August 14, 2005

International Democratic Education Conference 2005

The 13th International Democratic Education Conference was held July 30-August 7 in Berlin, Germany. Over 200 people, ages 15 to 80, from 28 different countries attended.

The theme of the week-long event was “Curiosity or Curriculum” emphasizing the power of individual curiosity over a common and mandated state curriculum. Coordinated by the Berlin Children Rights Group KRATZA ( the conference spent many hours discussing human rights and democracy as they applied to children and thus the extent to which parents, teachers and/or the state should have control over the lives and school/learning decisions of children and youth. See more at

The participants agreed upon the following statement: "We believe that, in any educational setting, young people have the right to decide individually how, when, what, where and with whom they learn, and to have an equal share in the decision-making as to how their organizations—in particular their schools—are run, and which rules and sanctions, if any, are necessary."

The 2006 conference will be held in Sydney, Australia, July 10-16, 2006.
Report by Johh Loflin

More info:

From July 30 through August 7th we held the first International Democratic Education Conference In Germany, and the first IDEC in Europe since 1999. This IDEC was organized by a group called Kratza, a children’s rights group. They are also connected to a group which is organizing a new democratic school in Berlin. They are agitating for an approach to education which is based on curiosity, more learner-centered, rather that totally curriculum-driven. They hoped that by hosting the IDEC in Germany they would help this cause.

There are some alternative schools in Germany, and some of these are actually partially funded by the government. On the other hand, home education is illegal, and parents are fined or even jailed if they home educate or don’t send their children to school. And some new democratic schools are not legally accepted and parents sending their children to these schools are fined as home educators or those who do not send their children to school.

There were nine people on the IDEC 2005 steering Committee, Mike Weiman, Sabine Steldinger, Paula Sell, Anja Kasper, Lou Frizzi Schulte-Berger, Daniel Schmidt, Christophe Klein, Lorenz Terpe, Stefan Karl and Stefan Schramm.

Most of the IDEC was centered in a huge building called the Fez. It is part of a former “Children’s Palace” in East Germany, and currently is a recreational and educational center set on a large piece of land in the woods on the outskirts of Berlin. Most of the participants stayed in large communal tents and mostly vegetarian food was catered at a nearby outdoor eating area.

The organizers arranged nearly $100,000 in grants and services to reduce the cost of the IDEC and to provide some funding for participants from Third World countries.

Over 240 attended the whole conference and there were many additional attendees for the special two day conference held at Humboldt University. They came from at least 28 countries.

The first IDEC was organized by Yacov Hecht in Israel in 1993. He had to cancel his attendance and presentation at this IDEC at the last minute because of a severe back problem. In addition to many presenters well known in Germany, presenters included David Gribble from England and Jerry Mintz, from the United States, two of the original founders of IDEC. Also presenting were Maira Landulpho Alves Lopes from Lumiar School in Brazil, Mikel Matisoo from Sudbury Valley School in the USA, Yoad Eliaz from Israel, Niels Lawaetz from Denmark, Zoe Readhjead from Summerhill School in England, Nirupama Raghavan from India, Derry Hannam from England, Anjo Snijders from Netherland, Tim Perkins from Auistralia, Pat Montgomery from Clonlara Schoolo in the USA Jakub Mozejko from Poland, Juli Gassner from New Zealand, Meghan Carrico from Windsor House School in Canada, and Ben Sheppard from Booroobin Education Center in Australia.

This was a nine day conference with a massive amount of information flow, so a detailed report is not possible. The conference was named IDEC and made into such a long conference by the two girls who organized the IDEC at Sands School in 1997. They wanted it long enough for the group to become a real community. They also pioneered the Open Space Technology which left most of the programming available for spontaneous workshops throughout the conference. This was done at this IDEC except for the two days at Humboldt University.

Here are a few of the highlights which came out at this conference:

* In the last two years 20 new democratic schools have been created or are in process in the Netherlands. Furthermore, there is now a new university accredited training program for teachers who want to teach in democratic schools.

*There are several new democratic schools that have started or are starting in Spain, centered in Barcelona.

*A new democratic school has started in Norway.

*An Italian school superintendent who attended, is trying to democratize schools in his district.

*The head of a large system of private schools in India attended and will bring IDEC people to India to help him democratize those schools.

*A group from Nepal attended who have democratized their ashram orphanage in Katmandu.

*The principal of a large, democratic, public, inner city school in Russia, Alexander Tubelski, attended with four of his students. He also heads a network of about 50 schools which are trying to go in a democratic direction.

*AERO staff member Aleksandra Kobiljski came from Serbia and created a special room which presented IDEC history year by year, with photographs. Several workshops were also held in this room, and books, videos and other materials were available.

*AERO showed the DVD they made in December of the Butterflies Program for homeless working and street children in Delhi, India.

*Several groups were not able to attend because of financial and visa problems, such as the Stork Family School in Ukraine which was ready to send a group of 11 by bus, but were not given visas by the German embassy in Ukraine.

*The director of Naama Scaale, a Montessori School in India attended. Jerry Mintz had done a workshop on democratic process at the IDEC in India with 11 of their students. They then completely democratized their school and even taught two other schools how to do it.

*Several German groups who are creating democratic schools got together to explore the creation of a German association of democratic schools.

*Windsor House School in Vancouver, Canada, after a very successful 35 years as one of thye most important democratic schools in Canada is now under attack by the local education authority for not following their curriculum.

*Booroobin Sudbury Education Centre (it can no longer call itself a school) in Australia continues to be attacked by the Queensland education authority and continues to fight in court.

*After the last Humboldt workshop, a group of adults and students marched to a nearby square in Berlin with dozens of signs, with “curriculum pointing in one direction and “curiosity,” “creativity,” etc., in various languages pointing in the other direction. They handed out literature and a conference statement to interested bystanders.

In addition to workshops, I taught table tennis to about 15 participants. I also organized an auction which raised over $1500 toward the costs of this IDEC. People at the Humboldt presentation donated an additional $1000 to the cause.

At the final event at Humboldt there was a panel discussion which involved the Berlin superintendent of schools. Although some people were clearly angry at his policies and point of view it was pointed out that the students on the panel were particularly sensitive and sincere in their comments to him and we hope some communication took place. There was good press coverage of the Humboldt event.

At the end of the last day there was a long and wonderful talent show. The conference wound up with a surprise concert by a 15 person brass band which has been performing around the world for 30 years. The participants greeted them very enthusiastically and spontaneously danced around them. They said they hadn’t seen such a reaction in 30 years of performances. Perhaps the people were expressing their joy of being at the first IDEC in Germany.


Reading Jerry's report on the Berlin IDEC brought home to me the number of things that didn't appear either in his report or in the one I have send to the members of the IDEN.

One was the wonderful contribution of the Japanese. They showed films they had made, performed a play one of them had written, ran a workshop of Japanese culture, teaching origami, calligraphy and so on, and made some astonishing contributions to the talent show. The German organisers were also to be congratulated on finding Japanese/German translators, so Kageki did not have to work quite as hard as usual.

Another was the programme of events, such as the visits to various Berlin schools, the dance session with Royston Maldoom and the visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

And another was the socialising that went on late into the night, which I know about only from hearsay, as I like to go to bed early.

And as I re-read what I have written, I realise that I was actually too busy with other things to attend any of the events I have mentioned except the Japanese films and play. There were too many people to meet, too many interesting workshops, and there was too little time for it all.


We have received an overview DVD of the India IDEC from Amukta. Just reply to this e mail if you want us to let you know when we have made copies of it. We’ve watched it and it is very beautiful. JM

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

July 31, 2005

Examples of Educational Alternatives

Alternatives come in many types. Here are four alternatives--unusual and extraordinary public schools with links for more information:
Jennings Experiential High School takes its urban students on two 35 day overseas trips, this year to Costa Rica and Ghana, West Africa. There they perform community service and study many aspects of the environment. They prepare for the trips with five weeks of intensive study.
Village school.gif
Minnesota New Country School (7-12) and River Heights Charter School (9-12) contract for staffing and other services with a cooperative of teachers. Students study topics of personal interest using the project method for learning.
Village School of Northfield (K-12) gives staff and students a vote about all aspects of the school. They follow the Sudbury model of permitting students to follow their interests at their own pace.Studio 4.jpg
High School for Recording Arts (9-12)joins a school with a commercial recording arts business, Studio 4. Their high-need students enroll because of an interest in popular music, hence the nickname, Hip Hop High. Records have been distributed nationally.

These experiential learning examples show the diversity among educational alternatives that parents, students and staff can choose from. Extending school choices for learning is the mission of IALA. This website's purpose is to promote thoughtful examination of the one-size-fits-all philosophy so much the central tenet of traditional education. We wish to assist policy makers and others who recognize the benefits of providing an array of educational choices.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2005

International Democratic Education Conference

Member John Loflin attended the IDEC conference last December (2004) in India. His report shows the great interest in alternative schools throughout the world. The next annual IDEC conference will be in Berlin, July 30-August 7, 2005 . The Education Revolution site managed by Jerry Mintz has valuable information about democratic schools including lists and links by country. There are many in the U.S.

Democratic schools generally are small private community based schools where all stakeholders have a voice in decisions. For an example of a public democratic school see the Village School of Northfield.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 11:33 AM

March 07, 2005

World Directory of Democratic Schools

The Alternative Education Resource Center (AERO) has catalogued a huge list of democratic schools (mostly small learner-centered alternative schools) in 26 countries plus most of the states in the U.S. Use this link to look up a country or state to see these member schools. AERO provides a wide range of resources, links, conferences to promote democratic schools.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 07:56 PM

February 22, 2005

National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools

NCACS is a long-time "association of schools, groups and individuals committed to participant control, whereby students, parents and staff create and implement their own learning programs."

-Supports and strengthens alternative educational approaches.
-Facilitates communication and exchanges among members.
-Serves as an advocate for alternatives in education....

This is a grassroots organization dedicated to freedom and democracy in education and provides excellent resources on their website.
Their recent conference was held at The Farm, a school community in the hills of Tennessee. A listing of schools by state and nation gives those with websites and includes some very unusual schools in America and elsewhere.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 04:53 PM

January 16, 2005

International Democratic Education Conference

The 10 day 12th International Democratic Education Conference was recently held in Bhubaneshwar, India with a view to strengthen a global movement that aims to make both teacher and child participants in the process of learning through democratic ideals. Around 400 delegates, including students and adults form 19 nations, attended. The theme was Shanti (peace) in Education. Various workshops about free schools, alternative schools of choice, and democratic schools were held. There was a special effort to bring awareness of the learning alternatives provided by schools and groups working with poor children in marginalized communities in Asia, Africa, and South America. See for next year's event.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 09:42 PM

May 22, 2004

Alternative "free schools"

We're seeing an increase in schools that give enormous freedom to students and staff. Well-known in this category is the Sudbury Valley School in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Serving K-12 students, the school is now in the its 36th year and has at least 31 replications. One of those schools, Fairhaven, received considerable publicity in an Education Week lengthy and sympathetic article which began with this paragraph: "Imagine a school with no classrooms or desks. No textbooks or required reading. No tests. No academic standards. No benchmarks. No principal." It was also recently written up in the Christian Science Monitor.

Most of these schools are private but some are public schools and raise important questions about their effectiveness. Interestingly, that question has been answered in a number of studies showing that graduates of "free" or democratic schools (as this group is sometimes labeled) are successful in numerous professional and other fields and express happiness with their lives.

These schools and other signs of an educational revolt against rigid standards and academic testing may be the early indication of a sea change in educational philosophy similar to that of the 1960s when the modern era of educational alternatives began. A. S. Neill's book, Summerhill and a flood of books and articles from such authors as: John Holt, Herb Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, George Dennison, Paul Goodman and others became the rage among thoughtful citizens and educators. For an excellent account of that movement see Ron Miller's Free Schools, Free People: Education and Democracy After the 1960s. Stay tuned.
Picture below: Sudbury Valley School


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 11:23 AM

April 04, 2004

164 Democratic Schools Worldwide

This list of 164 schools by the Education Revolution Resource Organization includes schools which have described themselves as democratic, or have been described as democratic by researchers. Generally, these schools involve some or all of the characteristics noted on the democratic education homepage. Many are private schools given the reluctance of governments to approve such schools in the public sector. Schools are listed by nation and by states in the U.S.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 09:29 PM

August 19, 2003

Source and Magazine on Alternatives

Very comprehensive coverage, particularly of democratic and small private alternative schools, including international coverage, is found in Education Revolution, published 4 times a year.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 12:22 PM