This year’s International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) took place in Boulder, Colorado and a group of Sands students and staff went along. This is their report…..
The journey was hell. Forty hours without sleep, Tom lost in immigration control, Kaia’s bag redirected to Chicago, sleeping overnight on the floor at Denver airport and then arriving to boiling heat and humidity at mile-high Boulder. The only things that made it bearable were the back-to-back films and the airplane food. And the company, of course – Huw and Jasper from the Sands School staff and Amanda from Park School (although Amanda was struck down by altitude sickness as we arrived in Boulder and spent the first 24 hours being sick .She was cared for by the IDEC team and was soon back involved in a really fun opening ceremony.)
And once the conference programme started we discovered dangerous amounts of excellent food in the dining hall, fantastic showers, a great swimming pool, air the temperature of bathwater and loads of friendly, friendly people. Our ‘Home Group ‘was really welcoming and a great way for us to break the ice with other delegates. Had it not been for drowning in our own sweat, we would have been in heaven.
We had come prepared to offer four workshops designed to investigate the qualities and characteristics that students are looking for in the adults who educate us. We were hoping to be able to draw some conclusions as to whether these qualities are universal irrespective of age, gender or culture. Are there really common qualities that all ‘democratic educators possess? We were able to offer two workshops and we did discover some fascinating things and will be sharing them in detail in a separate communication but what we can share now is that across ages, genders and cultures students are looking for adults who are good listeners, who possess a certain humility, tempered by a passion for the school and their subjects and are able to admit their errors and show genuine interest in students opinions. They should be fair-minded , adaptable and be able to interact with younger people without trying to make every interaction an educational experience. More will follow, but we are hoping to continue this process and produce a booklet that schools can use to help the adults reflect on the qualities that students value. We believe that our workshops were well received and would like to thank everyone who attended them and contributed .We will attempt to turn your ideas into a worthwhile document that may benefit training teachers and particularly the young staff in all our schools.
We also want to report that we met some amazing people at IDEC: Jalena , the public speaker from Puerto Rico, who is highlighting the need for better education and children’s rights in her home country, and Victor and Victoria who made us aware of the plight of the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It was shocking to hear their stories of toxic water, pollution and the communities abandoned by the US government. It made us realise that we live very privileged lives and that we are sheltered from much of the real world in the UK . In fact nearly everyone we spoke to had a fascinating story and we were all left in awe of the amazing stories and characters that we had the luck to meet in Boulder.
After the conference finished we set off into the Rockies for a hiking and rafting adventure on which we saw elk, mountain goats, chipmunk, bald and golden eagles and dinosaur footprints, met some lovely and hospitable mountain men and got to travel across ‘the Continental Divide ‘at 14000 feet.
Of course all good things have to end. We returned to the UK without any serious travel hiccups and all we have to deal with now is the most awful jetlag. We are all sleeping through till four in the afternoon and are suffering from serious US withdrawal symptoms. We all want our portions super-sized, can’t sleep without ‘smaws’ (marshmallows and nutella sandwiched between digestives) and need to start each day with chats over coffee.
Thanks IDEC 2013 for a fantastic adventure. Thanks also to the organisers for making sure we had a fascinating and safe experience.
Yours with love KAIA, MEGAN,TOM and SIMONE.
Funding this fantastic opportunity was helped by The Phoenix Education Trust and the small surplus remaining from the 2011 IDEC@EUDEC conference hosted by Sands School.