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 (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.


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.” (http://shureuniv.org/english)


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).


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


After the Unbloggable


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

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

SG check-up

Preparation for US trip

February 27 Fly to New York, USA

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

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

SG check-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other links for the heroic:

Your Life: A Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey Outline

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

Alternative Education Resource Organization

International Democratic Education Network


Blogless Silence


It is the silence of sudden, overwhelming toxicity but also the extended sigh of rest. We landed in Manila several nights ago and the kids are enjoying being in a house with four dogs.  The grandparents are happy while I’m in a contained panic over fitting everything that needs to be done within a limited time frame.  What’s new?  That’s how it usually is whenever I go back home to the Philippines from what seems like a simple, semi-fairy tale existence in a different country, sheltered from complex past baggage that is actually not too far from present burdens with another skin.

Now back to documenting this journey. I figured the focus these next weeks would be homeschooling methods and preparations for the trip.  The round the world plans have evolved from a thirty-country, twenty-five school, four year project to a twelve-country, twenty-school, ten-month endeavor.  Nothing’s final until the tickets are bought, visas stamped and there’s always space for changes throughout, and we’re always open and flexible, but here’s the updated itinerary:

Month Country Town/City/State Schools & Sites to Visit
January 10 – 21 Japan Tokyo Shure University, Fuji Kindergarten
January 22 – 30 Indonesia Bali Green School, Green Village
February 1 – 28 New Zealand Auckland; Christchurch Timatanga School (Aukland), Tamariki School (Christchurch)
March 1 – 26 Philippines Manila
March 27 – April 11 Israel Hadera IDEC Conference (International Democratic Education Conference)
April 12 – 21 Switzerland Lausanne
April 22 – 28 Germany Berlin Robin Hood Forest Kindergarten, Evangelical School Berlin
April 29 – May 10 England Suffolk Summerhill School (Suffolk), Newman University (Birmingham – Helen Lees)
May 11 – 27 USA Massachusetts Sudbury School
May 28 – 31 USA Rhode Island Big Picture School
June 1 – 30 USA New York Free School Albany, AERO Conference (Alternative Education Resource Education), Bronx Green Machine
July 1 – 10 Canada Toronto Eric Jackman Inst. of Child Study, Compass for Self-Directed Learning (Ottawa), Nipissing University (Carlo Ricci)
July 11 – 15 Canada Regina
July 15 – 20 USA Minnesota
July 20 – August 20 USA California (SFO – LA) Redwood Forest, Tinkering School, Timbernook, Incubator School, 826 Valencia, High Tech HS
August 20 – 28 Colombia Bogota Fundacion Escuela Nueva
August 29 – September 15 Brazil Sao Paolo Lumiar
September 16 – 30 Zambia Livingstone
October 1 – 15 Tanzania Dar Es Salam

Here in Manila, I got a regular tutor to come teach the kids reading and math everyday — one hour for Joshua and half an hour for Jimmy.  The rest of their day is spent playing or going out to meet up with family and friends.  Hopefully, the technical glitch with the mandarin online tutor will be solved soon, too.

I have to start looking more in-depth and seriously into the following possibilities for the trip: Couchsurfing, Talktalk bnb, Airbnb, Help Exchange, Affordable Travel Club, housesitting websites, homestays, travel insurance, car rentals and airfare comparisons.  Schools have to be contacted, visas applied for plus on the side, there’s architectural design work that needs to be done before going back to China.

Meanwhile, Manila is a wonderful pit-stop for stocking up on homeschooling resources.  My favorite Book Sale stores never fail to yield literary treasures for children and with our home’s WiFi, I can download to my heart’s content audio book recordings for long car rides in urban gridlock, for drives to the provinces and for future road trips.  Today, for example, on the way to Calatagan, Batangas, Joshua listened intently to the first six chapters of Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia) and I promised to get him the next installments.

My friend, Donna also embarked on a hard-to-resist task that I’m now co-writing with her an article about the democratic university called Shure in Tokyo.  We met the founder and students during APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference) in Taiwan and Donna visited Tokyo last month where she saw the university for herself.  Intrigued to see how it works, I, too can’t wait to check out Shure next year.

That’s the other thing I realized — the need to release this whole round the world project from expectations of grand results such as a whole, bilingual book with accompanying book tour.  Perhaps the blog is a good enough start followed by contributing articles to journals, magazines and websites, and sharing experiences at conferences.  Where the journey leads, though I venture ambitious guesses, it’s enough that it happens and we savor the ride with all its ups and downs.  Bite-size, short term writing projects instead of grand, long term ones are more realizable and less stressful.  The long-haul goals may evolve into who knows what form and should not be allowed to add unnecessary pressure.

On our last night in Kunming, we had dinner with new friends we made in Dali — a mother who sent her son to participate in Qiu Jin’s summer camp and whose son became fast friends with Joshua during their brief time together. The mom is likewise interested in non-traditional education and was looking for alternatives in Kunming but it turns out the International Schools there didn’t allow Chinese students so I helped her find Waldorf options through Donna.

It’s more than enough to be a player in this cosmic game called life, connecting dots as we go along and the more dots connected, the more fun, squeezing out mysterious meanings from the jaunts, loving the path, not the destination, appreciating the God of small things is in charge of the big things.

Opening Up


Open Space lives up to its name.  It really IS that open.  Anyone can appropriate the space — no bureaucratic application or credentials needed, just the willingness to share something, anything or a burning question to start the ball rolling.

I attended Moe’s open space and was struck by how insidious this idea of separation was but it was quite “harmless” studying in school back then about Descartes and his dualistic model of society. Then we looked at the destruction man has wrought and what the concept of separation has brought. Tragic.  I came out of the dark, hot media room seeking air and accidentally walked into Hoho’s impromptu workshop in the lab.

A photographer, Hoho explained that she’d like for us to go somewhere so we all voted to search for a venue outside.  At a crossroad, she asked again which direction and eventually we trooped to a grassy, sloping area shaded by trees.  She then asked what people wanted to do and we ended up electing to sleep so everyone chose a spot and arranged their bodies in a comfortable position to snooze while Hoho snapped away with her camera.   It was hard to get up after because you just wanted to stay and stare at the trees and blue sky above and I thought how wonderful to get a rest from heavyweight thinking and discussing.

Somebody broached the idea of going to the stream next and what a discovery!  Beyond the path where we usually walk from dormitory to canteen was a sharp drop into the jungle and we lowered ourselves with the help of a rope.  We splashed about in the water flowing over rocks, moss and fern and screwed separation.

Another workshop I joined was Simon’s because of the compelling title, “How to use meetings to solve problems without use of punishments.”   Surely, I knew in theory that reward and punishment are the lowest forms of teaching something but I can’t get out of the pattern like I’m stuck.  Hearing Simon R. was helpful and he continued the thread of conversation with another open space this time, exploring why we keep repeating certain unwanted behaviors by tracing the roots to past occurrences.

Simon R. shared how his ill-tempered father hit and shouted at him when he was a child and as a father himself now, he exhibited behavior towards his own son that recalled his father’s.  He wanted to break the chains that bound him and he was only able to do it through internal work and seeking professional help online.  This revelation touched a nerve in people in the room and others shared their own realizations.

While three more people talked about their experience that made them rethink their parenting or teaching style vis a vis baggage from the past, I pondered what is it that’s triggering my undesirable bursts towards my own children or why I couldn’t change my habit of using reward and punishment even if I wanted to.   The conference had already ended and we were making the journey back home when it dawned on me: trust.  I had a trust issue.  It was hard for me to let go of control and to trust my children more because I don’t feel trusted as an adult child to decide what’s best for my own family.  That neediness to control because somebody sought to control you – the awareness frees you to be less of a control freak and let go.  Belated thanks to Simon R. for aiding in pushing it to the surface!  I went home feeling like a healthier mom.

Because I was interested in the Tokyo Shure University, I eagerly attended the Open Space about Japan’s democratic education movement borne out of a phenomenon termed “school refusal.”  The students refuse to go to school not because of economic or health problems but because they encountered bullying or they felt in their hearts that it was something they believed was true to their identity.  One by one, the people in the circle related their story.

One woman got tired of the situation where everything is evaluated and compared.  In the classroom, her value was measured by how she performed against the others.  To top it off, state school was simply boring. One day she caught a bad cold and decided not to return to school.  At first she could not fully understand and express the reason and it was a difficult time for her.  People regarded students who did this as sick or disabled.

At nineteen years old, she entered Shure University and everything changed for her.  Before she had nothing – no friends, no knowledge, no experience.  She thought she was a “wrong” person and a level below humans.  Those ideas limited her behavior.  Now she’s fine, active and creative.  At the APDEC, she offered her photographs for sale at the fundraiser.  She was lucky that her parents had heard about Shure University and she spent one week to try 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 around her life.

There are so many stories to tell, all worth documenting but it might even be better to just join the APDEC in Tokyo next year.

Lastly, I had one interesting final Open Space in the crowded train from Miaoli to Taoyuan.  We were stuck in a tight space, standing up with no seats because all the tickets were taken.  It was perhaps deliberate on the side of the universe that I ended up beside a fellow conference participant, Leon from South Korea who was so excited to show the pictures on his phone.  He finished chemistry in college and was now pursuing his masters in Alternative Education at the Asia Life University.  Leon’s phone pictures were mostly these groovy-fun-looking experiments he did with high school students plus other student activities that made me think, “What a teacher nerd!”  I mean that in a good way.  Teachers get excited about what they do and the excitement is contagious.

I previously attended an Open Space about the Korean democratic schools inspired by Gandhi and which embraced the ideals of love and compassion.  I thought then how I wanted to visit Korea to see for myself and the train ride with Leon gave me an extra glimpse.

When we got back to China, my two friends Donna and Lucy, who went with me to the conference, and I couldn’t stop doing Open Space, discussing about education that we even formed a WeChat Group called APDEC in the future.

Learn more about Shure University and from Simon R.’s recommended author Alfie Kohn who wrote Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason.

Moe Zimmerberg has worked for decades in the field of democratic education at The Tutorial School.  I hope everyone who’s doubtful about alternative schools can take time to read this: College and FAQs.

For Simon R., here’s the ikigai diagram I told you about during breakfast:




It was an emotional, tearful goodbye.  We had seven days of happiness, waking up in the midst of a cool forest, warmed by smiles and conversations, fed by others’ experience in democratic education, entertained by young artists who remind us what it is to truly be free, and inspired by everyone who have big dreams for a better world.  The organizers did an astounding job putting this event together.  It wasn’t easy and their road was paved with challenges – logistical and personal, but it was a journey of heroes, a journey worth taking.  Our kudos and appreciation goes out to each and every one of them and to those who participated from various countries: Taiwan, Malaysia, India, Japan, Korea, China, America, England, Australia and the Netherlands.

Coming from the Philippines, I’m now excited to spread the word about this yearly gathering that creates and strengthens bonds among kindred spirits working on alternative education.  Whether it is in the fringes or within the mainstream, on a personal, small or large scale, each effort is equally important and when combined, greater than the sum of its parts.  There were homeschoolers from Taiwan and there were those who have been leading the democratic education movement for decades.  There were students and teachers who probably shouldn’t be labeled as such because they were BOTH students and teachers.

I still have two and a half days’ worth of notes that have to be transformed into blog entries and I don’t know where to start.  I was tearful at the end because I realized what I found — a new family.  Do you know when you have crazy-sounding ideas in your head and some people even in your own family don’t understand?  Some people put you down, laugh at or consider the concept ridiculous, irresponsible and reckless.  Sending children to a school where they can play all day – how preposterous is that?  Now, none of that matters because you know you are not alone.  There is family.  Family, not by blood, but family.



How many conferences do you know are organized by a real, live, head-banging rocker-convener?  Phenix, you rock our world!


To everyone who made these seven days possible, thank you, thank you, thank you!  Our hearts overflow. 

I will miss waking up to the sounds and smells of forest.  I will miss eating under a tent full of passionate souls.  I will miss the rhythm of the past few days.

But there are so many things to look forward to such as IDEC in Israel on April and APDEC in Tokyo on August next year.  And friggin crazy as it might seem, in the future, APDEC will come to China.

Please read my other entries about APDEC 2016 here:

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



The School in My Mind


It troubled me that I can’t visualize the alternative school I want to create in the future.  I thought undertaking this research would lead me to some clues and true enough, right on the appointed dot by the universe, Kageki, an educator from Japan, sparked a nerve, turned a dial to make the hazy picture clearer . . . . and it went pffft back into obscurity when he walked off and there were a myriad questions still in my mind.

Kageki, together with his previous democratic school students in Tokyo, started the Shure University where the students decide and design what they study, how much they pay for tuition and how long it takes to finish the course.  This university was “founded by people interested in helping young people pursue their curiosity.”  Fifty experts from various fields serve as instructors, advisors and mentors and it’s even gained interest from people in other countries.

Since I haven’t taught kindergarten, primary or high school, I couldn’t form a concrete image of the school to set up but when Kageki mentioned an alternative university, it was a light bulb moment.  I love teaching at a university in China and having the privilege of helping students come out of their shells, find their voice and blossom.  It pained me to hear stories of students who didn’t want to be in the major they were in, to walk along the corridors and see classrooms full of blank faces trying to get through the hour by staring at their phones.  People were certainly not put on earth to feel imprisoned.  Our society somehow designed traps intending to free minds by clipping their wings feather by feather.

Before he established the Shure University, Kageki had already been teaching at free schools for decades.  When some of his students graduated, they didn’t look forward to entering a traditional university so they sought Kageki.  Their branstorming gave birth to the democratic university in 1999.

While I write this blog entry on my cellphone-connected keyboard waiting for breakfast to start, guess who lines up in front of me — students from Shure University.  One of them is writing about himself and about children who like him, refused to go to school.  He tells me that other students are working on theater plays, movies, art but then the line for food moves on and I couldn’t ask further.

There are no democratic schools in China or the Philippines although my friend Donna is certain that there is one in Yunnan and I think I’d have to do more research.  However, if there is no history of democratic education in a country, how could a democratic university be formed?  Kageki said that students from traditional schools also choose to go to Shure, not just graduates of democratic schools.

Another detail worth mentioning is that in Shure University, one doesn’t receive a degree.  If one can’t obtain a degree, how can it be attractive to people?  It will only appeal to a narrow sector who’s after true learning, not merely a certificate.  Is that brave but limited sector enough to begin with?  Right now, Shure has forty students.  I can’t wait to visit Japan, which should be added to our drive around the world route, to meet them and listen to their stories. Meanwhile, there’s an opportunity more up front: on Friday, Kageki will hold an Open Space about “School Refusal and the Democratic Education Movement.”

Starting an alternative school may be one of the scariest part of this journey for me but it doesn’t necessarily have to happen.  I could be happy helping others establish an alternative school or contributing whatever I can to push for reforms in education by writing and being a bridge.   There’s no use worrying about this imagined school, rather focus on the road school that we’ll start soon with our children.  When I get back from Taiwan, the priority will be to start packing, put things in storage, tie loose ends, say our goodbyes and start the drive from north to south of China.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  One day at a time.