IDEC 2013 Afterthoughts

I attended the IDEC 2013 (International Democratic Education Conference) http://www.idec2013.org/ specifically to participate in a workshop involving Jefferson County Open School http://www.jeffcoopen.org/. First I must say, the word “Democratic” does not mean the opposite of “Republican”. Of course the word itself has political implications, meaning every individual has a say, and political meaning the organization of people. In this context, however, we are speaking of education. This translates to mean, every person in the educational community has a say, intending to include the student.

I learned a lot about the changes that are taking place in education across the world, there were many attendees from Korea, inklings from Europe, China, and other parts of the US. I am sure there were attendees from other countries that I did not get the pleasure of meeting.

Some countries are on the verge of breaking, or at least trying to break free of oppressive governments, or oppressive ways of life that are taking a stronghold on their culture and future. These educators are working to make changes from within the educational institutions to empower the individual, and create the necessary paradigm shifts within their societies using education as a powerful tool. The northern European countries I encountered seemed as though they are not trying to break free from governmental control of education so much as they are seeking to further perpetuate the individual spirit and enlighten the mind through alternative methods, possibly creating a more self-aware learner. A learner that chooses what they learn and is aware of their interests by having the freedom of pursuit.

The individuals I met from the US were from a variety of different backgrounds. Some were not educators but worked with at-risk youth and this conference helped spur ideas for them to approach alternative methods of reaching out. Many were homeschoolers, or worked with/for organizations knitted to homeschoolers. Many were affiliated with organizations that are involved in education one way or another, but are not schools themselves, and the hybrids always exist.

There were certainly, and always will be the bulls#!%%3rs too. The sellers. The ones who don’t really have a contribution but want to be known, or want to profit from the event. I came across a couple but it was not overwhelming. Thank goodness for that.

I found out about a program in my area called Innovation Labs. The website is www.redefineschool.com, and I poked around a little before writing this. I just might have to get in touch and see what I can do to help the educational community in my school district.

And then there is AERO. The Alternative Education Resource Organization, which can be visited via http://www.educationrevolution.org/. This is a great network of alternative education resources, if you are interested in the alternatives in your area, or perhaps just in your interest it might be worth taking a gander.

In the end I can say there is a lot of movement within the realm of reforming education, and there has been for quite some time. It seems to be the conflict, however, that an alternative system only works for a small group of people. When you have a lot of students to manage, the oversight has to be systematic. And yes, the drawback is the uniformity of education, but the advantage is cohesiveness and coherency. I think what many educators who are involved in Democratic Education are pushing to change is the way we view our understanding of how the system should function.
The afternoon workshop I chose to attend was titled “Intersection of Formal and Informal Education”. There was some controversy as to whether there is even a difference, and the underlying assumption among all the participants (at least it seemed this way) was that an “Informal” education was better or more important in some way. Sometimes these things go unspoken, but are present and unquestioned.

In my Philosophical studies I have come to realize one very important thing about life, and I remind people of this on a regular basis. There is idealism- what things ought to be like, and there is realism- how things are. We can strive for the ideal but the realism sets in when we accept that there are practical limitations.

In the case of education, we have the application of “Democratic” education as the practical limitation. This means for each educator how to facilitate and manage, and oversee, and guide, and mentor a large body of individual needs. Every educator would be spread so thin the quality of their work would necessarily be undermined. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day. The systems (or un”systematic” systems) that are present and successful in alternative education tend to be of the smaller student:teacher ratio, and of the smaller subset of the population.

One person being interviewed said it all in one word: money.

Until our educational systems are seen as relevant enough to warrant enough of our collective contributions, there will not be enough individualized attention in education. We will have systems in place that are best suited to address the more basic needs of every student, even if the approach is rigorous and boring. As my educator friend said to me, “how does 2 teachers take 80 students on a weeklong backpacking trip?” My answer, now clear to me, “you don’t.. we do”.

That is the key. Education is not something someone else does for us. It is something we all do together, and for each other. Education is not something that happens in a building, or on a chalkboard. I mean, it can happen there too, but real learning comes from everywhere and anywhere. We have to not only open our eyes, but our minds too. We all learn in many different places, of course. I think it is important to recognize when we are learning, and how we are learning so we can strengthen and perpetuate our methods to be most effective.

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Don’t Assume Another Intends to Offend

Conflict is inevitable when there are multiple different interests at play.
The best thing we can do is try to look beyond the current persuasion and think kindly of others.

How often does something happen and your first instinct is that the other person sucks. It can be something so trivial as being cut off in line at the store; or a passing comment made by a stranger, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Maybe, just maybe, you don’t understand their situation as clearly as you think. There might be some very justifiable explanation for their actions, something you can’t even think of- maybe because your mind is clouded from your own busy day. It could be a bigger deal, like working with an uncooperative neighbor to pay for a fence, something that consumes hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars. Are they really just trying to get the best out of you? Resource sharing is a consistent conflict, we all want to make sure we have enough for our own personal security.

We can’t live our lives taking things so personal, assuming another person intends to offend us. How miserable to think poorly of others on a regular basis. To judge them as if they are judging you poorly. We will never fully understand other humans, only ourselves. It is up to us to assume there is no offense intended, unless of course, they make it clear that is the intent (which is not the topic here).

People get offended easily and it is much easier to blame someone else. Take ownership, be the better person, and try to understand where they are coming from. We have to each reach further than half way across the aisle to cooperate fully, leaving some wiggle room for those who aren’t quite there yet.

Be the example by choosing to see others, and their intentions, positively.

Help Wanted: Better People

After careful deliberation this is what I have come to understand.

The World Needs Better People.

Who is the World?

It’s everyone!

Who is everyone?

It’s you and I.

What is a better person?

It’s you and I choosing better actions.

When?

Now. Oh, and tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives.

Why?

Things can only get better for all of us!

Where?

Everywhere you go.

How?

Consider everything you do. Then try your hardest to make the best choice.

The last time I checked, there is only ONE EARTH for us to live on. International communities are realizing that the only way to function is to maintain some sort of unity. We must all work together. The only way to do this is to consider one another, and those unspoken for, and make the right choices every time we can. We can’t let money override our values. We can’t let those with the biggest voices have the power unless we know in our hearts and minds that they are working and speaking on behalf of the rest of the communities. We can’t be persuaded to view the world in a way that seems unfit just because someone influences us to think that everyone else thinks this way too. This is TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY gone wrong and we will not tolerate it.

We all have brains, use them!
We all have hearts, use them!
We all have strength, use it!

Create the world as it ought to be
This is a goal of my lifelong education.
If I do it, will you?

Public Sharing of Optimism and Positivism

Let's be positive together.

Let’s be positive together.

Facebook and other social media outlets, Pinterest, Twitter (which I am not very attracted to for some reason), even LinkedIn for example; all have one very noticeable trend in common. Quote sharing of optimism and things of a positive influence. My sphere of influence has been inundated with not only humor, but more importantly and very specifically- good ideas. One of the most misunderstood notions of positive thinking is Karma. When studied at depth it is not supposed to mean the direct effect of your positive actions being rebounded into your life, or more commonly stated, “What goes around, comes around.” The idea is that we live in an interconnected and vast web-like world (kind of ironic I am writing about this on a www page, you know, the world wide web). Whatever actions chosen by people will resonate and create the chain of change… does this make sense? Well, quite literally if we all choose good or positive actions (let’s leave the defining of good for another time, when I have waaaaay more time to explore this sticky mess), there is an increase in good and positive actions to be accessed by all- the net gain is positive. If those in your immediate surroundings, including your very responsible self, choose to input positive and good actions… well, by darned, there’s just more good to go around.

I hear this buzz that people aren’t interested in Facebook anymore, many people are considering closing their accounts or merely not participating. I find this interesting. The reasons are varied, but mostly the same two at heart.

  1. The public sharing of their private information is uncomfortable, even risky.
  2. The input of thier audience (if you will), is not valuable enough for the “time-suck” it becomes to remain involved. In other words, they don’t enjoy it for what it’s worth.

Personally, I enjoy social media for the freedom it has given me to remain engaged with those I choose to interact with. Another attractive feature for me is the location; I don’t have to go anywhere, and I can do it wherever I feel so inclined. Actual face time with individuals and communities is also good, but I often can’t have a casual, undisturbed conversation longer than 5 minutes or so because of my very distracting (and very wonderful) young children.

With that said, my favorite thing about social media is inherent in the title. The public sharing of optimism and positivism. There lies a personal gratification when experiencing something positive or motivating, even if it is just a quote you identify with. So, while we all toil away endless hours participating in this social construct, and the fabric of our lives become intertwined with those in our sphere of influence, let’s remain optimistic. If optimism is a difficult perspective for you, understandably certain life circumstances can feel overwhelmingly disappointing, let’s shoot for positivism. Begin to notice those “status updates” that are positive, or uplifiting. Engage with them, repost them, and carry the thoughts around with you whenever you can. After practicing this, you will feel like there is benefit from doing so, and hopefully you will continue. Little by little we can help one another by living in a more pleasant world, and this is a service that social media can provide for free.

Another note, perhaps there is a question about the distinction between how I understand optimism and positivism. I am probably a little crazy on this one. I am sure some of you will wonder what I am even talking about here, and others will disagree with my distinctions entirely. But, out on a limb, here they are from my positivist heart 🙂

  • Optimism seems as though it is reliant on the hope (maybe even expectation) that the future holds good things, always looking to the better tomorrow is kind of another way to see it (i.e.- that better tomorrow is most certainly deserved and on it’s way ~big wink here). Almost as if optimism chooses to ignore pessimism, or general negativity. Kind of innocent, in that the exposure to negative might be limited or unbelievable to the optimist.
  • Positivism, understands that there is negative and accepts it, but makes the conscious choice to engage in the betterment. It’s a struggle for a positivist approach, because the strings pulling down are recognized and often even addressed. This is the genuine effort to be and do good, even if there is internal conflict with it. Really it’s like you think the world isn’t always a bowl of cherries, but you still work towards making it such because that is the right thing to do.

So here is the deal. I challenge you to publicly share the positive. Every one of you is challenged to share something positive, or beneficial to another. Do this today. Do this tomorrow. Do this every single day. Help someone, somehow, somewhere. If they aren’t expecting it, that is pretty awesome too. Let’s influence the fabric of our lives in a deliberate and positive way.

Please leave one sentence about how you shared positively today in the comments section, it would stand to benefit us all with new ideas and ways to help one another.

Thank you for sharing!