EUDEC 2014, Copenhagen

There were 172 participants in the 2014 European Democratic Education Conference, from 19 different countries. Aaron Keohane describes its impact.

Aaron Keohane

Having taken up my post as the English teacher at Summerhill in April after having spent the majority of the previous decade in University I was, and still am, relatively new to the field of democratic education. EUDEC 2014 was my first exposure to the democratic community outside of Summerhill. EUDEC was a whirlwind of interesting conversations, thought provoking workshops, good food and relaxing times with new found friends. I had been to conferences before, but nothing like this.

Conferences were places where adults got together and quickly rushed between tightly scheduled seminars. EUDEC was nothing like that; it was characterised by a relaxed yet enthusiastic atmosphere and an openness to possibilities which was also reflected in its schedule. I was pleasantly surprised to see parents, students, babies, teachers, young people and their friends attending; EUDEC really was a community - a community of like-minded people of all ages brought together through a solidarity based on recognising the importance of a democratic education. It filled me with joy to see such a diverse membership. A diversity which I believe is a great indication of both the vibrancy and genuineness of EUDEC and a value which underlies democratic education itself.

Professionally speaking EUDEC marked a turning point for me. After spending the majority of my life thus far in the traditional education system I had just begun the struggle to expel the influence of this system and its values from my classroom and introduce more democratic methods. EUDEC not only provided me with the ideas and conceptual tools to make this happen, but after just a few short days in Copenhagen I now have a network of people who I could call upon for advice. Flying back to the United Kingdom with my head overflowing with ideas, I found that not only had I gained many invaluable insights I had also come away with a strong conviction about democratic education. A conviction that these teaching methods did not have to come at the expense of the curriculum, not only that, but also caters for the diversity of student's needs.

An aspect of EUDEC which made me both proud and impressed was the generosity of spirit of those who attended. This spirit of generosity was reflected in the hard work of the volunteers and also the willingness of everyone to roll up their sleeves and help out, be it in the kitchen, cleaning, organising or the hundreds of other job. I was lucky enough to get to know some of EUDEC Council and watch them work together over the course of the five days. Two things became apparent to me, their enthusiasm and their impressive leadership skills. These were very capable and talented people that had an infectious passion for making EUDEC happen. Also, unlike other organisations I have been a part of, their leadership style was not characterised by ego but a sincere openness to new ideas, feedback and possibilities. With such a vibrant and generous community, the widespread shift away from traditional schooling and with the present council, there is no doubt in my mind that there are interesting times ahead for EUDEC. I look forward to sharing them with you.

Attending EUDEC was a significant and powerful personal experience for me. Since attending EUDEC I now feel like there is a whole new part of my life; a whole other group of people, a community, of which I am now a part. I now have friends from Taiwan, Finland, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and Spain. People whom I would ?break bread with should I travel to their country or they mine. It was these friendships that were the highlight of the trip. I had never met so many interesting, genuine people in one place. I loved the fact that we were always talking about education and how each person had their own insights. It was extremely and wonderfully engaging.
In one chapter of his book, The Element, Sir Ken Robinson explores how people can find their tribe, a group which provides the environment they need to be their true selves and be in their element. For me, EUDEC is my tribe. I am very grateful to all involved who have made this discovery possible. I look forward to experience and share in EUDEC's joys and challenges with my fellow community members into the future.

EUDEC 2015 will be in Poland, and will run from 1st - 9th August, details to be announced later.


#1 Micheal O Riordain 2015-01-10 13:08
Great insight into the experience of attending EUDEC.
Thanks Aaron.

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