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 LacosteJason 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.