What if education was about decolonizing our minds
And owning up to the wrongs of our ancestors…
What if schools would teach us to be self-sustainable
By reweaving our relationship to the land…
What if colleges were spaceships into the unknown
To expand the boundaries of our imaginations…
What if teachers prepared us to live on nothing
Yet appreciate everything…
What if learning was about finding our gifts
And how to share them with the world….
This short poem speaks to my participation at the Reimagine Education Conference 3.0, a thought-provoking gathering that invites us to rethink education radically. Organized in partnership with the Ecoversities Alliance, this conference is about bridging the academic world and beyond-academic-world by bringing together researchers, practitioners, educators, and learners to rethink education from its deeply buried roots. The conference is an invitation to recognize the colonial, capitalist, and patriarchal forms of domination that have shaped mainstream education in ways that perpetuate injustices and inequalities. It’s an invitation away from the belief in one universal knowledge that stems from the so-called “scientific method”, to rather embrace multiple ways of knowing and being, thus creating new avenues to face the interrelated crisis that humanity is facing at the moment. It’s about expanding what education is and can be to foster a world in which many worlds can fit. To embody this ideal, the conference united people from all continents (except Antarctica) with different worldviews and cosmologies, yet united by the hope to create a more socially and ecologically just world. Many of the participants and contributors, working on educational experiments, are facing similar challenges of swimming against the current and struggling for resources, funding, and recognition; the conference was also a way to discuss possible livelihood generated by autonomous learning spaces.
In this article, I reflect upon my experience at the 5-day conference, by sharing some of my highlights, but also some of the paradoxes that emerged from it. As there were over 180 contributors and 4- sessions running in parallel most of the time, this is only a glimpse and a partial account of the conference through my engagement with the workshops, the panels, and the activities I chose.
What if school ruined me…
One of the first sessions I attended, The Deschooling Convivium with Marie Goodwin and Charles Eisenstein, undoubtedly, set the tone for the conference and the relevance of rethinking education. In this session, we were invited to reflect and share on the prompt: “What are the bad habits you have inherited from school?” Every participant had a different answer, yet we all related to one another’s answer. I’ll always remember a wise-looking lady (in her 50s I would have guessed) from Ecuador explaining how her schooling experience made her lose all sense of “self-discipline,” as she was always being told exactly what to do, when and how to do it in school. It had been decades since she left school, yet she was still scarred and struggling to unlearn this bad habit. This was just one example amongst many others as you can see from my notes of the session:
This session fueled my drive to reform education radically, made me think twice about sending my daughter to school, and, beyond everything else, made me want to hop on a journey toward deschooling myself!
Another highlight of the conference was the wide diversity in cultures, path-of-life, and age of the participants. We could see wisdom reflected upon the whiteness of some’s hair, we could see the fire burning in the heart of the “I-just-got-out-of-college” youths, and we even heard a few babies crying for attention from their parents in the background. Along this line, the Embodied Liberation: User Manual for Human & Other-than-Human Movement session with Sondra Loring was an unforgettable experience for me… I almost left the session a few minutes in, because the speaker whose hair were pure-wisdom-white, had technical challenges with the Zoom platform. I’m so glad I was patient as some participants helped her out, as I got to partake in her medley of meditation, dance, and poem writing. A medley that was made even more memorable thanks to the cries of my 10-months old daughter who was screaming out loud: “Mommy, you aren’t making dinner fast enough!”… As I heard her cries, I decided to go grab my daughter and invite her into the liberation dance exercise we were doing to let my wife prepare dinner peacefully.
My little one was just in awe to see all those bodies moving on the screen in free exploration, and she started grooving with me too! Afterward, I thought the introspective “I’m leaning into…” poem exercise that was proposed would be hard to manage with her, as she usually eats any paper I try to write on, but this time she watched me write with fascination, and would take the pen and give it right back to me after each verse. Her presence also made everyone in the group smile from the bottom of their hearts which made me question: “why are schools, colleges, and universities places where we usually keep babies away from?” It’s probably good for the babies to keep their distances, but is it good for the other learners…
I’m leaning into…
Following the flow…
The joy of a baby!
Being in awe…
Rediscovering the world!
The Reimagine Education Conference 3.0 audaciously challenged the monopoly of English as the dominant form of knowledge production and diffusion. There are so many critiques of how colonial languages, especially English, are suffocating other languages, and how culture is closely intertwined with language, so losing language is losing culture, which in turn is to loss of ways of relating to the world. Yet, it is so hard, it can even feel impossible at times, to create spaces for intercultural exchanges that aren’t dominated by the English language, which owes its domination to historical marginalization and colonial violence. Although there is still work to be done, in having translators available for many of the sessions, the conference genuinely gestured in the right direction for language justice. Along this line, my highlight was a moment of an impromptu translation… 10-minutes into the Active Imagining session with Eileen Walz, which was not initially intended to be translated, a participant flagged the presence of a non-English speaker in the Zoom room! In a matter of minutes, the group organized so kindly for peer-to-peer translation for that participant. And for a matter of fact, the session actually ended with a very powerful and personal testimonial from that non-English speaker about the power of dreams in her culture!
Dreaming of new ways of knowing and being
One of the common trends in many sessions was around how to include different ways of knowing and ways of being in education. There were talks about different cosmologies, about learning from Indigenous world views, about learning from the non-humans and more-than-humans. Yet, I must say that these concepts were generally discussed, paradoxically, in a very mainstream “rational” way. I didn’t feel that most sessions “walked the talk” by making me feel and embody learning from those other cosmologies. After all, it’s a wicked complex challenge when most of us have been schooled and colonized by our own education and culture to create deep alternatives. Two sessions that might have given me a glimpse of learning radically otherwise: the aforementioned Embodied Liberation session, which did tap into the wisdom of the body and of what was present “now” and the so called Dream café, a pre-conference open activity, Dream Café, which invited us to do different visualizations to harness the power of dreams and build a university from the ground up. Dreams are powerful spaces to think outside of and beyond our usual ideas, which are soaked in western-thought promoting “rationalistic, secular, universal, objectivist, modernist, written, behaviorist, and individualistic ways of being and marginalizes spiritual, ancestral, oral, subjective, critical, and communitarian ways of being” to quote Taskeen Adams and Nariman Moustafa, from the Tackling coloniality and re-storying Edtech session.
Sage on stage paradox
During at least three of the sessions I attended, the speakers said that the educational innovation project they were working on locally sought to dismantle the traditional “Sage on stage” approach to education in which learners are vessels to be filled by the teachers. I found these statements a little contradictory because the conversation format through which the speakers were addressing us was exactly a “sage on stage” approach! This is not a critique of the speakers, or of the content of what they shared, but an observation of how deeply engrained we are in a “teacher over learner” culture even when we think we want to contest it. Indeed, this conference that aimed to radically rethink our education, in some ways, still perpetuated many of the patterns it critiqued. Although the conference opening statement was “we are all teachers, we are all students,” the great majority of the session I attended adhered to a very passive “fill the vessel” pedagogy centered on experts delivering knowledge. In fact, I must confess, I even left the How to learn from your children session to go play outside with my daughter as I was a little annoyed of being told in a unilateral exchange how we should stop referring to books and secondhand knowledge about child raising. Overall, this made me wonder if we could have prepared the guest speakers to embody the pedagogy they talked about. Yet it’s not just the responsibility of the speakers, we probably would have also needed to prepare the participants to navigate such an untraditional learning space without their usual landmarks.
In the session Ancient is Modern: Pedagogy of Aloha with Kū Kahakalau, Kū stressed how education should be fun. In fact, she shared the common proverb: “If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right.” I must say, this is something the conference organizing team did very well… I had never seen a virtual conference with so much time to play. I’ll always remember my Break-out-room with Dan Rudolph and Nariman Moustafa during the Dream Café where we started playing improv games together, walking the talk of Dan’s dream of a Play-versity! Furthermore, the conference also offered cumbia dances to keep us energized and showcases of music, chants, and songs from participants to keep the energy high and celebrate.
I’m leaving the conference with a list of three books I want to read, five people I want to meet, twenty+ organizations I want to learn more about, a bunch of projects I want to experiment with, and so many questions to fuel my curiosity: what is needed of education for our times? How to harness the power of tech for decolonial purposes? How can we learn from the land, the non-humans, and more-than-humans in virtual settings? How can we host conferences that embody radically different pedagogical approaches?
Was the conference perfect? No. There were some playful ups and some paradoxical downs, but as Sandy Buck from Deer Crossing Farm puts it: “Friction is what creates heat.” After all, we’ve been schooled to obsess about perfection, but we can probably learn so much more about embracing imperfections. I know that the organizing team who were constantly and actively seeking feedback will only strive to improve the next edition.
I want to close this article in a spirit of deep gratitude, which pervaded the conference. I share my thank you to the organizing team, to all the participants, to the translators, to the technological tools that enabled us to gather, to the resources of the earth they were made of, to the food that keeps us alive, to the sun and earth that empowers growth, to the moon and the stars that inspire our dreams and to the spirit of the water without which we would not have been able to gather.
I hope to meet you at the next edition of the Reimagine Education Conference, as this conference is definitely a gesture in the right direction to transform education to serve “diverse ecologies, cultures, economies, spiritualities, and life within our planetary home.”
About the Author, Clément Moliner-Roy
Self-declared as a citizen of the world, Clément envisions a world with no frontiers. He firmly upholds Nelson Mandela’s belief that education is the most powerful force to transform the world. This conviction has driven his involvement in multiple educational initiatives: supporting a nature-based nursery and an elementary nature-school, contributing to a new era of Japanese higher education (HELIO) and launching the pilot project of a new experiential approach to higher education (Changemaker Residency). Through teaching and research, Clement also works with existing universities to amplify their social and environmental impacts. His unwavering commitment is to expand our vision of education in order to encompass multiple ways of knowing and being, with the overarching objective to advance social, environmental, and cognitive justice.