Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Deed Poll for Alternative Education

Herbert Kohl made a comment in his keynote at AERO that we need to stop using the term "alternative education" as it doesn't do the movement any justice. That was in june and it has taken me just about two months to really absorb that, shake it up and make something new out of it. (Unfortunately that metaphor was headed a bit south, so I have elected to stop it right there.) Suffice to say, I think he's absolutely right (about that) and I am taking his not-necessarily-"kind"-advice and I am changing how I refer to the movement for educational reform.

You see even though "alternative education" functions wonderfully well as a quasi umbrella term for all forms of other-than-(so called)-traditional methods, the word alternative tends to make some implications that may not necessarily be true. Think about terms like:

  • Alternative Medicine
  • Alternative Lifestyles
  • Alternate route (DETOUR?!?! Grrr. Ugh!)
  • Alternative School

For a person like me who thinks of myself as a haphazard non-conformist, it's not a heavy word. I get it. I even like to see it. "What's this? Alternative bandaids? ? Yes please!"

But for our brothers and sisters entrenched - steeped - in tradition, that A word is a bit off-putting. They think of tie-dye and armpit hair. Both very neutral things mind you, but the word associations... well.

So. Getting on with it!

I believe that what is happening in the alternative education realm - from Montessori to Democratic Education and everything in between - is really a form of Progress. These are innovative approaches to learning and schooling. They are advanced methodologies seeking to meet the needs of the coming generation and all the ills they will inherit from their forebears.

In my mind, this movement is now known as:

"Progressive Education"

What do you think?  Progressive, no?  Maybe not THE most ORIGINAL name ever or anything but it feels better in my mouth and my mind because "progressive" is moving forward, where "alternative" is a peripheral choice that you could live without.  

Let's here your thoughts...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Clarion Voice from Japan

A dear friend and avid supporter of The Village School passed this documentary on to me and I simply had to share it with you!

It's about a teacher in Japan whom, in between adminstering what seems to be a fairly standard curriculum, weaves important life lessons of humanity into the lives of his 35 ten year old students.

I am learning that what I have is not so much answers, but ideas. And there are so many ideas out there that can create a beautiful new tapestry of educational reform. I encourage you to take the time and watch this series. It is touching and revolutionary and Human.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Democratic Education: A cure for the common Ism?

I've been thinking a lot about this recently. Is Democratic Education a cure all for the social ills that plague our society? Is that asking too much from one methodology? What I am talking about specifically, is our tendency to discriminate against that which is different from what we know; as individuals and collective "us against them" mentalities. I doubt that I need list the myriad of "isms" of which I speak. You know what I'm talking about. We've all either been an "us" or a "them" - often times, if we take a good look at ourselves, we'll see these attitudes tucked away behind our good will.

And then there is Democratic Education. Time and space dedicated to allow rapidly growing and learning human beings to explore the world around them. Freedom and Liberation!, some say. Freedom with Responsibility!, others say. <--- I personally like that one. I read a Nelson Mandela quote recently that summarized this concept.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

So the question is: will Democratic Education help our next generation to be more respectful of all humans and living beings? Will living and learning in as true a democracy as we can create foster the onset of an ism-free world?

Think about it: assuming that the school is diverse ("multicultural" - an overused and under-understood terminology, imho) rather than homogeneous (which we're striving towards - diversity in Dem Ed. I mean), the people there will live and learn in an environment in which every single person has One Vote - every One - theoretically, at least - equal to her peers. I am having a hard time seeing how having lived in this community of learners, anyone can grow up to discriminate against other people. Let's face it, bigotry is learned, not inherent. What better place to learn inclusion and acceptance; at the very least a "live and let live" mindset than one where everyone's voice has the same value - different tones, but the same value?

It is possible that I am being too idealistic about Democratic Education. It's possible that it is not a Cure All. It's possible. But from where I'm sitting, I'd say it's a strong contender for a Cure Most. Which, I can't say the same for unschooling. (Internal *gasp* - "HERESY!!!" my mind is yelling) But wait, hear me out.

Unschooling/Organic Learning in the home environment is a wonderful thing! (I mean, I'm in an unschooling family!) But I feel that where unschooling can find challenges is that the nature of the environment lends itself to the potential sheltering of the children (and adults) from those who are different. "Those" might just be schooled people or people from a different socio-economic arena or those from other belief systems or religions, or anything else, really. I'm not suggesting that all unschoolers are deliberately or otherwise keeping their children from "the others". What I am saying is that it's easy for many of us to live within the confines of a social circle of people that all think and believe all the same things we do. The environment of the learner, though varied, can remain isolated and Same-ish whereas in a community of learners, people get exposed to many different perspectives. And in so doing, learn to hear and respect other people's rights to their own opinions and ways of being that may even be strange or uncomfortable for the observer.

I can't say that I am in an either/or paradigm about unschooling and democratic education. There are underlying principles of the learning modalities that are very similar: learner-directed, freedom from external pressure, freedom from coercion in learning - those kinds of things. How they look in 3D, moment-to-moment "real life" however, are very different. I realize I've gone off on a tangent that's best served in another blog post and will return to my original point now.

I believe that democratic education has the potential to help us get to a place as humans where everyone is free to live in a way that promotes the freedom of themselves and others. Circular logic? Yes. I believe it's a circular motion of give and take; of sharing while respecting boundaries that we are aiming for. (yes? no?)

This post serves as my official, single vote for Dem. Ed. as a way to facilitate a new world. One filled with passionate people pursuing their dreams and *letting* other people live their lives and pursue their dreams too; working together where it suits them and bringing their own gifts to the table. A world in which there aren't any us and them ideologies and where everyone is included if they want to be. A world where everyone belongs.

After all, that's what a democratic school is!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pray for Doubt a phrase I read sometime somewhere. "Pray for doubt," the author advocated. At first i didn't understand why anyone would want to ask for Doubt. Isn't it better to be sure? Isn't Certainty the ironclad, surefire way to know something Good and Right and True and to hell with all the rest of it? I mean, what would doubt do for anyone on a mission?!

I'll tell you what doubt does: It gives you pause. And pause gives you time to step back. And stepping back gives you perspective. And perspective gives "you" (yes, ME) a chance to see things more clearly.

I had a moment of doubt the other day. Oddly enough this occurred while I was reading this article about democratic education; a positive article which featured an interview with Isaac Graves, engine driver for the education-revolutionizing, life-changing AERO Conference train. The article also had commentaries and excerpts from the book Lives of Passion, School of Hope - which chronicles the lives of graduates of the Jefferson County Open [Public] School - by Dr. Rick Posner.

While the article mentions that some 91% of all graduates go on to college and 25% completed graduate studies, it also says that some of the school's graduates were, how shall i say? - "put out" - because they felt they had not been properly prepared for "real life" (say college/exams/the workforce) and felt a bit disgruntled with all the (my words: willy nilly freedom they were given.

( Voice over says: And now we get to the moment when our protagonist encounters her internal conflict, the central theme to this act in the play.)


"Ill prepared" you say? "Not prepared for real life" you say? *cough cough! gripping own neck frantically* (No I'm not panicking!)

( Enter the dark and sinister trench coat and hat character, Doubt. )

Wha-?????? Wait. What!? Some people were UN-happy with essentially going to an UN-school? Is this even POSSIBLE? Who are these people? What did they want to be done differently? Is democratic education not for every body???? (Doubt! Doubt! Doubt! Major doubt! General Doubt!) Could I be making a mistake? Should I even start a school???? (See the way I leapt clear over logic and reasonable thought directly into the bullseye of a terrorizing vortex of fear? Amazing. ...Talk about skills!)

So, as I was saying: I froke. A little.

And I have to confess that I had secretly hoped that writing this blog would help me process it so that by the time I made my way down to the closing para (-graph, that is) I'd have resolved my conflict and come up with The Right Answer, possibly even win a fine grandfather clock and a bonus spin from Drew Carey. Alas, this is not so. Good people, this author is still conflicted. Well, maybe "conflicted" isn't really the right word. I am certain that I am meant to create this school. (No doubt about that, thanks anyway Universe.) I am also certain that liberty and equality are cornerstones of this Place. So where how does it all fit in???

I honestly don't know. I can tell you that I don't believe in this "real world" that people are always talking about. The explanation of that is a whole other blog post which may or may not belong in this forum. I'll shoot for the short answer and say that corporations and captilalism do not the real world make. Nor college, nor degrees nor '9 to 5' jobs. So it is not my intention to educate for that (super duper air quotes) "real world".

So maybe a few Village School graduates will be miffed. Maybe they won't. Maybe we can talk about it together, the learners, all of us.

Maybe it's all okay because we are realizing a new Real Life where we're all still learning as we go (*gasp* NO!... yes dear.) and there will be room for mistakes (*gasp again*).

And maybe, just maybe, we'll actually carry on learning from, and in spite of our mistakes.

I'm cool with that option.

What about you?