Just imagine…

Imagine a learning environment in which the only “curriculum” is life itself, in which the “classroom” is the world around you, and in which the “3 Rs” are Relationships, Responsibility and Relevance.

Imagine a learning environment in which you are: free to be yourself; accepted and honoured as a unique individual; empowered to connect with your inner teacher; trusted to direct your own learning; encouraged to play and explore in nature; supported in pursuing your interests, passions and dreams; and enabled to use the gifts of your imagination to heal and transform the world.

Imagine a learning environment in which education is considered a natural by-product of living; in which every choice and experience is valued as an opportunity to learn; in which adults and children work hand-in-hand as equals and co-learners; in which people’s differences are celebrated; and in which the primary purpose of all learning is the experience of joy.

Just imagine.

There is another way of doing education.

Having spent the best part of three years researching alternative models of education in the UK, USA, Canada and Russia, my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of possibility for the future of education. One thing is for certain: children are not the ignorant, inferior and incapable beings that many adults assume them to be.

During this time I have also been continually defining, testing, redefining and clarifying my own educational philosophy, which has evolved into what I call the eduspire paradigm. Eduspire stands for ‘education infused with spirit’. It is not a new system of education but rather a trust-based, learning-oriented and learner-driven framework for thinking about children, education and life itself.

I have a dream.

The word eduspire encapsulates my dream for future generations of children. It is a seed planted in the fertile field of pure potentiality. In co-creative partnership with like-minded children and parents, my intention is to nurture this seed so that it germinates and grows into a strong, healthy plant.

I believe the eduspire plant will continue to grow into a mighty tree that contributes to an ever-expanding garden of educational possibility. I see a day arriving when all children are free to play in this life-affirming garden, learning and growing in a natural and organic manner as they awaken to, embrace and honour their true, authentic and unlimited selves.

Our planet is beset with a multitude of problems, none of which can be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. Children are the people in whose hands our hope for the future lies and I am therefore committed to providing opportunities through which they can be liberated, honoured, empowered, and their voices heard.

Alternative models of education.

I believe there is a great deal to be learned from alternative models of education already in place. My UK-based research has entailed visits to a variety of independent schools and organisations, including A.S. Neill’s Summerhill, J.H. Badley’s Bedales, Felicity Evans’ Nature Kids and several Waldorf/Steiner schools. However, while certain aspects of each of these schools or organisations has resonated, I have failed to find one that is 100% aligned with my own values and visions.

Of all the schools I have researched outside the UK, Daniel Greenberg’s Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts (United States), is the one which inspires me the most. SVS is a shining example of what is possible when preconceived notions of teaching and learning are thrown out the window. SVS has been bravely defying conventional wisdom on education since 1968 and — with the possible exception of Mikhail Petrovich Shchetinin’s extraordinary Kin’s School in Russia — I consider it to be the closest working model of the future of education on this planet.

It is time for something different in this country.

Why don’t we create a Sudbury-inspired Natural Learning Environment (NLE) in the UK? (The word ‘school’ is replete with so many assumptions about teaching and learning that I prefer this more neutral term). Why not set it apart from all other schools and educational organisations in the UK by having it designed, built and run by children?

The start-up team, comprising twelve young people aged between 10 and 18, could be trusted to oversee every single aspect of the NLE’s design and construction. They could carry out research on sustainable materials. They could attend workshops and conferences on eco-buildings. They could learn about environmentally-conscious ways of living and being. They could secure all the funding for the project. They could identify the plot of land for the NLE site. They could arrange meetings with architects, landscape designers and legal experts. They could apply for planning permission. They could subsequently build the NLE with their own hands. And they could achieve all of these things because they are in an environment that trusts them to do so. Of course, parents and other adults could be on hand to offer their support, but they would follow the children’s lead throughout.

For the children joining the start-up team, the process of designing and constructing the NLE would be their “education”. They would have no need to attend formal school lessons, to sit exams or to attain qualifications. Their real-life learning experiences would be of infinitely greater value to them than anything a formal school education could provide. In this way, the NLE would serve as a powerful demonstration that living is the best form of education.

Am I out of my mind?

Very much so. What I have just outlined above comes from a place beyond the confines of my mind. Some people would no doubt brand me insane for suggesting such a project. But insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Adults have been doing that in education for centuries. If you want something different you have to do something different.