The central question occupying the educators of India is how to develop an educational system that would be active and relevant to street children and working children who do not come to existing schools at all.  Democratic educators in India began to operate frameworks that would enable children to choose from subjects that were close to them.  Recently, they have noticed that the young children prefer to learn from older children.  There are teacher-advisors aged 16-17 who work with younger children, where the subjects are determined together.
Thailand Saowanee Sangkara and Jim Connor have founded one of the most fascinating centers of democratic education, “Whispering Seed.”  This is an orphanage which runs on principles of democratic education and sustainability.
New Zealand Tamariki in Christchurch is the main democratic school in New Zealand.  It is an integrative public school subsidized mostly by the State.  The Institute for Democratic Education Aoteaora (Aoteaora is New Zealand in Maori) takes part in opening innovative schools throughout New Zealand.  These schools do not call themselves democratic but they implement most of the principles of democratic education such as individual learning programs and the use of the city and its many institutions as a major learning resource.
Australia Most of the alternative schools have been in operation since the 1960’s.  AAPAE, a network of 14 schools is the main organization working in alternative education.
Russia The Self-Directed School in Moscow was founded by the innovative educator Alexander Tovalsky with some 1,200 students.  This is a fascinating model combining Russian culture and democratic education.
Netherlands Around 20 democratic schools of various kinds were established recently.  These schools are recognized as public schools.
Scandinavian countries Democratic schools with partial or total government funding.  Regular schools are also undergoing processes of democratization.
Germany There are some 50 open schools (small, private school) some of them working with “free approaches.”  Arno Lange is operating a center for alternative education in the city of Jena.
U.K. Summerhill has some 100 students and continues to be the most famous alternative school in the UK and perhaps in the world.  In 1987, the Sands School was founded in Southern England.  In recent years, students and staff members of Summerhill have been involved in processes of change in public and private schools around the UK
U.S.A. The movement is large.  Every there is an AERO conference (Alternative Education Resource Organization).  Since 1995, there has been the Sudbury Valley Conference which unites all schools belonging to that stream.  Despite the large number of democratic schools in the USA (about 100), the majority of them are private and have few students.

The Big Picture Learning is a network of schools headed by Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor developing all over the USA, makes use of a school model based on every student’s points of strength and fields of interest.  The students choose areas of interest and twice a week, they study outside of school in the community, guided by professionals in their chosen areas.

The greatest challenge facing American educators is to try and create democratic schools that will be recognized by the State as public schools.

Canada Some ten democratic schools, the most prominent of which is Windsor House in Vancouver.
Brazil Lumiar was established in 2002 through an interesting partnership between the industrialist Ricardo Simler and Elena Singler, a leading educator in the area of democratic education.  They also founded the Institute for Democratic Education Studies which later became the institute for Democratic Education in Brazil which helps establish democratic schools throughout South America, as well as leading processes of democratization in regular schools.  One of the most significant activities of the Institute was the establishment of some 85 schools in the democratic spirit operating along the banks of the Amazon.

The Apprendiz City School in Sao Paolo is part of the program called, “the neighborhood as a school.”  The entire street, including workplaces, shops, restaurants, art galleries, a circus and sports facilities, all have become a part of the school.

Other Countries Other countries that have democratic schools:

Nepal, Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, Italy, Colombia, Honduras

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The AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) has a  list of democratic schools around the world.  If you want to learn more about democratic education, you can go to the IDEC 2017 website where this is from:

Democratic schools are schools that attempt to use the democratic approach in all their systems:

Learning – The right of choice is a leading principle. The students build their own individual study program within which they decide what, how, and with whom they are interested to learn.

Assessment is based on a continuous dialogue aimed at developing the student’s ability to carry out self-assessment.

In management – The school works as a microcosms of a democratic state and includes the three democratic authorities:

The Legislative Authority – the entire decision-making process in school includes all the community (students, staff members, and in some schools also the students’ parents).

The Executive Authority – The parliament’s decisions are performed by execution teams which are comprised of students, staff , and members of the community.

The Judicial Authority – Disagreements in school are resolved by mediation and judicial committees, which are operated by students, staff, and members of the community. 

In personal guidance – Each student chooses a staff member to be his/her personal mentor in one’s learning quest. The role of the mentor is to produce a triangle between the mentor, the student, and the student’s parents. The goal of this triangle is to advance the student.

In the content – The learning contents are those selected by the students. The objective is to teach a subject as a combination of knowledge from the past, up-to-date knowledge, and references to predictions on future development in the area. In addition, the learned subject should never be referred to as a goal in itself. For instance, a mathematics teacher must ask himself how to teach math in a way which is mindful of human rights and promotes them.

THE HISTORY OF DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION

The democratic schools are based on humanistic concepts which most likely, had an effect, to some degree, on the education world throughout the human history, and particularly since the organized education processes have started operating in schools.

The pioneers of the humanistic education were Rousseau, Tolstoy, Pestalozzi, Fröbel, Montessori, Decroly, Dewey, Janusz Korczak, A. S. Neill, and many others. Nevertheless, many single out Summerhill School (1921) as the first to implement a democratic system in it, and in all probability as the first to disseminate the idea on a large scale (the book Summerhill by A. S Neill was sold throughout the world and became a guiding light for numerous educators). In addition, it is important to note, that it is the only alternative school that exists and successfully operates since the beginning of last century (1921) and until today. Another guiding light is Sudbury Valley School in Framingham Massachusetts, United States. Dan Greenberg, in his books and articles, tells the remarkable story of the school that also made a huge breakthrough and is showing the way since 1968 until today to educators and schools all over the world.      The first democratic orphanage (without a school) was founded by the Polish-Jewish educator Janusz Korczak (1912). Korczak’s ideas also received a wide distribution and generated a meaningful effect thanks to the children’s books that he wrote (i.e. King Matt the First, which depicts the tale of a state run by a child); the newspaper in which children wrote for children; and the radio program in which he talked to children with children.

 

Wishing It Could Be Like Coldplay

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Coldplay is coming to Manila next year and so many people can’t wait to get their hands on the tickets despite the skyrocket high costs.   How I wish there could be a way that the event my friends and I are planning for next year can get the same reception.  I’m not talking about numbers here because let’s be realistic.  It’s not a concert of a popular band.   However, we do like to find people who, if they knew, would jump at the opportunity to meet an international pioneer of self-directed / democratic education.  Every advocacy requires groups of champions and we’d like to connect with those who are passionate about this cause in the Philippines.

My friends and I met Yaacov Hecht at the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) in Taiwan this year and after talking to him, the possibility of someday holding the conference in China and the Philippines was opened up.  Before we knew it, we were organizing Yaacov’s talk in Manila for late July next year, before he flies off to Tokyo to speak at the APDEC there.

As an introduction:

“Yaacov Hecht founded the Democratic School in Hadera, Israel, the first school in the world to call itself ‘democratic’. The schools operate as a microcosm of the democratic state. In 1993, he convened the first IDEC – International Democratic Education Conference that has run for 24 years now all over the world, each year in a different continent. Yaacov Hecht has served as an advisor to Israeli Ministers of Education past and present, as an expert for creating connections and interfaces between the state and alternative education.”

Early this November, Yaacov spoke at the plenary of the World Forum for Democracy in Austria.  Following are excerpts from his speech:

“I fear that in schools today they prepare us for the past. But how do we build a school that prepares us for the future? That was the idea behind my democratic school.

“And then, for me it was like magic. Once I’d built this school there was immediately a huge waiting list. And I found myself building another, and then another, another. I found myself building 30 democratic schools in Israel, and then I realized that I wanted to understand what had happened in the world, and so I founded an international conference, and I call it IDEC, the international democratic education conference, and I called on innovative democratic schools from around the world to come to this conference. And today, we have more than 1,000 democratic schools from all over the world in more than fifty countries. It is an annual event, running in different countries ever year.

“But what is this democratic school? Look today at democratic schools around the world and you will see that in most of these schools four major rules exist. But before I explain further I should say that among these 1,000 schools, every one is different, because we believe that different is beautiful. We say there cannot be two democratic schools that are the same. But you can find these four major rules in most of them.

“One, we live in a democratic community. For example, my school is six hundred students between 4 years old and eighteen, and every Friday we have a meeting and we make decisions together. My vote as the Headmaster and the vote of the students is the same. We cannot change the rule of Israel, but in the law I give all the power that I have as the Principle to the community.

“The second thing that we have in the democratic school is personalized learning. What does that mean? It means that every student in my school chooses: what, how, where, when she or he learns. Think about the traditional school, the great idea that if you are this age, you need to learn this and this. We think that the most important thing that God created was to create us different. And school needs to continue to find out our uniqueness. But what you find in the traditional school is that they try to make us the same. At the same time, no matter how bored I am, we sit with people who are the same age and we learn the same things. In the democratic school everyone learns differently, in mixed ages.

“Rule number three. In our school we have a very close relationship between the staff member and the student. In most of our democratic schools students choose their mentor. The teacher doesn’t choose us to sit in his class. I choose with whom I want to be in a close relationship, and this is my mentor.

“The fourth rule is content. Our content that we teach in our school is from the point of view of human rights. Most of the content that is studied today in conventional schools is studied from the point of view of nationality. We study from the point of view of human rights.

“Think about schools which don’t give the student any choice. I hope they will disappear very soon. Think how for one hundred years people have been sitting in classrooms being told what to do. From my point of view this is something very catastrophic.  We can explain it . OK. It was the industrial age, and people needed to go to work as a machine, so we helped them go to work as a machine. But today in the knowledge age, it is very clear that we have to help students to find their element, a place where they can connect their talent and their passion. Because in their element they have the most chance to succeed in the future.

“How to do it? There exist a lot of ways, and I hope there will be a net here that will enable us to share our many ideas of how to do it with one another. It is a time for sharing. The young man over there asked me how to push democratic education in your city or in your area. It’s easy, build a network around this. Don’t be alone. Find another person who wants to do it. Go and meet together and talk about this. Then find another one. And then a big group, and then go to talk with the Department of Education in your city but as a group. I think this is the time of networking. So build a network around this. Yesterday evening I sat with a huge group of young people full of ideas about how to change the education system. That, I think is the way.”

 

Above are excerpts from Yaacov’s speech at the World Forum for Democracy 2016 in Strasbourg, Austria.  You can read the full transcript here:

Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World

Who’s In?

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PROPOSED TIMELINE AND GENERAL STRATEGY FOR STARTING A SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING CENTER IN THE PHILIPPINES (AND EVENTUALLY CHINA)

July 2017

Hold a seminar-workshop on self-directed education with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson as speakers.  Yaacov and Simon will talk about his experience with democratic schools and the workshop after will discuss the following:

  • What are the possibilities for a self-directed school or a self-directed type of education in the Philippines?
  • How can ideas of self-directed education be practiced within existing schools in the Philippines?
  • How can a self-directed school or learning center be started in the Philippines?

August 2017

Attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) in Tokyo and months before the event, promote this in the Philippines and in China so that more people will know about it and those who are really interested can attend.  We need to build a network of people who believe in this kind of education.

October 2017

Hold a talk-workshop with Peter Gray about the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and share examples of schools, centers and organizations which believe in and practice self-directed education such as the Sudbury Valley School.  This would be a follow-up session on the July workshop that would build on the momentum started with Yaacov and Simon.  Hopefully a core group would emerge from the people who attended in July and in October and who will eventually initiate a self-directed learning center in the Philippines.

Aside from the Sudbury model, another model that could be considered is the Macomber Center because in the Philippines, there is already a growing number of homeschoolers and unschoolers.  Members of the Macomber Center are all registered homeschoolers and they “pursue their interests in their own way, at their own pace and are free to explore the world in a way that they find meaningful.”  They have “no formal curriculum or guidelines for achievement. Instead, they trust that children will thrive (and learn!) when given time and freedom to play and explore within a community of other young people, with support from knowledgeable, helpful adults.” The “school” or “center” does not even need to have a physical space or address.  It could be a network or an alliance similar to the one set up by Peter Gray, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.  People can come together as they choose and the whole city, the whole country, the whole world is the school.  Venues change as needed and as opportunities allow.

WORK THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE FROM NOW UNTIL JULY 2017

  1. Introduce and promote the idea of self-directed education and ensure that the talk of Yaacov and Simon will be well-attended. The target number of audience is 100 so we need to target much more than that – probably 200 or 250.
  2. Promote the Tokyo APDEC in the Philippines and in China to see if there are people who would seriously consider attending the conference. Use social media and our personal networks to reach out to as many people as we can.
  3. Promote Peter Gray’s talk about self-directed education in Manila. Coordinate dates with the conference organizers who originally invited him to Manila.

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And how does all these efforts connect to China?  My friends who attended the APDEC in Taiwan, Donna and Lucy also dream of setting up a self-directed or democratic school in China but as a strategy, we could start in the Philippines where the opening is wider.  In the future, we can invite Chinese students and teachers to experience this for themselves, too.

Here’s a bit of Peter Gray’s background from his blog, Freedom to Learn, Psychology Today:

Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College, is author of Free to Learn (Basic Books, 2013) and Psychology (Worth Publishers, a college textbook now in its 7th edition).  He has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology. He did his undergraduate study at Columbia University and earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences at Rockefeller University. His current research and writing focus primarily on children’s natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play. His own play includes not only his research and writing, but also long distance bicycling, kayaking, back-woods skiing, and vegetable gardening.

 

Please PM Me

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If you are interested in this talk, please send me an email or message me on Facebook. Just putting this out here for anyone who might want to join.  This is still next year (around July – August) but one can’t start too early on these type of events.

A Seminar-Workshop on Self-Directed Education

For purposes of this introduction, the terms self-directed education and democratic education are used interchangeably.  In the Philippine setting, the term self-directed learning is more acceptable and attractive because the word “democracy” is too political, even corrupted to an extent.  The word does not connote the sense of empowerment that it should.   On the other hand, self-directed is a neutral term which conveys the meaning clearly and cannot be confused with anything else.

Self-Directed Education

The term self-directed education (SDE) refers to the concept and practice of children and adolescents being-in-charge of their own education. In other words, they are acquiring knowledge, values, and skills that are conducive to a satisfying and meaningful life through activities of their own choosing.

Such activities need not include any formal schooling, curriculum, or textbooks. Often the activity of self-directed learners is more aptly described as play. In fact, much of the power of SDE comes from the innate drive to play, which nature and evolution have selected as the most efficient way for animals (especially mammals) to learn and develop their capacities.

When children are not being directed by others, their natural curiosity leads them to explore their environment and emulate the behavior of their elders. When children are immersed in a culture of partnership — where power is expressed through connection and cooperation rather than control and domination — their innate sociality leads them to engage and play with others in ways that develop greater social intelligence and collaborative skills.

Democratic Education

There is no monolithic definition of democratic education or democratic schools. But what we mean here is “education in which young people have the freedom to organize their daily activities, and in which there is equality and democratic decision-making among young people and adults.” From the Directory of Democratic Education – Alternative Resource Education Organization.  These schools and programs take many forms and include public and private alternatives and homeschool resource centers.

Yaacov Hecht

Yaacov Hecht is an internationally distinguished leader and visionary in democratic education, learning theory, and societal change. In 1987, Hecht founded the Democratic School in Hadera, Israel.  Due to the school’s success, Hecht helped to establish a network of democratic schools all over Israel. In 1993, he convened the first International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC), an annual conference that continues to connect educators, schools, and organizations. He founded the Institute for Democratic Education in Israel (IDE), which focuses on making change in the public schools system through democratic education principals. Most recently, in 2010, Hecht co-founded “Education Cities-the Art of Collaborations,” an organization which focuses on turning educational systems into a central growth instrument for the cities in which they exist. Hecht continues to be a sought after speaker and consultant, and plays an essential role in the movement for democratic education in Israel and around the world.

Simon Robinson

Simon is from England and has lived in Japan since 1997 and is a teacher at the Okinawa Sudbury School. He has worked extensively in education in Japan and England, and believes that Sudbury-model education provides the best start in life for young people.  He is passionate about the democratic meeting process, developing and maintaining a culture of mutually-respectful discussion to solve problems.  He is interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit.  People of all ages are at their best when they experience what they are doing as play, entering a state of flow and forgetting even themselves.  Simon has reached a stage in practicing democratic education where he wants to share something of value not just within his school but outside in the wider community and the world.

Workshop

The workshop will be an open discussion with Yaacov and Simon about the following:

  • What are the possibilities for a self-directed school or a self-directed type of education in the Philippines?
  • How can ideas of self-directed education be practiced within existing schools in the Philippines?
  • How can a self-directed school or learning center be started in the Philippines?

For more information, check out the following websites:

Yaacov Hecht’s Book: Democratic Education

The Alliance for Self-Directed Learning

Macomber Center for Self-Directed Learning

 

 

 

 

 

Simon is Stoked

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“Thanks so much for asking.  I can’t wait to come.  Talking about democratic education to help people understand it is pretty much THE thing I want to do with my life!”  thus Simon Robinson responded eagerly to our invitation for him to speak in Manila about democratic education.

My friend Donna and I have a ridiculously crazy dream of setting up a democratic school either in the Philippines or China or both.  It seems ridiculously crazy because of factors too lengthy to explain in this article because this blog entry should be about Simon and his contagious passion for democratic education.  In fact, after reading Simon’s answers to my questions posted to him on Facebook, I instantly wished I could send my children to Okinawa Sudbury.  I opened coinmill and plugged in the tuition fee in Japanese yen and converted it into Philippine peso.  It wasn’t as astronomical as I feared but how are we going to live in Japan?  Or for that matter, how are we going to live in another country with an existing democratic school?  It’s been bugging my mind these past few days but let me give way to Simon’s musings.

Simon is from England and has lived in Japan since 1997. He has worked extensively in education in Japan and England, and believes that Sudbury-model education provides the best start in life for young people. In his free time he enjoys going to the ocean with his family and drawing comics. (From the introduction of the staff from the Okinawa Sudbury School )

How did you “fall” into democratic education?

There were basically four key moments:

The first was in 1998, in my second year working as an Assistant Language Teacher in a Japanese junior high school. I was teaching a class and spotted three girls sitting together at the back who were completely ignoring my lesson. I realized I was faced with a choice: either I could insist that they participate in the lesson and they’d probably hate me and thus not learn any English, or I could respect their disinclination to participate and have a fun little chat with them instead, and then they’d like me and then maybe at some point they’d learn a little English from me. I chose the latter, and that approach has shaped my approach to education and children ever since.

The second was in 2001 when I got the chance to work at a (now closed) international school in Okinawa that in part modeled itself on Sudbury Valley School. I was only at the school for a short while but it was a fascinating experience and I learned hugely from it. I returned to working in Japanese junior high school but I now had a lot of questions about conventional schooling. Then one fateful day I googled the term “democratic education” and the floodgates opened to an intense period of reading (John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, Alfie Kohn, Grace Llwellyn, Chris Mercogliano, Jerry Mintz, and A.S. Neill, among others) and reflection on the nature of compelled learning and its effects on children.

The third was in 2005 when I spent a week as a volunteer at Summerhill School. As I said to my mother when I got back: “Finally I’ve found a school I actually like!”

The forth was in 2009 when I went along to Okinawa Sudbury School’s first public discussion meeting. For some time I had been feeling that I wanted to start a school, but I had no idea how to get started with that – suddenly here was a group of people to work with! I enthusiastically signed up on the founding committee and as staff and have been there in various capacities ever since!

 

Why do you want to dedicate your life to promoting democratic education?

I work in democratic education mainly because I really enjoy it – I love working with children and young people in a democratic learning environment. I really enjoy having the chance to get to know children and young people, talking with them about life and sharing my experience – in a free and respectful environment they really listen, and I’m happy to be someone they feel they can learn from.  I also learn a great deal from them, though I am aware that one of my flaws is that I am not as good a listener as I want to be (sometimes I talk a little too much!) so at a personal level that’s something I’m working on.

My particular specialism is the democratic meeting process, developing and maintaining a culture of mutually-respectful discussion to solve problems (both structural i.e. how we run the school, and interpersonal i.e dealing skillfully with the inevitable conflicts that arise). I am also very interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which to me are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit – people (of all ages) are at their best when they experience what they are doing as play and so get 100% involved in it, entering into a state of flow and forgetting even themselves (for more information on this see Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi’s book “Flow”).

I also really enjoy the day-to-day rhythms of the work, in particular the variety. My work is divided between talking: about theory and implementation, and addressing human relations issues in the various meetings, with parents, and also in casual chatting with the kids; and physical action: playing dodgeball, making a treehouse, organising the art supplies, and taking kids out on a trip – all of which are great fun!

And now I’ve got to a stage in my learning about democratic education where I feel I have something of value to share not just within my schools but outside in the wider community – not just working in, but also promoting democratic education. I started a blog, helped a school startup establish democratic meetings, made some presentations at APDEC2016, and I’ve recently started posting videos on social media. All these have been very well-received so I’m now looking forward to the prospect of being able to share my experience with a wider audience, both in person and online. This is all incredibly exciting, and I think this is really what all of us want: the opportunity to develop (and perhaps share) mastery in our chosen field – mine just happens to be democratic education. I’m very grateful that life has given me the chance to develop an expertise in something I love doing, and now the chance to share that expertise.

In your experience, what’s the best way to make people understand what democratic education all about, especially those who have difficulty understanding it?

There are lots of ways to explain democratic education and I’m still experimenting to find the best “elevator pitch.” One way I seem to have been using quite a lot recently is to say that we’ve all had the experience of being in a learning situation that was boring – maybe a lecture or lesson where we found it really difficult to concentrate, maybe even getting sleepy. That feeling is your brain – the learning machine in your head – slowing down, and if your learning machine is slowing down then you’re not going to do much learning! On the other hand, we’ve all had learning experiences where we got really excited and couldn’t wait to find out and do more – that’s your learning-machine brain revving up to a thousand rpm, and it’s going to learn and remember very, very well! So we should set up our society’s learning (and living – we are all learning all day every day!) environments so that our brains get to rev up to a thousand rpm as often as is optimal (i.e. also acknowledging the need to calm down for peaceful reflection and rest).

Another way to explain it is to point out something we all know: that little children are insatiably curious about everything. They really are amazing learners who master such difficult activities as language and walking without any coercion whatsoever. I explain that this instinct to investigate and understand their world doesn’t suddenly stop once they reach school age, so instead of putting them in classrooms to make them learn what and when we say (which they will learn very inefficiently because they are not curious about these things) we should instead continue to allow them the freedom to follow their curiosity and thus learn very efficiently (though in a very individual way that can’t be predicted in advance or controlled by anyone but the child herself).

Another analogy that I often use is to point out that we adults learned to use computers and smartphones in a very chaotic, informal, need-to-know basis (in school I never had any lessons in how to upload a photo to twitter!), learning from friends, the internet, or sometimes from a teacher. This process is exactly the same for children – they learn what they need when they need it in the way that suits them and the situation best.  All we adults really need to do is help them when they ask for it (and perhaps if they are looking lost also make suggestions for how they might move forward).

Finally, I often point out that children, although young and inexperienced, are fully human: they have the full range of human experiences: their own perspectives and their own needs, including the very human needs to be listened to and accepted, and to be in control of their own lives. I ask adults to reflect on how they felt at a time when their perspective was being dismissed, ignored or rejected – that’s how children feel when you dismiss, ignore or reject their perspective! And I ask adults to reflect on how they felt at a time when they were forced to do something they didn’t want to do (including if it was being done to them “for their own good”) – that’s how children feel when we compel them to do things!

And this point is really the core of democratic education. It’s not really about deciding things by talking (and in some schools, voting) or granting children the right to play freely and to learn by following their curiosities. The core is that we recognise that children are fully human: they hurt and they feel joy, they get excited about some things and turned off by others, and they need to be listened to and to have control of their own lives – just like us adults! Everything else in a democratic learning environment (the play, the meetings, the school rules, the staff, the music and books and bicycles and computer games and treehouses….) all flows from that one central kernel: children are human, so we need to treat them as human: with respect, in freedom. This same point is also true of wider society: democracy isn’t about voting or governments, it’s about the understanding that the people with whom we share this world, no matter their race, gender, social status, sexual orientation, politics, philosophy, religion, life choices, and (in this particular case) age, are first and foremost people, and so we as a society need to grant them the same fundamental rights we would grant ourselves.

Of course, this is not how most of us adults grew up, so treating children with respect, in freedom, as fully human feels very new and strange, and so can be very difficult. In particular people new to a democratic approach to childhood either:

1) fear giving children control and respect and so don’t do so (which causes a lot of problems….);

or else:

2) embrace giving children control and respect so enthusiastically that they end up reversing the power-relationship so that the children are in the position of greater power (which also causes a lot of problems….).

I’ve had a great deal of practice at steering a course between these two extremes so that adults and children can live together in a genuinely equal, mutually-respectful relationship where both get what they need. I’m very happy to now be in a position to be able to share my experience to help other people achieve the same balance.

What’s a typical day like in Okinawa Sudbury for you?

There are a lot of very exciting changes going on at Okinawa Sudbury right now, but I’ll describe the day as it is at the moment, on the understanding that it might be different a few months from now!

Our school has no specific time that we require the children to arrive by, so one staff member will come in by nine o’clock (the official opening time) to open the doors for the early birds, and the other staff will come in by ten (though often earlier if they have work they want to take care of while the school is quiet). We also use this early-morning opportunity to chat informally about the school – issues we are facing or new developments we’d like to try.

At ten thirty we have the daily meeting, which is a free-to-attend-or-not opportunity to talk about the day ahead. Children and staff might announce activities they want to engage in, or trips out they want to take (e.g. to the store to get some art supplies, or to one of the local parks), and we staff will also check on any administrative issues and let each other know what we are hoping to work on today (I say “hoping to” because our best-laid plans often get derailed by the free-flow of the day – sometimes I intend to work on the treehouse and end up playing dodgeball….).

After Daily Meeting has finished, if there’s nothing we staff immediately need to do then we often take advantage of the fact that we are all in one place to further discuss problems or developments we are hoping to implement, but we try hard not to spend the whole morning simply talking (in a democratic school there is always SO MUCH to talk about!) and instead get on with some actual implementation. The mornings are a good time for this since the children often pretty much occupy themselves. However, if there is a trip out planned then often a staff member will leave with a bunch of kids and not come back until School Meeting.

Lunch happens whenever we get hungry (for staff and children alike). Sometimes lunch is also an opportunity to talk amongst the staff, though again we are aware of the danger of spending too much time talking to each other, so we’ll often instead spread out to sit and eat with groups of children.

After lunch is when the children will often approach staff with something they want us to do – maybe get out the paints, watch a performance they’ve been preparing all morning, help make a campfire, or join in their dodgeball game. After a morning spent on more work-like activities, this is often when the staff get to spend time with the children – engaging in activities with the kids builds relationships, which as well as being of value in itself also means we are much better able to solve problems together. (It also gives us staff the opportunity to observe the children at play – if there are any interpersonal problems going on then we will be much better placed to address these if we have seen it ourselves). However, other days we will get on with some other projects while the children play – as staff we try to balance these two draws on our time.

At three o’clock we have cleaning time – everybody is assigned to a particular area (which is changed by lottery every month – a fun activity in itself!) which they tidy, wipe, sweep, and on Fridays also mop. After cleaning we sit down in the main room for the School Meeting, which (unlike the voluntary Daily Meeting) everybody attends. This is where we make decisions regarding the running of the school, for example buying some new equipment, making a new rule, having a party, or allocating budget, and we also address interpersonal issues such as a disagreements or conflicts. It is also an opportunity for staff and students to share what they have been doing today (children may show the pictures they painted, and a staff might explain how she’s rearranged the library shelf), to make people aware of problems (mentioning that one of the rooms was left very untidy today) and to make any necessary announcements (“Tomorrow we’re going to the rock-climbing gym so if you’re coming don’t forget your entry fee, water-bottle, and socks!”).

The School Meeting/democratic process is one of my particular areas of interest, so I take a key role in making sure that the meetings are respectful, constructive and working effectively to solve problems and reach decisions. In particular I keep an eye on efficiency – although it’s important for the discussion to evolve and everyone to have a say, the children get discouraged by very long meetings so I want to keep the process short enough that they willingly engage. We recently agreed on a guideline that we try to keep the School Meeting to half-an-hour or so.

Once School Meeting is finished the children may start up another game, a group may leave early to go to the local park together before heading home, and all the children leave the school by five o’clock, our official closing time. After School Meeting is another time of the day when the children have relatively few requests from us, so we staff usually get on with some admin matters or have an informal meeting to discuss an issue or reflect on the day. Once a week we sit down for a formal Staff Meeting. This is also the time when we schedule any meetings or chats with parents. Around quarter to five we try to make sure we are in the main room to say hi to parents and goodbye to kids as they leave. On a not-to-busy day we may leave shortly after five, though there is often SO MUCH to talk about (and do…) that we often find ourselves staying later.

And that’s pretty much how we spend our days at Okinawa Sudbury School!

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Here are some links to articles from Simon Robinson’s blog:

Children’s Independence

Initial Thoughts on APDEC

Real Learning Comes from Curiosity

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