[Video/Music] Words of freedom, words of hope

[Video/Music] Words of freedom, words of hope

Listen to this song. Kelmti Horra, ‘my word is free’, sung by Emel Mathlouthi at a mass sit-in.

What you hear is the sound of hope.

“I am those who are free and never fear,”1 she sang, as the Tunisian people rose up to topple the dictator. Yes, that revolution may have been followed by an electoral victory for Islamists, but few revolutions ever attain total liberation. No, make that none.

That is the way of the world. Some regime grows abusive; eventually the people rise up and topple it; a new regime comes instead, and before long it abuses the very people who put it in power. Perhaps it is not as cruel as that which it replaced; all the better for the new rulers, as they know the people will consider them better than their predecessors, and be hesitant to rise up again.

But the way of human freedom – of free thought – is the way of the constant revolution. The old king is dead, long live the new king – for a while, until he grows cruel and we again grow weary and it is, again, time to replace him.

No regime that is abusive towards its people can last forever. Eventually, someone will stand up and say, “I am the free people of the world. I am like a bullet.”

And then, the cycle begins again.

Know hope.

Footnotes

  1. I got the English translation of the lyrics from here. []

Democratic schools and social gaps

I went out for a drink with a friend in a Tel-Aviv pub, and got into a discussion about democratic education and disadvantaged social groups.

My friend works in a democratic school and is doing research on democratic education. She recently visited my school, Sudbury Jerusalem – her first real live encounter with a Sudbury school. We were at an outdoor bar on Tel-Aviv’s famous Rothschild Avenue, and it was the middle of the night. On tall wooden barstools, across a long and narrow wooden table, we sat drinking an Irish stout as she recounted her visit.

My friend loved what she saw at Sudbury Jerusalem and saw in it a place that truly lives the ideals of democratic education. But she also raised a concern: that Sudbury schools are too unusual to attract many families from disadvantaged backgrounds. All I could do is nod sadly.

Radically different

Needless to say, Sudbury schools are open to people of all backgrounds. But Sudbury schools also completely reject traditional ideas of education – curricula, evaluation, adult guidance, etc. – approaching schooling from a radically different direction. It’s difficult for most people to understand, and seems to only attract few families from low-income backgrounds.

When you first tell people about schools like ours, the reaction is often one of shock and disbelief. “So they don’t have to take any classes? How do they ever learn anything? But children need structure!”

Other democratic schools can answer, for instance, that “students have a mentor who helps them identify goals and follow through on them.” This calms a lot of people down.

Sudbury schools, on the other hand, can only answer that the children learn to be responsible for their own time and identify what they want to do and how to do it.

Back in the Middle East

In the past few weeks, I packed up my belongings, got rid of a lot of them, and put much of them in storage. On Wednesday, I boarded a flight to Israel, with a suitcase bursting at the seams and a large backpack almost as full.

I’m back in Israel now, and plan to be here for a while. I left Germany just as winter was starting in earnest, and arrived just as what is called “winter” here is starting – which has a lot in common with late summer or fall in Germany, and nothing at all with German winter.

I’m thrilled to be back, and wondering how long the euphoria can last. I will finally resume posting in the coming days, and hope to be able to share with you some interesting thoughts and experiences.

If there’s something in particular you’d like to hear my take on, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

What are the ingredients of democratic culture?

Poster for my upcoming workshop and lecture, Greifswald, August 25th, (all in German.) Click to enlarge.

What are the main ingredients of a democratic culture?

On August 25th, I’ll be giving a workshop and lecture in Greifswald. At the EUDEC conference in Freiburg, my host and I grabbed two plastic chairs and sat down in a sunny spot for a short interview, some of which is now on the fine poster ad you see here; at one point he asked me a question I haven’t heard too often: what are the main characteristics of individuals who are part of a “democratic culture”?

A democratic culture, as I understand it, is a kind of culture that develops within a group that makes decisions democratically; democratic culture makes democracy more than just a decision-making process – instead it becomes a way of life, something you notice in all kinds of interactions between people.

I came up with four main points:

  • Communication at eye level (as opposed to talking up or down to someone) – regardless of age
  • Respect  for all other individuals
  • Willingness to listen, even when confronted with a view you disagree with
  • Willingness to reflect  on one’s actions, recognize mistakes, and learn from them

To me, these are the things that people have to have in order to keep a truly democratic culture alive.

Without equal communication, respect, and willingness to listen, the discussions that are the bread and butter of democracy are impossible. Without a willingness to reflect, they’re pointless.

What do you think are the most important ingredients of democratic culture? Leave a short comment below!

Thoughts about: the role of staff in Sudbury schools

The role of staff at Sudbury schools can be difficult to understand, and easy to misunderstand. I’ve heard that staff “aren’t allowed to offer classes” or even “aren’t allowed to express their own opinion.” But it’s not about being forbidden from doing this or doing that – what it comes down to is being authentic and respectful.

“Where do you work?”

“At Sudbury Valley School.”

“What do you do?”

“Nothing.”

-Hanna Greenberg, The Art of Doing Nothing

I was recently reminded of a discussion we had, more than a decade ago, when starting Sudbury Jerusalem.

The topic of the discussion was whether Sudbury staff are allowed to offer classes, and it’s one of the few discussions from the founding process which I still remember vividly today.

We were sitting in a co-founder’s airy living-room, spread out on several couches and stools, and we talked well into the night. It’s no wonder – the role of staff comes up again and again anywhere where people who went to more traditional schools are trying to wrap their heads around the Sudbury approach.

Was der Deutsche nicht kennt / Ignorance and bris

This is a post I wrote in German about the recent German court ruling equating ritual circumcision to bodily harm, thus making it illegal. That decision has been followed by similar decisions in Austria and Switzerland. An English translation of the post can be found below.

Politics is not for everyone – even in a direct democracy

Democracy is about allowing people to participate – even if only a minority takes an active role most of the time.

I’m often asked how many people really participated in School Meetings at Sudbury Jerusalem – as if it’s less democratic when fewer people choose to participate. But actually, low participation at meetings can be a sign that democracy is working well.

 

When we started Sudbury Jerusalem, for a few weeks we had a School Meeting every day.

Most of the proposals, at first, came from those who had been in and around the founding process – mainly staff and children of staff. I was a student and a co-founder, and one of the most active participants.

It took months – dozens of Meetings – for the process to become so established in the school’s culture that many other students made proposals. In parallel, as time went by, fewer and fewer students regularly took part in School Meetings.

Moriel Rothman: “10 Things I Really Like About Living in Israel”

Moriel Rothman, activist par excellence, poet, and blogger – whom I was glad to get to know during my last visit to Jerusalem – wrote a post much like one I’ve often considered writing:

10 Things I Really Like About Living in Israel (Note: This is Not a Sarcastic Title)

[...]

I do not have a positive vision as to what should be here, in terms of political “solutions,” arrangements, et cetera. I do, however, have a very strong sense of what should not be here (for a more detailed list, see: Rothman, Blog About Things That He Thinks Should Not Be, Everyday, All Pages, www.thelefternwall.com). Here’s a metaphor I made up for this friend: let’s say Israel is a garden. There are some people who will try and plant flowers of solutions, of development, of progress here in this garden, and I think that is a good thing and I support them. However, I see my role not as planting flowers, but rather as weeding, weeding out violence, weeding out racism, weeding out oppression, weeding out hatred, et cetera. The weeds here have grown quite powerful, and probably by the fault of no single gardener or even group of gardeners but rather by the breezes, rainfalls, insects and chemicals of history and political circumstance. Someone needs to take them out so that there will be room for others to plant the flowers. If you try to plant a flower of “solution” in a garden overrun with weeds of violence or racism, the flower won’t have much of a chance to grow.

[...]

I can only imagine good coming out of my articulating for readers what it is I love about living here, whether to complicate the picture for those who are overly-excited about Palestine/Palestinians (if you will notice, I don’t often write positive things about Palestine/Palestinians either, and I am not a Palestinian Nationalist, even as I support Palestinians’ right to live in freedom, like everyone else), or to clarify for readers who find my work too critical that I truly do what I do out of love and concern, and a desire to build and improve, even if I think that building needs to come from weeding dangerous phenomena (phenomena, and never people [...])

[...]

I will indeed make a list of things I really like. Which is fun for me too.

1. The people. In general I really like Israeli people, even if I disagree with many of them re: politics/Palestine. I like their directness, I like their humor, I like their warmth, I like the diversity of history and of journey and of identity and of belief, I like the way we all share a sort of nutsness, especially Jerusalemites.

Read the rest over at Moriel’s blog, The Leftern Wall »

I love the garden metaphor, and I also love most of the things on Moriel’s list. Many of them really capture why I miss Israel and care so much about what goes on there. This post, like many on Moriel’s blog, is well worth reading.

 

Meta note: the lack of posts lately was mainly because of some drama I had, which I won’t get into here. The important thing is that everything’s fine now, even better than fine, and once I’ve finished catching up on some things, I expect to be posting again, for real.

I now blog in Hebrew, too

So, after thinking about it for a very long time, I started another blog, in Hebrew. This means I will be posting a little less here, and at times much less.

The title of the new blog is אז מה למדנו?, which is pronounced approximately [az ma lamadnu] and means “So, what did we learn?” (yeah, not all that different from this blog’s title, I know.)

So if you read Hebrew, head on over and check it out!