The IDEA Blog

No “How” = “Know” How

As I travel the world of non-traditional education, specifically democratic education, I am learning that like unschooling - there is no "One Right Way" to do it.

We humans like to have things neatly laid out and pristinely wrapped in clear cellophane packaging with labels including ingredient lists so we can take it home feeling safe that we know exactly what it is that we have bought (into). None of this "Well it's really up to the individual" business. Tell me exactly what alternative education is complete with formulas and predictable results. Describe in detail how unschooling works and how you Do It. Give me a list (which must have references and bibliography) of all the things I need to do in order to have a Democratic School.

Umm, sorry what? Summerhill is not identical to Sudbury is not identical to Brooklyn Free School is not identical to SelfDesign????!!!!

Slomo cam captures the dramatic NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! as the victim falls to the ground in despair.

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Posted on Jul 28, 2010 - 07:41 PM by Cian Sawyer

The Culture of Fear and Oppression in Schools

Imagine you live in a world in which you are not trusted, just for existing and making decisions. You always have to be on guard or you risk being screamed at for your actions, or glared at with a contempt so disheartening it makes your stomach drop. People will get in your face and talk you down so that you can “get in line.” You will be interrogated over small things, like where you go or what you say.
It happens everywhere.
Say you're at a buffet restaurant and you drop a dish. Out comes the manager at a slow pace, grimacing, and then he or she just yells, “What is WRONG with you, huh!” A fellow customer then walks up to you and slaps your hand, “Get your food and GET back to your table, you understand?” When you return to your seat your family just glares at you in silence. After the solemn meal is over and you get home, your spouse interrogates you. “Well, why did you do it? Why are you so clumsy? Don't you have respect for that manager? Who do you think you are? Didn't you...

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Posted on Jul 28, 2010 - 12:15 PM by Zuleka Irvin

Thoughts on “A Quiet Revolution”

Secretary Arne Duncan gave a speech titled, “The Quiet Revolution" at the National Press Club today. It was billed as a landmark address that would lay out the educational priorities of the Obama Administration for the rest of this term. It is interesting to compare this with the Opportunity to Learn Campaign's statement on ESEA reauthorization. The speech contained some important nuggets. I've excerpted and commented on a few below:

“So whatever else we do at the federal level -- our first responsibility is to tell the truth -- and that also gets to the second big lever of change -- which is transparency. I credit NCLB for exposing America's dirty laundry -- but we need to go further and show what is and is not working.”

Not sure about crediting NCLB, but signaling that we have a responsibility to tell the truth and not shirk responsibility is worth standing up for.

“The big game-changer is to start measuring individual student growth rather than proficiency -- which is in...

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Posted on Jul 27, 2010 - 09:56 AM by Scott Nine

Ignorance Is Bliss, But Isn’t Learning More Important?

Sometimes, it is so begrudging learning new things. Does that mean that we should avoid learning certain things?

To illustrate my first point, consider an educator who has been devoted to our nation's education practices for the past 30 years. Perhaps a person as such would be very upset to learn that educating democratically actually caters more to the child in many ways. Consider possible issues of personal pride being hurt, and issues of doubting oneself as a person who is able to accurately reason through situations and information so as to make conscious, and deliberate decisions. Or perhaps this information could come as an unpleasing update if one had been trying to best educate children for 30 years, for the sake of benefitting children, and has now come to understand that their efforts were futile in regards to at least a certain percentage of their past students.

Another example which illustrates my first point could be a homeowner who has been renovating her home for 3...

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Posted on Jul 27, 2010 - 09:00 AM by Shawn Strader

Civil Right’s groups come together on statement for ESEA changes

Just finished reading the Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This document was co-authored by several leading Civil Rights organizations. I don't think it goes far enough, but it does address clearly and directly key challenges around funding formulas, the role of charter schools, the involvement of parents and community, and names that the overall goal of schools needs to be preparation for participating in a vibrant democracy.

I think it is worth reading in full, but here are few excerpts that seem worth highlighting.

"Low-performing schools will not improve unless we also change the resources, conditions, and approaches to teaching and learning within the schools or their replacements. Moreover, as communities in New York and Kansas City have indicated through campaigns protesting the closure of their schools, schools are more than buildings; they are social institutions whose...

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Posted on Jul 27, 2010 - 08:30 AM by Scott Nine

Living in Archaic Times

Having old (mom and dad being 50 and 74 respectively) parents has got me thinking about behavior, and how it evolves. It makes me wonder, will there ever be a point where I am content with "living" in the past? When I think of an old person I get a sensation of being trapped or stuck in one dimension or another. They seem to sag and drag, as if their past is personified, physically and cognitively weighing them down. If it comes down to living in an archaic state of mind, unmoved by change, then elderhood is not something I look forward to. Although it's not fun or even bearable, I can get all the wrinkles and degeneration, but if my mind is not keen on change and progress, then that is my biggest problem. I don't want to grow up to watch reruns and only care about the "old jams" (although I'm one of the many youth who abhors the music of her generation). I don't want my mind to be fixated on a world that no longer exists. I want to be in touch with the reality that our universe is...

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Posted on Jul 27, 2010 - 07:25 AM by Zuleka Irvin

If You Give a Kid a Piece of Paper

If you give a kid a piece of paper, she's going to ask for a crayon. When you give her the crayon, she'll probably ask you for more crayons, or maybe some stencils, or perhaps some stickers and glitter.

Of course, she may stop asking entirely.

She may just take the paper, smile, and start creating. She might fold the paper into different directions, making a brand new-to-her origami shape. Maybe she'll fold a paper airplane, show it to her friends, and then, after showing them how to make one, have a flying contest to see whose plane flies the highest, the fastest, the longest.

Maybe she'll tear it up into confetti and throw an instant party. Maybe she'll cut a continuous spiral in it until it folds out into a walk-through door, which she then might ask you to hold up for her as she walks through, transporting herself into Narnia or Neverland or her own private Wonderland.

Maybe she'll use the crayon to inscribe a secret message--in code, of course--to slide into an empty Yoo-Hoo...

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Posted on Jul 25, 2010 - 03:02 PM by Sara Schmidt

The Apple and The Arrow: Freedom and Schooling Pt. 1

I recently went through a book I picked up in the Children’s room at the Central Library. This story, “The Apple and the Arrow,” by Mary and Conrad Buff, has a plot with many parallels to the state and nature of schooling. It even represents the struggle against traditional schooling. As I read the book I noted my analysis. This book is not a novel “of comparable merit” to books on the “Advanced Placement” book list, but it managed to highlight many things that I am currently contemplating.


Many many years past,
Over six hundred years ago
In the year twelve hundred and ninety,
Thirty-three men gathered on a mountain meadow
Gathered together at midnight.

Peaceful men,
Herders of cattle,
Hunters of chamois,
Skilled with the crossbow.

From different cantons they came,
Some hailed from Uri,
Others from Schwzy,
Still others from Underwalden.

And on that moonless night
Over six hundred years ago,
Thirty-three men talked long
Seeking an answer for freedom,
Seeking an answer...

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Posted on Jul 24, 2010 - 04:35 PM by Zuleka Irvin

School Lockdowns: Are They Democratic?

This video is a snippet of a lunch lock-down. I thought my former school was the only one that practiced it with this specific term. Similar to a loss or restriction of lunch recess due to teacher displeasure with behavior, a lunch lock-down is a disciplinary spin on regular lock-downs. The typical lock-down is a procedure of restricting everyone's movement on the campus to protect against threats, assaults and violence. If there's word of a gun on campus, the campus immediately goes to lock-down mode while bags/lockers/desks are searched. If a burglar or criminal gets near or on to school grounds, the school is locked down - no one can go anywhere until the issue is resolved. Same applies to major disasters or anything else threatening.

Now I'm not sure if this is legal, but my former high school and many elementary schools restricted lunch/"nutrition"/recess access because the teachers or principals/administration were displeased with student behavior. At my former high school,...

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Posted on Jul 22, 2010 - 05:51 PM by Zuleka Irvin

Horizon: Mireless

I’ve been asking the question lately, What is the point of (traditional) school?  What is it for?  What purpose is it serving?

But then I had to ask, What is the point of this “Alternative Education” that I am espousing?  What is it for?  What purpose will it serve?

Answer: Humanity.

You see, even though I am very much about creating a school that respects its learners and creates an atmosphere of equality for all, the larger vision is really restoration of Humanity.  

Under or behind all the labels - words we use to keep our distance from each other - are real live actual human beings; daughters, sons, cousins, sisters, mothers, fathers, best friends, lovers - People.  At the risk of sounding like I’ve gone overboard I’d say the labels we use for other living things, like trees, rats, caterpillars, whales, spiders, oranges, flowers - the create a distance as well.  

Anthony DeMello said in his book Awareness, (and I’m paraphrasing here) that once you name something such as a...

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Posted on Jul 21, 2010 - 07:40 PM by Cian Sawyer

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