By Paola Alpresa Gutiérrez

Phoenix made it possible for me to travel to Spain to a conference where I had the opportunity to find what is going on about education in my home country. The conference’s name is Educando para la Vida (Educating for Life), and it was the second annual conference, following on from the first gathering the previous year. At the first conference, the goal of the meeting was to create a space where to raise awareness of the different alternative education initiatives already running in Spain. It was very successful and started out a community of people interested in the matter and with a similar sensitivity to education; at the moment, communication is made through a Facebook group [1], where people share ideas and projects they are currently working on. The meeting was so inspiring that everybody agreed on meeting again the following year, and so it happened!

For the second occasion, they decided to go a step further and organize more discussion panels and round tables for everyone to participate. The frame of discussion was “Education, Democracy, and Social Change”. It was on the same dates as the first conference: at the start of the December bank holiday in Spain; I was lucky to find about it through a pedagogue friend (@Goligra) right on time.

The conference took place in sunny Málaga –it was great going back home! -­‐ in the eco-­‐cultural space Conviven[2]. Conviven was created by a group of friends who shared the same idea: “(the current) social situation demands the recuperation of habits that are healthy, natural and essential to humans”. They promote activities to transform society, each of them from their field of expertise. The place is located in a beautiful surrounding: hilly landscape and a calm green-­‐blue water reservoir; a peaceful home to disconnect and get immersed in the matter.


It was a four-­‐day conference with a very tight schedule and very ambitious agenda, with speakers coming as far as from America. We were about a hundred participants with different backgrounds: state teachers, social workers, arts, professors, pedagogues and more. What brought us together was our belief that social change can mainly occur in democratic countries through education using democratic practices [3](taken from @GianeD).

The conference started connecting with Reevo network [4]… It is worth explaining what this is, although some of you may already know: Reevo sprang from the Argentinian documentary movie Forbidden Education [5], a criticism of the authoritarian education system and an interview style filming of alternative schools. The production team created this networking with the aim to further explore the subject and connect all diverse individuals interested in transforming education. In part because the controversy created by the movie -­‐ some “traditional” teachers believed their work had been demonized-­‐ Reevo has been able to give visibility to alternative education in Spanish speaking countries; between its goals is to promote the spread of this practices. I am very thankful to them since it introduced me to this wonderful subject.

During the session with Reevo, it became evident that we are starting from a common ground on what kind of education we want. We believe it is fundamental that education takes place in an environment where children are safe, respected and free. A place where we are all listened to, where we all have equal rights -­‐even though we are “unequal”, we are diverse, and we celebrate such diversity! [6], not just tolerate it. It is necessary to work on emotions and human relationships. I want to stress RESPECT for oneself, all beings and the planet we live in. (I really like the term used by Dalai Lama: Universal Responsibility [7]; reminding us that nowadays we live in a hyperconnected world where our actions could affect thousands of miles again). An education for well-­‐being, an Educación para la vida.

Then, the big question through out the conference was, so HOW DO WE DO IT?!

On the practical level, the question translated to: where must education take place? I am sure we would have all agreed that education happens every time, every where; different people had, however, different ways to approach (in)formal education:

We heard about unschooling from Pedro who declare himself antipedagogue – living is education [8];

Betzabé & Marco presented us with another way of looking at the Montessori method and their private initiative Montessori Canela [9];

Yolanda helped us understand the difference between the experiences in two communitarian schools in Mexico and Spain [10]; Also from Mexico, Bruno introduced us to Escuelas Zapatistas: a running example of schools governed by a political movement [11];

and Marea Verde –which started out as a teachers’ movement against cuts in public education-­‐ shed light into the current state of public schools [12].

So, who is right?


While I strongly believe that life itself teaches us more than any school, I think that our current (western) society needs schools, learning spaces, or whatever we want to call it, because of the complexity of most social systems.

Montessori, Steiner, Pestalozzi and others have given us great ideas and well-­‐ structured methods to implement a different education; we discussed that we should learn from them but be aware of the risk of becoming dogmatic. We need to adapt. I believe that educational philosophies aligned with democratic education fit better to our continuously changing circumstances. (We should not replace current education by dulcified pedagogy providing pseudo-­‐freedom, which is just another form of authoritarian education; we must encourage self-­‐ determination and critical thinking). Private initiatives have been -­‐and are still-­‐ key to show that an alternative to traditional schooling is possible, not just a utopia; and that, when understood, they make far more sense that “normal” ones; nevertheless, these experiences are not accessible to every one for economical or social reasons.

Therefore, if we want to make it happen for as many children as possible, we cannot leave state schools behind. The current situation in Spain is that all licensed schools must follow the national curriculum, and that educators are mostly carried along by traditional pedagogies. This implies that teachers coming with new ideas see themselves frustrated in the struggle for implementing new projects or running against the system. In some cases, they have seen themselves bullied or threatened with disciplinary action. However, the biggest portion of the state schools’ teachers is comprised of funcionarios (Spanish civil servants), and it is very difficult to justify firing a civil employee. We analysed how to work on that scenario; how much is a lack of autonomy versus a self-­‐limitation. We observed that much could be done: changing your attitude is the first step. I consider a great example the teacher César Bona; he has been nominated to the Global Teacher Prizes [13] for his work in state schools creating projects truly involving students and the entire community [14]. Also, we must promote family participation, and take advantage of those self-­‐ motivated to encourage the others, which often also impose limitations to implement new approaches.

The way in which we train new teachers is very important to encourage new approaches in public education. Currently, university degrees in pedagogy or teaching in Spain barely introduce non-­‐conventional pedagogies. The Master’s in “Policy and Practice of Educational Innovation” at University of Málaga is an exception [15] -­‐the speaker Prof. Ángel Pérez [6] is one of the lecturers-­‐, and the course is triggering strongly motivated teachers for a change. Moreover, we need to review how state teachers (funcionarios) are appointed: what makes a “good teacher”? At the moment, it is a knowledge-­‐based examination, completely disregarding the social skills necessary for healthy teacher-­‐student-­‐family-­‐school relationships. Another way to facilitate the change is to promote external training in public school. We discussed that we should bring successful initiatives closer to schools, because sometimes the problem is that teachers are not aware of these alternatives or they have no specific knowledge on how to implement them. Montessori Canela works towards this, advising schools on educational projects and giving practical workshops. It would be great to have a Phoenix Education [16] association in Spain!

In particular, my belief is that we should return to a community-­‐based society, where implication and participation of the individual becomes a reality -­‐not the parody of democracy voting every once in a while-­‐. This community base has to be “our own” -­‐since each people are different-­‐ and incorporate our culture. For instance, the model of the Mexican community would not work in Europe, where we have developed a strong sense of the individual; there, for example, the community would kick you out of the group if you decided not to take your child to the community school. On the other hand, the Spanish Comunidades de Aprendizaje [17] are a big step forward regarding learning pedagogies; however, to me, it does not represent the ideal community-­‐based school since it is the school which “educates” the families when it should be the community that shapes the school. Another drawback of this initiative is that is measure its success saying that kids learn more, playing down the goal of education. In any case, all of these are singular micro-­‐changes, and we need to bring awareness of the necessity for a change in education to the bulk of society in order to be able to demand our governments to make such a change. In this sense, Marea Verde’s most remarkable achievement has been to bring education into the public debate in Spain. During the final reflections of the conference, we discussed that we should not separate singular initiatives from the broad picture. We have to participate at the social and political level in order to successfully change education.

Coming back to the question… who is right? Shall we advocate for state schools to reach more children or shall we start private initiatives where we have more autonomy? Should they be public, private, community-­‐based, self-­‐organised or not a school at all? Well, we are all right!! We concluded that we must work each from where we feel more comfortable, where ours convictions take us; believe in our autonomy as educators; foster continuous training; and, most importantly, stay together, work toward building and maintaining a network, and keep looking at the wider picture to influence politics -­‐taking advantage of social movements already in place, such as Reevo and Marea Verde; and, why not, create a democratic revolution!

Last but not least, there was also time for some interactive sessions: Stéphanie and Paula [18] organised a very insightful drama activity -­‐base on the theatre of the oppressed-­‐ where we explored our feeling as educators recreating undesirable learning environment. Another practical activity was brought by Filosofía para niños [19], experiencing ourselves how to promote respectful dialogue about a –initially thought-­‐ poor subject: “what is your name and why?“ Also, on the very last night, there was some music to shake it off! The last picture says it all!

Hopefully, the conference will take place again in December 2015. We brainstorm about what we would like to talk about next:

  • Advise on legislation and activism in education for families and educators.
  • Education outside schools: homeschooling, unschooling, street education.
  • Social education in prisons, reformatories, rehab centers and other institutions.
  • Education for special needs.
  • Emotionally, creative, holistic, biocentric education.

¡Hola a todo el mundo desde España! ¡Os esperamos el año que viene!




[3] http://ma-­‐­‐la-­‐vida-­‐donde-­‐actuar


[5] (it can be watched with subtitles in English)

[6] Quoted from speaker Ángel Pérez Gómez, professor at University of Málaga ( ersonal) Conference video:

[7] Ancient Wisdom, Modern World -­‐ Ethics for a New Millennium, by H.H. the Dalai Lama. Published by Little Brown and Company, London, 1999.

[8] Pedro’s blog: Conference video: [9] Betzabé & Marco’s project:

[10] Yolanda Jiménez Naranjo is lecturer at Univerisity Veracruzana:

[11] Bruno Baronnet is lecturer at Univerisity Veracruzana: Bruno’s blog: Conference video:

[12] The Marea Verde Daily: Twitter: @conlamareaverde Conference video: [13]­‐bona-­‐garcia


[15] Políticas y Prácticas de Innovación Educativa, Univerisidad de Málaga.­‐en-­‐politicas-­‐y-­‐practicas-­‐de-­‐innovacion-­‐educativa/