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.

https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/category/researching-education/

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.

Always,

Joei : )

phd conceptual framework

 

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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!

 

 

 

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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Yaacov and the Possible

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Donna and I have a few crazy dreams.  We’d like to someday hold the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference in China and we’d like to someday start a democratic school in the Philippines, China or both.  The latter seems scary and daunting at the moment, so if it’s too impossible, we also wish we could send our children to a democratic school in England or America.  All those seem far-off in the future so we are thinking of what we can do today that is feasible.  We are planning to hold a camp called “Hero’s Journey” for Chinese children who want to practice their English for a few days in the Philippines. Instead of classroom sessions, the mountains, lakes and forests will be the classroom and learning will be any where, any time, interacting with the locals.

Starting a democratic school in the Philippines or China seems too far-fetched.  The Chinese people we talked to bristled at the word “democracy,” advising us that it should be changed.  The Filipino teachers I talked to about the concept also felt uncomfortable at the idea of having no structure and no curriculum.  They would go as far as progressive but not to the other extreme end of learner-centered education.  Politics in China and religion in the Philippines would be likely deterrents, among others.

Then one night ago over Skype, I talked to Yaacov Hecht, and what seemed to be impossible in my mind was possible again.  Yaacov spearheaded the International Democratic Education Conference in 1992 and was one of the speakers at the APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference) in Taiwan last July.  He founded the first democratic school in Hadera, Israel in 1987 and now there are 30 democratic schools that are funded by the government.  This is quite amazing and that’s why I want to see for myself because in most other countries, democratic schools generally remain in the private realm.

When we attended the conference in Taiwan, Yaacov put in our heads the germ of the idea holding APDEC in mainland China.  Donna, Lucy and I volunteered to initiate the process even if we didn’t know what we were doing.  We started a WeChat group and inched our way to finding people to add.

When I finally talked to Yaacov over Skype, he had just attended the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) where met and talked to China’s Assistant Minister of Education.  They talked about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), not democratic education so Yaacov resolved to invite him and the minister to the IDEC (International Democratic Education Conference) in Israel on April next year. Yaacov said that one of us from our China APDEC group must attend IDEC to make the crucial link with the government.

Then I asked Yaacov about how we can start a democratic school when we don’t even know if people will be interested in this sort of thing.  Yaacov suggested that we could hold a talk and workshop in Manila, and invite around 100 people.  Among the total people who will attend, a small crop will emerge who may be seriously interested in the cause and take action.  With that, I felt encouraged and empowered.  It’s something that we can do, start small, initiate a dialogue, set the ball rolling and who knows where it ends up.  Yaacov can come to Manila before heading to the Tokyo APDEC which takes place from August 1 to 5, 2017.  We can set the talk in Manila around the last week of July.

Donna thought about inviting Simon Robinson, a teacher at the Okinawa Sudbury School in Japan whom we met at the Taiwan APDEC and Simon readily agreed.  Simon held several open spaces at the APDEC where his passion for this type of education was clearly shown.  Donna and I are both eager to learn from him and his experience with the Sudbury way.

So it seems we are on our way somewhere and doubts fall behind.  Getting something off the ground is just a matter of doing one thing at a time and constantly connecting with people.

44 Some links about Yaacov and Democratic Education:

Yaacov at the APDEC 2016

Yaacov Hecht on Wikipedia

Yaacov on Youtube

Yaacov’s book – Democratic Education (on Amazon)

International Democratic Education Network

 

 

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These are the websites of two famous democratic schools:

Summerhill School U.K.

Sudbury Valley School U.S.

Stop the Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Self-directed learning centre tackles current education system

North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens

Compass for Self-Directed Learning