Wow, I came out of four days in Portland with such a different feeling from my experience at the AERO Conference last year in Albany. Things had really changed for me in just one year. Both experiences provided me with a window into a world I didn’t know much about, helped me understand the alternatives out there, and allowed me to meet face-to-face with the voices of progressive educators that I had previously only accessed in books, blogs, etc.
This year the conference felt more organized and the vibe felt more welcoming. I felt the energy was at a higher frequency and that a bigger, more inclusive process of change was at work rather than individual, scattered efforts, only making a difference for their specific communities. Last year I felt judged for having worked at public schools and for insisting that I’d had the freedom to take the kids in directions that built on their interests and raised the level of engagement. It was as if some refused to believe such latitude could be found in any public school. This year it felt like people embraced what others were doing in schools—the curriculum, philosophies, daily practices–whether they were private or public, democratic, open, or free. That felt good, and more to the point of what we’re all trying to achieve for kids.
When I left Portland on Sunday, I was full, exhausted, inspired, and content. I had made connections with people who understood me and had experienced similar upbringings in traditional schools but had always questioned things. I got the feeling that even though I am only one person, often feeling geographically isolated from progressive thought–one individual living in a small, rural town, that there are many other individuals living in remote places who feel as I do, and that our relative location needn’t hinder us from being powerfully involved.
The group attending AERO this year had a strong sense of purpose that made our case and our progress towards change all the more powerful. People were united instead of fragmented. Agreeing to disagree, and respectful. Keynoters, presenters, and school representatives were clear about their message and unwavering in their commitment. The atmosphere was warm, strong, and forward thinking. I liked the way the founders of The Patchwork School put it, “I have something to say…and I want to hear what you have to say.” People were empowered and wanted to spread that empowerment to others.
We argued over defining terms—i.e. shall we call it common, shared, or collective vision–which term fits best?– but my general feeling was that we wanted to outline what criteria a term might include without limiting ourselves through words. Although, defining terms may have helped in the workshop I went to on the power of the Youth Movement. When we went around introducing ourselves and why we were there, one woman offered that she was curious about the concept, and also, fittingly, a yoga teacher. Good grief, I thought, not THAT kind of movement!
Lastly, I’d like to speak to some ideas Kirsten shared in her recent “Paradox” post. The idea of small steps, small but discernible movement is powerful to me. I think of how Deborah Meier talks of her mentor Lillian Weber, who said (and I’m paraphrasing) that we’ve got to find the cracks in the sidewalk and widen them. I used to feel pretty isolated out here in southwest Colorado and frequently longed for the progressive thought of a more urban setting where people spoke my language and it all just might be easier. But then I realized that maybe the answer is that I’m supposed to stay right here, in this small, rural spot and do my work to widen those cracks. To help open minds around me to the possibilities for change, and to continue to empower the youth I work with every day. I think it’s important to realize my place and what I can do right here.
Thanks to all of the new minds I connected with at AERO this year, and thanks to all at the COOP for your voices and encouragement–especially to those I have just met in person—Kirsten, David, and Paul!