Posted by Jonah Canner on Oct 31, 2011 - 12:54 PM
When I was twenty years old I contemplated dropping out of college to travel the world an find interesting education projects to work on. In the end I decided that I wasn’t quite ready to do that. I wanted to get some experience working in education and creating locally before going out to see what the rest of the world was working on. So I finished college, went to grad school and became one of the founding teachers of the Community School for Social Justice, a small public high school in the Bronx.
In 2006 my good friend Becky Raik and I quit our teaching jobs and started Camp Kadia. It was the most fulfilling thing I had ever done in my life. Years of thinking, planning, and dreaming, manifesting itself in the creation of something tangible. It was an unparalleled feeling of Joy and accomplishment.
A few months later I decided that I was ready to see what the world was up to. The first stop on my journey was Israel. Growing up at Jewish summer camp, I had a lot of connections there. One of those connections was my good friend Raoof Abu Fanni, a Palestinian artist and educator who runs a photography and coexistence project for Jewish and Arab youth called Through Others Eyes.
During the week that I spent at Raoof’s home I went every day with his son Amir to his school, the Hadera Democratic School. I loved the school. In every room I entered I saw children engaged, playing, talking, laughing, and most importantly, being in charge of their lives. Towards the end of the week Raoof told me he was friends with the school’s founder. The next night Raoof, Yaacov Hecht, and I stayed up a little bit too late sharing creation stories, educational philosophy and dreams for the future.
Before we left Yaacov told me two very important things that have greatly shaped much of the last five years of my life. The first thing he said was that when I get back to New York I should meet Dana Bennis and that he thought the two of us would get along very well and eventually work together to build an organization that would support our kind of eduction in America. The second thing he told me was that if I really wanted to see what was going on in the world in terms of education I should go to the IDEC later that year in Brazil.
So what happened next? Two things. I went to Brazil and had my mind blown. For the first time in my life I truly understood that I wasn’t alone, that it wasn’t just me and a couple of my crazy friends that thought about education this way, that thought about the world this way. Sharing stories in half a dozen languages, learning from Kegeki about Tokyo Shure and the concept of school refusers, walking into Aprendjeize in the middle of Sao Paulo... these experiences and many others gave me a new kind of confidence in the work I was doing back in New York.
The other thing that happened was that I met Dana and we decided that it wasn’t enough. That the ideas and values behind democratic education were too important to be sitting off to the side while the mainstream education systems of the world were rotting from too much exposure to fear, competition and narrow thinking. We also knew that there had to be many more people doing this work than were represented at this conference. And so we set out to find them. A couple of years later, along with Scott Nine, Melia Dicker, and several others, we founded IDEA - the Institute for Democratic Education in America.
In March the IDEC comes to Caguas, Puerto Rico and IDEA is one of the sponsoring organizations. In some ways this brings my story full circle. Today I am living in Caguas, working as the lead consultant from IDEA to the Education City Initiative (ECI) - a concept originated by Yaacov Hecht. At the IDEC I will be coordinating presentations of the work of ECI, as well as a team of IDEA organizers.
This week on IDEA’s website and elsewhere, bloggers are being asked to write about the IDEC and why it is an important conference to them. For nearly twenty years the IDEC has been a place where educators from around the world come together to share their work, be inspired by the work of others, and feel - often for the first time - that they are not alone.
After five years of meeting people from around the world it is clearer to me than ever before that none of us are alone, that the work the world needs to see happen is already happening, and that by continuing to meet, learn from, and support each other’s efforts, we will transform the education systems of the world and with them the lives of future generations.
In March 2012 in Caguas, Puerto Rico, the international democratic education community will step out of the shadows and demonstrate to the world that participatory, inquiry based, education that puts the talents, passions, and choices of children at the center of learning is what youth, adults, and communities need in order to take control over our lives and the direction our world is heading.
In these revolutionary times, I cannot think of a better place to be.