An Explanation, Apology, Question, and a Quote

Hey readers,

So, I know I said I was going to blog about each day at Mondragón. However, unfortunately, my first night there my computer’s hard-drive collapsed and I lost everything on it. Needless to say, I didn’t really have access to the internet often – and I was kind of preoccupied with dealing with that crisis. I’m sorry for that, though.

Regardless, Mondragón was an amazing and a life-altering experience. Because I was not able to post about it nightly, I’m going to write one large report back and discussion of the Mondragón, education, and worker-cooperative experience – and the links Mondragón draws between workplace-democracy and learning place-democracy.

Additionally, I’m going to be doing something a little different with this blog from here on out: instead of posting small-posts on a regular basis, I’m going to begin writing much longer and more in-depth ones with more time in between their submission. While this means that there will be less activity on this blog, it also means that there will be much more content in each discussion. However, I will still be posting other occasional short discussions and learning-tools and activities in between.

Now, this leads me to the question: are you interested in having something posted at or writing something for the Adventures in Free Schooling blog? It can be about anything you please: a discussion, an argument, a history, a workshop, a curriculum, a personal story, and etc. I’d love to expand this site beyond primarily my voice. If you are interested, send an e-mail to: brian AT freeschooling DOT org – and let me know.

And to hold you over for now, here is a quote from Don José María Arizmendiarrieta, founder of the Mondragón cooperative experience:

Knowledge is power.

Knowledge must be socialized so that power can be democratized.

After the socialization of culture, inevitably follows the socialization of wealth and even of power. We may say that this is the indispensable and prior condition for the democratization and socioeconomic progress of a people.


October 6, 2008 at 11:50 pm 1 comment

Mondragón and Education

UPDATE: You can now read my report on the Mondragón Cooperative educational experience here.

On September 27th, I will fly from New York to Bilbao, Spain. The purpose of this trip will be to participate in a program run by the Praxis Peace institute to learn about the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation. Specifically, I will be looking at how Mondragón functions democratically and as a worker cooperative, its relation to and involvement with education, and how themes of Mondragón could be related back to the learning-place democracy movement here in the United States.

What is a Worker Cooperative? What is Mondragón?

According to the International Co-operative Alliance, a cooperative is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” There are many different types of cooperatives, but in the United States two of the most common types are worker cooperatives and consumer cooperatives. Consumer cooperatives are businesses that are owned by the customers for the customers’ mutual benefit. Worker cooperatives, on the other hand, are cooperatives that are owned and democratically run completely by its employees. Thus, the workers are also the owners (worker-owners). (more…)

September 22, 2008 at 11:43 pm 2 comments

Learning Activity: Underrepresented Peoples in U.S. History

The following is a learning activity I crafted for a class I was teaching on U.S. History. It was designed for teenagers, but I think it could be easily adapted for slightly-younger folks and adults.

Download it in PDF form here.

Activity: Underrepresented Peoples in U.S. History

• Goal of this activity: For the students to engage United States history by discovering what peoples go underrepresented in traditional tales of U.S. history. They will do this by interviewing community members, their peers, and themselves. This is both an individual and (can be a) group effort.
• Materials Needed: Community members to investigate, pens/pencil, paper. Optional: Note cards.
• Participants: 1-20 (or more, depending on your needs/ability).
• Time Needed: 45 – 90 minutes.

1. First, designate a community of people to interview: i.e. a school, a downtown, a class, a library, or etc. Give the following questions/guidelines to the participants (recommended on a piece of paper):

Who were important [your group] in American history? How did they impact the world that we know today? What lessons can we learn from them? (REMEMBER: important people don’t have to mean good people)

Go ask people in the area if they can identify any of the following groups of people in American history and ask them the questions specified above (and any other questions you think are important). Record their answers and think about why they gave the answers they did.

The students will fill in the [your group] bracket with one of the following possibilities:

• People of color
• Women
• Women of color
• Gender queer folks
• Lower-class folks
• Differently-Abled folks
• People of non-Christian faiths
• Immigrants
• Political dissenters
• [Add more that you see fit]

(You might want to lay these different options out on a table on note-cards for the students to choose from.)

September 20, 2008 at 2:48 pm Leave a comment

Shut Down Youth Prisons

Via Racewire:

Tell the State Commission on Juvenile Justice: Shut It Down!

On September 25th, the State Commission on Juvenile Justice — the agency in charge of setting the direction for the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) — will consider following the Little Hoover recommendation and closing the DJJ. The Commissioners need to know there is public support for this plan.

Please take a moment to tell your story or describe why you support shutting down the DJJ

This is definitely extremely important – and prison justice is definitely related to education justice.

For more information on the criminalization of youth – and especially its relation to how (the lack of) access to free education and learning tools is used to continue to keep historically oppressed people behind bars and dependent on the prison system – check out the HBO documentary Juvies. (I used this movie to introduce teenagers at North Star: Self-Directed Learning in Hadley, MA about the prison system and youth to great success. I’ll be blogging about this shortly.)

More info: The Real Cost of Prisons Project. Get Involved: National List of Books to Prisoners Programs

September 20, 2008 at 4:30 am Leave a comment

North Star Is A Place For Liberated Learners

I teach (and by default learn) at North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, and it is one of my favorite places to be. The excitement and enthusiasm for learning and do-ing there is infectious and inspiring. Based in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, it is a community learning center for teens who have left school for one reason or another. Recently an article about it was published online, so I thought I’d share it with you here. Here’s an excerpt:

Elizabeth arrives at 9:00 and together we go upstairs to the tiny room with comfortable chairs, a bookcase, art postcards on the walls. We walk past a few other teenagers who are curled up reading, or sprawled out on the couches getting the morning sleep that they missed at home because they wanted to grab the ride that would get them here early. We smile good morning at the small group about to begin its arcane discussion of Logic principles. It’s still quiet here at this hour, but there’s a nice feeling of easing into the day.

Elizabeth and I talk for a few minutes about where she is in the story she’s writing and what might happen next. She spends some time writing a new scene, offers to show me what she’s written, and we talk some more.

The day continues like this, with me welcoming one teenager after the other into this small, comfortable room. There’s Christopher, who has hated school since kindergarten and whose writing and reading aren’t at grade level; here he dictates his writing, and listens as I read aloud, finally getting a chance to absorb a book that challenges and moves him. There’s Josephine, who doesn’t just talk about writing a novel but actually works on it several hours a day; there’s Jackie, who declares that she isn’t good at anything academic but will offer astute observations and analyses if you toss the right questions her way. And once a week, in a larger room across the hall, there’s the workshop of young writers, ranging in age from 14 to 17, who come together to write.

This is my particular corner of North Star, a resource center that offers an alternative to middle and high school for teenagers in Western Massachusetts. As its literature says, North Star makes homeschooling a viable option for any interested teenager in the geographic area…

Read the full article here.

September 9, 2008 at 2:00 pm 1 comment

Teaching Imperialism, Colonialism, and Racism in United States History: A Board Game About Columbus

Edit: Oops, apparently there was a broken link on this post. It has been fixed now.

The history of Columbus is a turbulent one – and the way we are traditionally taught (and teach) about him is a way built into imperialism, racism, and is European-centric. Our nationally-supported tale of Columbus ignores his impact on the Native Americans he encountered and builds up a false mythology around him that we still worship today. Below is a board-game I crafted in order to help combat this. It is important to note that this game still has some problems and that it should not be regarded as an attempt to be the only way to teach about the history of Columbus. This game is still from the perspective of Columbus and Europeans, as most history of Columbus are, but that is because this game/learning tool is based off of the question: “We have a national holiday named after Christopher Columbus, which means we are supposed to view Columbus as a hero and that we should emulate his actions. So, what were his actions and would we want to live up to them? Would he be a hero to us? To all people?” This does not mean that this learning tool is an endorsement of Columbus – far from it. It just asks learners to take on the role of Columbus and see if his actions and impacts would be what they would view as heroic and good. However, I’m currently attempting to develop a teaching/learning tool that tells the same tale of Columbus’s arrival while the learners take on the role of the American Indians.

I should note a couple more things. First, this game was designed to be counter the traditional tales of pro-imperialism, pro-colonialism, pro-racism, and so on that compile the regular histories told of Columbus. It was also designed to show the impact of Columbus’s arrivals and actions on the rest of the world (including the Americas) and not just Europe – again, a habit of traditional history-telling. However, there was a couple of pit-falls that I fell into when I crafted this activity that I realized too late. The game does not provide a space to show learners how they can go on and continue their learning on the subject elsewhere. This makes the game semi-dogmatic. I have constructed a follow up activity to this game that can be used for that purpose, and that helps teach learners how to challenge and think critically about dogmatic histories – I will post this shortly.

On to the game – (OR You can download the maps, instructions, and game pieces HERE and the cards for the game HERE).

Activity: The Arrival of Columbus and The Importance of it Today

• Goal of this activity: To understand what the arrival of Columbus to the Americas meant to the entire world and the lasting impact it has had on us today, through an experiential process.

• Materials Needed: A board, paper, scissors, glue, writing utensil, change

• Participants: 1-4 per game board (or can make several boards and do it with more participants).

• Time Needed: 70-90 minutes (more…)

September 6, 2008 at 11:30 pm 5 comments

Slow-Posting This Week

Hey there, everyone. I just wanted to let you know that there’s going to be very slow posting this week. I’m in the middle of moving and I’ve just started an 8-day job that’s almost all day long, so I’m not going to have much extra time on my hands. However, you can look forward to book discussions on A People’ History of the American Empire and The Mismeasure of Man coming as soon as possible!

UPDATE: So, it turned out there was no posting for this week. Sorry, the job was a lot crazier than I suspected. But we’ll be back in full swing starting Tuesday, September 2nd.

August 26, 2008 at 1:55 am Leave a comment

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