The European Democratic Education Conference, 2017, seems like a lifetime ago now but it has taken the last two months to fully process everything we took away from it. For those of you unfamiliar with Eudec, it is a yearly event held in Europe, bringing together democratic schools and projects, as well interested individuals from all over Europe and further afield too. The conference is incredibly intense, where enthusiasm runs wild and is both utterly infectious and impossible to contain. In fact it was almost impossible to remember that democratic education is not widely known about in the UK.
I’m not sure I have experienced ‘community’ quite like it. Days are filled with back to back workshops, discussions, speeches, film screenings and more. The term like minded people has never been so true for me as it was in this setting.
We took so much away from the experience, I want to summarise just some of what we have learnt that will most certainly help us on our amazing journey to start this school. Lets start with the first speaker:
What a start to the conference this was for us. Frances attended Sudbury Valley School and her talk was titled – Exploring the concept of passion while living the Sudbury model. When you spend so much time researching, reading and by most people’s definition obsessing over Sudbury like we have, it’s very exciting to finally meet and hear from someone with first hand knowledge, someone who actually attended and graduated from the school. The time we spent talking over things with Frances afterwards was also very helpful.
Frances talked about not finding a passion during her time at Sudbury. She immersed herself in the school and was involved in the governance, later becoming the Judicial Committee Clerk. It is clear that she gained a great deal from this as well as her overall experience at SVS but it wasn’t until later that Frances realised that although she hadn’t – like lots of students – found a particular passion, that was okay because actually what she had learnt was to be passionate. She is now obviously passionate about lots of things in her life, she is ready to take life as it comes and be happy while choosing paths that speak to her at the time. This expressive, articulately spoken, driven young woman is clearly a great advocate for democracy in education and of course Sudbury Valley School itself.
Three of us attended Eudec. If there had been any less we wouldn’t have been able learn and engage in what we did. The timetable of events (most of which put on by the attendees themselves in an open space format) was so full we had to split up and tackle different things at the same time as to not miss out.
Here are some of the titles of talks, key note speeches, open space discussions and workshops that we were involved in and my brief thoughts on the ones I attended;
Self Directed Education as a worldwide movement: WHY THE TIME IS NOW !!!
Peter Gray’s book ‘Free to Learn’ started me on this incredible journey. Joining us live via video link from his home office, Peter Gray’s plea for help on his mission to start a worldwide movement for democratic education was as passionate as you would expect. Why the time is right, right now, was broken down into four points and he expanded on each but these are the outlines:
- Increased toxicity in schools
- Never has there been more evidence of the outcomes of Democratic Education
- Never has it been easier for children to self educate
- The Workforce emerging needs individuals with skills that traditional schools are not succeeding in but that Democratic schools are
Beyond Coercive Education – A plea for the realisation of the rights of the child in education.
This talk was based on Peter Hartkamp’s book titled as above, which I highly recommend, debunks common myths surrounding coercive education.
Henry Redhead gave an insightful and witty view of life at Summerhill, stating that the social and emotional well being of the child comes first and academic learning comes after and often later. He discussed in quite a bit of detail the schools experiences with the UK inspection process with both OFSTED and the Independent Schools Inspectorate. This has been invaluable to us as we prepare to register as an independent school.
Very interesting session discussing the organisational structures and ways of setting up sociocratic schools and how they work in practice. Although we are not going down this route, the ways in which they come to unanimous decisions was incredibly thought provoking and there are definitely lessons to be learned.
Why is democratic education so white and middle class? – What can we do to change this?
This discussion was one that I was keen to participate in. Although I feel we still didn’t reach an answer, headway was made. Having others from around the globe involved in the discussions made it valuable in a way I hadn’t expected. Micheal Greenberg often discusses the individual world views of others and this discussion showed how true his statements are. – The differing views from varying countries on this issue were plain to see. The outcomes and thoughts often similar but actually the journey to get there incredibly different. We concluded that ‘social class’ and the link to household income was the most obvious answer to why but that didn’t answer the question as to what we can do about that when so many countries including the UK object to providing funding for democratic schools. Derry Hannam made a point which stuck with me. He said “ There is a direct correlation between class and learning outcomes in every country…. EXCEPT Finland, where private education is illegal”. That says it all to me!
Phoenix Education Trust
Building A Democratic Education Movement in the UK!
This only highlighted to me even more the importance of the Phoenix Education Trust and how hard they are working to bring around a real change in our education system. You can check them out and follow the UK’s voice for Democratic Education here: www.phoenixeducation.co.uk
Q & A on Sudbury
Lead by staff from 5 different Sudbury Model Schools. Kezia found this open space to be one of the most helpful and got lots of insights to both theoretical and practical issues and thoughts.
Creating democratic learning communities within state schools
This was one of my favourite talks of the week. Not only was it an absolute pleasure to get to know Derry and his wonderful wife during the week but his experience, story telling ability and true passion and devotion to democratic education for all is absolutely inspiring. He spent his time as a teacher defying management and the status quo by introducing democracy into his classroom and all but throwing the national curriculum out the window. Management soon left him alone when the reality of the results of his efforts began to show! After that you can add; Head Teacher, OFSTED inspector, Advisor to the European Council and UK government and Consultant to his repertoire. Oh and how could I forget the beautiful tunes to entertain us one evening on his new Irish flute! Derry has been very generous with his time, encouraging us and answering lots of questions.
Differences between Unschooling and Democratic Education
Being a long term unschooler and luckily for us – as the talk was in French – a French speaker, Naomi went along to this. This certainly contributed to our thoughts and discussions on a subject that we have been talking about since the birth of the EKSS project. If you haven’t seen, Naomi has summarised her thoughts on our blog recently here: Democratic Education: Unschooling at school?
“Paris is always a good idea” – Audrey Hepburn. She wasn’t wrong, although as I boarded the Eurostar on our way to the European Democratic Education Conference I had assumed I would see more of Paris than just the conference site itself. It was so exciting that I hadn’t wanted a break from it at all. Nearing the end of the week however Kezia and I went for out for dinner only to find this stunning park just across the road. I for one can’t wait for the next one!