Day 0 – On the Train to the AERO Education Conference

When it was announced that this year’s Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) conference was going to be in Portland OR, I decided I would go, and rather than fly to Portland, I would take the train up the coast. I had journeyed back east to previous AERO conferences in 2007 and 2008 in Albany NY, but had not been able to attend the past two years. And this go round, Sally decided she would come too.

So our train was three hours late arriving in Van Nuys where we boarded, but once we were on the train and soon headed up the central California coast, it was “all good” as they say. So we spent the night in our cozy little sleeping compartment overnight and are now in northern California approaching Mount Shasta. As a means of transportation, the train is not about just getting from point A to point B, but enjoying the journey.

So to do a “community building” exercise for the conference, a couple of the organizers suggested that we answer seven questions. Their email said…

Dear Attendees: We can’t wait to welcome you to Portland next week! In preparation for our time together, we wanted to offer a few questions to ponder. We invite you to take 20-30 minutes to explore your answers to these questions, individually and/or with your fellow conference attendees. Our hope is that they will be useful in preparing you to make the most of your time at AERO. 

Okay, I’m game. Here goes…

1. What are three burning questions in your life right now? 

One: How can I transition from doing my full-time “day job” to being able to focus most of my time on my writing and my “life’s work” promoting and facilitating our human transformation from hierarchy to a circle of equals?

Two: Towards that life’s work, how can we empower our young people to be more involved in the direction of their own lives, the larger community they are growing up in, towards being more fully-functional adult citizens in a democratic society?

Three: What are the pragmatic steps forward, given all the prevailing conventional wisdom and challenging circumstances, for transforming our U.S. public education system into something truly appropriate for 21st century life that fully facilitates our continuing human development?

2. What are you most passionate about the field of alternative education? 

Educational models that empower young people to play the key role in directing their own development.

3. What is one thing, if it were to happen, would make this conference an unequivocal success for you? What is your biggest hope or strongest intention in attending AERO? 

To connect with someone that would give me a new venue to expand the audience for my writing.

4. What is one relationship you are seeking in your life/work right now to support you in growing and thriving further? 

Expanding on my previous answer, finding someone who is connected with an online community or some sort of magazine or other publication who would be interested in me and my writing as a contributor to their efforts.

5. What is one skill you’d love to develop more concretely in your life/work? 

I’d like to improve my ability to do research and write pieces that were more scholarly and research oriented.

6. Take a look at the AERO program. Circle three sessions that are the juiciest for you, based on your passions, dreams and questions. 

“Assessments That Matter” – The program says…

The purpose of this workshop is threefold. First, we will attempt to define the goals for assessments and accountability in the context of our educational communities. Second, we will examine the concept of testing and its relevance to our needs. Last, we will try to conceptualize assessments that align well with our educational goals.

I think that coming up with more holistic ways to assess the effectiveness of educational venues (beyond multiple-choice testing of a standard state or even national set of facts) is critical to bringing educational alternatives (beyond conventional instructional schools) into the mainstream of public education options.

Two: “Common Ground: A Spirited Debate” – Program says…

A spirited debate about private, charter, and public schools; the qualities that distinguish and the values that unite. Finding ways that we as educators, parents, and students can expand learning and promote opportunities that empower, excite, and equip today’s young people.

It seems to me that promoting charter schools and allowing them much more latitude to be really different from conventional public schools is currently the only game in town in the pragmatic path forward to transforming our education system.

Three: “How to Build an Online Community Through Social Media” – Program says…

This practical, interactive workshop is for people who have a basic understanding of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs and want to use them to build a strong online community in authentic ways. Together, we’ll look at several online communities and discuss what makes them successful or not. We’ll talk about the kind of online presence that develops a community, and ways to continue engaging that community once it’s strong. Bring your laptop, if you have one.

Not only is the workshop content related to my blogging and Facebook networking, but the workshop is being led by one of the organizers of the new Institute of Democratic Education in America (IDEA). I was briefly involved in some of the group’s original organizing meetings, but I ended up focusing on my writing instead. Besides the intriguing workshop content, I’m interested in having the opportunity to reconnect with some of the group’s organizers, and maybe find a venue or wider audience for my own writing.

7. Take a look at the AERO program. What is one session that you know nothing or very little about? What kind of connection might you want to make around that issue or with that person? 

Not a session that I know little or nothing about, but I do want to have the opportunity to meet Riane Eisler, whose book, The Chalice and the Blade, has been the most influential in my life and particularly in defining my life’s work.

Anyway… a glimpse into my own thinking in anticipation of the conference.

This is the first of what I hope to be daily blog posts from conference, something that one of current co-workers (who reads my blog) suggested to me. Since I’m all about broadening my writing skills right now, I took her great suggestion. So more hopefully tomorrow!

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