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Report from the European Democratic Education Community 2013 Conference

Peter Gray lecture at EUDEC

Note: This article was originally published in Other Education, vol. 2, no. 2 (2013), pp. 113-115, and is reprinted under Creative Commons license (BY-SA).

From July 28 to August 2, 2013, the European Democratic Education Community (EUDEC) held its fifth annual general meeting and conference. This year’s host was De Ruimte democratic school in Soest, The Netherlands, with an organizing committee comprised of staff members and alumni of Dutch democratic schools. 261 participants attended, ranging from students, staff members, parents, and interested community members. I attended as a member of the Sudbury Munich startup school’s scientific advisory board.

An affiliate of the International Democratic Education Network, EUDEC claims to represent about 58,000 people across 26 countries, including 42 schools, 19 start-up schools, and other member organizations and individuals. The bulk of the conference was organized into an open space, where all participants were invited to organize workshops, including ones that were organized spontaneously according to conversations and needs of participants during the conference. The annual general meeting was limited to voting members, but the final day of the conference was open to an additional 27 public visitors. At the last day, invited scholars, researchers, entrepreneurs, and school founders provided lectures and workshops.

Democratic education, as defined by EUDEC is comprised of two pillars:

  1. Self-determined learning: “Students in democratic schools and universities choose how to spend their school days, pursue their interests and prepare themselves for their lives and chosen careers” (EUDEC, n.d.).
  2. A community of equality and mutual respect: “Democratic schools have school meetings in which all members of the community have an equal vote, regardless of age or status. Students and teachers can sit together as equals to discuss and vote on school rules, curricula, projects, the hiring of staff and even budgetary matters” (EUDEC, n.d.).

EUDEC member schools have various models and approaches to how democratic education is practiced in their institutions, but many face similar obstacles in gaining the approval of government authorities across Europe, which nearly universally impose structural limitations that ban self-determined learning and disallow students to have an equal voice. The result is that many schools face constant legal battles to stay open, and, in some cases, even parents of the schools are charged as criminals for sending their children there (see esp. Thomas, 2013 for a typical case outline). For the schools that are under siege by authorities, the conference provides a valuable retreat to share experiences, learn from others, and expand networks.

The conference theme was “we create the future,” which from my perspective as an education futurist could not be more pertinent. This clashed with a sentiment shared by many of the schools, and particularly the Sudbury-type schools, that their approach to education is “radical.” I strongly disagree. In an era driven by accelerating technological change, globalization, and the emergence of a “knowmadic” society (Moravec, 2013a, 2013b), democratic schools are a necessary option for creating a near-future workforce that is creative, imaginative, and innovative in its application of personal-level knowledge.

As the democratic schools movement grows, the shift from their approach from being perceived as radical to a viable option presents new opportunities for research and academic discourse development. From my observations at conference workshops and in conversations with participants, there are tremendous variations in how self-determined and democratic learning is implemented. Deep research into differing practices could yield rich new, vocabulary and dimensions of democratic education that have been largely ignored.

In my overall opinion, the EUDEC conference in 2013 deserves high praise for both quality of content and organization. In my informal conversations with participants, however, the conference itself was not the star of the show – but rather the food. Chef Sytse Kramer from HetEten set up a full kitchen outdoors, employed at-risk youth as cooks, and produced restaurant-quality dishes that received near universal acclaim throughout the week. At the closing ceremony of the conference, we had a lot to cheer about, but only the raucous applause for Chef Kramer could be heard over several kilometers away in the center of Soest.

About the author

John Moravec is a scholar on the future of work and education; a global speaker; editor of the Knowmad Society project; a co-director of the Invisible Learning project; and is an advisor with Education Futures (http://www.educationfutures.com).

References

  1. EUDEC. (n.d.). European Democratic Education Community | Democratic Education. Retrieved August 05, 2013, from http://www.eudec.org/Democratic+Education
  2. Moravec, J. W. (2013a). Knowmad Society: The “new” work and education. On the Horizon, 21(2), 79–83. doi:10.1108/10748121311322978
  3. Moravec, J. W. (2013b). Rethinking human capital development in Knowmad Society. In J. W. Moravec (Ed.), Knowmad Society (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Education Futures.
  4. Thomas, A. (2013). Autonomous and informal education under threat: Summerhill, UK, Sudbury schools in The Netherlands and home education. Other Education, 2(1), 75–77.

Emerald opens Knowmad Society special issue of On the Horizon at IPON

This morning, I arrived in Utrecht, Netherlands for IPON, an annual educational technology event that attracts over 5,000 ICT professionals and educators. I will give a keynote tomorrow on “redesigning the future of education in Knowmad Society: our next steps,” where I will share some of the key ideas that we presented in the Knowmad Society book.

Related to this event, Emerald Group Publishing has agreed to provide early, open access to the next issue of On the Horizon, which is themed on Knowmad Society: Borderless work and education. Please note that these are the “EarlyCite” versions of the articles, and that there may be some modifications by the time the issue goes to print on May 17. This complimentary, online access to the issue is available for IPON participants only until June 10.

A simplified instruction page for accessing the journal is available at: http://www.knowmadsociety.com/oth/

Also, full instructions for accessing the special issue are provided for IPON participants here: http://www.knowmadsociety.com/oth/oth-instructions.pdf

Very special thanks go to Emerald for making this early look possible. Again, thank you!

Bridging the (r)evolution between Europe and the Americas

John Moravec will represent Education Futures in “EduLab Live,” a three-hour livestreamed journey with educational innovators in Europe and the Americas.

From Philippe Greier (organizer):

Let’s connect, share and collaborate with the architects of the next generation of education.

Education for the 21st century is challenged into adopting new paradigms, driven by an era of technological revolution that has had a great impact on our society.

We invite 6 – 8 outstanding and innovative examples from all around the world to present and discuss their solutions.

Educational start-ups using new technology, educators building on alternative and reformative education. Individuals and organizations that are bond by the idea of being part of the education (r)evolution.

Via skype connected with people from all around the world. Be part of it!

Be presente! Let’s play the education (r)evolution.

For more information, and to join, visit the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/106698099490218/

Also…

Catch up with us in Europe!

In the next few weeks, we will be at: Pioneers Festival in Vienna October 30-31 | EduLab Live (streaming from Brno) November 2 | Otavan Opisto in Finland November 16-17 | Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki November 20 | Sudbury Schule-München November 29 – December 2 | Madrid (December date TBD) | Netherlands (December date TBD) | … and otherwise headquartering temporarily in the Czech Republic.

Hartkamp: "Children are like slaves of the modern age"

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Editor’s note: This provocative commentary originally appeared in Heb jij iets geleerd vandaag? – Een Sudbury school perspectief op leren, a blog by Sudbury schools in the Netherlands. We present it translated into English from the original Dutch, and with updates by the original author.

Children: Like slaves in the modern age

by Dr. Christel Hartkamp, staff member at De Kampanje Sudbury school in The Netherlands

Foreword: In the Netherlands, by law, all children must attend a by state approved school in the ages between 5 and 18. Home schooling is not allowed. Parents, who keep their children home, are criminally accused. During the trial of the Dutch Sudbury schools (private schools), the verdict of the Council of state that Sudbury schools are no schools, makes clear that there is no Freedom of Education in the Netherlands, and that there is one vision on education prevailing: The State-Pedagogy. Parents from the Sudbury schools now face criminal prosecution. With this background, the following article was written. Note that: “I do not have the intention to hurt or being rude to a particular cultural, political or religious group or people in general, in using the word ‘slave’.”

Slavery in the modern Western world has long been abolished. A slave, as I want to refer to in this article, is “a person who is forced to work for another against his will” (World English Dictionary).

A girl of 8 years old in our Sudbury school replied lately to the question what the difference was between her previous traditional school and our Sudbury school: “At my previous school, I felt like a slave. Here I feel free. I feel like a lion that has broken loose.”

My opinion is that children are treated like slaves in our modern times. And very subtle, this form of slavery is unfolding before our eyes, but nobody sees it. Even parents don’t recognize that their children are being enslaved by the state education system.

The Netherlands has an estimated 2.5 million children of school age, who are forced every day to go to school where they are required to work. All this we accept because we are told that it is for their own good, and then it is apparently not so bad.

Some of the reasons I heard for forcing a child into this situation are that they have to get used to accept some sort of labor later in life (conformism). But one forgets that as an adult, you have the choice to stay in a situation you don’t like, there is nobody forcing you from outside – it is truly your own choice. A child does not have the choice to leave school, it is forced to remain in a situation that is unnatural, it’s like being in prison. When the child gets sick of the situation and stays home, and as a result of stress and pressure, has become depressed, apathetic, tired of life: then the attendance officer of the municipality threatens with a big stick: with an order for truancy and / or with a complaint with Child Protective Services. A child (and often also the parents) are stuck, they are literally driven into a trap. This situation cannot be healthy in a “free democratic society”. Children are indeed not without reason sick from school; nature has ensured that certain defense mechanisms start to work when a person is placed in unnatural conditions of long lasting pressure or stress. It is a defense mechanism of the body and the mind.

There were two types of illnesses that manifested only in slaves: Drapetomanie (the tendency to flee) and Dysaethesia Aethiopica (a state of apathy, totally immune for impulses from outside).

Don’t we see the same diseases in our youth today? Is ADHD not a modern kind of Drapetomanie or Dysaethesia Aethiopica? Or what about Hikikimori, and what about demotivation, lack of concentration, apathy, ADD? I don’t want to say that these are equivalents to those diseases, but they might be equivalent in the effect of the circumstances children are facing today.

We were impressed when this student of 8 years said: “At my previous school, I felt like a slave. Here I feel free. I feel like a lion that is loose.” It was her first week in our school. After the weekend her mother told us, “I have my own daughter back again”. A Sudburyschool is a special place where children are regarded as full human beings, who are treated with respect and trust, and with the same rights as everyone else in the school. Several students have said: “There is no stress” and “Here you are not bullied.” The basis for a good development is a safe environment free from stress. An environment where you have influence in those things that are important to you. That is living in a direct democracy, living with your own choices, living with the consequences of your choices.

Any form of unsolicited or imposed interference, patronizing, guidance, assessment or observation is a violation of the right to individual freedom and make your own choices. The right to be treated as a fully-fledged human being. Children are not treated as slaves in a Sudbury school!

Notes and resources

‘School Is A Prison!’ – Psychologist Dr. Peter Gray Interviewed on Freedomain Radio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_DJAZ-ByV0

Hikikomori (literally “pulling inward, being confined”, i.e., “acute social withdrawal”) is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or young adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement. In other countries there is another designation such as social phobia, avoidant personality disorder, autism spectrum disorder, agoraphobia, burnout or depression.

Exploring the "3rd space" of co-working and co-learning

Last week, I traveled to Utrecht, The Netherlands, to participate in the 3rd Space World Conference, hosted by seats2meet.com, a co-working enterprise that is establishing locations throughout the world. The event was designed to introduce people to sustainable co-working, and to also connect co-working centers and thought leaders together. Knowledge sharing, the enabling of serendipity and Society 3.0 are some of the other key elements that were covered.

I provided an update on the Knowmad Society project, which really looks at how third space people — knowmads — build and interact with the third space through education, working, and living:

Reflecting on the day, our moderator, Sebastian Olma, noted:

Obviously, the people populating 3rd spaces need a set of skills, attitudes and craftsmanship that is different form the one their industrial ancestors had. So education is an enormously important topic in this context and also one that “knowmad” John Moravec could only broach at the conference. It is true that we need to be rather imaginative in this area. However, and somewhat paradoxically, we also need to be very clear about the specific parameters that we want to use in order to set up a 3rd space of education as one of imagination, one that facilitates the formation of individuals able to navigate their tech-saturated environment as active contributors rather than passive consumers.

Other important talks recorded from the event:

The livestream of the event attracted over 1000 viewers from 31 countries, and nearly 125,000 people were reached by Twitter with approximately 1.8 million impressions. The topic trended in the Dutch twittersphere, and I’m sure it trended in other countries as well. From this initial success, seats2meet.com plans to create a global platform to connect co-working spaces from around the world. Stay tuned!

Last week in brief: BIG things brewing

A lot has happened in the past week, and I feel that bits and pieces are coming together to form a huge break from the mainstream in human capital development in the Netherlands. In brief:

On Monday, I visited TEDxDelft at TU Delft. The day was very well organized and included a selection of talks from a book maker, an astronaut, constructors of a high tech opera, a parkour exhibition, and a talk by Marcel Kampman on how to close what he calls the Dream Gap. Marcel provides 9 ideas to tackle the issue, including re-organizing TED so that it it focuses on T-shaped approaches to EDucation (hence, T-ED), that work to connect people-to-people in knowledge creation and sharing. Smart idea.

During the lunch break, Marcel and I also got together and recorded videos for each others projects. Here’s what I had to say for the Dream School initiative he’s playing a major role with for Stad & Esch:

Stad & Esch & Onderwijs & John Moravec from Stad & Esch on Vimeo.

(I’ll post my video interview with Marcel in a future post, which will include his TEDxDelft talk, as soon as it becomes available.)

On Tuesday, I visited the UniC school in Utrecht, which flips the use of technology in the classroom around to allow students to engage in learning activities that enable them to follow their own passions and interests. They bring in their own laptops or tablet devices, and spend their time on individual and team learning projects that are guided by faculty that do more to attend to their learning rather than trying to manage it. Jelmer Evers showed me around, and explained that because higher level students are required to take a standardized learning exam, they must unlearn everything the school has taught them so that they can complete the tests in an industrialized manner. Jelmer writes about this difficult situation on his blog, and fears an NCLB-like nightmare in the Netherlands may be emerging:

So far so good. If it was up to a lot of teachers and students, learning would take place more outside of the school as well. But reality is different of course. That’s where the inspection comes in. The education inspection is an organization which visits schools. In general it sees to good educational practice and particulary it audits “weak” schools which produce bad grades, most notably exam results. We’re a new school and those results are continuously improving. So in the end I think we’ll do fine (and our students better in the ways that count as well). The thing is, a lot of the skills that we focus on aren’t captured in the official results and a lot of people are scrutinizing us to see if we will be able to produce these results. We had a real nice discussion with the inspectors of course and they were very generous, but in the end it is the “result” that matters. In fact there is an ever increasing focus on results and testing, like in the United States.

Wednesday centered on a collaborative workshop at the Third National Self-Organization Day, organized by Stichting Zelforganisatie in Rotterdam, with Edwin de Bree and three students from the Sudbury education schools in the Netherlands. I spoke about Invisible Learning, and Edwin moderated a panel discussion and “speed dating”/Q&A session between the students and the workshop participants. Later in the day, Ronald van den Hoff gave a talk on his vision of Society 3.0. One interesting projection I took with me: He projects that 45% of the workforce will be comprised of knowmads or engaged in knowmad-like work.

On Thursday, my journey continued with a visit to the NHL Hogeschool in Leeuwarden for a day-long workshop on Knowmad Society and Invisible Learning, entitled “MEAT with John Moravec.” The group of faculty and students at NHL, lead by Jooske Haije, was a lot of fun to work with, not only because they are working to implement ideas from Invisible Learning and Knowmad Society into their own institution, but also because the group were excited to remix and share new ideas. I was delightfully surprised to find that they had made morning snacks out of the brain imagery that Cristóbal Cobo and I originally intended to use for the cover of our Invisible Learning book. The faculty are fired-up on making invisible learning visible, and I look forward to hearing about they will present from the workshop to an assembly celebrating the school’s 40th anniversary later this month.

Later, in the afternoon, I joined the Otava Folk High School in Finland for a talk on Invisible Learning via Adobe Connect:

On Friday, we began to bring all these pieces together. Ronald van den Hoff hosted a round table on education in Society 3.0 at Seats2Meet in Utrecht. In the world of educational innovation, with various stakeholders and initiatives largely operating independent of each other, we recognized a need to better connect and integrate the work and thinking of all key players — including students. With interim futuring activities to keep us thinking and acting, our group will again meet in January and March to plot next steps. Already, Ronald has pledged in-kind support from Seats2Meet International to support the initiative, coordinated by Annemarije Bakker, so I am quite optimistic about what we may accomplish in the coming months.

During the second half of the day, I traveled to Amsterdam with Thieu Besselink for a quick visit to the Waag Society and the Creative Learning Lab, where they have recently released a book entitled Open Design Now: Why design cannot remain exclusive. As they describe it, the book:

surveys this emerging field for the first time. Insiders including John Thackara, Droog Design’s Renny Ramakers and Bre Pettis look at what’s driving open design and where it’s going. They examine new business models and issues of copyright, sustainability and social critique. Case studies show how projects ranging from the RepRap self-replicating 3D-printer to $50 prosthetic legs are changing the world.

Finally, upon hearing that Otto Scharmer was visiting Amsterdam, I crashed the final minutes of the Crossing the Tipping Point congress:

I apologize to anybody that may have been upset that I didn’t register before stoping by (I wish I had known about the event sooner!), but I really enjoyed meeting all of you. 🙂


Coda

Throughout Northern Europe, and, in particular, in the Netherlands, I sense a real push for creating educational reforms that will enable the countries to leapfrog beyond old industrial paradigms to 21st century innovation and knowmadic paradigms. In these countries where education policies are so deeply rooted in the old Prussian tradition that aims to produce loyal factory workers and government bureaucrats, perhaps we can also find the greatest potential for meaningful change and leadership in developing Society 3.0.

The stars seem to be aligning for this shift. And, when it happens, it will be big. The right people are connecting to bring new ideas to the table, and are generating new ways for generating positive futures. For leading, facilitating, and hosting many of these conversations, I extend my greatest gratitude especially to Seats2Meet International, Ronald van den Hoff, Iris Meerts, Jooske Haije, and Edwin de Bree. Thank you for making this happen!

(I’ll be back in January.)

Scale it sideways!

One of the key points we make in Invisible Learning is that new technologies and new possibilities for social configurations are expanding the ecology of options we have for learning. “Schooling” is no longer limited to just schools. Rather, we can now learn in formal environments, online, informally, and serendipitously. Moreover, we can leverage technologies to remix these modes together — so, for example, it is now possible to have a meaningful and recognized learning experience at coffee shops, city parks, bowling alleys, etc.

Just as wise investors diversify their investment portfolio, so should we build diverse portfolios of our schools. This means that we should not invest too heavily in any one strategy. If we do not know with any precision what the future will be, we cannot have one-size-fits-all schools. We need to expand our ecologies of options.

Many times we find something that works. Perhaps a new pedagogical technique …or, maybe a new type of school. One of the first things we often ask ourselves when evaluating an innovation is: How do we scale it up?

FORGET SCALING UP.

WE NEED TO SCALE SIDEWAYS IN EDUCATION.

Scaling up is how we industrialize ideas, and employ them within a top-down managed system. This works in an educational monoculture, but not in a diverse ecology. Rather than industrializing our best ideas, why not share them horizontally? That is, let’s invite people and schools to adopt them if they work for them?

Scaling sideways invites co-creation. It is dialogical.

The question we need to ask is, how can we facilitate broader horizontalized communications and sharing of best practices, etc., between schools in a diverse ecology of options? Perhaps this means that top educational leaders, governments and other interest groups need to focus less on managing; and focus more on attending to the chaos and uncertainty of a more dynamic educational ecology.

And, let’s make sure to invite the kids into the horizontalized co-creation. We are all white belts when it comes to understanding and acting on our futures. We do not have any role models to draw from. We have never been to the future before.

We must engage kids in this conversation now. Knowmad Society is their’s, but it is up to us to build it together.


Note: Adapted from my plenary talk at the Onderwijs en ondernemen “op expeditie” conference in The Hague, Netherlands on October 6, 2011.

"Reboelje!" – Invisible Learning in the Netherlands

Finally, after several weeks of travel and meetings, I am able to report on the Invisible Learning Tour, which was hosted by NHL in Leeuwarden. The event was an example of self-organization. Given the seed of an idea, three universities, two Sudbury schools, the Knowmads school, and various other partners came together, using social media, to construct a two-day event. The purpose of the Invisible Learning Tour was to raise awareness for the need for innovation in education. Mainstream teaching focuses mainly on the preparation of students for compartmentalized roles and jobs (mainly factory workers and bureaucrats) that contrast sharply with the needs of the modern economy, which requires people that are imaginative, creative, and innovative. We explored ideas, existing options, and new pathways for learning that is relevant for the 21st century.

The first day was built into an open space event, moderated by Edwin de Bree (De Koers Sudbury School) and Franziska Krüger (Knowmads). About 130 participants attended the live meeting, and another 295 joined online. I gave the opening keynote, which is posted on Vimeo (my slides are also posted here):

The first day also included open conversations on how to make Invisible Learning visible, and a few participants self-organized a flash mob (video by Guido Crolla):

The second day involved a media tour to the De Kampanje and De Koers Sudbury Schools, and the Knowmads school in Amsterdam. I produced a short video based on interviews with students and staff members at the two Sudbury schools. What struck me in our conversations was, that despite the fact the students have no teachers (they are responsible for their self-learning), their responses were articulate and cogent — despite the fact they were speaking in a second language:

Unfortunately, my time with Knowmads was cut short as I had to race to the airport to catch my flight back from Amsterdam. As I left, however, one thing was very clear: A tremendous momentum for change is building up in the Netherlands. As Knowmads tribe leader Pieter Spinder puts it, it’s time for a Friesian rebellion: “Reboelje!”

Special thanks go to Edwin de Bree, Franziska Krüger, Christel Hartkamp, Jeroen Bottema, Pieter Spinder, Guido Crolla, and the team at Mooipunt/CMD program at NHL in Leeuwarden (Tom Ravesloot, Tom Klaver, Jeroen van de Bovenkamp, Wout Laben, Peter Klaas, Sanne van der Heide, Julien Hogemans, Robert de Kruijf, Sander Nota, and Robin van Poelje). Without their leadership and contributions, this event would never be possible. Better yet, they turned it into a smashing success!

Thank you!

The Invisible Learning Tour kickoff

As the Invisible Learning book enters the final layout stage this week (expect the release in April), Cristóbal Cobo and I are already delivering talks, workshops, and seminars on the topic. Already, in addition to our home base countries, we have been invited to speak in Argentina, Colombia, Czech Republic, Mexico, Netherlands, and Spain.

In regard to the Netherlands, what started as a Twitter conversation two weeks ago has expanded into a two-day event, The Invisible Learning Tour (TILT), on March 7-8. The event is a co-production of Sudbury Netherlands, CMD Leeuwarden, HAN, Inholland, Knowmads, and MooiPunt. The Co-lere website introduces the gathering:

Our schools, universities and other institutions need to make a quantum leap to catch up to the highly-globalized knowledge- and innovation-driven society. At this conference, we work together with John Moravec, education futurist, in an Invisible Learning tour to make new educational paradigms and approaches to human capital development visible.

Monday, March 7, I will open with a talk on Invisible Learning in the morning, and, in the afternoon, we will morph the event into an open meeting space. Further details are being posted to this Facebook page (where you can RSVP to attend, too).

Tuesday, March 8, will make site visits to see invisible learning concepts in practice at HAN Arnhem, the Sudbury Schools of De Koers in Beverwijk and De Kampanje in Amersfoort, Knowmads in Amsterdam, and the Creative Learning Lab in Amsterdam.

…and, to better introduce all this, the organizers (and I) are organizing a “teaser” webinar on March 2:

20:00 Amsterdam time
13:00 Minneapolis/Central/Mexico City time

Link: https://umconnect.umn.edu/ilwebinar

(More information on Facebook)

Need more information on the Invisible Learning kickoff in the Netherlands?

Join the TILT Facebook group or email contact@mooipunt.nl.

If you cannot make it on March 7-8…

…and if you are interested in organizing a talk or workshop about Invisible Learning at your organization, drop us an email!

Marcel Kampman on Project Dream School

At Lift11, Marcel Kampman of Project Dream School shared experiences from a movement to leapfrog ahead and rethink how we educate and teach our kids. What makes the project exciting is that it is directly linked to the construction of a new school building for an existing school in the Netherlands. Everything will be reconsidered, reframed, redesigned to make it into the best school for the Netherlands (and maybe even the world):

Watch live streaming video from liftconference at livestream.com

p.s., Thanks for the shout out, Marcel!