Dear Peter

Thank you for helping set me on a path one year ago when I emailed you my PhD proposal and you replied how flattered you were “to be seen as an inspiration along with Thoreau” since my thesis title was “Walden Meets Ken and Gray: Journey as a Search for Knowledge through Nature, Creativity and Play.”  The conceptual framework linked your book, Free to Learn with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Ken Robinson’s Learning to Be Creative.

In your first email to me, you mentioned that you will be in Taiwan in July as a speaker at the Asia-Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC).  Because of you sharing that information, my friend, Donna and I ended up attending that event and after hearing and meeting all these inspiring people, we dreamed of one day holding APDEC in China and the Philippines. We formed a small of group of interested people on Chinese social media but at the back of our minds, we want to someday have an alternative kind of school in our countries.   I thought this wouldn’t happen till further in the future when we’ve done more preparatory work on this field or when we’ve gathered more people passionate about self-directed learning.

However, as I told you during my visit to your house last week, I met Laksmi who started the Gopala Learning Haven that in my mind perfectly fit the picture of a Sudbury School set in nature with its forest and stream but it’s operating concept is more like the Macomber Center because it serves primarily homeschoolers.  You suggested that I visit the Macomber Center during my research in America which I did plus I dropped by the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens.  Now, I have this idea that Laksmi can be the one with the younger kids and I’d be the one with the teenagers.

It’s tempting for me to go back home to the Philippines to pursue this dream project but as I told you there are too many family and personal issues that hold me back from returning.  Life in China is simpler and more affordable so it’s the easier path for me, but the opportunity of realizing this dream that has been over a year brewing is not as apparent as the one in my own country.  After talking to you last week, it seemed the only thing as usual holding me back is fear.  After talking to you, I felt courage to take the more challenging route but I don’t know if that courage will last when I step on Philippine soil and beyond.

Even if we have met briefly, you have impacted my life in more ways and for this I am very, very grateful.  You knew about this road trip across America from the start and it’s amazing that we would meet up at your house when we are near the finish line of our three-month journey.   Thank you for welcoming me into your home and for the lovely ham and peanut omelette lunch.  Thank you for listening to me blabber about the schools I visited.  I think Donna is the only other person who could listen to me talk so much about those schools and learning centers.

The PhD concept in the beginning is evolving from something academic to immediately applying research to real life which I think is a good development.  However, I still wish I can write a book about all this that will be published in English and Chinese.  It’s funny how Donna and I were so bent on holding a talk on self-directed learning in Manila but we had to cancel because we needed more time to spend on the camp for Chinese students traveling to the Philippines plus there’s the more practical matter of the learning haven.  So it’s not merely talking about self-directed learning but practicing it and seeing it in action, not just a topic of conversation.

These are my blog entries about the schools and learning centers visited throughout this trip.  There are around five more that I still need to go to in Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.

I’m visiting AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) in New York and hope I can contribute some articles.  I was wondering if any of these articles would be useful to the websites you are involved with, Alternatives to School and Alliance for Self-Directed Learning, or if I could edit or re-write any of these articles so that it’s in a more useful format to those sites.  Please tell me as I’d love to be contribute in any way possible to the movement.

Thank you very much.


Joei : )

phd conceptual framework


We’ve Been Published!!!


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:


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 ( 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 ( 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.


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.


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.” (


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 (


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? ( 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


Why Hero’s Journey


Why did we use the name Hero’s Journey for our Philippine tour with Chinese families?  Last year, when Donna and I attended the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference, one of the speakers, Dr.Tsao Lin Fang talked about Joseph’s Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero’s Journey.  Dr. Fang chairs the Formosa Alternative Pedagogy Association and here are some notes I took from his speech during the Taiwan conference:

  1. A hero is someone who has the courage to become himself and take the journey that he believes he must take. Eventually, the hero returns home.
  2. The ultimate mystery is within yourself.
  3. Mythology is an excellent way to imitate the unlimited imagination. Myths inspire one to be more of a hero and have the courage to follow one’s dreams.
  4. Our schools should be a school for gods and our learning journey should be like a hero’s journey.
  5. Follow the bliss of being yourself.
  6. When people dream big, they can get into a state of bliss.
  7. The holistic hero tries to encompass the individual’s circle into the circle of the whole cosmos.
  8. Find the hero in yourself, the people around you and the people you love.
  9. Have the courage to take the journey you must.

From Wikipedia: “The hero’s journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.[1]

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[2]

When Donna and I were brainstorming about the tour, the name Hero’s Journey immediately clicked and resonated with us.  Our original intent was for it to be a camp but it ended up being more of a tour with a twist.  Parents and children were together and we added four facilitators who handled the children’s activities so that the kids are able to maximize English practice time in the Philippines through fun activities following our concept of educational tourism.

We went to Taal Lake, Tagaytay, Nasugbu and Manila.  The numerous hurdles and challenges we encountered proved this was more of a Hero’s Journey for the organizers whose patience and coordination capabilities were stretched to the max. However, the trip also brought out the children out from their shells through the help of the counselors who have ten years of experience running camps for children.

For our next journey, we aim to take it closer to our original intent of a real camp and have already found ideal locations in the following areas: 1) Jala Jala, Rizal, 2) San Antonio, Zambales and 3) Silang, Cavite.   The children will be separated from the parents who would be on the tourist mode of the travel.  The kids will be on a more adventurous mode as their independence will be tested being apart from their family for a week in an unfamiliar place forced to use whatever English they have in their bag of skills.  This would be more in keeping with the Hero’s Journey concept and we can’t wait for the next one.

Pictures shared by the parents on WeChat:

Which Pitch Do You Like Better?


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


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 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.


Please PM Me


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.


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






Yaacov and the Possible


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





These are the websites of two famous democratic schools:

Summerhill School U.K.

Sudbury Valley School U.S.