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News From People Responding to Membership Renewal AERO Membership Discount for 2 Days

From Ken Danford, North Star and Liberated Learners

We are pretty busy with Liberated Learners these days.  We have about a dozen centers in the network, and one opening in Dover, NH, called BigFish.  There are a few more in the planning stages.

We are consulting with these Starters, and we are mutually supporting each other with all the existing centers.  We do the Webinars (the ad on the AERO website) about once every six weeks, and I also talk to interested people one time, no-charge, about our model, about once per week.  So there is a lot of discussion around spreading the North Star model.
I’m also working on a book.”
“These are our Existing Centers:
The Learning Cooperatives
Erin Flemming writes from Canada
Erin in a graduate of AERO’s Online School Starter Course
We Learn Naturally is celebrating its third year running alternative education programs in Hamilton Ontario.  We have a forest school style recreation program called Learning in the Woods that serves homeschoolers and young children during the week and public school learners in the summer and during school break.
The Barn School is opening this spring, in Burlington, Ontario as a learning center, offering full time learning options for families who wish to use it as a private school. We have a separate residence onsite reserved for guest speaker accommodations so if you are in the area, feel free to reach out!  There seems to be interest in having a similar style center in Hamilton, so we are currently looking for space that could accommodate us in the city.
We’ve also been busy working together with other local educational alternatives to organize the Hamilton Educational Alternatives Conference in Hamilton on January 20th.  This conference is aimed at parents so they can meet some of the educational alternatives available in our city and we have some guest speakers lined up including AERO members Deb O’Rourke and Stephanie Schuler Fages.
Uniting and organizing local educational alternative advocates and participants has been both rewarding and complicated!  I’m learning a lot and I often think of the efforts that must go into the AERO conference!  Best wishes to my fellow AERO members who are committed to choice in education.  I’m so thankful to be on this journey with you!


From Wayne Jennings about Minnesota alternatives:
“Good to maintain contact. Here’s the MN scene:
About 140,000 students are in some type of “at-risk” alternative program, some all day, some for just summers, some just an hour or two a day. They are students labeled dropouts and others based on 10 categories. Many are programs established by the Legislature called Area Learning Centers; these operate year round. Other alternatives include online, substance abuse, etc. Some serve elementary students.. A strong active association exists with several statewide and regional conferences, the MN Assoc. of Alt. Programs. (MAAP) It’s mission: To lead, promote, and support innovative learning experiences. I and others have pushed for innovative approaches and programs rather than being little high schools. I can report some progress on that.
Still, there wouldn’t be the need for such programs if traditional education were not so hide bound and backward.
About 40,000 students attend one of 160 charter schools. They have a state organization: MN Assoc. of Charter Schools (MACS). Perhaps 20 of schools are innovative including a  few I started and contributed services to. I chaired the boards for two of them for 17 years (still continuing with one at age 87). The MN charter statute is quite strong in giving funding and decisions to the schools. Too bad the schools make little use of the purpose of the legislation (try new ideas) and some freedom from regulations and contracts.
The parochial and private school scene has shrunk. Some privates became charter schools, e.g. Southside Family.
I’m close to having the book on schooling done, I’ve worked on for 60 years, most of it collecting stimulating materials. It will be on Amazon about early Feb. Also as an eBook. Chapters: Introduction, Purpose of Schooling, Failure of Traditional Schooling, Near Impossibility of Changing School, New Era We Live in, How children and Youth Learn, Principles of School Transformation, Specific Steps to Transformed Schools, A Deeper Look: Staffing, Facilities, Assessment, Technology. It has 400 footnotes on the page itself (instead at the end of a chapter or in the back of the book) and several hundred items in the bibliography,  wonderful quotes, and materials now long gone from present generations. It’s now being professionally proofed and formatted. AERO is in the book.”

The Western Institute for Social Research (“WISeR”) by John Bilorusky, PhD, WISR President

In 1975, the Western Institute for Social Research (WISR) was founded in part as an attempt to improve on both conventional and alternative higher education as they had evolved into the 1970s. At that time, many educators and students were debating the merits of the university’s role in the community and in social change, and the “relevance” of the curriculum to each individual student.  After 43 years, and given growing income inequality, continued racial injustice, threats to our democracy, and the intensified and narrowing pressures to use education only for career advancement, WISR’s mission and learning methods are more needed and important than ever.[ ]
  • WISR combines theory and practice. All students do active reading, writing, thinking, and discussing while they continue wrestling with specific, practical problems, with the guidance and support of faculty and their fellow students.
  • WISR is intensive and individual. Each student builds, and continually revises, a personal learning plan and works with faculty, other students, and community resource people, on the problems s/he deeply cares about.
  • WISR is a small, multicultural learning community. WISR is designed as a living experiment in cooperation among people of different races, cultures, and personal backgrounds. Active collaboration with others, not competition and distance, lend richness and interest to each person’s learning process.
  • WISR is inquiry-oriented. Learning at WISR builds on the excitement of actively doing one’s own research, growing out of action, experience and observation, and dialogue with others. We aid and support one another to use curiosity, imagination, and critical mindedness, while probing for insights beneath the surface of everyday impressions, and searching for the interconnections between our immediate experiences and the “bigger picture.”
  • WISR focuses on professional study that is also mindful of personal growth and values, along with developing leadership skills for community and/or professional transformation.
  • WISR is dedicated to social change. WISR students and faculty are people committed to changing today’s oppressive patterns of race and gender relations, of wealth and poverty, of extreme power and powerlessness, in peaceful and constructive ways.
  • WISR offers distance learning to all students, as well as the option to meet with faculty and students on site, in advising sessions, seminars, study groups and conferences. All seminars, study groups and conferences are available to students both on site and from a distance by internet and phone access to video and audio conferences with those on site.
  • Most importantly, WISR helps students to build bridges to fulfill their plans for the future. We believe it is important to consciously and continually help students to design learning activities—action projects, research, and writings—that help to build bridges to the student’s desired career and life paths, and oftentimes this includes working toward a more sustainable and just future. We believe that people should not have their visions limited by the definitions of existing jobs and careers, and that they can, and should, be encouraged to be both visionary and realistic in pursuing a life path that makes sense to them. Consequently, WISR’s educational programs are suited for learners with many different types of future goals, including but not limited to: changing careers, pursuing advancement in one’s existing career, becoming more capable and more meaningfully engaged in one’s existing job or career niche, writing books and articles, organizing people and networks for social change, or creating new organizations and programs.
You can sign up for or renew AERO membership here. The please send us an update on your work for the e-news.
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Chris Mercogliano: 20 Characteristics of a Good Teacher

All good teachers:
1. Genuinely like children and enjoy being around them. Just like parents with their own kids, they take pleasure and pride in their students’ growth and development.
2. Genuinely enjoy teaching, too. This is a critical factor because teaching is essentially a modeling process and students learn much more readily when their teachers exhibit joy in what they’re doing. And as a result, good teachers feel energized at the end of the day, not drained.
3. Are openhearted. They care about their students’ lives, present and future, and they address their students’ shortcomings and transgressions compassionately, not judgmentally.
4. Recognize that teaching isn’t something they do to or for children; rather it’s a reciprocal exchange of energy within a relationship. Good teachers also realize they are continually learning from their students too.
5. Trust in the innate wisdom of the learning process and in their students’ intrinsic desire to learn. They don’t try to force learning to happen by resorting to extrinsic motivators like rewards and punishments.
6. Are authoritative, not authoritarian. Authoritarian teachers are highly controlling,consider their authority non-negotiable, and maintain their control with punitive discipline. They feel threatened by a child’s expressions of independence and individuality. Authoritative adults set firm, consistent limits on out-of-bounds behavior, but don’t hem students in with restrictions. They maintain their natural adult authority while at the same time respecting the child’s point of view and encouraging verbal give and take. As their students grow more responsible, they extend them increasing levels of independence.
7. Understand the fundamental role that emotions play in a child’s complete development. They are emotionally self-aware and make sure the environment is welcoming and safe so that their students feel comfortable being themselves and don’t feel they have to hide their vulnerabilities.
8. Continue to work on their own personal and professional development, because as Joseph Chilton Pearce once said, “Teachers teach who they are.” Good teachers realize they can’t guide their students to places they haven’t already been themselves.
9. Are facilitators of learning, not taskmasters. “Facilitate” literally means “to make easier,” and the most fundamental purpose of teaching is to help the student learn how to learn with ease and efficiency.
10. Acknowledge the individuality of their students and don’t expect them all to be interested in the same things at the same time, or to learn in the same way.
11. Assume it’s their responsibility to present things in a way that every individual learner can understand, and not the learner’s job to adapt to the teacher’s methods. Good teachers continue to try different approaches until they find the key that unlocks the door to the learner’s understanding.
12. Are good communicators. They speak clearly, with honesty and respect; and they make sure that their criticism is constructive and always based on “I” messages. And then they listen carefully to what their students have to say, encourage them to speak freely, and value their opinions.
13. Understand that learning doesn’t happen under duress. They make sure that anxiety and stress have no place in the learning environment.
14. Are flexible. Aware that a lot of important learning is serendipitous and synchronistic, they are able to shift gears quickly in order to stay in synch with their students’ shifting moods and interests.
15. Know how important it is for children to take responsibility for their own education and their own actions, and so they share initiative, power, and control with them.
16. Respect a child’s inalienable right to say “no.” They don’t force their students to do things they aren’t ready or willing to do.
17. Build strong relationships with each and every student. They also facilitate students doing the same with one another.
18. Recognize the deep developmental value of play. They provide ample free play opportunities for their students, and they also make sure there’s enough play in their own lives because they know how much play re-energizes and restores them.
19. Understand that experience is the best teacher. They minimize the amount of instruction they do by creating a rich, resource-filled environment—with abundant connections to the outside world—that enables students to learn by doing and discovering.
20. Consider teaching to be a calling. They view their work as an authentic sharing of themselves and a way to make the world a better place, not a professional role that confers them status and a paycheck.

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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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Living in a Democratic Dormitory: A life changing experience

I came to The Highland School at ten years old. I first went to a Sudbury school in Berlin, Germany which I enjoyed but found something lacking. My mother heard about a democratic boarding school in WV, from a staff member at my Sudbury school. After a year of thinking, wanting to be more independent, I applied and was accepted. Once I was there, I fell in love with it, and with that, my dorm life started.

I have been in the dorm for seven years now. Life in the dorm has changed over my time depending on the people who are in it. When I first came, there were four other students in the dorm and two staff. Over the years we’ve had differing ratios of boys to girls; some kids stayed for years, others for a semester, and many came from different countries. Our rules changed with them, and also our ways of doing things. Some rules we keep and others we change based on our experience. We make those changes democratically in our meetings.

General School Meeting

At The Highland School we have a weekly General School Meeting which is run democratically by an elected chairperson. Every school member from the youngest to the oldest has one vote at the meeting. The General School Meeting is one of the most important aspects of our school. It is where we make the majority of our decisions including any new rules. We also create subsets that are called clubs and guilds. These special interest groups are responsible for specific areas, for example, Tree House Committee, which deals with the building of tree houses or Conservation Club, which deals with recycling, Adopt a Highway and preserving natural resources.

How we do things in the Dorm

We are responsible for taking care of many things ourselves. We do our own grocery shopping. We usually go on the weekend to a variety of stores in nearby cities that we decide upon in our dorm meetings. We each currently get a hundred dollars every two weeks for our grocery shopping trips.

We’ve set up housekeeping chores which include cleaning the kitchen, laundry days, and general clean­up. For example, on dish nights we load/unload the dishwasher and clean the rest of the kitchen, we also do our own laundry. The way we set this up changes. Usually, everyone does a night a week and then work together if we don’t have enough people for all the weekdays. In Dorm Meetings, we also decide such things as whether we have quiet hours and when they are. Our Dorm Meetings answers to the weekly General School Meeting. We use Dorm Meetings to resolve any disputes that are not covered by our judicial system. We can also decide on small trips after common school hours and deal with other things that come up such as planning to cook meals together, we deal with disputes about whose stuff is in the sink. If no one remembers, usually someone volunteers or we come up with a different solution.

Life in the dorm

Living in the dorm with all kinds of people from all sorts of backgrounds can be fun. It is also challenging.

I still remember an experience in 2012. There were two boys named Tom and Harry. Tom was a type of person who liked to poke fun at people. Harry was a bully and thought he was on summer break. Sarah and I were in our early teens and the new boys were older. So, as you can imagine Sarah and I didn’t get along that well with Tom and Harry who often poked fun at us. Especially me since I was a very emotional kid and would tear up at any insult. There were many judicial complaints and long meetings.

One evening, we were all in the dorm living room and someone mentioned the video game Blockheads. We talked about how we hadn’t played it in a while. After some reminiscing, we went into another room. We formed teams of Sarah and Harry and Tom and myself. We played the game for hours and for the first time that semester enjoyed each other’s company. Sarah and Tom made fun of us, for turning off the devils which made the game easier. We laughed and had a fun time, all together. The next morning we were back to our feud, but it was less intense. To this day, I think of the fun we had that night and smile.

I have also made friends for life at Highland. My first year there was a girl named Alex. We always watched Futurama in her room and even finished it. Even though she left at the end of my second year, we still talk to this day. We even do the same silly things; just that she is in the Philippines and I’m in West Virginia.

Often the interactions in the dorm are similar to sibling relationships. We have highs and lows like brothers and sisters. However, the key factor is that we live in a democracy, where our individual rights are protected by the system we create together. We hold each other responsible for our actions. In the case of Tom and Harry, there were ways for me to deal with them through our judicial system. If it had gotten to a point where they wouldn’t stop harassing me, I could have brought them up for expulsion at our GSM, but we worked it out on our own.

Why I think boarding school is valuable. It is a unique experience to live away from home and share a place with people from across the world and figure out how to get along with them. You get a new perspective on life by taking care of yourself and being responsible for your own things. The dorm is another step towards being more independent with the support of others if needed. You are always able to reach your parents and talk to friends, but you can also find out who you are on your own.