Tag Archives: EUDEC

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!

Give democracy time, and it will deliver

 

The first of many extra-plenary discussions (July 4)

Democracy can be excruciating. It takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of discussion. A lot of repetitive discussion, as you have to convince a majority of your point of view. But democracy can deliver.

A strong reminder came at EUDEC’s Assembly meetings, three weeks ago, right before and during the IDEC@EUDEC conference. The difficult, divisive issue was, as always, membership: who’s in, and who’s out. This particular story starts a year earlier, at the previous meeting of Assembly, in Roskilde, Denmark.

In Roskilde, Assembly decided, based on my proposal, that in order for a school to become a full member of EUDEC, it would have to declare that it is a democratic school (under EUDEC’s definition) and intends to stay one. This decision was made at the very end of the very last plenary, when everyone was exhausted and very few people were really paying attention. Many people were confused and angry about the decision afterwards. But the decision also established a committee to discuss membership issues and work towards a comprehensive solution.

The committee was less active than I had hoped, but eventually the discussions started there brought me to make a new proposal. For this year, I proposed to get rid of the Roskilde restriction, and even open up school membership more, while adding tools for (self-)evaluation and transparency regarding how each member school works.

I thought the proposal would be an easy sell – boy, was I wrong! Membership discussions bring out a lot of emotions, and they very quickly come down to discussions about the core vision of the organization; as a democratic organization, EUDEC’s nature and course of action depend quite directly on the makeup of its membership.

By the second day of discussions, there appeared to be two separate camps, for and against our proposal. Each side talked amongst itself more than with the other side. When the sides met, the debate was heated and people came away feeling sick. At some point there was an (Extended) Council meeting in which we talked about it, and some of us were in tears, others close to it. A few of us who had been involved since founding EUDEC – myself included – had a sense of doom; it seemed our organization was about to splinter, sputter and die. The difficulties seemed truly insurmountable.

But then, maybe an hour or two after that meeting, everything changed. Some of us had talked with “the other side” in the café and came out feeling our differences were minor, both in principal and in practice. It was as if we were standing on a cliff, about to fall, only to be suddenly yanked back onto solid ground. That feeling opened us up – all of us, on both sides, I think – to what other people were saying. And then my friend Or Levi came by and took advantage of my openness to tell me that we’re all being idiots (loudly, but in Hebrew). As has become typical in our friendship, he came at me with criticism that at first seemed ignorant, insensitive, and arrogant, but quickly turned out to be useful in that it questioned things I took for granted.

New ideas came up that evening, ideas that it was too late at that point to introduce into the debate. But that evening calmed everyone down and left us with the knowledge that we’re in this together and everyone is determined to resolve the differences and find the right way to go. It also taught us (or me, at least) that given enough time, new solutions may come up that weren’t even on anybody’s mind. Many were now content with finding a compromise we can live with for a while and continuing to look for the best solution.

The truly amazing thing happened during the next session of Assembly. By the time we got to finally voting on the membership proposals, there were some six or seven different proposals on the table, some divided into 3, 4, 5 sub-proposals. We voted, and voted, and voted, and voted, well into lunch-time. Due to the system we use, members of the Assembly were instructed to vote on each sub-proposal independently of all others; that is, the question was only if that part is something you’re in favor of, regardless of whether or not other parts you want together with it should pass.

As the voting went on, an odd pattern emerged – Assembly passed no more than one sub-proposal of any proposal. We ended up with six different bits and pieces, not all of which were intended to work together, few of which were intended to work alone. Council took the day to check if there was any contradiction between them, but when we left the meeting, everyone – both sides – seemed okay. Nobody left in anger or tears. Nobody said they’d leave the organization (as some had threatened to do). And when Council went over the decisions, it found no contradiction whatsoever. The full package of decisions had to be ratified in the next plenary, and it was carried unanimously.

Give democracy time and attention, and it will deliver.

Photo by Monika Wernz.

 

One more thing: Or is working on spiffing up EUDEC’s semi-official YouTube channel, EUDECmovies. Subscribe now, there’s going to be a lot of material from the conference over there pretty soon!

Will work for money

This is not a post about the IDEC@EUDEC conference, nor about my likely-dead iPhone.

Yesterday, after about 23 hours in a bus, we arrived in Leipzig, back from the terrific IDEC@EUDEC conference in England. We both still had (and have) a bit of a head cold or flu, which was going around at the conference and hit me a few days before the end, so we were altogether extremely exhausted upon arrival. We decided to spend the day in bed, watching movies and shows and napping occasionally, holding out until nightfall for the real sleep.

When we finally did go to sleep, Sabine was feeling nauseous, and so she put a bucket with a little water next to the bed in case it was needed. We slept like two large stones.

When we woke up some time before noon today, I noticed a tall lamp was lying horizontally on the floor. Soon after, however, Sabine held up my iPhone by its charging cable, dripping with water from the bucket. It had just spent some unknown number of hours in the water.

The iPhone is now drying (in a box of rice), now and for another day and a half, before I risk trying to turn it on. But it’s not likely to recover. I’m relieved the combination of power cable and water bucket didn’t do any further damage, really.

I’m sad that my dear iPhone is (probably) dead. I use it a lot, I haven’t had it for all that long (just over a year), and most of all, I can’t really afford to replace it right now. I recently bought a very good new laptop, one I expect to use for a few years, but which depleted my bank account and then some.

I’m living beyond my means, on bank credit, and that’s what this post is really about.

Don’t get me wrong. My debt is tiny, so small it should be insignificant. But it’s not, because I live on a very low income, and small sums seem pretty big when you live on a low income. And the reason I live on such a low income is that, due to my studies and activism, I haven’t found time to make money. My main source of income is the federal German student support program – which is a pretty good deal, considering it’s only around a dozen hours of painful bureaucracy a year, for which I receive just enough money to live at a reasonable standard of living.

For the past few months, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the big role money plays in, basically, everything that goes on in the world. I don’t have any big conclusion to share on the global issues, but on the personal level, it has already become clear to me that I will have to find a way to seriously increase my income if I want to live a fulfilling and active life. That’s not to say that I like or favor the monetary systems of the world as they are today. I rather don’t. But as long as the world is organized the way it is organized, and as long as I insist on living in a city, using the latest technology, and trying to change things in the world of people, money is going to be vital.

This isn’t all that bad, because there are always things I enjoy doing (even if I only enjoy them a little) which I can get money for. I just stepped down from EUDEC Council to focus on my studies and finish my degree, and that’s what I’m going to do from now until the end of February, but after that, I see a whole world of possibilities spread out in front of me.

The most obvious option is to work for EUDEC. As I’ve mentioned, EUDEC is working on hiring a paid coordinator, to make sure things work smoothly without relying too heavily on volunteers. I’m probably going to apply for that position, and if it works out, it would be a real dream job (and a good deal for EUDEC, I think).

Another obvious option is translation. I’ve done translations occasionally, I know several translators, and I know that if ever I need to just find any work I can find, translation will always be possible. The downside, as all translators know, is that the stream of work can be less than steady, leaving you without an income for months at a time, sometimes.

One other thing I’ve already done occasionally and would enjoy doing more of is public speaking. I was thinking of doing a speaking tour in March or April 2012, just after I finish my studies, trying to cram in as many talks as I can in three to five weeks. It would give me a financial boost, a chance to work intensively on my speaking skills, and an opportunity to get to know new people and new places.

What do you think? Is a speaking tour a good idea? Any reason it might be more trouble than it’s worth? Do you know of someone who might want to invite me to speak around that time?

Any input appreciated.

 

Photo by Monika Wernz.

Tales of sun and cloud cover

Leipzig in summer.

Whew. Over a month without a post. And what a month it has been!

Summer is finally here. Summer in Germany is something altogether different from summer in Israel, as I learn anew every year. Winter in Germany is something altogether different from Israel’s so-called “winters”, too. And it all comes down to sunlight, for me.

In Israel, the sun is omnipresent and a real health hazard. It is just too fracking hot most of the year. Here, on the other hand, I desperately miss the sun all winter, and as soon as it’s out I feel like I have to jump on the opportunity and expose my skin to its incredible warmth, the warmth that reminds me that it’s not so bad, the light that reminds me that the world isn’t all that grey after all.

Now, summer here isn’t as reliable as it is in Israel. In Israel, summer is summer. Sunlight, nonstop, every day, all day. Here we get summer rains (an oxymoron to me) and even full cloud cover – in June!! Very strange. But this makes me appreciate the sunlight even more. After waiting for it all winter, summer can be coy, making me wait again. I get suspicious. Has global climate change hit us so hard already? Did the BP oil spill knock out the jet stream like I read it might? I watch the skies. Like a Stark, I know winter will come again, sooner or later. I dread it. Then the sun comes out again and everything looks different.

I have an Egyptian friend and (language-learning) tandem partner – he wants to know Hebrew and I want to know Arabic. He always says he doesn’t want to talk about the conflict, but we end up on that topic every time we meet. Last time we had lunch, the sun was shining bright, and I noted that when the sun shines, I think the Middle East is headed towards peace and prosperity like never before; when the sky is grey, I’m sure Israel is on the brink of fascism or civil war and dread what might become of all the people I love.

Well, we had grey skies and rain for the past few days, and I’m still getting over the accompanying sense of impending doom, but today the sun is shining. The StuTS is behind me, but busy times are still ahead. This weekend two very good friends of mine are getting married (congrats, F&B!); I’m trying to finish an old term paper, practice for Spanish class, and get preliminary reading done for my degree thesis; and, of course, I have to prepare the EUDEC Assembly for this summer.

Time flies when you’re too busy to check what time it is. I might try to write more this month, but maybe not such heavy long posts, and likely little or nothing about Israel/Palestine. The situation there is getting more complicated by the hour and I haven’t been following closely enough to make informed comments lately. Fortunately, there are plenty of other, less despair-inducing topics out there…

Taking our network to a new level

EUDEC is a pretty unusual kind of organization. After three years, we are still completely volunteer-driven, our funding is independent and based almost exclusively in our membership, and we are growing every day.

As one of the active volunteers on Council I’ve been part of working on all of the different things EUDEC wants to be —  a network of school, individuals and organizations; a source of information; an advocacy group; an engine for change in the European education world.

Visible achievements are pretty small and far between when everyone involved is only as involved as their job, personal life and education allows. The biggest benefits so far, I think, are the invisible benefits of networking: schools find teachers, parents find schools, people find other people to start schools with, and more and more people slowly hear from mouth to ear about democratic education.

Right now, we’re starting to work on pooling our resources to hire a full-time coordinator. I believe this will change everything, since we will finally have someone dedicating their time to maintaining the network, coordinating all of the volunteers to make sure our individual projects can fit together and people can find others who can help them. There are already so many people in our network that this is basically impossible to manage with a small Council of volunteers that also has to work on day-to-day EUDEC stuff and develop different projects at the same time.

To continue being independent and able to work on our vision without time-intensive projects and reports serving solely to fit into some funding application, we are working to raise funds by increasing our membership and asking for personal donations. That’s where you come in. :P

If you have any questions about EUDEC or the donation first, feel free to leave a comment below.

If you’re already convinced, become a member now or donate as much or as little as you like via PayPal (10€ would be nice):

 

Thanks for any support you can give us!!

(Note: This is my personal post and should not be seen as an official appeal by EUDEC.)

Internet in the meeting room

Council and its laptops (photo by Benni)

So, the EUDEC Council meeting has been over for almost a week, and until yesterday I was on self-enforced vacation, which went very well. Chloe Duff and Or Levi — who are organizing the IDEC@EUDEC 2011 Conference — were here, and a great time was had by all.

Anyway, some of has felt that during this Council meeting we reached a whole new level of effective collaboration. There are many different aspects to this and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. We spent a lot of time developing our methods, and in this post I want to share a few of the ways the Internet has become a vital part of how we work in Council. Perhaps some of you will find them useful.

What it all boils down to is simultaneous collaborative use of Google Docs, with each member working on their own laptop and the meeting moderator selectively using a projector.1

Here are the main ways we use GDocs. Some or all may be relevant to other organizations or endeavors. Scroll through until you find something you like, and let me know if you have any more ideas or any questions in the comments below!

Collaborative text editing

When Council has to create a text and we decide everyone should work on it together, we just put the text in a document, all open it, and start carefully going through it. We can add comments or make changes and everyone else sees them live. Whenever anyone wants to try something out, they can do it right away and we can discuss it immediately. It works surprisingly well, especially for putting the final touches on something that’s basically done. I would generally recommend not trying to edit any text in a group of more than three people unless you’re sure it’s very near done.

Live collaborative minute-taking

We noticed during our weekly VoIP conference calls that we can use Google Docs to take minutes live, which lets everyone contribute and improve the minutes, and saves us the bother of approving last meeting’s minutes every week. When everyone can give their input as the minutes are being written, they always end up better reflecting the collective understanding of what was discussed and decided. In this last live meeting we took all minutes this way from the start, and it worked great.

The live workplan

This one’s a tiny bit trickier to set up and makes use of spreadsheets rather than just plain documents. The live workplan is a spreadsheet in which each sheet is a day of sessions, and each row lists the title, moderator, goal, starting time, duration and ending time of an agenda slot, break or other activity. The columns where time is kept are set up so the starting time (except for the first slot) is set by the end of the previous slot, and the end of each slot is calculated from the starting time and the duration (in minutes). This means you only have to set the starting time of the first session for each day

We originally used this format2 to just create a plan for how we’ll use our time, but it eventually evolved into a live workplan, in which we can extend a session ad hoc and immediately see what that means for later sessions. This means we can be flexible about time and take extra time when we need it, but we can also tell when we’re taking too much time and starting to push important sessions off the back end of the schedule. It’s especially good to combine this system with “open work sessions” — slots at the end of a day where sit together and work on different things separately or in small groups and talk freely. These are useful if the time remains available, but not crucial when the time gets eaten up by earlier sessions.

It’s usually too complicated to start really moving things around in a full discussion, so whenever things got complicated we just decided on the immediate change or extension and one or two of us worked out the rest of the details during the next break or meal-time.

The virtual WHITEBOARD

This document is perhaps the coolest of our tools. It starts as just an empty document which we can all use for jotting down ideas and thoughts. During difficult discussions, it’s often the document we beam on the wall. The moderator can use it to write up the points we should be focussing on, adding details as they come up.

We also use the whiteboard to collaboratively keep a speakers’ list. People can add and remove themselves independently, meaning the moderator can better pay attention to the discussion itself. Having the list in a place where everyone can see it also means nobody is ever stuck wondering when it’s their turn, and any mistake made when adding people to the list (wrong order, wrong name, etc.) can be corrected without losing a moment of discussion.

We started using the whiteboard in live meetings and have just figured out they would be equally useful for our weekly “chat”. I look forward to trying it out there for the first time tomorrow.

Footnotes

  1. Of course, other tools, like Etherpad or whatnot, can be used instead. I like Google Docs and it seems to suit Council’s needs very well, but that’s not what this post is about. []
  2. We got this format from either Leslie Ocker or Christel Hartkamp, I can’t remember who []