Week 1: Two very young people are busy with playdough near the hall door, while three older young people play cards at a table nearby. An all-ages group plays dodgeball in the middle of the same hall. Outside there’s a pirate game happening on a tree platform, and in the ‘library’ shed, there’s a conversation going on between two puppets, each with their own handler. Later, everyone streams through the unlocked gate to the park alongside the scout hall, and plays stuck-in-the-mud… except for those on the swings. And on the swings there’s a 4 year old learning to pump himself, right alongside a 15 year old learning to jump off at exactly 40 (or was it 45?) degrees to facilitate a cartwheel landing.Call this ‘school’, and it must be somewhere in America or Europe, right? Africa, actually. South Africa.Some days are quieter – a group of children and two adults go for a walk in the trees of the adjoining park – with a whistle on a string just in case, because this is urban Johannesburg. One adult stays at the hall, with a teenager busy with a book on fractals, and a tween playing Abalone solitaire. That adult is me – I grab the calm five minutes to write a few lines of this newsletter, fitting in what I can until someone needs help with something or wants an extra player for a game, or, there’s an ‘agreement’ to discuss (we will probably eventually have rules too but so far have only made agreements*), or a conflict to solve (we will probably eventually have a JC but so far have just had on-the-spot non-violent conflict resolutions).21 people between the ages of 3 and 15 signed the attendance book this week. Mostly English was spoken at the venue but home languages include English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, SeSotho and isiXhosa. Spiritual heritages represented include Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Satsangi, Pagan, Atheist, Agnostic, Pastafarian and Freestyle Enthusiasts.
This is what it looks like as we pilot the first Sudbury-inspired Democratic Self-Directed Education project on the African continent – Riverstone Village.
We have the scout hall for 4-5hours a day, 4 days a week, for the rest of June. It’s a temporary venue, and that means there’s a lot of things we can’t do the way we would like to. We can’t bring significant musical instruments or desktop computers, or get internet access. There’s no breakaway indoor spaces for quiet work or special activities. Can’t get messy with arts ‘n crafts. We can’t get busy on anything that can’t be packed into our shed at the end of the day, and we can’t do anything to customise the space. Making as much as tea is a challenge in this kitchen. We can’t quite agree on whether the one little temporary shed that is truly ours, is our library or our storeroom for things not-to-be-messed-with (such as the first-aid kit) or a playroom for rumpus time, or a quiet space for chilling. It takes turns, and so do we. It makes us all very aware of why we need a ‘home’ that is really our own.
But what we can do, keeps us busy and happy. We’re working out how to be together in a way that works for everyone, learning about each other’s boundaries. We’re discovering that acorns are edible (but not very tasty), and agreeing to take the sharp bits off properly before playing ‘acorn wars’. Adults are learning and growing as facilitators, and kids are having a childhood while doing the helpful work of training us. We’re all discovering how precious it is to have space and time together, especially for those (of all ages) who have only recently escaped from ‘day jail’ style schooling.
A couple of younger people are collecting money to pay for a really professional polish for their first online music release. A couple of older people are documenting our adventure when we can, preparing to fundraise for a venue to call our very, very own.
When we have that, we can open our admissions to the wider community, and that will make us all really, really happy. What is important to us, is that we make it possible for people to join no matter what they can or can’t pay. And, that we anchor a grow-space in Africa, for Democratic SDE to spread. That, will take money – which makes fund raising an urgent priority, since everybody is loving this far too much to stop now. So…
Watch this space!
Or, better still, get on board. It’s the start of an awesome journey.
* So far we’re liking Sandra Dodd’s distinction between rules and principles. Our agreements so far are generally more of a ‘principle’ type.
PS: Staff training program is also available, also open to SDE parents and other facilities wanting to explore SDE options.