A New Kind of Future

65CoverSmExperimental peer-led education in Berlin

How to create a more democratic education system?

By Frauke Godat

When I left working for Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, I went through a coaching process defining my own work title as an Initiator & Facilitator of Change Networks. Having worked in this role as a free agent for four years now, one red thread question has been guiding my work ever since: “How do we create more democratic and thriving organizations for a sustainable future?“

While I was working on the co-creation team for The Hub Berlin (a space for people with great ideas for the world), I conducted my studies on education for sustainable development, and there, the question was raised by one of the lecturers: “Why do we have history as a school subject but we do not study the future?” This question went into my notes, into my learning log, and into many conversations at The Hub Berlin. It inspired me.

Personally, I wasn’t miserable at school; I was an average student. But that question shifted something: I realized through my intercultural experiences and project work at AIESEC (the world's largest international student organization in more than 90 countries) how much more potential there was for learning and personal development outside of the current school system and how we were wasting our time with knowledge-based learning at school. The reality is that that we don't remember any of these facts or figures a few years later. Why don't we use this time to learn differently?

A few months later, I received some seed funding from a local foundation in Germany that normally does not fund project-based work but was part of a leadership award prize. Suddenly, I had the complete freedom to spend money how I wanted to in order to do what I wanted to do in the world.

The next question—who am I going to work with?—began to guide me. Over the course of a process of three years—with team members joining and leaving, I realized that not only was the topic important but even more so the method was important: understanding how we work together is vital. How can we practice learning while we are developing a project? Who wants to learn while stepping into the unknown of developing a project that started with the idea of the future as a school subject, going through a phase of establishing a network for education innovators, and crystallizing it with a core team of four members into a learning space concept? By starting conversations and running prototype events in Berlin, the right people came.

Today, I can recognize that in order to be able to create more democratic and thriving organizations we need to transform learning inside and outside of the school system. My work is towards actualizing this reality.

Frauke Godat is 35 years old and was born and raised in northern Germany. She has studied political science and international relations in Berlin and at the London School of Economics and has worked with AIESEC in Germany and India, with Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, and has been co-creating The Hub Berlin. Since 2000, Frauke has been active as a freelance and volunteer trainer for social change, youth leadership, and education for sustainable development.

What is learning?

By Claire Lerner

My personal journey with this work began with the sentence: “We need to establish ‘future‘ as a subject in school just like history or math.” That totally got me hooked. I thought of all the painful experiences that I had in school, the constant feeling of not being met in my own learning needs and I found myself questioning the whole system. But something in that idea of the future as a subject transformed the way I was asking my questions. I think I stopped blaming others or the system and started to ask what I could do to actively re-create what no longer fit. It made sense to me to give “future”—whatever it was in an institution—space to actually be examined, and to be about nothing else but itself—the future.

Learning to transform my inner questions from something painful and negating into something positive and productive wasn't something I had done before. But each time I tried to do so, I realized that each of us is constantly creating or reinforcing a reality with every step we take. This, I realized, I could transform inside of myself. I recognized that if I was unable to rethink or re-imagine my learning experience, then it would never change. I needed to tread differently. So my question changed from one of whether something could change or not to one of decision: I decided to listen to my inner voice and wisdom and to have faith in it. Change in education wouldn’t come in large steps. Rather, it would come in small and hard to see, grasp or measure, bits.

I decided to listen to the call that desperately asked for the transformation not only of education but also within education. I put myself through a process with my fellow change makers. In exploring all the questions we had around education and the school system, it became very clear that most of them were actually questions on learning in general. At that point the focus on school and the idea of establishing “future“ as a subject in school fundamentally shifted to a focus on learning in general. Recognizing this distinction opened up a whole field that was far bigger then I expected: What did it mean to take life-long learning seriously? What are the consequences for learning settings but also for work situations? Does a new work situation cause a new culture? What would be the effect on both local and global economic pictures if our learning and our subsequent working process changed?

Claire Lerner is 26 years old. She was born and raised in Frankfurt/Main in Germany. She is about to finish her studies in social work in Berlin. She has been active in several youth projects during school and started working with IDEM after she finished school. Working with IDEM, she went to Brazil and Peru to coordinate an international conference, volunteer in several projects, lead work-camps and to do art projects.