A fire for individuality and community!
My path to entrepreneurship as co-founder of the Sudbury School Ammerseen
with Education in Transition
“It's 4am and I should be sleeping but I can't. I'm excited, thrilled too.” That night in November 2004 is a turning point in my life.
A few hours earlier I came home with a DVD of "Interviews from Sudbury Schools" by Martin Wilke and Henning Graner. I was fascinated. I watched the interviews until the early hours of the morning.at. Self-determined education within a community was here consistent, clear, plausible and brought to the point with heart.
For me it was about the balance between individuality and community. That night I had a vision of a Sudbury school in Bavaria and many other free learning places that are being created around the world. I saw myself contributing to a transformation of the education system and thus to a world in which individuals develop their potential in supportive communities, retain the joy of learning and, in cooperation, bring into the world everything that is needed to live in peace and respect and love to live together.
This vision is still with me today and I want to tell you my story. A story that is very real and can encourage and inspire you. A story that also knows failure and knows how important it is to always get up. I hope my path will strengthen your trust in self-determined and democratic education. If you want to set up an independent place of education/school, or are perhaps already active, then I think it's worth going for it.
The founding: We were dreamers and idealists
A few days before the sleepless night in November 2004, I was at an educational event with my friend Gerlinde Wagner. A woman handed us a flyer. “Hey, we’re starting a school, fancy?” Her sparkling, bright eyes fascinated me. We didn't even know exactly what kind of school it was and yet we were sitting in their living room a few days later. Renate Gentner, the initiator of this meeting, returned full of energy from an international conference for democratic education in Bavaria. A few weeks later, the nine of us founded the association “Sudbury Munich e.V.”. We all had a common vision that excited us and we were determined to implement the project.
As is often the case when you set out on your journey, you encounter doubters. “Self-determined education, that can’t work!”, “A Sudbury school in Bavaria, you’ll never be able to do that!”“. The doubters were right on some points: we were dreamers and idealists. We underestimated the scope of work: setting up club structures, writing a concept, logo and website development, networking, public relations, fundraising, team development processes. We had also underestimated the obstacles from the authorities and how long the founding would take as a result. Due to negative statements from the government, we were repeatedly asked to distinguish between what was non-negotiable for us and what was. We learned how important it is to say “no” and to stay true to ourselves and our values. The founding process took a long time.
One day in April: The rejection
One day in April 2010 can represent many other days. We received a negative decision from the government of Upper Bavaria. Individual voices in the team suggested changing the pedagogical concept. I sat down like a lioness for the existence of our vision, for the consistent implementation of our pedagogical concept. Our resolve was tested again and again and in the end we stood firm. We didn't want to give up, we wanted to keep going, however long it took.
However, it was also tiring and I was exhausted. The difficulty for me personally was that I no longer wanted to work as an educator for institutions with ideas that were outdated to me. I asked myself a lot of questions; the Sudbury School didn't yet exist. “What do I want to live for myself now? Where is my joy and curiosity?”
Since then, I have known how important it is to keep asking myself this question. Many people get involved in social community projects, derive their self-worth from them, sacrifice themselves and forget themselves in the process. I didn't want that anymore.
So I allowed myself to dream. I saw myself traveling the world, visiting Sudbury schools, getting hands-on with a camera because photography is my passion. I loved this idea. Otto Herz, a well-known reform educator and friend, motivated me to write a concept for this trip and courageously ask for donations. That's exactly what I did. What happened next: The donations flowed, I bought a camera and set off that same year. This experience was very formative for me. I jumped boldly into something new, I was decisive and I was supported by life.
Travel to Sudbury schools around the world
I visited eleven different schools around the world and traveled for almost a year.
During this trip I was thrown back on myself and experienced the places like a student who was challenged to organize her day independently. That was often not easy. I faced fears, my pain and I sometimes questioned everything.
A scene on the GolanI particularly remember the heights in Israel. At that time I wrote in my diary: “I feelso lost. I don't know where to go. People give me money to research these schools and I don't know what to do, what to do with myself. I should... How deep this 'must' runs, and how subtly we define our worth through performance. I watch as some students play in the trees full of energy. Should I go to them?” Shortly afterwards I actually followed this impulse and climbed up a tree.
I felt a bit strange, even though everyone I met looked at me kindly.I was sitting on a branch with a boy, Red. He was 16 years old. He was happy that I there was. How helpful it is when you feel welcome. We started to philosophize and we laughed together. I sat relaxed all morning in the Tree. I allowed myself to just be, do nothing and be satisfied with myself.This moment was like a liberation. I experienced many more such insightful moments. I lived my creative side,followed my impulses and was often in the flow. I conducted interesting interviews with students,Alumni, parents and staff (www.sudbury-schools-interviews.com) My trustin me, the self-determined education and the Sudbury school form was through this journeydeepened and strengthened. No one could take all of these experiences away from me.
After nine years of establishment, the school finally opens
Back in Germany, I put a lot of the energy I had gained into setting up another school. I gave lectures and coached start-up initiatives. The whole team was fully committed, everyone with their own skills. The founding took off.
An International Scientific Advisory Board was founded, we had a lot of publicity, received donations and the information events boomed. Yaakov Hecht, an educational pioneer from Israel who founded the first democratic school in Hadera in 1987, traveled to the Ministry of Culture in Munich specifically for an interview. Yaakov spoke enthusiastically about the positive development of the democratic education movement in Israel. I was happy to report on my trip. We were clear, we were convincing and we had a foot in the door. The concept was finally approved in 2012.
It still took two arduous years until we found a building that could be approved, a small, empty elementary school in the municipality of Reichling in the Ammersee area.
Finally, finally in September 2014, the time had come: we were able to open the first Sudbury school in Bavaria. What a milestone. We had founded the company for nine years and now the baby was born.
At the opening ceremony, I realized that without a big vision we wouldn't have kept going. We couldn't have done it without our enthusiasm and clarity.
The small school was transformed into a cozy home. The mayor, many neighbors and visitors from all over the world celebrated the opening with us. A new phase of life began for 35 children and young people, their families and us as a team. A new adventure. The development of a new type of school for Bavaria.
As in every love story, so here too: after an initial high, we were soon confronted with difficult processes. The aim was to build a new school culture that focused on completely different values than our current school system. We were required to develop structures and rules from nothing that were tailored to the needs of the community. Really understanding and living democratic values such as respect, freedom of expression, equal participation, participation and responsibility is complex and often not easy.
To run or not to run? The school rules emerge
My role also changed. I was now an employee, with different tasks, different responsibilities.
eggn Example: I am sitting in the office in October 2014. Students are running outsideInside loudly through the hallway. I ask them not to do this so that I can concentrate on my tasks. “Where does it say in the law that we are not allowed to run?” a nine-year-old student asks me. I'm annoyed that I don't get any understanding. At the same time, I understand that many people have a need for exercise. They previously had to sit still most of the time for years. I'm submitting a request for a new rule. After a discussion in the school assembly, this was rejected by the vast majority. I annoyed me first, then I managed it 2/3 accept majority decision. The need for calm while walking develops over time in several people. Much of the pent up energy had been released. After a few weeks, at the request of a student, a rule is added to the law and supported by the community:It should be quiet in the hallways.
Over time, a feeling of togetherness deepened. The consistent mix of ages also promoted this. I remember how in the first few months the young people were often annoyed by the younger ones and felt disturbed, and the younger ones often seemed afraid of the young people. Not everyone felt safe. Some unpleasant things happened. But over time, and with the help of the Judiciary Committee, which dealt with rule violations and sought justice, many barriers dissolved.
The place acquired an attraction. We had our first open day, around 400 visitors. The house was bursting at the seams. There were no more parking spaces within the village. The press was interested in us. We held workshops for founders. In Bavaria there have now been several initiatives for democratic schools that have submitted an application for approval to the authorities. My vision was about to come true.
Some students, like me back in the Golan Heights, experienced phases of being lost. “I'm so boring!” I heard this often. If someone wasn't feeling well, I could just be there. The transition from a structure determined by others to one in which everyone is responsible for their own education is certainly one of the biggest challenges, including for parents.
Headwind from the authorities
But at the same time there was a headwind: “You can’t do it like that! We need more evidence that enough learning is being done!” said a government official on the phone in response to painstakingly prepared, detailed interim reports and documentation. Tensions with the government of Upper Bavaria increased over time. The way we tried to show positive developments and learning never seemed enough.
Of course, it was also important to us to address these fears. We repeatedly sought dialogue, made compromises and built bridges wherever we could. We wanted to build trust. However, after a change of inspector in the second year, things got even worse.
It's a Tuesday morning in March 2016. Suddenly this new inspector is standing in the hallway with three women. He is wearing a gray suit, has short blonde hair, is around 40 years old, appears tense and hasty. I welcome him kindly: “Welcome. Would you like to come to the office first, maybe have a coffee?" "No! No!” he says sternly without making eye contact and immediately walks through the school with his companions. He sweeps from room to room and after 2 hours leaves an agitated and shocked community behind. Many feel that they are being treated condescendingly and questioned in an unpleasant way. A student comes up to me indignantly: “He treats us as if we were all complete idiots,” another student: “As soon as he came in, he thought our school was shit!” Martin, an eleven-year-old student, collapses and cries bitterly. He tells me that the inspector said to him disparagingly: “Well, what have you learned here?” This devalued Martin’s beloved biology study group. He had brought it into being himself and this was a personal tragedy for him.
Background: Martin (name changed) had already had difficult school experiences; at his last school he was supported by a school companion. Diagnosis: Asberger syndrome. Also with us He initially had a lot of social difficulties. At some point he retreated to the library for weeks with “Harry Potter” books. Then he developed a new interest: biology. He experienced a new acceptance of his interests and was able to experience self-efficacy. The more he came to terms with himself, the easier it became for him within the community. The government official's appraising attitude hit him right in the heart.
Then things got even worse. We received a twisted, completely devastating Protocol of the visit. Two different value systems collided with all their might. It became clear that the inspector viewed the school through the filter of a traditional middle school and was only looking for organized lessons. We wrote a letter demanding a change of inspector. We wanted someone who was knowledgeable and open to Democratic schools. Someone who also sees his job as seeing whether and how the approved concept is implemented.
The authority's reaction was harsh: we were supposed to provide tables, chairs and pens for testing within a few days. We called a special school meeting. All were there. “What should we do?” A lawyer we consulted believed that the government was interfering with private school freedom. Now we were challenged: should we stand up for ourselves or submit? We decided to reject the testing procedure. If there had been goodwill on the part of the authorities, the decision would have been different.
It wasn't just a "no" to the tests. It was a “no” to the enormous pressure built up by the government of Bavaria. It was a “no” to the inspector’s disrespectful approach.
The end came with a hammer blow
Then the end came. A hammer blow. The school was closed. Just flattened. That was a shock. Our urgent application to the court was rejected. Another blow. We fought as a community, took to the streets. We sued the government of Upper Bavaria, organized events, actions and wrote petitions. All without success, with enormous effort and many disappointments.
The closure was now over seven years ago. The application for reopening was rejected in August 2023 in the second instance in an appeal before the Bavarian Administrative Court. The building was cleared out in September 2023. In the years after the closure, I was lucky enough to be able to experience and help shape self-determined education in a beautiful natural kindergarten. I needed time to process everything, recover and reflect.
A “yes” to the vision that individuality and community are possible in freedom
I was disheartened by the low blow. The failure hit me right at the core. I encountered a lot Pain, feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. I wasalso often angry. To the government of Upper Bavaria, politicians, judges, the inspector... Over time I managed to make more peace with the situation. Wrong paths and regressions are part of great visions.
I’m proud that I said “no” to a lot of things and stayed true to myself. I'm proud of us for staying true to ourselves. That “no” was a “yes” to me, it was a “yes” to our values and it was a “yes” to the vision that individuality and community are possible in freedom.
Today - almost two decades after the sleepless night - this “yes” is the basis for my company “Education in Transition”, which I have been building since January 2021 and founded in October 2023.
Even if a large part of society continues to cling to old structures and performance-oriented thinking, I am also encouraged to see how many people, communities and cooperations are now committed to changes in the education sector, are creating new educational places and how more and more people are becoming more awake. ;
Change will not come from above, through politics, but from the grassroots, through each and every one of us.
“Education in Transition” with all its diverse offerings is a tool of support for this change.
It's a new morning.
Article published www.freilerner.de:link