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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best

Transforming Education and Our World

Our world and its education still have a long way to go, but I, for one, feel transformed. After an extended weekend in Portland for this year’s AERO conference with some of the most amazing people on the globe, I have seen the potential of an impassioned, informed, and caring group of individuals working for a new education revolution.

First of all, I want to try to describe the mood of the conference. While intelligent discussions and insightful academia ran its course through the workshops and talks, such issues seemed to take passenger seat to the big, fat, beating heart that drives these people and their work. The level of love and compassion pulsing around the building was awe-inspiring.

With a wash of pure intention like that, it’s no surprise to discover the scope of positive work being accomplished around the world by many of the event’s visitors. Of special note were the students of Nuestra Escuela and its founder, Justo Méndez Arámburu. The story of that school’s founding and current expansion into an entire education city is amazing. Look for them at next year’s IDEC.

Many alternative schools were represented by students, parents and teachers. I was particularly moved by a showing of the Patchwork School team at Saturday night’s (un)focused discussion on the national education landscape, facilitated by Scott Nine and Kirsten Olson. Elizabeth Baker, teacher and founder of Patchwork, reminded us that small, private alternative schools play an important role in the education revolution. While the public sector serves more children (particularly poor and minority students), an effective democratic school like Patchwork provides experimental evidence of what is working in schools; further, through networking and alliance building, such schools offer the potential to create broader change. On a related note, congratulations to the Patchworkers! Their school will be hosting IDEC 2013.

The keynotes were a joyride of emotion and information, both humbling and inspiring. Riane Eisler spoke about her work on Domination vs. Partnership culture and how that relates to education and economics. Deborah Meier made the point that one of the biggest problems in education is the timidity of adults in the classroom, which gives children the impression that important problems are unsolvable and that we are essentially powerless. Khalif Williams is as fun to listen to vis-à-vis as he is on stage. Through his relevant story-telling and mind-expanding sense of historical context, Khalif used his keynote to open our hearts to the vital work of our generation.

Finally, mere minutes before my flight home, I sat down to hear Linda Stout detail her history with the civil rights movement and the process of collective visioning. Even better, she brought to the conference a story from a very special place: New Orleans. Listing off a proud set of accomplishments by Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools in the trying times following Katrina, the crowd applauded in fascination by such a compelling and innovative approach to changing the school system through student empowerment.

The quality and breadth of the workshops can be understood in only one way: attendance. See the full program of the 8th annual AERO conference here. This will give you an idea of what you missed, if you weren’t able to attend this year. I urge everyone to attend next year; they refuse no one on account of funding. I hope to see you at the 9th annual AERO conference!

One more thing. A very important message from Justo: Come to Puerto Rico for IDEC 2012, hosted by Nuestra Escuela!

-Jason Lacoste

Jason is ready for the education revolution! A New Orleans native and a graduate of Tulane University, he has taught in traditional and Montessori classrooms. Jason recently founded the non-profit corporation, New Orleans Democratic Education, with the mission to research and promote democratic education in the Crescent City. He is excited to explore ways to carry his enthusiasm for empowering students into a greater sphere of influence. Jason has a penchant for traveling: he has lived in nine U.S. states and Taiwan. He loves rock-climbing, reading science fiction, drawing, playing frisbee and generally having fun in the Big Easy.


7 thoughts on “Transforming Education and Our World

  1. Thank you Jason. I think you captured the flavor of this important gathering very well. And thanks to all the energetic participants, workshop presenters and conference organizers. It was a blast, as well as a critical coalescing of positive energy towards change. Many thanks to Isaac Graves for pulling this off so effectively and with such grace.

    I wanted to also call attention to the brilliant work of Rianne Eisler, who was another keynoter at AERO. I think she may have lost some people because of a cultural or generational gap. Having grown up in 1940’s Austria, perhaps makes her delivery seem a little stiff to some folks or disconnected from the message. She’s not exactly an AERO “insider” like some of the other speakers, so is maybe coming from a slightly different place and using a different vocabulary. However, I urge everyone who has not done so to read her work, particularly Tomorrow’s Children. It offers very important insight into the nature of the problem we are facing in contemporary education and she offers a clear alternate vision with real possibilities for pulling it off in schools. Her website is:


    Posted by Paul Freedman | August 12, 2011, 9:56 am
    • Paul, thanks for your comment. Until the AERO conference, I knew Riane Eisler only by name and book titles. Seeing her speak in person was a great introduction to her work and amazing life story. I did get the impression, for a number of possible reasons, that her keynote was not as widely received as some of the others. Even though her work is relevant, as you said, she’s not exactly an insider with the alternative education group. Also, she clearly offered the most academic keynote, having just followed the emotionally satisfying presentation by Justo. I do want to learn more about her work, so thanks for the recommendations!

      Posted by Jason Lacoste | August 14, 2011, 9:14 pm
  2. Jason, I love the energy infusing your post. I’m especially curious about your non-profit work and how it’s positioned to export its findings to public education. As someone working backwards from a traditional public school classroom towards a more democratic one (still in a public school system), I tremendously appreciate efforts and resources that demonstrate the positive effects of democratic education to what should be a much more democratic public school system.

    I hope you’ll favor us with a few more follow-up posts.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 12, 2011, 11:53 am
  3. Hi Chad! Thanks for the feedback. My work with IDEA includes work on two of their major projects: The Eduvation Library and the Innovation Tours. While IDEA is a pretty young organization, they’ve focused on ways to make their work accessible to the mainstream and to any open-minded educator or related stakeholders. The resources that we showcase need to be effective on a broad scale, which more often than not means the public sector.

    Thanks again, and I look forward to writing more for Cooperative Catalyst. Also, check out the Eduvation Library (and feel free to add resources) at:

    Posted by Jason Lacoste | August 14, 2011, 9:05 pm
  4. Sigh…I really wish I could have been there. I have learned so much from AERO. I participated in their Start a School 101 course and I learned so much. I hope to take a look at some of the videos from the conference. Thanks for the article. Please check out my blog at:

    Posted by daretheschool | August 15, 2011, 3:52 pm
  5. Jason, This is great and I wish we’d talked more in person at AERO.


    Posted by Kirsten | August 31, 2011, 4:48 pm

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