Preparing for the Education Revolution
Poster for the 2012 AERO conference
A week ago, Patrick, Agent L, and myself gave a keynote speech at the Alternative Education Resources Organization annual conference. This years’ tagline was “Finding the Catalyst for the Education Revolution,” a theme that thrilled us to address. More than 6 months ago, AERO extended the invitation to present when the Our School project was in full force. Being a brainchild of Occupy Portland volunteers, the decentralized organization was a prime example of emergent energy attempting to catalyze the education revolution. AERO, an organization that connects the alternative learning network, seemed eager to bring fresh tactics, inspiration and change to the alternative and institutionalized education fronts.
Patrick and I detached from organizing around Our School projects for the last few months as we took our learning from our most recent activist endeavors across the country on a national tour. When we returned to Portland in the middle of July, we were pleased to find that Our School projects had continued to develop. The Community Supported Everything project had blossomed into a weekly community ritual in Colonel Summers Park. The brilliant pairing of the passion-harvesting-and-connection-facilitating activity with food-not-bombs catalyzed a reaction that continues to grow and create tangible action. Other projects that had roots in Our School that are still alive include an adult civics workshop, non-violent communication group, and a forming intentional community. These thriving projects inspired us to share the past, present, and future of our activist experiences with the AERO community.
For the remaining several weeks before the conference, I collaborated with my two companions on the most effective way to communicate Our School’s best practices and lessons learned. As Our School was rooted in the desire to make information and learning accessible to all people and learning styles, we developed an engaging presentation. Please share!
The Festivities Begin
We arrived at the conference on August 1st to be greeted by dedicated AERO organizers Josh Cook, Eric Ludwig, and Jerry Mintz. They were excited to have received a request from us to print some folding comics developed by myself and several other Occunauts (see http://www.occutour.org). They had printed hundreds of copies of the foldies, including the new “foldie foldie”, and had spent hours folding the night before (thank you!).
Click to get the Foldie PDF. Print double-sided, with no size reductions. Fold.
We set out our community organizing sheets, foldies, and other relevant information– 1, 2, 3… activate! It wasn’t long before we realized that for this conference of people, we represented the leading edge of social change. We had been invited to inspire alternative-minded educators to take action!
Over the following few days before our keynote, we connected with educators, asked evocative questions of workshop leaders, and handed out tons of foldies. The graphic attraction brought many new connections to our table. I was particularly excited about my connections with other young adults. Some were either searching for ways to start their own schools, while others were interested in otherwise affecting change in their communities through community-building practices.
Challenging the Alternatives
My most profound workshop experiences were those in which I challenged the workshop facilitator with a politically relevant inquiry. For example, in a workshop illustrating the peer court method of “conflict resolution” (prominent in democratic schools), I posed an inquiry: “Do you leave space in the curriculum to explore the nature of their judicial system, a system that is modeled after a system that currently has 2 million citizens incarcerated in this country alone?” The workshop leader answered by reassuring me that in his class, these topics would be discussed. He could not speak for other teachers, as the topic was not included in the required curriculum. I found myself disappointed at his answer, but pleased to see that the question opened up conversation about restorative justice. PSU Conflict resolution instructor and friend, Danielle Felecia, also raised concerns about the lack of restorative justice practices, stirring the ideological stew that the discussion was becoming. After the workshop several attendees thanked us for our contribution.
Ken Robinson, alternative education guru and advocate, spoke on the evening of August 3rd. I had been eagerly waiting to hear him speak and wasn’t surprised that he drew the largest crowd of the conference. After an hour of wandering monologue, I found my mind stale and my heart yearning for visuals to put his words into context. I was disappointed to hear many similar sound bytes from his past speeches and wondered if he had come to the conference intentionally or out of a sense of duty.
Rather than become another face in the book-signing line, I chose to Occupy the moment by slipping a few folding comics into Ken’s hands and mentioning that the illustrations in his RSAnimate had inspired me. I couldn’t tell if his “thank you” was genuine and decided that I didn’t care. I hadn’t come to the conference to see Ken. I had come to model what it looks like to build something beautiful…
Saturday evening when we addressed a surprisingly small audience of about 50 humans. We arranged the seating so that we were sitting in a semi-circle around the projector screen and were able to see all faces. We began the experience with an explanation that we’d rather be sitting in a full circle, but had to work with what we had. I introduced the moment of silence, explained its purpose and invited everyone to experience one with us.
A moment of silence visual
After a moment of presence with the audience, Patrick invited everyone back to the room by modeling different hand signals that we use frequently in conversation. We then introduced ourselves with short anecdotes about how we became involved with activism and the extent of our participation with the Our School project.
Then the fun began: we opened up the conversation to the group. How quickly the audience became enlivened and impassioned! There was much curiosity about the Occupy Movement in general and the larger political picture. We spent the majority of the time addressing issues of diversity, spirituality, consensus models and facilitation.
Participants caught onto the dynamic facilitation process quickly: in many cases, someone would raise their “one” or “two” finger and would receive an expression of recognition from one of us facilitating. The facial expression changed rapidly from nervous or curious to relieved or pleased: the power of connection was in action. Although the pace of the facilitation felt overwhelming at times, I felt empowered to connect with as many people as possible and was eager to answer all of the questions. We nearly doubled our expected time on the floor and spent another hour connecting with people following the formal session.
That evening concluded our AERO experience. We left the Big Box Hotel feeling all fuzzy inside, having professed our strong affinity and hopes to collaborate with our AERO organizer friends in the future. My excitement chemicals flowed most noticeably when AERO reps and members expressed their interest in supporting our ongoing and future projects. Conversations about developing a teachers WWOOF-style network, a modern lexicon, and the “book mobile” journey really got the juices flowing.
The AERO experience was truly inspiring: I was reminded that support follows a strong vision, and we are building one! I am so grateful to have connected with the organizers of the Education Revolution and to have experienced the concentration of wisdom, love and light that permeated the entire conference. I am impassioned to continue my organizing objectives and alternative learning endeavors. A special thank you to Josh, Eric, and Jerry for your efforts.