A fire for individuality and community!
My path as a co-founder of the Sudbury Schule Ammersee to become an entrepreneur
with Education in Transition
By Monika Diop-Wernz
“It's 4 in the morning and I should sleep, but I can't. I am so
excited." That night in November 2004 is a turning point in my life.
A few hours earlier I came home with a DVD, followed by “Interviews from Sudbury Schools” by Martin Wilke and Henning Graner. I was fascinated. I watched the interviews until the early hours of the morning . Self-determined education within a community was consistently, clearly, plausibly and with heart to the point. I recognized my own longing in it.
Finally it was about the balance between individuality and community. That night I had the vision of a Sudbury school in Bavaria and many other free learning locations that are being created worldwide. I saw myself participating in a transformation of the education and training system and thus in a world in which individuals develop their potential in supportive communities, maintain the joy of learning and, in cooperation, bring into the world everything that is needed to be in To live peace and love together.
This vision is still in me today and I want to tell you my story. A story that is very real and that may encourage and inspire you. A story that also knows failure and how important it is to get up again and again. I hope my path will strengthen your confidence in self-determined education. If you want to found a free place of learning, if you want to live a community, maybe already active, then I think: It is worth going for it.
The foundation: We were dreamers and idealists
A few days before the sleepless night in November 2004, I was at an educational event with my friend Gerlinde Wagner. A woman gave us a flyer. "Hey, we're starting a school, lust?" Her sparkling eyes were attractive. We didn't even know exactly what kind of school it was, and yet a few days later we were sitting in their living room. Renate Gentner, the initiator of this meeting, returned to Bavaria full of energy from an international conference for democratic education. A few weeks later, when we were nine, we founded the association "Sudbury Munich eV". We all had a common vision that excited us, and we decided to make the project a reality.
As is so often the case when you are on your way, you encounter a doubt. “Self-determined education, that can't work!”, “A Sudbury school in Bavaria, you can never do it! That took off! ". The doubters were also right: we were dreamers and idealists. We underestimated the scope of work: building up club structures, writing a concept, developing a logo and website, networking, public relations, fundraising, team development processes. We had also underestimated the obstacles on the part of the authorities and how long the establishment would take as a result. We were repeatedly challenged by negative statements from the government to differentiate between what was not negotiable for us and what was already. We learned the importance of saying “no”.
One day in April: The rejection
One day in April 2010 can stand for many other days. We received a negative decision from the government of Upper Bavaria. Individual voices in the team suggested changing the pedagogical concept. I fought like a lioness for the continuance of our vision, for the continuity of our educational concept. Our decision was tested again and again and finally we stood firm. We didn't want to give up, we wanted to keep going, no matter how long it took.
Still, it was exhausting and I was exhausted. The difficulty for me personally was that I no longer wanted to work as a teacher for institutions with ideas that were outdated for me. I asked myself a lot of questions; the Sudbury School didn't exist yet. “What do I want to live for myself now? Where is my joy and curiosity? "
Since then I have known how important it is to keep asking myself this question. Many people get involved in social community projects, derive their self-worth from them, sacrifice themselves and forget themselves in the process. I did not want.
So I allowed myself to dream. I saw myself traveling the world, attending Sudbury schools, immersing myself in practice with a camera because photography is my passion. I was excited about this idea. Otto Herz, a well-known reform pedagogue and friend, motivated me to write a concept for this trip and courageously ask for donations. I did just that. What happened next is magical: The donations flowed, I bought a camera and set off that same year. This experience was very formative for me. I bravely jumped into something new, followed my joy and I was supported by life.
Travel to Sudbury schools around the world
I attended eleven different schools around the world and was away for almost a year.
During this trip I was thrown back on myself and experienced the places like a schoolgirl who was challenged to organize her day independently. That was often not easy. I met my fears, my pain, and sometimes I questioned everything.
I particularly remember one scene on the Golan Heights in Israel. At that time I wrote in my diary: “I feel lost. I don't know what to do with me. People give me money to research these schools and I don't know what to do, what to do with myself. I would have to ... How deep this 'must' is and how subtly we define our value in terms of performance. I could cry, hopefully nobody will see me. I watch some students play energetically in the trees. Should I go to them? ”Shortly thereafter, I actually followed this impulse and climbed a tree.
I felt a little strange even though everyone I met looked at me kindly. I was sitting on a branch with a boy, Red. He was 16 years old. He was happy that I was there. How helpful it is when you feel welcome. We started to philosophize and we laughed together. I sat relaxed in the tree all morning . I just allowed myself to be, to do nothing, and to satisfy myself. That moment was like a release and I was happy. I lived through many such insightful moments. I lived my creative side, followed my impulses and was often in a flow. I conducted interesting interviews with students, graduates, parents and staff ( www.sudbury-schools-interviews.com ). My trust in myself, the self-determined education and the Sudbury school system was deepened and strengthened by this trip . Nobody could take all these experiences away from me.
After nine years of founding, the school finally opens
Back in Germany, I put a lot of the energy I gained into establishing a school. I gave lectures and coached start-up initiatives. The whole team gave everything, everyone with their skills. The foundation picked up speed. Our logo unfolded: it symbolizes the strength of the community that arises from the interplay of individual strengths and abilities.
An international scientific advisory board was founded, we had a lot of publicity, received donations and the information events were booming. Yaakov Hecht, an educational pioneer from Israel who founded the first democratic school in Hadera in 1987, traveled especially to the Ministry of Education in Munich for a talk. Yaakov enthusiastically talked about the positive development of the democratic education movement in Israel. I reported with pleasure from my trip. We were clear, we were convincing and we had a foot in the door. The concept was finally approved in 2012.
It still took two arduous years until we found a building that could be approved, a small, vacant elementary school in the Reichling community in the Ammersee area.
Finally, finally in September 2014, the time had come: We were able to open the first Sudbury School in Bavaria. What a milestone. We had founded nine years and now the baby was born.
At the opening ceremony, it became clear to me that we would not have stayed without a great vision. We wouldn't have made it without our enthusiasm and clarity.
The small school has been converted into a cozy home. The mayor, many neighbors and visitors from all over the world celebrated the opening with us. A new phase of life began for 35 children and young people, their families and us as a team. A new adventure. The time to set up a new type of school for Bavaria.
As in every love story, so here too: After an initial flight of highs, we were soon confronted with difficult processes. The aim was to build a new school culture that focused on completely different values than our current school system. We were challenged to develop structures and rules from scratch that were tailored to the needs of the community. To really understand and live democratic values such as respect, freedom of expression, equal participation, participation and responsibility in depth is complex and often not easy.
Run or not run? The school rules arise
My role also changed. I was now an employee, with different tasks, different responsibilities.
An example: I'm sitting in the office in October 2014. Outside, students are running loudly down the hall. I ask her not to do this so that I can concentrate on my tasks. “Where does the law say that we are not allowed to run?” Asks a nine-year-old student. I'm angry that I don't get any understanding. At the same time, I understand that many have a need to exercise. Previously, they had to sit still most of the time for years. I'm applying for a new rule. This is rejected by the large majority after a discussion in the school assembly. At first I wanted to hit the table with my fist. In the second, I am also proud that I have succeeded in accepting this majority decision. The need for calm in the corridor develops over time in several. Much of the pent-up energy had been released. After a few weeks, at the request of a schoolgirl, a rule is included in the code of law and supported by the community: It should be quiet in the hallways.
Over time, a feeling of unity deepened. The consistent age mix also promoted this. I remember how in the first few months the young people were often annoyed and disturbed by the young people, and the young people often seemed anxious towards the young people. Not everyone felt safe. Some unpleasant things happened. But over time, and with the help of the Justice Committee, which dealt with rule violations and sought justice, many barriers dissolved.
The place got an attraction. We had our first open day, around 400 visitors. The house was bursting at the seams. There were no more parking spaces in the village. The press took an interest in us. We held workshops for founders. In Bavaria there were meanwhile several initiatives for democratic schools that submitted an application for approval to the authorities. Wow, my vision was about to come true.
Some students, like I did in the Golan Heights, experienced phases of being lost. “I'm so boring!” I heard this often. When someone was not doing well, I could just be there. The transition from an externally determined structure to one in which everyone is responsible for their own education is certainly one of the greatest challenges, also for parents.
Headwind from the authorities
But at the same time came the headwind: “You can't do it like that! We need more evidence that enough is being learned! ”Said a government official on the phone in response to painstakingly drawn up, detailed interim reports and documentation. Tensions with the government of Upper Bavaria increased over time. The way we tried to show positive developments and learning processes never seemed enough.
Of course, it was also important to us to address these fears. Again and again we sought conversation, compromised and built bridges where we could. We wanted to build trust. However, after a change of inspector in the second year, things got worse.
It is Tuesday morning in March 2016. Suddenly this new inspector is standing in the corridor with three women. He wears a gray suit, has short blonde hair, is around 40 years old, looks tense and hasty. I greet him kindly: “Welcome. Would you like to come to the office first, maybe have a coffee? ”“ No! No! ”He says sternly, without making eye contact, and immediately walks through the school with his companions. It sweeps from room to room and leaves behind a troubled and shocked community after 2 hours. Many feel that they have been treated from above and uncomfortably asked questions. A student comes up to me indignantly: “He treats us as if we were all idiots”, another student: “As soon as he came in, he found our school shit!” Martin, an eleven year old student, collapses and cries bitterly. He tells me that the inspector said derogatory to him: "Well, what have you learned here now?" He had started it himself and this was a personal tragedy for him.
Background: Martin (name changed) already had difficult school experiences behind him, at his last school he was supported by a school companion. Diagnosis: Asberger Syndrome. At first he had a lot of social difficulties with us too. At some point he retired to the library with "Harry Potter" books for weeks. Then he developed a new interest: biology. He experienced a new acceptance of his interests and was able to experience self-efficacy. The more he got on with himself, the easier it became for him within the community. The government official's appraisal attitude hit him right in the heart.
Then things got worse. We received a twisted, thoroughly devastating record of the visit. Two different value systems collided with each other with all their might. It became clear that the inspector was looking at the school through the filter of a classic middle school and was only looking for organized lessons. We wrote to request a change of inspector. We wanted someone who was knowledgeable and open to democratic schools. Someone who sees his job as being to see whether and how the approved concept is implemented.
The agency's reaction was harsh: we should have tables, chairs and pens ready for tests within a few days. We called a special school assembly. All were there. "What should we do?" One lawyer we consulted believed that the government was interfering with the freedom of private schools. Now we were challenged: should we stand up for ourselves or submit? We decided to decline the testing process. Had the authority been benevolent, the decision would have been different.
It wasn't just a "no" to the tests. It was a “no” to the enormous pressure that was being built up by the government of Bavaria. It was a “no” to the inspection's disrespectful approach.
The end came with a blow of the hammer
Then came the end. A hammer blow. The school was closed. Simply flattened. That was a shock. Our urgent application to the court was rejected. Another blow. We fought as a community, took to the streets. We sued the government of Upper Bavaria, organized events, campaigns and wrote petitions. All without success, with enormous effort and many disappointments.
It was closed over four years ago. Today we are in the second instance in an appeal procedure before the Bavarian Administrative Court. We were able to preserve the building, which is still available today and could be used as a school immediately, through donations. In the last few years I was fortunate enough to be able to live and help shape self-determined education in a beautiful nature kindergarten. I needed time to process everything, to relax and to reflect.
A "yes" to the vision that individuality and community are possible in freedom
I was discouraged by the low blow. The failure hit me right at the core. I encountered my pain, feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. I was angry a lot. On the government, on the inspector, on life too. I had to go through it all. Over time I was able to accept everything, heal old injuries and develop a deeper trust in life. Failures, wrong turns and setbacks are components of great visions.
The more it is possible to integrate pain, fears and disappointment, the freer and more self-determined life is possible and the more self-determined education we can provide. Today I see the wealth and value from all the experiences.
I am proud of the fact that I have said "no" to many things and have remained true to myself. I am proud of us that we have remained true to each other. This “no” was a “yes” to me, it was a “yes” to our values and it was a “yes” to the vision that individuality and community are possible in freedom.
Today - almost two decades after the sleepless night - this “yes” is the basis for my company “Education in Transition”.
It encourages me to see how much fire there is, how many people, communities and collaborations are now committed to changes in the education sector and to create new learning places. Change will not come from above, through politics, but from the grassroots, through each and every one of us. "Education in Transition" is a powerful tool to support this change.
It's a new morning.