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The IDEA Blog

Charting a new path forward in education by sharing positive stories of change, providing perspective on key issues, and giving you the news and analysis you need to take action.

Sometimes the Smallest School Can Make the Hugest Difference in the Lives of Students

Far too often, many of us are caught in the belief that what makes a service or program valuable is if it serves a vast amount of people. That right there may be one of the leading symptoms of why our education system at large is continually offering low quality services to so many young people around America. We resist placing value on what serves individuals, and instead seek to solve the question: "How can we deliver quality to everyone in one fell swoop?"

Meaningful, quality education takes many forms across a broad spectrum of formats - it has to in order to provide exceptional learning experiences for the wildly diverse amount of personalities, backgrounds, and psychologies of...

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Posted on Jul 01, 2015 - 07:27 AM by Shawn Strader

Learning Tours

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Posted on Jun 16, 2015 - 12:36 PM by Shawn Strader

Reflections: A Spring Type of Love

Reflections: A Spring Type of Love

Spring has fully sprung in certain areas of the country. Despite the pollen, this is definitely one of my favorite seasons. One of the seasons I absolutely L-O-V-E. The type of love you feel in February as some of us celebrate Valentine’s Day and Black History Month. The type of love you feel when you know you are making a difference in your community or in someone’s life.

With all that is going on across the country and world, I reflect on the bright spots, the hard work that folks are doing on the ground,...

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Posted on Apr 09, 2015 - 12:19 PM by Shawn Strader

Share Your Change Story

Share Your Change Story

At IDEA, we've made a habit of sharing stories. We want to track and learn from what's happening on the ground. Story Journals help us accomplish that goal by offering a place for you to describe what you’re seeing and learning.

Is something changing in your school? Is the conversation starting to shift? Have you been part of a powerful change effort in your community?
We invite you to Share Your Change Story now and anytime you see actions and changes that should be shared. The...

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Posted on Mar 04, 2015 - 12:11 PM by Shawn Strader

Shifting the Paradigm at Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry

This is a guest post by Rachel Mason. Rachel lives in Victoria, British Columbia. She is interested in progressive education, youth voice, systems change, and social justice. She has worked as a teacher, youth worker, facilitator, project manager, and curriculum developer in a variety of settings. She currently works as a teacher at Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII) and as owner of Arrive Consulting, and is a parent of three young children. For more on PSII from Rachel, read about PSII's philosophy and opening days here.You can contact Rachel at

“The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.”
― John...

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Posted on Feb 24, 2015 - 09:35 AM by Shawn Strader

At the Core of Every Move We Make

At the Core of Every Move We Make

As we push through what is hopefully the final stretch of winter (hang in there New England!), we're tilting even further toward new beginnings, projects, plans, and great work that's already taking place. We're thankful for everyone who was able to donate over the holidays. We're grateful for the ongoing work to influence positive change around the world. And without a doubt, we're ready for an incredible year of progress and change in education.

As we gear up for some seriously effective changework, we're paying attention to our values and intentionality. These values are at...

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Posted on Feb 18, 2015 - 01:20 PM by Shawn Strader

IDEC 2015 is Right Around the Corner in New Zealand

The International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) is coming to New Zealand April 9-12, 2015. Register online ( before the end of February and be entered in a drawing to win a FREE ADULT TICKET! 

This 4-day open-space hui (conference, meeting) is based around the experience of interactive natural ways of learning. Engage in a multitude of hands-on and heartfelt approaches to explore questions like How do we want to learn and teach in the future?, How can we work together to provide learning experiences that support resilient community development and true democratic values? in an environment of trust, equality and enjoyment.

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Posted on Feb 17, 2015 - 09:18 AM by Shawn Strader

When It’s a Good Thing - Social Media in the Classroom

If you haven't thought it inevitable before, perhaps you ought to now. More teachers are finding creative ways to enhance their teaching by incorporating social media into their daily and weekly lessons. Joy Nelson writes for Edudemic in Social Media in the Classroom: 16 Resources for 2015:

Social media is a powerful tool for keeping in touch with friends, getting coupons and deals from your favorite businesses, and seeing what your favorite celebrities are up to. It is also handy in your classroom; platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and others have the power to help you forge closer connections with students and parents and enhance the educational experience in your...

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Posted on Feb 16, 2015 - 10:35 AM by Shawn Strader

San Francisco USD is Hiring More Black Teachers

Yesterday, Huff Post: Black Voices published an article that's making the rounds titled, School District Wants To Close Achievement Gap By Recruiting More Black Teachers. Here's a snippet from the article:

The achievement gap between students of different races has been well-documented, and the San Francisco Unified School District is trying something it hopes will address the disparities early on: Hiring more black teachers.

... The effort ... revolves around a single finding: Students perform better when they can identify with their teachers.

For great reasons, more black and racially diverse teachers is an awesome step forward. However, it's also apparent that this isn't...

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Posted on Feb 10, 2015 - 08:56 AM by Shawn Strader

An Open Heart to Learning

The Heart of Oregon Learning Tour

Over the course of today and half of tomorrow, IDEA is teaming with Sisters School District and Heart of Oregon Corps to host a Learning Tour exploring some excellent sites of democratic education that actively seek to support meaningful change in their communities.

The tour has been designed as a professional development opportunity for an up-and-coming new school, Cloverdale Alternative School.


Learning Tours are one of our favorite ways to support...

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Posted on Feb 05, 2015 - 12:06 PM by Shawn Strader

It’s About That Time

It's About That Time

In two days, IDEA's annual fundraiser will come to a close and we're hoping you've got a little to give.
If you're able, please take a moment to make a donation to IDEA today. Together we can facilitate change in the world. We're not the only ones doing the work, but right now we could use your support.

Help IDEA take things to the next level in 2015

Thank you.

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Posted on Jan 30, 2015 - 11:27 AM by Shawn Strader

The Value of Values

The Value of Values

There's one week left in our 2014/2015 annual fundraiser. As this text is being written, our money raised is $16,079, with a goal of $40,000. We want to take a few more long strides towards that goal. We can only do that with your help.
 So we got to thinking: what gives IDEA value is in part the sum of the values which guide our every move. 


Many of you have shared with us that you find your own personal values to be highly aligned with IDEA's. If you haven't already expressed that, we think you might now that you're encountering this powerful list.


Whether or not you are able to make a donation to IDEA doesn't signify in any way shape or...

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Posted on Jan 26, 2015 - 12:11 PM by Shawn Strader

Hot Off the Press: Fall 2014 Learning Report

Hot Off the Press:
Fall 2014 Learning Report

Exploring how education transformation is happening around the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The stories shared here come directly from the IDEA Community: place-based efforts, teams of the Learning Breakthrough Series, organizational and network partners, and IDEA staff and board members.


Check out all 3 ways to read this issue of the IDEA Learning Report and share it widely with your network: the full PDF of the report, four infographicssharing key successes and changes, and the full contents online.

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Posted on Jan 14, 2015 - 09:54 AM by Shawn Strader

$10 Matters So Much

$10 Matters So Much

Can you give $10 to IDEA, today? Right now? You've only got to click here and donate. If we get more $10 donations than any other organization in our fundraising challenge by Dec 23 at 12pm ET then we win $10,000. We need your donation. Can you chip in for $10K?




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Posted on Dec 17, 2014 - 09:10 AM by Shawn Strader

Today is #GivingTuesday - Can You Give a Hand?


Today is #GivingTuesday
Can You Give a Hand?

Dear IDEA Friends and Family,

We Believe! In community, in love, in public schools, in teachers, in students, in organizing, and in our future. The mainstream narrative surrounding public education is that we shouldn't believe or hope or dream but if you contribute to...

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Posted on Dec 02, 2014 - 09:16 AM by Shawn Strader

It May Be Cold Outside, But We’re Just Warming Up


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Posted on Nov 19, 2014 - 07:49 AM by Shawn Strader

Welcoming New Beginnings


Welcoming New Beginnings

There is a lot to celebrate right now at IDEA. Some folks are saying we are at a new beginning. For starters, I am excited and honored to be the official new Executive Director of IDEA. Additionally, we are all grateful and proud to welcome Kwesi Rollins as the new Chair of the Board of Directors for IDEA. We also have a brand new website that has been in the works for some time - we think you will find it much more useful. One last update - and maybe you noticed already - we have redesigned the newsletter you are reading right now to increase readability and add some recurring...

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Posted on Nov 05, 2014 - 10:28 AM by Shawn Strader

Kwesi Rollins is IDEA’s new Chair of the Board of Directors

Special Announcement
Kwesi Rollins is IDEA's new Chair of the Board of Directors

Kwesi - IEL - Chair of Board.jpg

Kwesi Rollins has been named the new Chair of the Board of Directors for IDEA, and is already active in his role.

Kwesi, a Brooklyn native, currently resides in Washington, DC and serves as Director of Leadership Programs for IEL, and has served on IDEA’s Board for the past year-and-a-half.

As the Director of Leadership Programs for the Institute of Educational Leadership, Kwesi directs several projects that are designed to create and sustain strategic linkages between early childhood education opportunities and community schools. Kwesi has years of experience working with local communities and...

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Posted on Nov 05, 2014 - 07:47 AM by Shawn Strader

Sustainable Schools Project Learns from Puerto Rico

Students at Diego Vazquez School. Photo credit David Loitz (c) 2014(c) David Loitz 2014

This is a guest post by Ryan Morra, community organizer collaborating with a Vermont Team supported by IDEA. Ryan works with Shelburne Farms in Vermont as the Education for Sustainability Partnerships Coordinator and EducatorThis blog was first published on Shelburne Farms' website here.

Laughter, clapping, and salsa music filled the air as students from Escuela Diego Vázquez and Nuestra Escuela in Caguas, Puerto Rico enthusiastically guided us through their schools and got us to play some of their local games like gallitos and Chequi Morena. These students spoke with passion about what it means to have teachers and school leaders who care deeply...

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Posted on Oct 15, 2014 - 01:36 PM by Shawn Strader

“Healing” and “Love”

This is a guest post from long-time friend, organizer, and family member of IDEA, Darcy Bedortha. Her writing comes shortly after a recent visit to Puerto Rico for Session B of IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series. To read more of Darcy's splendid writing, be sure to see her highly acclaimed piece showcased on Living in Dialogue titled, 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher's Tale.

It is difficult to capture Puerto Rico in words. I’ve been struggling for a week to do so, wanting to share my experience and yet limited by this language thing... My journey with IDEA began nearly four years ago, in a much different latitude and season, but with the same centering of the heart. This...

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Posted on Oct 13, 2014 - 03:14 PM by Shawn Strader

Isla del Encanto

This is a guest post by Jenerra Williams, IDEA National Fellow. Jenerra teaches first and second grade at Mission Hill School and lives in Boston, MA. This blog was first published as a submission to Mission Hill's weekly newsletter which can be found on their website and here.

Isla Del Encanto – The Island of Enchantment. Puerto Rico has enchanted me indeed in many ways. From its landscape that is picture perfect no matter where you look to its food that fed my stomach and my soul. The music and the dance still beat within me and I can still hear the ocean just before I sleep. Lastly, the people... warm smiles, and genuine hugs all to make sure that I felt welcome.


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Posted on Oct 07, 2014 - 03:21 PM by Shawn Strader

Special Announcement: IDEA’s New Executive Director

Special Announcement
Albert Sykes is the new Executive Director of IDEA

Albert Sykes has been named the next Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA) and will begin November 1st.

Albert is a native son of Mississippi and led the organization of the National Youth Congress for the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and has been an IDEA organizer and fellow for three years.

Albert has a powerful personal story, one that is rooted in the struggles and search for quality education through community organizing and youth advocacy. The proud father of three sons, Albert grew up in the Shady Oaks community around the corner from where NAACP...

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Posted on Oct 01, 2014 - 10:22 AM by Shawn Strader

Theory of Change

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Posted on Aug 05, 2014 - 03:19 PM by Shawn Strader

Last Call for Executive Director Applicants


July 15 is the deadline to apply!

We're seeking a curious, thoughtful, creative leader who wants to lead a movement building effort to make value aligned connections across the United States and Puerto Rico. This person will lead the strategic and operational efforts of IDEA in pursuing its mission while modeling it values. Does this sound like the right opportunity for you or someone you know?

Please share this news along with the Job Announcement and Application with your networks and potential candidates you’d like to see in this role.

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Posted on Jul 08, 2014 - 11:02 AM by Shawn Strader

The Challenge: Re-Imagining Learning

In the face of critical and complex challenges, we believe that children and young people need to better develop creativity, imaginative problem-solving, teamwork, empathy, and inspiration so they can step into leadership roles in pursuit of purpose.
Play is one of the brain’s favorite ways of learning. It allows us to practice, experiment and test how we might tackle similar challenges in the real world as we develop creative and critical skills along the way. There is also a playfulness in invention and innovation, two things we need more of in a world where solutions must outpace problems. Science proves that. Why not encourage more playful, enthusiastic learning...

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Posted on Jun 12, 2014 - 08:48 AM by Shawn Strader

25-50% off most IDEA Auction items! Ends today at 8pm ET / 5pm PT

Last Chance to Bid or Buy Now

The IDEA Auction closes today, and there are still some fabulous handcrafted items and skillshare sessions available. Today only, we're offering most items to you at 25%-50% off the original minimum bid. You'll find them in the "Buy Now" category. Even if you've already browsed the auction, you'll want to take another look. You'll find great deals that raise money for a great cause.
Don't miss your chance to buy books, art, workshops, lessons of all kinds, music, and more. Every dollar raised supports the educational change work of IDEA!

Just a few of the items available:

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Posted on May 21, 2014 - 06:42 AM by Shawn Strader

Community Organizing in Forastieri Park in Caguas

Forastieri Kids Plaing Fitted.jpg

Nestled at the center of Comunidad Forastieri (the Forastieri Community), one block away from Nuestra Escuela in Caguas, Puerto Rico, is Parque Forastieri (Forastieri Park). The community sees the park as a place to socialize, which adds to it’s value as an awesome destination for the kiddos to enjoy a fun, clean playground. It’s full of color, open to the public, and also has a pretty cool basketball court that gets it’s fair share of use. But this is all new, and only a reality due to the work of some amazing humans.

Not too long ago, Parque Forastieri was essentially abandoned, and considered a scary place to be by most people. The only folks you might find hanging around, and...

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Posted on May 19, 2014 - 12:50 PM by Shawn Strader

Only three days left to raise money for IDEA in the Skillshare Auction!

The Final Countdown!

There are only three more days until the IDEA Skillshare Auction closes on Wednesday at 8 pm Eastern! We're just over 30 percent to our goal of $3,500, and counting.

You'll find more than 80 items available in the auction, each one donated by a talented member of our network. These lessons, books, and handmade items make great gifts for upcoming birthdays or Father's Day, or just for treating yourself. And the best part is that every dollar you spend benefits IDEA.
Browse auction items >>

Learn Spanish or Japanese, birdwatching or quilting. Move your business forward by boosting your revenue,...

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Posted on May 19, 2014 - 07:05 AM by Shawn Strader

Reflection on Goddard, IDEA, and Trackers Weekend

This is a guest post from long-time friend, organizer, and family member of IDEA, Darcy Bedortha. To read more of Darcy's splendid writing, be sure to see her highly acclaimed piece showcased on Living in Dialogue titled, 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher's Tale.
Community. A powerful thing. I am dwelling in the magic of a weekend on the road where I celebrated deep connection and change-making efforts with several communities, enjoying the way they overlap in my personal world. It has been an eventful year. Or three.... As I sat among my friends from Goddard College, IDEA and Trackers Earth in joint conversation about meaningful change in education, I was gratefully...

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Posted on May 08, 2014 - 11:29 AM by Shawn Strader

#WeAuthorize Weds, Skillshare Auction, & Cool New Opps to Learn!

#WeAuthorize Wednesdays

In partnership with Integrity in Education, we're launching #WeAuthorize Wednesdays today, May 7th!

We invite everyone, each week, at any time of day or night, to begin to link together and lift up a larger and just vision for education and policy.

Get all the details on the IDEA Blog and help us kickstart the #WeAuthorize conversation on Twitter.


Learning Call celebrating Freedom Summer

Join in to learn about the Freedom Summer Youth Congress from two IDEA organizers on the planning committee for this awesome youth focused event.

June 25-29, America will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer in Mississippi....

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Posted on May 07, 2014 - 08:31 AM by Shawn Strader

#WeAuthorize Wednesdays

In partnership with Integrity in Education, we’re launching #WeAuthorize Wednesdays today, May 7th!

It’s time to define a new course of action for American education policy in the 21st Century – one that helps to make visible the tremendous positive educational innovation developing at America's grassroots, and that is informed by the wisdom, creativity and foresight of young people, educators and the communities they serve.

This weekly twitter holiday is one way to get started.

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Posted on May 07, 2014 - 05:59 AM by Shawn Strader

LBS Session B goes to Puerto Rico!

From September 18-22, participants of IDEA's first-ever Learning Breakthrough Series will come together once again for Learning Session B in the beautiful, profound Isla del Encanto - Puerto Rico!

The second of our gatherings, Learning Session B, brings teams back together to share and explore the reality of what's happened in their home contexts post Learning Session A, to look for the intersections and learning from what is causing desired changes, to dig further into what is distinct and common across each team’s work in education across these four drivers of change, and to ground their work in the culture, history, and reality of the Puerto Rican nation.

IDEA’s organizing...

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Posted on May 01, 2014 - 07:33 AM by Shawn Strader

Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice

One of IDEA's favorite gentlemen, Sam Chaltain, has a freshly published brand new book titled Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice. It's already got some great reviews, and for all the right reasons!

Our School is the first book I've read to share the honest human story of our current educational landscape. Sam weaves the lives of children and teachers together, along with the larger questions we all face about the future of learning in the U.S. As a result, Our School provides the emotional inflection points that are often missing from our growing national debates.

- IDEA Executive Director, Scott Nine


Almost every major American city is...

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Posted on Apr 07, 2014 - 03:18 PM by Shawn Strader

Education Uprising & J4J’s Listening Project

YES! Magazine Spring 2014 Issue: Education Uprising

We would love everyone to be reading and talking about the newest issue of YES! Magazine.


The crew @yesmagazine took the time to research and put together an education issue that helps illuminate both the challenges and the possibilities being created by grassroots and national actors, to reimagine and reclaim the "public" in public education.

It offers a frame of what’s happening in education that puts an expose of corporatization alongside David Sobel's writing on learning outdoors, and links the testing boycott popularized by Seattle's Garfield High School with the growth of social emotional learning and a...

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Posted on Mar 14, 2014 - 09:17 AM by Shawn Strader

What were guinea pigs doing at the State House? (a newsletter from Providence Student Union)

Providence Student Union never ceases to amaze me... In my opinion they are some of the most intoxicating change-makers to follow, and so I love any opportunity to share what they are up. This news letter came to me last week in a subscribed update. Not only did they take their message to the State House, but the local news covered the event, and from the way it looks the participants had a fun time demonstrating too. Check it out, and subscribe to PSU's emails on their homepage - you won't regret it. grin

Last week, the Rhode Island General Assembly got quite a surprise when an enormous pack of guinea pigs and lab rats took over the State House for an afternoon. ...

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Posted on Feb 11, 2014 - 09:58 AM by Shawn Strader

Break On Through to The Other Side!

Break on through to the other side... of the No Spectators campaign and the Learning Breakthrough Series! There are only 4 days left in IDEA's No Spectators fundraising campaign, and we need your donation now more than ever. So far we've raised about 50% of our $65,000 goal. We know we can get this number higher, but we're going to need your support. That's why we're giving you the details now on one of our biggest projects yet, and how your donations directly support the Learning Breakthrough Series.

The Learning Breakthrough Series is one way IDEA supports local power while generating knowledge and connections for the national movement towards more meaningful and relevant...

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Posted on Jan 27, 2014 - 08:24 AM by Shawn Strader

Connected Learning: The Experience of Education Reimagined

“How might education come to life if children were to possess a burning need to know?"

Nearly 8 minutes of pretty outstanding information, insight, creativity, hope, vision.... The film gives a provocative frame for thinking about how we reimagine education.

What does learning with like-minded or like-visioned learners look like? Learning with someone else who shares your interests is sure to create more sparks in the learning than with folks who could care less about what's being learned. Right?

Check the original website here. No matter where you view it, it'll keep your attention.

"Our core question is, “What’s the experience we want kids to have.” So the core...

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Posted on Jan 03, 2014 - 09:40 AM by Shawn Strader

Happy Holidays!

It's New Year's Eve's Eve, and we simply can't resist the temptation to write to you and the rest of our amazing network to share some love and well wishes! We hope that your holidays in 2013 have been and are still the best, and that you're looking forward to 2014 as much as we are!

If you're looking to make a year-end contribution, we'd love your support towards our #NoSpectators campaign. Check out our funny new meme below. And if you're not looking to make some year-end gifts, no worries. It's most important that you have a lovely New Year celebration and that your holidays have been a good time. Nothing but love to you and yours from the IDEA crew. grin

Make a year-end...

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Posted on Dec 30, 2013 - 03:28 PM by Shawn Strader

IDEA Boricua

As IDEA Boricua's Storyteller, I'm super excited to be writing this piece for the IDEA Blog. It feels a little surreal to be writing about the work our place-based team is involved in in Puerto Rico, because the fact is that there's so much incredible work going on here to strengthen, build, and support communities toward meaningful learning, rooted in values of love and democracy.

My original plan for this piece was to zone in on one of IDEA Boricua's current efforts. However, it occurred to me that everything we are up to is important, and in an early stage. That said I'm using this blog to help get anyone reading up to speed on everything we're up to. It won't be extensive, and I...

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Posted on Dec 19, 2013 - 09:52 AM by Shawn Strader

Providence Student Union is Killin’ It!

I've said it once, and I'll say it again - Providence Student Union (PSU) are real-deal-Holyfield changemakers. I'm gonna let this story speak for itself.

Check out how PSU organized to keep Alvarez High School from shutting down. As they say in the opening line, "It's hard to believe, but we did it!

Dear Shawn,

It's hard to believe, but we did it!


Yesterday, the Providence School Board announced that they will not be...

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Posted on Dec 16, 2013 - 07:40 AM by Shawn Strader

No Spectators

Ask your friends to define democratic education, and you'll get a few different responses, but we can tell you this much is for sure - Democracy in Education is Not a Spectator Sport.

Will you jump in the game, and give $35 dollars to IDEA's No Spectators campaign today?

We know you're busy, and a lot of folks want your money and time. We're asking you to move forward with IDEA anyway, because it's important.

Donate to IDEA's No Spectators campaign at

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Posted on Dec 11, 2013 - 08:48 AM by Shawn Strader

Democracy in Education is not a Spectator Sport

There's no time for cynicism and disappointment

Working together, communities, networks, and organizations can and are engaging young people in meaningful learning. It's time to tell that story. It's time to change policies in support of that story. It's time to reclaim the public in education.

Five reasons you should give some of your hard-earned money to IDEA:

1. Impacting the National Narrative
2. Mapping the Educational Landscape
3. Generating Knowledge
4. Telling the Story
5. Connecting the Dots

We know you're busy and a lot of folks want your money and time.
We're asking you to move forward with IDEA anyway, because it's important.

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Posted on Nov 26, 2013 - 10:38 AM by Shawn Strader

Top Ten Countdown: Final Three Hits & Welcoming Jill Ruchala

Final Report and Wrap of A Year at Mission Hill

On January 31st, 2013, the first chapter of the "A Year at Mission Hill" film was launched across the networks of 50 partner organizations, on YouTube, on Prezi, and in the conference rooms and homes of people around the country.

Here's a full wrap of the series and the campaign from start to finish. Sit back, grab a snack, and enjoy.

Ten Videos. One Year. A public school trying to help children learn and grow. The national conversation we need to be having.


IDEA on Instagram

We're all excited! IDEA is now on Instagram! 

And we're also pretty "taken" with our username, created by national...

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Posted on Nov 22, 2013 - 10:00 AM by Shawn Strader

A Year at Mission Hill, The IDEA Blog, and the Top Ten Countdown

A Year at Mission Hill. Did you Miss it? Want to Revisit?

Did A Year at Mission Hill pass right by you? Maybe you were too busy to dig in, or maybe the series snuck by unnoticed. Maybe you've subconsciously been craving to revisit #YearatMH, because it's just that awesome.

Whatever the case, we wanted to shout it out again and invite you to take a step closer to Mission Hill School and the story it tells about what's possible when a community comes together to build a powerful educational experience for young people. Treat yourself to this intoxicating and provocative series of short films at A Year at Mission Hill's website.

Also, great news! The filmmakers of the series are...

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Posted on Nov 01, 2013 - 01:35 PM by Shawn Strader

Truth: What it Takes to Move Forward

Henry Rollins used to be one of my role models. I aspired to be as radical, outspoken, hostile, and informed as he seemed to be. But that was in high school... when I looked up to him as the frontman of Black Flag. You know, that was a long time ago... I haven't heard much about Henry Rollins or Black Flag since then.

All that said, I'm pretty stoked to see Henry in this video speaking some solid truth to the power of meaningful education. He opens up this interview with this quote:

"The way out is Education. Always has been, always will be. It is the great leveler of the playing field."

He then expands on the idea of the lack of equitable and meaningful education being a root...

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Posted on Oct 31, 2013 - 07:25 AM by Shawn Strader

What’s In a Name?

A guest post from Okaikor Aryee-Price, an IDEA organizer, which was originally guest posted to Teacher In a Strange Land on EdWeek: 

I know for many the naming of a child is a deeply personal and spiritual experience that reflects some symbolism of one's cultural, traditional, and familial background. For my children, it was all of the 1008815_10153416005460331_2098824060_o.jpgabove. And because I put so much thought, research and energy into naming them, I expect people to respect that.

I get a little miffed when people ask me for a nickname or something short. Because of this, I am sensitive to how our names are more than just letters in a random word our parents chose to give us. When I posted a short story about a recent...

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Posted on Oct 29, 2013 - 08:38 AM by Shawn Strader

IDEA 3.0 Top Ten Countdown - Learning Breakthrough Series

We're halfway to number 1 in the Countdown, and no measure short of excited to deliver here, now, and today at number 5 on the Top Ten Countdown - IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series!

The Learning Breakthrough Series
Pioneered by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in the health field, IDEA is adapting this deep-dive action based research model to education, and launching Learning Session A from November 7-11, 2013, in Jackson, Mississippi. Over the course of two-years, teams of educators, youth, and community and policy leaders from 10 distinct communities are learning alongside one another about transforming and sustaining meaningful change in today's educational...

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Posted on Oct 28, 2013 - 10:22 AM by Shawn Strader

The Moral Limits of School Choice

The Morals Limits of School Choice, orginally presented through EdWeek, is a guest post written by Sam Chaltain - DC-based writer and strategic communications consultant, and IDEA Organizer.

I support school choice - but it's complicated.

I live in Washington, D.C., where almost half of the city's students attend charter schools. I helped launch a charter school here. My son attends another one, and the city is beginning to see some real collaboration between its charter schools and the district. Good things are happening.

At the same time, I worry about what might happen if too many of us simply assume that the invisible hand of the modern school marketplace - or, worse still,...

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Posted on Oct 25, 2013 - 07:36 AM by Shawn Strader

The Purpose-Driven Education

In this episode, IDEA Organizer and EdWeek Blogger Nancy Flanagan examines the question, What is the core purpose of publicly funded education in America? Nancy's piece recently went up on her EdWeek blog, Teacher in a Strange Land, and we're excited to highlight her writing here. It's a great piece that asks great questions - we hope you'll take the time to give your answers in the end via IDEA's Facebook page.

In the rough notes from a national progressive organization's ed-campaign launch, there it was, a single sentence:  I've never heard anyone ask about the purpose of education. 

It reminded me--and I'm seriously dating myself here--of an item that was once a fixture in...

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Posted on Oct 21, 2013 - 06:31 AM by Shawn Strader

IDEA 3.0 Top Ten Countdown - IDEA Blog

Coming in at number 6 on the Countdown is the IDEA Blog:
Sharing positive stories of change, providing perspective on key issues, and giving you wraps of the news and analysis to inspire learning, dialogue, and action.

We've refined our blogging efforts over the years and we hope you've noticed or will take a second look. There are many great education blogs. We hope ours contributes to the mix through our method of analysis, wraps, sharing of positive stories, attention to challenging topics, and some humor. The IDEA Blog offers original posts, curated discussion off our Facebook page, and reposts from other blogs. Here's to hoping you'll help us meet three of our blog...

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Posted on Oct 17, 2013 - 11:19 AM by Shawn Strader

Reflections on the Schools for Change Conference

This is a guest post by Stephanie Rogen, Principal and Founder of Greenwich Leadership Partners LLC (GLP), coach and facilitator to educational and not for profit leadership, and IDEA Board member. Her work integrates more than twenty five years' experience in the corporate, educational, and not for profit sectors.
Many of us are wondering what online education really means for students, teachers, schools, and curricula. The conversation is wide ranging and I thought I would share a summary of what I heard at the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference on September 17, 2013 in New York.
The conference was packed (oversubscribed and overcrowded), with a wide...

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Posted on Oct 15, 2013 - 06:27 AM by Shawn Strader

IDEA 3.0 Top Ten Countdown - Place-Based Organizing & One National Team

Today we're bringing you a double dose of organizing focus as we share our focus on Place-Based Organizing and having One National Team.

IDEA has six place-based organizing teams moving in Vermont, Puerto Rico, Oregon, Minnesota, Jackson, and Boston. Each team is led by a Senior Fellow and has a dedicated Storyteller in addition to other team members. Each team is developing and moving their own strategies within shared values. We've set-up operational structures to support each team to grow and evolve based on the leadership and needs of each location, and of course, to grow teams in other states and communities.

Toward that end, we're "seeding" four teams for the year who have a...

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Posted on Oct 02, 2013 - 06:52 AM by Shawn Strader

IDEA 3.0 Top Ten Countdown - Four Drivers of Change

Truckin' right along, IDEA's Four Drivers of Change comes in at number 9 on the Countdown.

We know school and community change are driven by a number of different intersecting forces. And, one of the learnings we've gleaned from places like Mission Hill, El Puente, Nuestra Escuela, Opal, and projects like PS2013, etc, is that powerful educational change work seems to coherently address each of these four drivers:

  • Policy - the way rules and laws influence, support, or structure what's happening
  • Practice - what actually happens in real time among teachers and learners
  • Public Narrative - how we talk about education and frame what's happening
  • Strategy - how ideas are moved...

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Posted on Sep 25, 2013 - 10:31 AM by Shawn Strader

IDEA 3.0 Top Ten Countdown - The Storyteller

IDEA is evolving, and we figured if Apple is rolling out with their new operating system today, we're gonna roll out with ours too! But the thing is, IDEA 3.0 is SO BIG, there's no possible way we could hand it all over to you in one quick shot. So, in no particular order, we're gonna give you a Top Ten Countdown over the next few weeks!

Today, coming in at the top of the list at number 10 is a new IDEA Role, the Storyteller.

Organizers and educators working with IDEA over the last few years have said something like, "we're too busy making history to document it" or "I know we need to tell our story more and that it's important, but I can't seem to get to it in the balance of...

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Posted on Sep 18, 2013 - 12:21 PM by Shawn Strader

The Community Wants a Say on High Stakes Testing

In Providence, Rhode Island, Providence Student Union is organizing to have the school board hold "open, public hearings to allow the community to finally weigh in on the use of a high-stakes tests," but their efforts aren't over. I point to it here because I think it is an inspirational and important example of similar scenarios going on across the U.S. which illustrates the challenges, determination, and vision that young people across our communities are living with, day to day.
Check out PSU member Hector Perea's message below, and share the story across your network to support what PSU is up to. There are some good conversations to be had around PSU's current campaign, and...

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Posted on Sep 16, 2013 - 11:12 AM by Shawn Strader

“Boston Passes Historic Code of Conduct Policy!!”

It's not too often often that an email gets me out of my seat, increases my heart-rate, and brings out all of my pearly whites, especially when I'm the only person in the room. But this exciting email came in on Wednesday from Youth on Board and Boston Student Advisory Council. I wasn't sure if I had read right after reading through it once, so I read it two more times. Needless to say, I've read through the highlights at the bottom of the message more than thrice now since it came in. There is a lot of reason to celebrate here. That being said, I'm curious, excited, and not entirely sure of what things will look like moving forward for Boston schools. For now, all I know is that this is...

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Posted on Sep 13, 2013 - 11:32 AM by Shawn Strader

Opening Week at Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry

This is a guest post by Rachel Mason. Rachel lives in Victoria, British Columbia. She is interested in progressive education, youth voice and social justice. She has worked as a teacher, youth worker, facilitator, fundraiser, project manager, and curriculum developer in a variety of settings. She currently works as a teacher a Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), and is a parent of three young children. You can contact her at


On the Tuesday after Labour Day young people all over Canada were going back to school. At the opening day of Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), a new school in Victoria, British Columbia, the staff arrived...

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Posted on Sep 12, 2013 - 06:59 AM by Shawn Strader

What Will You Send to YES! Magazine for an Issue on Reclaiming the “Public” in Public Education?

The spring 2014 issue of YES! magazine will explore, "a nascent movement, coming from both the grassroots and national actors, to reimagine and reclaim the "public" in public education."

This seems like a great opportunity. I hope you'll share this across your networks and submit a thought, a story idea, or a piece of your own active work.

Send your ideas on promising innovations, thoughtful leaders, and ideas that you see as at the heart of this transformation to by September 18th.
Two other notes from the editors:
  • Although we want to name and explore the controversies around the “accountability era,” our focus is on the people and communities...

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Posted on Sep 11, 2013 - 05:33 AM by Shawn Strader

The Gap Between Knowing What We Want and How to Make It Happen

It's a great thing that the 2013 Gallup Poll includes these questions.

Agree or Disagree:

Today's schools should teach critical-thinking skills.
Today's schools should teach communication skills.
Today's schools should teach students how to set meaningful goals.
Today's schools should know how to motivate students.*
Today's schools should teach students how to collaborate on projects.
Today's schools should foster students' creativity.
Today's schools should promote students' well-being.
Today's schools should build students' character.

And let's celebrate the sense that the majority of the general public knows it wants them.
  • Over 50 percent...

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Posted on Sep 05, 2013 - 06:40 AM by Shawn Strader

Calling for the Best of the Best: Books and Blogs for the Current Reality and Future of Education

Hello, Good Morning, and Happy September,

My name is Shawn Strader, and I'm a good ol' staff member at IDEA - my glamorous title is, in fact, the Administrative and Development Associate. Pretty fancy, eh? I'll be posting on IDEA's Blog pretty regularly starting now, and I hope we can have some fun along the way. To me, one of the coolest things a blog can do is engage the community and get every one of the readers chipping in, whether that means having conversation, sharing resources, or sharing opinions.

Today, and over the course of the next week or so, I'm hoping that you and our other readers can help us out with a fun little project. We're seeking to accomplish two things:


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Posted on Sep 04, 2013 - 05:40 AM by Shawn Strader

How Should We Evaluate Our Preschools?

"Imagine, for a second, that you are in charge of more than $600 million in taxpayer money. You live in a city that has made deep investments in early education, and that aspires to provide universal preschool by 2014. You have a thriving network of public charter schools, and you want to help parents make more informed choices about where they send their children.

What would you do?

Here in DC, that question is not hypothetical; it is an actual riddle for the city's Public Charter School Board (PCSB) to solve..."

The current conversation on DC's new accountability framework is buzzing. Sam Chaltain is quoted above from his Education Week blog posted yesterday. He points to "thee...

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Posted on Aug 28, 2013 - 06:37 AM by Shawn Strader

IDEA Community Organizing, Year 3

Today on July 16, 2012, IDEA has sent out a Call for IDEA Organizers for 2012-2013. The 2011-2012 year of organizing has come to an end, and our 2012-2013 organizing year is now finding its fresh beginning. I'm excited to say that this next year's organizing model will take quite a different shape than it has had over the past couple years. That said, I will use this space to bring you up to date on some of the changes in organizing structure that are coming. I will only briefly summarize the upcoming changes - to view the full details of what's to come for our organizing model, go on and check out the Call for IDEA Organizers for 2012-2013.


About two years ago IDEA launched a...

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Posted on Jul 16, 2012 - 05:53 PM by Shawn Strader

Real Education is Relevant

In high school, I maintained consistently horrible grades in math. It was mainly Algebra that killed my GPA. I just didn't get it you know? But gosh... I wanted to. I wanted to understand all those letters and symbols so bad. I've always had trouble learning something if I didn't understand the practicality and usefulness of it though. So in my Algebra class... the one I took three years in a row in high school... I asked more than one teacher, on more than one occasion,

"How is Algebra useful in a real world situation?"
"Why do the rules of Algebra work the way they do?"
"How do we know that this stuff is really true anyway? How is the truth of Algebra confirmed in the world and not on...

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Posted on Nov 03, 2011 - 01:39 PM by Shawn Strader

A Review of Democratic Education: A Beginning of a Story, by Yaacov Hecht

Ever since I was a middle aged teenager, I've wanted to work for a social revolution. I've wanted to help create a world where all people can collaborate and pursue their own personal goals, unhindered by oppression from the state, their communities, or any bully for that matter. To this day, I still can't pinpoint what got me passionate about working for a better tomorrow. I suppose if I had to narrow it down to one main influence, I would say it was politically charged Punk Rock music. I listened to a lot of Propagandhi growing up, and still do. That style of Punk Rock often contains lyrics that tell a story about a person or community that was oppressed and how they either won or lost in...

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Posted on Aug 01, 2011 - 04:45 PM by Shawn Strader

Is Testing and Quizzing Good for Learning?

According to a blog posted in the education section of the online magazine, Good, Kent University conducted a study which, scientists claim, has shown that practice tests and practice quizzes are good for learning. It's a short blog, and if you've got time, I suggest reading that before you read the rest of this blog. Just click here.

Basically, the study conducted an experiment between two groups of people preparing for a Swahili vocabulary test. One group studied for the test by whatever methods they chose, and the other group took a pop-quiz prior to the actual test, and were given a list of English words which correlated to the Swahili words in some fashion (by meaning or phonetically)...

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Posted on Oct 15, 2010 - 11:02 AM by Shawn Strader

I Can’t Wait to Have Kids

I don't have kids of my own, but I absolutely plan on having some in the near future. It is something I am very eager about, and I can honestly say that I am not very worried about the situation at all.

Right now, I work 3 days a week, and my wife works about the same. We both work at restaurants and make pretty good money. We own our home, have just bought a new car, and we are living very comfortably. If you're wondering what my sort of comfort looks like, after considering that together my wife and I work 6 shifts a week, I am not surprised. We live very minimalist, communal lives. Our bills consist of our mortgage (which we share with 3 roommates), car payment, cell phone bills,...

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Posted on Sep 22, 2010 - 09:24 AM by Shawn Strader

Race To The Top

I do not mean for this writing to provide a summary, synopsis, or full blown analysis of our nations most recent plan to stimulate the effectiveness of our education system, Race To The Top (RTTT). Rather I will offer some thoughts and concerns in hopes to stimulate the thoughts of readers in regards to RTTT, and provoke independent research and analysis of the effort. For an accurate description of RTTT, visit the US Department of Education website here.

In a nutshell, RTTT is the United States' most recent federal program to stimulate teachers, schools, and mainly statewide education officials and governors into practicing more effective teaching standards by offering monetary awards for...

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Posted on Aug 16, 2010 - 12:41 PM by Shawn Strader

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...

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

An Inadvertent Lesson From My Nephew

As of late, I have been observing what it is like to maintain a high level of patience with my 4-year-old nephew. For example, he can sometimes take a very long time to complete a task that he knows how to do, because he is trying different methods. And sometimes, his experimental process can be a nuisance, depending on what kind of time frame we have to spend with each other. If we need to be at the park down the road to meet up with his parents at 3pm, and he needs to get his shoes on in the next 3 minutes, or else we will be late, then his efforts to successfully throw his flip flops onto his feet can be straining on whoever is responsible for him. But lately I have been allotting a lot...

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Posted on Jul 06, 2010 - 04:51 PM by Shawn Strader

Drop Down Thinking

Yesterday afternoon, I had a conversation with a rather pleasant woman named June about our nation's current population of youth, and the ways in which our youth seems to process thoughts. June provoked the conversation after we had discussed that I study philosophy at ASU.

She began by mentioning that there seem to be many people, especially today's younger population, who seem to lack any notion of a creative way of thinking. That is, she recognized that many kids nowadays are being taught what to think, as opposed to how to think, which seems to be giving rise to a population of people who seem to struggle when problem solving alone, and sometimes even in groups. I was very excited that...

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Posted on Jun 21, 2010 - 01:28 PM by Shawn Strader

The Power Of One

As I lock my bicycle up in downtown Phoenix, outside of a happenin' little cafe called Conspire, a child, belted into his stroller, is continually crying, nearly screaming, as he sits unattended to by anyone around. There are a lot of people here. I am glancing from person to person, hoping to bring attention to this crying kid, but nobody is receptive. I should have figured that a stony glance around would not amount to someone else coming to the aid of this child, considering that his scream can be heard from 50 yards in any direction and nobody seems to care.

I've come to the Conspire to play their open-mic with my good friend Matt. Matt is much more confrontational than I am, and...

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Posted on Apr 27, 2010 - 08:43 AM by Shawn Strader

Children Will Learn, With Or Without A Structured Education

Often I wonder, why do we send our children away to a classroom at all? I can only speak for myself, but I feel that I have an ample amount of knowledge and know-how which I would love to share with my future children. With my knowledge, plus the fact that I would be bringing my kid(s) with me on daily adventures and into my networks of other people, it seems that experience alone would provide a well-rounded atmosphere for learning. So unschooling, to me, seems to be a viable option for providing an education. But at the same time, it seems odd, intuitively, to even think of planning an educational route for my future children.

To me, it seems that just by living, and getting by in...

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Posted on Apr 12, 2010 - 05:43 PM by Shawn Strader

Colin Wants To Go To South Africa

Recently I stumbled upon an interesting article on NPR's website entitled, Age May Be Barrier For 13-Year-Old College Student. The story tells about a 13-year-old boy who maintains a 3.9 GPA at the University of Connecticut. The boy, named Colin Carlson, is a double major and seems to be deeply motivated in his studies, which include environmental studies and evolutionary biology.

The article revolves around Colin's university prohibiting him from enrolling in a class that would take place in South Africa over the summer, due to his young age. The University reasons that a boy at such a young age may be at higher risk of something undesirable happening while in South Africa than a typical...

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Posted on Mar 31, 2010 - 09:18 AM by Shawn Strader

The Social Gap Between Child and Adult

This past week, there was a Hawaiian Music Festival at Tempe Town Lake, not far from my neighborhood. I did not attend, but a good friend of mine checked it out before coming over to my house for a visit. He said it was a fun time with plenty of ukuleles to play and good music all around. But when he got to the front of the line of the 'Make Your Own Hawaiian Lei' booth, the staff told him that adults were not allowed to make a lei, that the artful activity was for kids only.

Was he heartbroken over it? Nah... but he was pretty bummed out. He had never made a lei before, and here was a great opportunity to broaden his horizons, but he couldn't participate...apparently, he's too old for...

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Posted on Mar 15, 2010 - 10:13 AM by Shawn Strader

Within Earshot and Eyesight

I live in a pretty relaxed neighborhood in Tempe, AZ. For most of the houses throughout my neighborhood, to walk out the back yard and into the alley is to come face to face with someone else's backyard, or usually their 6-foot cinder-block wall. Past my back gate, however, is the school yard of a middle school. The yard is used for Physical Education, and recess at lunch, mainly.

Every day, I hear the school bells chime, and multiple times a day, big groups of children come out for P.E. and once for recess. During P.E. the kids usually begin by running laps around their rather large yard. They will holler and run, walk and talk, and some eventually begin to drag their feet and pant. Boy,...

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Posted on Mar 01, 2010 - 01:42 PM by Shawn Strader

Patience For Those We Teach

There are many variables to being a great teacher. And not every great teacher necessarily teaches the same way, nor shares the same traits.

I have marveled at amazing teachers of my past and present, as I'm sure many other folks have with their own instructors. And likewise, I have thought back to those teachers that just did not seem fit for educating.

I write to discuss one quality, in particular, which can be found in educators that just don't seem to be made for teaching. That quality is impatience.

So many times, at least in my life, teachers have grown upset at me or others for not quickly and easily grasping concepts that they were trying to teach in class. They've grown so...

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Posted on Feb 15, 2010 - 06:34 PM by Shawn Strader

My Personal Understanding of Democratic Education

The concept of democratic education was not introduced to me until summer of 2004. I was aware of homeschooling, and slightly familiar with unschooling, but had never really pushed to find an understanding of either approach. But in 2004, The Village Free School, of Portland, OR, was undergoing its first stages of creation, and I was fortunate to be around for it. It is something I took a deep interest in.

The idea of children having the freedom to do what they feel inclined to, all under the premise that they are receiving their education during that time....boy, that was a bizarre concept for me.

As strange a concept as it was, though, I was very intrigued by it, and in theory found it...

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Posted on Feb 03, 2010 - 11:08 PM by Shawn Strader

Thoughts on Bullying

Recently I listened to a discussion on the Diane Rehm show that centered on bullying in school and showcased some of Carl Pickhardt's theory on why bullying takes place and how it is possible. It was fascinating. You can listen to this segment here.

In public school, it is wrong to bully. Often times when a bully is discovered in a class of children, there will be some sort of sit-down talk. The bully might be told that it is not okay to do what he or she is doing to other children, and that if bullying is being used to achieve some goal, then there are surely other ways one can go about meeting that goal without harming others. Most times some sort of further repercussion is dealt to the...

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Posted on Jan 19, 2010 - 04:55 PM by Shawn Strader

Of Life and Learning

Isn't it great how when we are struggling with something, the people who care about us will sometimes help us through our challenging times so that we will prosper? Great not only because of the loving sentiment that arises from helping one another, but great also because that learning is many times a byproduct of such group efforts.

It would be wrong to say that we are not learning when people show us how to do things we otherwise would not know how to do, or when they assist us in challenging matters. Even with the help of somebody who does not break down step-by-step how to perform whatever task is at hand, we as humans still observe and take mental note. We have an amazing ability to...

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Posted on Jan 04, 2010 - 10:08 PM by Shawn Strader

Teacher and Student Roles

Just about anybody who has attended public school has experienced the distinction that seems to often exist between student and teacher.

The teacher calls the shots, runs the show, sets the agenda and the deadlines, informs students of how things will go on in their classroom, and is the person who has the knowledge -- which is to be passed on from his or her mind to the students of the classroom. And this is all usually done through teacher-led discourse and method, within the constraints of school curriculum of course.

The students (in theory) are to absorb all of the knowledge being offered to them, respond diligently and respectfully to the teacher's commands and direction, raise...

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Posted on Nov 20, 2009 - 11:52 AM by Shawn Strader

Welcome to Op-Education

Hello, and welcome to Op-Education. I am delighted to have you as a reader. My name is Shawn Gaillard, and it seems like I will be blogging pretty regularly for IDEA. I must say that I am truly excited!

As this is my introductory post, I suppose offering some background information about myself might be nice. I am twenty-three years old and live in Tempe, Arizona where I attend Arizona State University as a student of Philosophy. I am a passionate musician, a good friend, a dedicated vegan, and an open-minded biped if I do say so myself. I enjoy thinking outside the box, as well as exploring many different methods for accomplishing goals that are usually pursued in routine ways. I...

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Posted on Oct 25, 2009 - 07:50 PM by Shawn Strader

Posts by Shawn Strader

Shawn Strader

Shawn is a 25-year-old Vegan and musician with a degree in Philosophy from Arizona State University. He is freshly married to his partner of 9 years and is committed to alleviating human social struggle and supporting collaborative communities. Shawn's personal values are heavily aligned with those of IDEA, and he is perpetually learning more about the wide range of social benefits that emerge in communities practicing democratic education. Shawn became interested in democratic education and philosophy of education after stumbling upon Israeli educator Yaacov Hecht’s keynote speech at the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2008. Shawn recently joined the IDEA staff.