IDEC in Australia, 10th-16th July
A report from Wendy Pettit, of Currambena
The organising committee shared a wonderful week of inspiration, information and connection and undoubtedly IDEC 2006 was a success.
Around 250 to 300 people attended each day, more than half of these staying on the magnificent site on the Lane Cove River which is St Ignatius College, Riverview, a far cry from most of our schools in terms of resources and setting. Attendees were from 15 different countries including Burma/Myanmar, Canada, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Nepal, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, UK, USA and of course Australia. Schools represented included Currambena, Kinma and Blacktown Youth College in Sydney, Preshil, Hurstbridge, Village School, Fitzroy Community School and Alia College from Victoria, Boroobin Sudbury Centre of Learning and Pine Community School in Queenmsland, Tamariki, Mountain Valley and Unlimited in NZ, Tokyo Shure in Japan, San School, Sungmisan and Dream School from Korea, Tutorial School and Albany Free School from USA, the Freie Schule "Kapriole" in Germany and many others.
The planned program of invited speakers included some local favourites such as Stuart Hill, Professor of Social Ecology at Western Sydney University, who spoke about enabling learners by valuing their individual journeys, Louise Porter, author of Children are People, too, who discussed parenting and teaching relationship skills and John Marsden, author of many novels for young readers who told us about setting up his own school outside Melbourne. There were also sessions with Yaacov Hecht from the Institute of Democratic Education in Israel, Gail Thomas, sociologist and author of Meeting the Challenge of Race Relations in America, Asakura Kageki on the Tokyo Shure free schools, Jerry Mintz on AERO and an evening of films from Isaac Graves about IDEC 2005 in Berlin and US democratic schools, updates on Jim and Nao's work with Whispering Seed and the situation in Burma from Sai Leng Wan.
The program which evolved over the course of the week was rich and varied. The art room was in almost constant use with tee-shirts being screen-printed. Students played basketball, guitar and piano; they swam and chatted, participated in forums and other sessions and chaired and ran the morning meetings. Conference participants ran sessions on topics as varied as setting up a democratic high school in Sydney and constructing model cars using mouse-trap power.
A feature of this IDEC was the on-line connections with Julia Morton-Marr in Canada and Eric Schneider in Germany. Their on-line presentations on sustainability added another dimension to our global community. The concept of community, connectedness and the global group were also reinforced by Sally Carless and Aleia Schaum who both offer on-line connections between people and schools through Global Village School and 6 Friends (www.newhorizons.org, email@example.com and www.6-friends.org, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The conference was remarkable for the openness and generosity of spirit amongst participants. There was an open-heartedness in discussions and a deep respect for others' views which gave it a particular sense of community. The organising committee worked extremely well as a team and one of their highlights was certainly the spirit of those who attended. We may be spread over the world but we are certainly a community. As one of the NZ participants said in farewell, "My body is satisfied, my mind is stimulated and my spirit is uplifted." That says it all.
Next time IDEC will be in Brazil and our organising committee is currently discussing the feedback from attendees to send on to Carol at Lumiar. IDEC 2007 will probably be more than 12 months away but we want to offer our support and encouragement to that committee as soon as possible. IDEC is a very precious event for all of us.
Cecelia Bradley adds:
The students did a great job of chairing the meetings and it was wonderful to see the 9/10 year olds gently reminding Yaacov and Jerry to speak through the chair and wait their turn till others had spoken!! Once students from other schools saw that the Currambena kids could do this with confidence they were willing to have a go with one of them assisting as well. I think people liked our way of collecting the agenda and recording it and working our way through it. It meant that everyone had a chance to have their subject heard whether it was a straight reminder about the schedule, housekeeping matters or things needing more thought and discussion like resolutions etc.
Apparently democratic educators have up to now been reluctant to get involved with distance conferencing technology, but IDEC 2006 was something of a breakthrough. Many of the talks were immediately audible on line, and it was possible to make written comments while they were going on - much better than waiting until the talk is finished and you have forgotten what you were going to say.
There was a chat room, running concurrently with the talks, and the small-scale conversations often seemed to be more rewarding than the keynote talks, just as they always do when you are actually present.
The time differences between Australia and Europe and America were of course an insuperable problem, unless you were ready to stay up all night, and only a few people took part. Next time perhaps more people will be ready to try it.
If you are on broadband and have the right software, recordings of the talks, with amazing graphics to accompany them, are available at http://www.pnyv.org/idec2006/recordings
At recent IDECs it has been suggested that regional conferences would be useful, because so many people who would like to attend cannot afford to fly halfway round the world to get there. After some discussion on the IDEC forum, this has led to meetings in Poland and England, with the intention of setting up such smaller-scale conferences.
Meeting in Poland
David French, who lives and works in Poland, followed up the suggestion for regional IDECs in a conversation with Leonard Turton, who wants to develop more significant local, national and international networks. David suggested that they create a Central and Eastern European region for democratic education. He thought this might cover Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, and maybe the Baltic States.
They planned a meeting to take place in Poland at the end of July 2006, in the central Polish city of Lodz. Interest in this meeting was expressed on the IDEC forum by people from the Ukraine, UK, Germany, and Israel (more generally). In the end, apart from the Polish people present, David and Leonard were joined only by Elena Zverynina, AIST (Stork) School, Vinnytsia, Ukraine.
After a number of preliminary meetings, a group met on August 2nd at PAW (the Alternative Education Workshop), Lodz. This is an organisation of psychologists, sociotherapists and other professionals who work with various marginalised groups. Among other things they have a middle school for at-risk teenagers, run democratically with the students. They have considerable experience organising conferences; well-run, with a great atmosphere and with a range of post-session, creative activities.
Among others present at the meeting were Bogdan Sliwerski, who is a professor at the Lodz Private Teacher Training College, where he is Principal, and is setting up an alternative education website, on which he would like to include news in Polish about e.g. IDEC, and also links to English websites, Krzysztof Wilski, the director of PAW, and Janusz Zmijski and Ola (Aleksandra) Matyska who both worked at Lodz High School no. 44, which they ran as a free school for 3 years at the beginning of the 1990s, until the authorities stopped the 'experiment'. Ola was director there, and Janusz is the current director. The school still has a democratic school council. Ola is planning to open a democratic middle school in Lodz in September 2007.
There was great enthusiasm for a Polish democratic education conference, and October 2007 was suggested. Everyone there offered their help in the organisation. They thought it would be logical for David to co-ordinate, and act as interface between Poland and IDEC. He would work closely with Krzysztof Wilski of PAW and Bogdan Sliwerski.
Meeting in the UK
On August 19th and 20th a group met at Sands School, in Devon. Participants, apart from Sands people, were David French from Poland, Leonard Turton from Summerhill, Henrik Ebenbeck and Leslie Rook from the Leipzig Free School, Mike Weimann from Kraetzae, David and Lynette Gribble, Elizabeth Kumpl-Frommel from Austria and Ariane Delaunois from Belgium, who was representing Heike Freire from Spain.
After hearing about the Polish meetings, with several people expressing interest in taking part in the Polish meeting for autumn 2007, this group also expressed enthusiasm for a regional conference, and decided to meet again on August 18th and 19th, 2007, in Leipzig, to plan a regional conference in 2008. In the intervening year they would research the situation of democratic education in the different European countries. As yet there is no full-scale IDEC planned for 2008, and it would be possible leave the year clear for other regions to set up their own conferences. Regional conferences would smaller and therefore cheaper to run, and most importantly of all they would reduce travel costs.
Other topics discussed were student participation, character and duration of the proposed conference, the name for the new network (EUDEN was chosen rather than EDEN, which was thought to be too hippy), student and staff exchanges between schools, reaching out into traditional schools, the importance of welcoming and encouraging schools that were taking the first steps towards democracy, and the new version of the IDEN website, which is to include a discussion board and FAQs as well as all the information from the old site.
Carol Sumie has sent the following announcement about IDEC 2007.
International Democratic Education Conference
8th - 16th September 2007
For the first time in Latin America, we are proud to announce the dates and venue of IDEC 2007: It will be held in Mogi das Cruzes, at 52 km of São Paulo, Brazil and is planned to run from 8th to 16th of September.
Part of the conference will be held in association with the World Education Forum in Alto Tietê (13th to 16th September).
The preparations are in charge of IDEB – Institute for Democratic Education in Brazil and our most important goal now is to articulate the institutions and people interested in alternatives to conventional education to create a powerful net and support each other projects.
At the same time the preparations of the conference are being studied and reached step by step, and information about the accommodations, transport, venue, cost etc will be publicised in time.
All topics of the evaluation document made at idec'06-Sydney are being carefully taken to help our organisation committee. At this time doubts and other questions can be forwarded to the co-ordinator Carol Sumie. email@example.com
News from Booroobin, in Queensland, Australia
Those who have been following the story will know that the Booroobin Sudbury School operated from 1996 to 2003, when the school's accreditation was cancelled after a battle with the Queensland educational authorities that lasted several months. In 2004 parents, students, elected staff, graduates and friends decided that they would operate without accreditation as the Booroobin Sudbury Democratic Centre of Learning. This ran successfully for two and a half years. Then in July 2006, during the IDEC in Sydney, the operation of the Centre of Learning was suspended on the advice of solicitors who were expert in criminal law. The Minister for Education had threatened criminal action and fines on the grounds that the Centre appeared to be operating as an unaccredited non-state school.
Booroobin still has a campus, resources, staff and considerable experience in democratic education and it intends to open a new School.
In this new school human rights and responsibilities, democratic values and institutions, economic, environmental, social and spiritual sustainability and natural learning will be fundamental principles.
An application for accreditation is being prepared. However, the same Labor State Government has been re-elected, and the legislation governing non-state schools remains the same. The application will only be lodged when the conditions seem to be right.
The freedom of students to make choices and learn naturally rather than by external direction remains paramount. However, in view of the prevailing Australian culture, it has been generally accepted that there will have to be one fundamental change – the school will have to offer classes in mathematics and English to students of all ages, and classes in other subject matter will be posted.
Work on the organic farm and woodland will continue, and the existing ceramics business, reception gallery and café will be maintained.
Contact details can be viewed at www.booroobin.com