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Report on the 2017 AERO Conference

The AERO conference of 2017 was held from August 2nd to August 6th. Those who attended experienced a very special event. This included:
  • A spectacular cruise around Manhattan Island.
  • A visit to Pono, an education center in West Harlem in Manhattan
  • Three documentaries, including a presentation by 22 year old Taiwanese film maker Adler Yang of his award-winning film, “If There is a Reason to Study”
  • The book launch of Jerry Mintz’ “School’s Over”
  • A keynote by unschool expert Dayna Martin
  • Six TED-like mini-talks
  • A keynote by MET Schools founder Dennis Littky
  • A keynote by Alliance of Self-Directed Education founder and author Peter Gray
  • A lunch keynote by Argentine film maker German Doin.
  • A keynote by renowned education writer Jonathan Kozol
  • A keynote by minority unschooling expert Akilah Richards
  • Two amazing panels with keynoters
  • An exclusive reading of a keynote written by paralyzed educator and author John Gatto
  • 36 amazing workshops
  • 12 display tables, a virtual reality demonstration, a Mine Craft server, networking events, book signings
We had attendees from 12 countries and 23 states.
Here are some comments from attendees:
“The AERO conference of 2017 was one of the most powerful/ inspiring networking events I have been to in my life. What great work AERO is doing!”  CV, Colombia
“I found the keynote speakers GREATLY inspiring!  DF
“”I had such a wonderful experience at this conference, and met so many amazing people. I hoped to help bring homeschooling into the Alternative Education conversation in the same way that unschooling has always been. I didn’t anticipate that I would leave with a completely re-framed vision of my work, and my place in this movement. Thanks AERO!!” BR
The AERO conference was a great success. I felt especially blessed to appear on the same stage, in a panel discussion,with one of my long-time heroes, Jonathan Kozol.  And, what a treat is was to hear Jerry Mintz read the speech written for this conference by the great John Gatto, on how education is all about the quest for water, food, and overcoming separation. The conference also, I think, saw the birth of a new star in the advocacy for Self-Directed Education.  When I recommended Akilah Richards to Jerry as a keynoter, I knew she would be good, but I didn’t know she would be THAT good.  Thank you, Jerry, for including her.  And thank you for your generosity in making room, at almost the last minute, for representatives of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE) and the ASDE workshop.    Peter Gray
“I have to thank you again for making space for me at AERO this year. It was such a pleasure to learn from and be received by the AERO tribe. I’m still reading through the copious notes I took, and reveling in the wonderful connections made!” Akilah Richards
This quote from Jonathan Kozol’s talk really stuck with Gleamer Sullivan:
“Learning should be a journey of discovery instead of a forced march to a preplanned destination.”
“I’m just back from the Alternative Education Resource Organization AERO conference and don’t have words to describe how beneficial I found it. It was like being as close to hope as we can rightfully get at this moment in history. It was not only about providing for children to become what they want to be. It was also about creating a world in which they feel equal and secure.” RF, Canada
I really enjoyed the keynotes and many workshops.  It was especially useful to have networking time over meals.  Meeting new people who become friends is such a benefit of the conference.
-Candy Landvoigt, Highland School
“The conference was not just informative or thought-provoking, but was bolstering and reaffirming to me as a homeschooler.” MF
“The conference was a gift. I feel more ready to do the work in front of me. It’s as if all I’ve been doing from inside the system has led me to AERO and all the incredible people you attract. Now is the time to show our communities how it all works.”  DM
A child care staff member was told this by a 6 year old, “I know that I am in this child care so my mother can go to workshops at the AERO conference, but to tell you the truth, you made me feel like this was my conference!
The audios of the workshops and videos of the mini-talks and keynoters were made by Jeff Gold’s group. They will be available soon. See below for more information
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Peter Berg’s Report on the AERO Conference

It happens every year. I come back from the AERO conference inspired, invigorated and ready to keep the education revolution moving forward.  This year’s conference was held in New York at Long Island University’s Post Campus.

What AERO does that very few other organizations do is bring together people from anywhere in the world who are interested in the idea of humans as natural learners and learner driven education.

If we all talked to each other, shared our best practices, resources, and energy learner driven education would be the norm, which in my opinion would lead to a more just, sustainable world.

The AERO conference kicked off with two documentaries: Screenagers and Movement which prompted dynamic discussions.

The next day started with a keynote talk by Danya Martin, sharing her work of creating educational freedom for children through mentoring others on the nuances of radical unschooling.

The day continued with min- talks from Jamaal Bowman, Michael Hynes, Brenna Gibson Redpath, Joanna Faber, Jane Macdonald and Debra O’Rourke on topics ranging from what learner driven education can look like in public schools, and homeschooling options, to youth created alternative free schools and the power and nature of creativity.

The evening got underway with a group meet and greet session led by Jerry Mintz, the Executive Director of AERO followed by Jerry reading excerpts from his new book  School’s Over, How to Have Freedom and Democracy in Education which signified its official launch.

Shortly after, participants were treated to Adler Yang’s documentary If There Is A Reason To Study followed by a Q & A session with Adler.

As happened every evening many conversations and impromptu meetings lasted well into the late night hours as conference attendees shared their work, resources, passion, and knowledge with each other.

The next day saw many of the incredible, diverse and dynamic workshops kick into high gear.

The day concluded with two amazing keynotes from Dennis Litky on his work of revolutionizing public education through his work with The Big Picture schools and Peter Gray  on the natural way humans learn through play and observation and have been doing so for millennia, and a panel discussion with Peter Gray, Dennis Litky, and Akilah Richards 

As conference goers awoke the next morning they had a variety of workshops to choose from as well as plenty of time for networking and sharing.  During the lunch break German Doin delivered a fascinating keynote sharing his journey of making education documentaries.

The day progressed with more workshops some of which were delivered by students who attended the conference.  As dinner ended attendees piled into the LIU Auditorium for Jonathan Kozol’s keynote on educational freedom, inequality, and justice.

Immediately following, Peter Gray joined Jonothan Kozol in a unique panel discussion where Peter Gray posed some questions to Jonathan Kozol before they both responded to questions from the audience.

The last day of the conference was marked by a dynamic energizing keynote from Akilah Richards where she talked about how self-directed education can and should be available and usable to all.

John Taylor Gatto prepared a written statement, since he is unable to appear in person, for the next keynote which was read by Jerry Mintz and followed up by Gatto publisher David Rodriguez.

The conference ended with an evaluation and call to action session.  Many participants stayed after the conference officially ended to continue their networking and work on furthering the education revolution.

During the conference, the AERO team recorded podcasts with Brenna Gibson Redpath & Anna Smith from Urban Homeschoolers on the ins and outs of homeschooling and some common myths surrounding it; Students from The New School and The Highland School on what it is like to live and learn in a democratic school, and what democratic education looks like, and Akilah Richards on liberating all communities through educational freedom and self-directed education.   Be on the look out for these wonderful podcasts as they will be released shortly, as well as audio CDs of all presentations, and DVDs of the keynotes and mini-talks.

AERO is happy to continue to bring such incredible diversity of educational thought, experience, and practice together in all of its work and has already begun putting together next year’s conference as well as many exciting new initiatives in 2017-2018.

Thank you to all the keynoters, presenters, volunteers and participants.  You are what makes AERO the organization that it is.


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List of Organizations Attending the AERO Conference

The Ottawa Public Education Remake Initiative

Rochester Institute of Technology

Macomber Center for Self-Directed Education

University of Toronto

CityLIFE nature kits

Wildwood Agile Learning Community

Liberty Soil

SelfDesign Learning Foundation

Academic Experiences Abroad

Embark Center for Self-Directed Learning


The Highland School

True North

Alma Education International/Ojai Village Academy 

J Stein and Associates

ECG resources

Bremerton School District

Great and Small Inc.

Urban Homeschoolers

Angeles Workshop School


RSU 35

Pono Learning

Melissa Sornik, LCSW PLLC

Natural Creativity

Eliad Group

JP Green House

Reach Out Arts

Dehesa Charter School/Element Education

Institute for Music and Health

Arts of the Spirit



Dida Academy

Alt Ed NYC

Wildewood Learning

School of Cultural Creativity of Waterloo

Center for the Development of Human Learning

World Learning

Harmony Peaks

Agile Learning Center

Uptown Birdies / Parent

King Fahd University


Splot Montessori School Poland

Infinity Graphics Web Design And Development

The Children’s Sangha

Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Cornerstone Academy for Social Action

Pachogue-Medford School District

Cottage Class

Princeton Learning Cooprative

Odysseus Group

Goddard College

Raw Learning


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German Doin To Keynote at the 2017 AERO Conference.


German Doin is one of the most well-respected alternative education researchers in Latinamérica. As an independent filmmaker, he released in 2012 the film "The Forbidden Education" (La Educación Prohibida), which revolutionised the education conversation in LatinAmérica and Spain, putting the alternatives into the big discussion regarding learning and public education. His film, which has reached online over 15 million views, is still today a reference for the education debate in every major university in LA, used as a source for critical perspectives to educación.

Since then, Doin cofounded the nonprofit Reevo, the Alternative Education Network which registers, researches, connects, and actively supports the alternative education movement in the region. Reevo mediates between educators, alternative schools, movements, governments and national/local networks all over LA with the purpose of transforming education. It also promotes the raising and developing of alternative learning communities and schools through online platforms, workshops, content production and events.

In the last years German and his team were responsible for the Alternative Education Week in Colombia in 2015, held by the Secretary of Education of Bogotá; and the 4th Encounter of Nuestra América, held in Brasilia in June 2017. Both events gathered the most respected alternative educators of LA and were key for the building of networks in the region.

As a father of 2 children, he founded and participates in the coordination of a learner-centered education community in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Argentina.